Monday, April 4, 2011

On Moons, Mariken, and Nijmegen

This is a picture of one of the presents that I sent to my family in the US for Christmas. It's three different teas: Moenenthee, Marikenthee, and Nijmegenthee. The thought process at that time was something along the lines of, "If I'm going to send them Nijmegen tea, then I need to send Moenen and Mariken as well."

The legend of Moenen en Mariken has several versions, and if your Dutch is good enough you can just read the Wiki page. The gist of the story is that a girl (Mariken) was led into a life of sin--which at the time the legend was conceived, meant being educated and well-read and worldly--by the Devil, who was also known as One-eyed Moenen. After seven years, she sees the error of her ways and tries to repent, and is successful because her name, Mariken, is derived from Mary, and that somehow allows her enough leeway to escape her pact with the Devil.

At least, this is the version I was told. On the Wikipedia page, we learn that Mariken had an argument with her aunt, and prayed that God or the Devil send aid her way. That the Devil made her change her name. That he tried to kill her by throwing her off of the roof when she saw the error of her ways. That she was allowed to atone for her sins with three iron bands around her neck and arms, and after a long time spent in a convent (in Maastricht, incidentally, where the stadstheater is now), was finally received into the Lord's Grace again, just before she died.

On the whole, I can't say I like either version much. The first is a bit too pat, the second reeks of that brand of holiness that makes the Book of Job tedious reading. Both of them are consistent in perpetuating the idea that women shouldn't learn things like philosophy and Latin, which makes a little sense if you think about the times: The legend was started at the beginning of the Reformation, when Martin Luther had just nailed his heresies against Catholic dogma to the door of the Wittenburg Church. That a common man should be able to understand the Bible--might as well propose that women should learn to read! Nijmegen would have been especially divided at the time, being a city on the rivers that divide the Protestant north from the Catholic south, so if you read the legend as a piece of Catholic propaganda, with her eventual return to grace, it makes perfectly good sense.

Even today, the legend lives on in things like the Grand Cafe Moenen on the Grote Markt, with it's locally-brewed Moenenbier (highly recommended, by the way, very tasty and rich, and available only in multiples of 500 mL. It is not recommended that you drink more than 1). It's strange, how long this rather banal--let's not exaggerate the merits of the story--morality tale has persisted. But it's also interesting that, as little as it's mentioned, it's so well-known.

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