Catholic World – A Legend of Saint Ottilia

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Odilia, by Burckhardt, 1899; Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Bas-Rhin Scherwiller, Alsace, France; photographed on 19 August 2015 by Ralph Hammann; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsAttich, Duke of Alsace, had a lovely wife, with whom he lived in great happiness, desiring but one thing more than he possessed – this was the blessing of children. His prayers, however, remained unanswered until he vowed that, if the Lord would grant his ardent wish, he would dedicate the child entirely to his service. At length a daughter was born to him, but the parents’ first joy was turned into sadness, for the child was blind.

Ottilia (thus was she named) grew up a lovely maiden, with rare goodness and virtues, showing, from her earliest youth, singular piety and devoutness of character. One of her daily prayers was that God might bestow on her the gift of sight. By-and-by, to the great astonishment of all, this prayer was answered. Beautiful before, the new expression of her eyes so enhanced her charms that, whereas previously she had no lack of suitors, now she was wooed by many and most noble youths. These dazzling prospects affected the mind of her father, and led him to repent the vow he had made to give his sweet child to God. Then Count Adelhart, a brave man, and one who had performed great services for Attich, claimed the hand of Ottilia, and the duke resolved that his daughter should become his wife. Ottilia heard this with terror; she told her father how wrong she believed it to be, and how she feared the vengeance of heaven if they thus disregarded his vow. Seeing, however, that her entreaties were of no avail, and that they meant to marry her by compulsion, she fled she knew not whither. Then Attich called out his servants to pursue her, he himself, in company with Ottilia’s suitor, taking the lead. They took the road to Freiburg, in Breisgau.

The day began to decline, and their efforts to find her had been in vain, when, on riding up a hill from whose top they could overlook the country, they heard a cry; turning their eyes toward the place from whence the sound came, they saw her whom they were seeking standing on the summit. They urged their steeds onward, rejoicing in the certainty of capturing the fugitive. Then Ottilia threw herself upon her knees, and prayed to heaven for assistance. The rock opened beneath her feet, and, in the sight of all, she sank into the yawning depth. The rock closed again, and, from the spot where it had been reft in twain, a clear well flowed, taking its course downward into the forest below.

The mourning father returned to his now desolate home. Never again did he behold Ottilia.

The wonderful tale soon spread far and near. The fountain became a place of pilgrimage. People drank from its waters, to which a wonderful healing influence for weak eyes was attributed. A hermit built his hut in its neighborhood, and “The Well of Saint Ottilia” was and is much frequented by old and young. The mountain itself bears the name of “Ottilia-Berg.”

Thus runs the simple legend which, even after the lapse of centuries, brings people to visit this famous spring, partly drawn thither by religious faith in the curative power of its waters, and partly attracted by the renowned beauty of the scenery which surrounds the spot where heaven-trusting Ottilia had thrown herself upon the intervention of Providence.

– text taken from the article “A Legend of Saint Ottilia” in the January 1873 edition of Catholic World magazine, author unknown