Snow White gravestone on display in German museum

A museum in a quaint historic German town has been given a significant and long-lost gravestone.

The gravestone belonged to Maria Sophia von Erthal, the baroness who is believed to be behind the inspiration for the Brothers Grimm fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The gravestone, donated by the family who discovered it, has been restored and has been put on display at the Diocesan Museum in Bamberg, Germany.

The museum director explained that Maria Sophia von Erthal’s life “became the nucleus of Snow White”, with the story mirroring many aspects of her life.

Church official Norbert Jung with the gravestone

(pic: Dominik Schreiner)

Museum director Holger Kempkens told the BBC:

“The story of Sophia’s life was well known at the start of the 19th Century. The Brothers Grimm made literature out of the stories they heard from local people. There are indications – though we cannot prove it for sure – that Sophia was the model for Snow White. Today when you make a film about a historic person there is also fiction in it. So in this case I think there is a historic basis, but there are also fictional elements.”

In the 1980s Dr Karlheinz Bartels, a local historian in Lohr, considered parallels between Sophia’s life and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves:

  • Sophia had a ‘wicked stepmother’. Her father, nobleman Philipp Christoph von Erthal, remarried after his first wife’s death, and Sophia’s stepmother had the reputation of being overbearing and favouring her birth children
  • The family lived in an area famous for glassware and mirrors. Sophia’s father owned the mirror factory.
  • A fearsome forest features in the tale, possibly inspired by a forest near Lohr which was notorious for bandits and wild animals.
  • Snow White ran over seven hills before reaching the cottage inhabited by the seven dwarfs, who worked in a mine. There is a disused mine outside Lohr that can be reached by crossing seven hills.
  • Little people and children worked in mines, and wore cloaks as described in the tale.

Mr Kempkens remarked how the marble gravestone required careful restoration due to a coating of chalk concealing the inscription. The inscription reads:

“The noble heroine of Christianity: here she rests after the victory of Faith, ready for transfigured resurrection.”

It is historically significant because during that period women did not usually get their own gravestones, but were put as a footnote on their husband or family grave.

Sophia’s gravestone was originally in an old church in Bamberg but that building was demolished. The gravestone was then set up at a hospital, founded by a brother of Sophia. After a new clinic was built in its place during the 1970s Sophia’s gravestone was removed and kept safe by a local family, who later donated it to the Bamberg museum.

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