“Old Hildebrand” is a fairy tale from the Grimm Brothers, told in their Household Tales.

A peasant’s wife and the neighborhood priest fancied each other. At the priest’s urging the wife faked an illness for several days, but on Sunday she insisted her husband go to hear the sermon. The priest preached that whoever had an ill family member could go to the Cuckoo’s Mountain in Italy, and get laurel leaves that would cure the ill person. The peasant, Hildebrand took the advice and left to get them. He wasn’t gone two minutes before the priest came to the home.

Not far into his journey, Hildebrand met a kinsman, an egg merchant. When the merchant heard Hildebrand’s tale, he informed Hildebrand that the priest just wanted to spend time alone with Hildebrand’s wife. He took Hildebrand back tot he house, hidden in his egg basket.

At the house, the priest and Hildebrand’s wife were having a marvelous old time. The story tells us that the wife had slaughtered most of the farm animals and made pancakes and the priest had his fiddle, but I imagine there were plenty of other activities going on.

The kinsman knocked at the door and asked to be allowed to spend the night, as his basket was too heavy for him to carry all the way back to his own home before dark. The wife complains a bit but lets him in anyway. The parson and the wife began to sing about how they had tricked her husband, then the merchant sang. Finally, Hildebrand sang out from hiding place that it was enough. He jumped out of the basked and started beating the priest, who quickly left.

I read the story here. D. L. Ashliman includes a note: “The story’s humor is enhanced by its presentation in a very pronounced Austrian dialect, which identifies the priest as a Roman Catholic, who should be practicing celibacy. A longstanding joke in Catholic Germany and Austria states, ‘There is no reason for priests to marry as long as peasants have wives.'”

There’s a lot of singing in fairy tales. Often it’s magical in some way, but here it’s a bit like a penny opera.

It is an amusing story. You can picture the wife and priest plotting together, then having a grand time, only to be caught by the husband. As far as Grimm stories go, it’s pretty bloodless though. The priest gets punched around a little, but that’s really the only punishment.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


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