In earlier times, dolmens and other megaliths were places where people gathered. Here, justice was delivered, oaths were taken and other rituals were performed at dolmens and other megalithic buildings. Celebrations also took place here. Commitments were made, such as marriage. The ringing of bells, which can be heard in some dolmens in sagas and legends, could be associated with this.
The article on child stones examines the relationship between fertility and megaliths. In this article I want to talk about stories about marriages. Sometimes it is about a lifelong commitment, but there are also many stories that do not end well (for the woman). Some German dolmens have the interesting names ‘Braut’ and ‘Bräutigam’ (‘bride’ and ‘groom’), there are also ‘Brautsteinen’ (for example in Horn, translation is ‘bridestone’). At Horn’s dolmen, the lovers swore eternal loyalty to each other on the eve of their wedding.
One of the beliefs is that at new moon, newlyweds should count the number of stones by going individually around a megalithic edifice, the women clockwise and the men the opposite; if they count the same number, their union will be lasting. This is told about, for example, the Roche-aux-fées. This is without doubt the largest dolmen in France in the commune of Essé, a legendary place where the fairy Viviane (Lady of the Lake from the legend of King Arthur, see also King Arthur and megaliths and dolmen and fairies in France) left her mark .
There are still several indications to be found for the importance of stones in connection with a marriage. An 18th century children’s song from the Baltic Sea region goes like this:
“Ich stehe auf einem Breiten Stein,
wer mich liebt, der holt mich heim.”
“I stand on a broad stone,
whoever loves me will take me home.”
The girl stood or sat on the stone and wished a lover who would fetch her and marry her. When she married, the woman left her family and came to live with her in-laws. The name “Breiten Stein” can be associated with this usage.
A reminder of the custom the bride prescribed to stand on a stone after (or at) the wedding ceremony has also survived in Low German. An example of this from Schleswig-Holstein: If several girls from the same house married in quick succession, they would say: “Da mutt en breeden Steen in`t Huus west sin” (there must have been a broad stone in that house).
On the left an image of the Brautstein (Kurpark Unna-Königsborn). A text can be read on the back of this stone. This one goes like this:
ein holdes Magdelein
but all alone,
ein Weilchen nur
auf Diesen Stein,
im selben Jahr
is braut sie sein
Loosely translated: if a virgin sits on this stone alone for a while at midnight, she will be a bride in the same year.
A Breitenstein in Saargau was already mentioned in the article about sacrificial stones. A hoof print has been applied here, as in several sacrificial stones. But the story surrounding this Breitenstein also has a marriage element to it. A noble young lady had many admirers, but she kept them at a distance. At one point she gave her heart to a German nobleman. Her father, the Earl of Montclair, would have preferred that she had taken a French knight who would also ask for her hand. She did not give in and her father decided that only the knight leading two horses in front of a chariot at full speed on the Breitenstein could become her husband.
The Frenchman started and stormed towards the Breitenstein. On the stone he made the horses make a sharp turn at full speed. However, the beautiful carriage could not keep up with the impetuous movement of the horses and overturned. A murmur went through the spectators as the Italian fell on the hard stone. After him came the German and he won the match. The count kept his word and handed the overjoyed bride to her lover. And soon you heard the wedding bells ringing. However, the Italian knight was overwhelmed by his quick temper. He mounted his horse, spurred it on and rode at full gallop up the Breitenstein. Cursing, he threw himself with his horse into the abyss, where both disappeared into the waters of the Saar. And this was the reason the count had a horseshoe and cart track put in the stone, so the story goes.
As early as the Neolithic, links were forged at a dolmen. This custom occurs not only in Germany, England, France and Switzerland, but also in Scandinavia, the Baltic States, India and among the Slavic peoples. Originally, the flat capstones were used on megalithic tombs. In these graves the ancestors of the groom were buried. Prehistoric graves have often been discovered in places where bridal stones are present (or were present in the past). For example, the Barkower Brautwagen contained a Neolithic tomb (destroyed), as well as Bronze Age burial mounds (destroyed, location known) and several Imperial urnfields (partly studied). This indicates that people were buried here for centuries.
The bride climbed on the so-called bridal stone and said yes to her husband. In doing so, she completed her newfound attachment to her husband’s clan and would break away from her own clan. In Hinduism, it is customary in a wedding ceremony for the bride to stand on a stone slab or millstone to symbolize her commitment to marriage during times of difficulty, in a practice known as Shila Arohan (going up the stone).
The pre-Christian wedding ceremony can be traced back to oral tradition up to the early German period (1200–1300) when the local Slavic inhabitants of Germany converted to Christianity and some churches had already been built in the country. On the way to the church (for the church wedding) we passed the dolmen. Better to double the bond, because you never know… The Helmold Chronicle, which describes the conditions of the 12th century in the area of later Mecklenburg, says: “The Slavs were henceforth forbidden to swear by the trees, sources and stones.” The “use” of bridal stones was prohibited from the beginning of Christianization.
Walter Dahnke wrote about the Breiten Stein on the Sonnenberg: „Ick thought that to den
n Brutsteen okne Geschicht sin mößt“ , denn: „…de meisten Lüd weiten gor nich, worüm he so heit! Dees Geschicht hew ick me sülben utdacht.” The story goes like this: “Once a bridal coach drove through the Lübower Holz, as part of the Sonnenberg near Parchim is called. The bride didn’t like the groom, so she said, “I wanted us to go downstairs.” Then the carriage with the bridal couple sank into the ground. The path is still called “Bruutstieg” and on Easter morning the bridal wreath dances above the spot in the sky.”
According to legend, the large stones of the Bruutwagen (or Brautwagen) are petrified (wheels of) carriages. The stone at Goldenbow, located on the Kirchweg leading to Frauenmark, was probably blown up before 1900 during the construction of the road. At Brautbett, a carriage is also said to have sunk into the ground. The stones that once lay here are no longer to be found. At Brautsoll, the bride is in the water. Church paths with bridal stone are known between Kiekindemark-Slate, Meierstorf-Slate, Schlepkow-Klokow (both desolate, in Klokow was one of the first four churches in the Parchim area), Goldenbow-Frauenmark and Herzfeld-Karrenzin.
There are six megalithic tombs at Liesten. There is a legend surrounding the striking boulder of Tomb 1. It is said to have been entwined with the chain of a sunken bridal chariot, while the stone itself is said to have been the bride.
In France it is known that the dolmen of Santoche was called “the wedding stone” in the seventeenth century. The tradition had it that on wedding days the newlyweds walked to the dolmen in a bridal procession. The bride then had to climb on one of the stones and stand on one foot. All the guests had to kiss her. If this custom was not respected, the couple could not be happy. Other, less innocent, rituals took place on the stones of the dolmen on full moon nights. It is said that priests, angry with those pagan practices, ordered these stones to be broken and knocked down.
The young girls who sat for a long time on the unchanging La pierre au mariage could count on a good husband within a year. Old yellowed photos show teenage girls in traditional costume with their wooden clogs, sitting wisely…waiting for a good fate to take care of them.
In the protected area of the Grande Cariçaie is the formidable Pierre du Mariage. An impressive whimsical block that arouses curiosity. This 50 m3 megalith is known as the Pierre du Mariage, or slip stone. According to the most famous legend, women in search of a husband climbed the stone and slid to the ground. For those who were already married and had no children yet, the rock could also be useful: sliding on the rock several times was allowed, it was thought, to aid fertilization.
On the top of a hill near the village of Doagh in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, stands a Bronze Age standing stone or ‘holestone’. It is 1.5 meters high, with a 10 cm diameter hole in it. It is not known why the holestone was created, but it has been attracting visitors seeking external love and happiness since the 18th century. Upon reaching the holestone, couples undertake a traditional ceremony where the woman reaches her hand through the round hole and her partner takes it, making them promise to love each other forever. There is a legend about a black horse that inhabits the field in which the holestone is located. According to this legend, a young couple got married just steps away, but the groom committed adultery on their wedding night. For this act he was cursed by the stone to spend eternity like a horse, never dying and never able to leave that field.
There are also similar stories in Spain and Portugal. If a couple spent a night on the Anta de Belas (aka “Anta da Pedra dos Mouros”; stone of the Moors, or “Anta do Senhor da Serra”; the lord of the mountains), they would stay happy. The place had long been a place of pilgrimage for the locals, it was believed that newlyweds sliding down the side of the dominant stone would be able to conceive.
These pilgrimages came to an end in 1942 when the landowner forbade access. The dominant stone was found shattered into numerous pieces in June 2010: it remains unclear whether this was caused by vandalism or the result of explosions during the construction of the new A9 motorway, which runs close to the dolmen. A remarkable find was made at this anta: two anthropomorphic rock carvings on the supporting stone “C”, showing two schematic human representations, probably man and woman. The anta was probably once covered with earth (mámoa).
There are more known customs in Spain in which couples sleep on the dolmen in order to have a child. By going around the dolmen three times, one was married (and children from this union were not considered bastards). Names show this usage, for example Pedra dos Casamentos, Anta dos Casamentos and Peninhos dos Casamentos (stone, dolmen or small stone of marriage). More examples can be found in the article “who built the megaliths in the Iberian Peninsula“.
In German, ‘Lehen’ means something like ‘seduce’. The Lehnekenstein or Lehnekenberg would then be a place where people met.
The name is corrupted as ‘Lenchen’. It would hark back to the bridal robbery, a regular part of a marital union.
It is unclear whether these were isolated stones or dolmens that have now largely been demolished.
There are countless legends about the menhir. According to one, there was once a farmer in Bonese who had a son named Asmus and a daughter named Marlene. Asmus was a good-for-nothing and enjoyed tormenting people. Marlene, on the other hand, was beautiful, kind-hearted, and God-fearing. She was wanted by all the young men in the area, but she herself loved the diligent and pious but also poor farmhand of the neighboring farm. This love was mutual, but Marlene’s family had other ideas. Her most stubborn lover was the rich son of the mayor of Markau. Mother and brother were delighted with this celebration and were already preparing for the wedding without Marlene’s opinion being asked. She eventually swore she would kill herself before going to Markau as a bride, but she was only laughed at for this.
The afternoon before the planned wedding day, she was finally greeted by bridesmaids, formally dressed, and in the bridal carriage she drove with a large entourage towards Markau. Just before sunset they reached the border between the two places. The groom’s brother stood there waiting and, according to the custom, asked, “Who brought you here, bride?” Marlene replied, “God and good people.” The groom’s brother then further asked, “Will the bride go on or will she turn around? Now there is still time.” Crying, she replied, “I want to go, I want to go to my mother’s house!” Then her brother Asmus angrily called to her and urged the horses and the entourage to cross the border to Markau. In desperation, Marlene screamed, “I’d rather turn to stone than cross the border into Markau!” She jumped out of the car and turned to stone in an instant. At the same time the sun went down.
There are a number of other legends that revolve around this stone. It is said to bleed if you scrape it with the back of a knife at midnight. The stripes (“chains”) should also have a golden shine. It is also said to be haunted at midnight. At noon, on the other hand, the afternoon woman warms up here. According to another, more detailed legend, under the stone lies a golden cradle. If you want to grab this one, don’t say a word. Two men would have tried it once. Suddenly a harvestman pulled by a rooster passed them. Astonished, they talked to each other, causing the nearly dug-out crib to sink into the ground. The harvestman was also gone.
There are several versions of the former legend. It is said that the transformation was not at Marlene’s request, but as punishment. According to another version, Marlene would not have changed, but would have fallen on a rock. She later succumbed to her injuries and was buried in the cemetery. A third variant states that the bridal bands can be seen as red-brown stripes not only at night but also during the day and that a thick amber chain hung around the neck of the stone. Furthermore, the stripes would be around the bent arm and hand of the bride. In addition to Marlene, her bridesmaids would also be petrified. These formed the circle of smaller stones around the Lehnekenstein.
For example, the stone joins a group of monuments spread over a larger area, which were seen as petrified wedding celebrations. These include the large stone grave at Liisten near Salzwedel, which was destroyed in the 19th century. The striking boulder of Tomb 1 is associated with the chain of a sunken bridal chariot, while the stone itself was the bride. And a similar story is told about the Glaner Braut. Almost identical legends are also told about the nearby stone circle at Dahrendorf.
A similar legend is told about the Braut and Bräutigam: a young woman is forced by her parents to marry a rich (but hated) man from Visbek. The young woman was in love, but her father had chosen another man for her. The bells (Hochzeitsglocken) were already ringing in Visbek before the wedding.
When the young woman and her entourage were led to Visbek and saw the place in the distance, she wished she would rather turn to stone than marry the man she was now betrothed to. So it happened: The bride and her entourage were turned to stone where they stand to this day. The same fate befell her groom, who is petrified just a few miles away. The story was written down in 1801.
Around the Bräutigam are several megaliths, of which the Brautwagen (bridal carriage) can also be associated with the legend in terms of name. Close to the 5 megaliths (each of which has a different shape, but of which the Bräutigam excels in its length) is the Heidenopfertisch. The Bräutigam is the second largest dolmen in Lower Saxony. The Braut is located 5 kilometers from the Bräutigam.
The legend tells of a Brautstein in Lüchow (Woltersdorf) that a bride there swore never to betray her knight. Rather the rock they sat on would rise from the ground to swallow or crush it than it would! Unfortunately for the knight she cheated on another, but when they both sat on the stone making love, the stone rose and crushed the couple. When the knight looked for his wife, he saw the heather red with blood, and the blood was still visible on the stone. He slammed his sword into the stone a number of times and every time a stream of blood came out! He also heard a plaintive voice coming from the depths. He took a bush of red heather from that place as a reminder.
The Schmölau Brautsteine also has a legend. Here the standing stone is often equated with the groom, the reclining stone with the bride. In the legend it is disputed whether the bride came from Nievelitz or Schmölau. In any case, in both versions it is clear that she did not want to get married in the other village. She jumped from the chariot at the border between these areas and, as she wished, turned to stone instead of getting married. Heartbroken, the groom jumped after her and also turned to stone. According to another version, the bride would rather be dead than marry this man. As a result, both were turned to stone by lightning.
There are even more bridal stones. A young girl from Godems often met a young hunter from Spornitz at the Brautstein. She postponed the wedding because she was so young. She finally agreed to marry him once he split that rock in half. A war came in which the fighter was killed. Since then she went to the stone every day and cried.
Also at the Proleek Dolmen (also called “The Giant’s Load”) in Ireland a custom is known that has to do with a marriage. A local tradition claims that if visitors place three stones on the dolmen, they will see a wish come true or get married within the year. This dolmen is aligned with the setting sun during the summer solstice. According to a local legend, the dolmen was carried here by the Scottish giant Para Buidhe Mór Mhac Seoidin (or Parrah Boug MacShagean; “Great Yellow Para, son of Seoidín”). Para challenged Fionn mac Cumhaill to fight, but Fionn poisoned the nearby river and Para drank from it. The Scottish giant was buried in the nearby Wedge Tomb.
Back to Germany. The megalithic tomb of Schulzendorf was destroyed in the 18th or 19th century. Johann Christoph Beckmann does not give an accurate description of the site, but only states that there were several large stones in the field, one of which was called the “bridal bed”.
The bride would still have been seen at Klein Godems. A woman was doing laundry by the creek. Then suddenly it rattled. The noise grew louder and it sounded like a herd of horses was moving. But she saw nothing. It wasn’t until it was all over that she recognized the bride. She was surrounded by her entourage and they rode the bridal path (which starts there, at the Rode Bach). They say that the bride can be seen every hundred years at Johanni (also called Johannisfest or Johannestag, June 24). When you see her, a wish comes true. According to the stories, this is the bride who drove to her wedding and she neglected her promise to her groom while standing on the stone.
This is a translation of a Dutch article, sources can be found in that article: Trouwen bij een megaliet