The Merry Maidens engraved by W. & G. Cooke, 1804

Petrification is more common in the stories told about megaliths. It appeared in the story about the Lehnekenstein, the long graves Braut and Bräutigam and other megaliths, mentioned in the article marriage and megaliths. And petrification also plays a role in the twin stones of Saint-Micaud mentioned in dolmen and fairies in France. The reason for the petrification differs. In the first examples, the bride did not want to marry and wished to turn to stone rather than enter into marriage, in the second example a man and woman refused to pray as a procession passed by. They continued to work on Sundays and were turned to stone as punishment. The still remaining menhir, once one of the twin stones in France, features various petroglyphs. There are countless other stories of petrification, some of which can be found in this article.

The Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones, to the right-rolling stones, take their name from a legend about a king and his army marching across the Cotswolds. This is a region in central England and they wanted to take all of England. It concerns a menhir or standing stone, a stone circle and a megalithic tomb. At the spot where the megaliths now lie, they met a witch who challenged the king and said, “Seven long steps you will take, and if you can see Long Compton, you will be king of England.” On his seventh step a hill rose up that obscured the view, and the witch turned the men all to stone. The king became the “King Stone” (the king stone); his army turned into the “King’s Men” (the king’s men; a stone circle 33 meters in diameter, 76 meters from the King Stone) and his knights became the Whispering Knights (the whispering knights; 400 meters away from the King’s Men). The mound, although reduced in height by centuries of ploughing, is still in situ.

In other versions of the story, it’s just a sorcerer who turns to petrification, or even a Saxon general. Because of the conspiratorial way the gatestones lean toward each other, the Whispering Knights’ stones are said to be treacherous knights plotting against the king. Others think they are praying. The witch became an elder tree, supposedly still in the hedge. If cut, the spell is broken and the stones come back to life.

According to legend, it is impossible to count the King’s Men. It is said there will never live a man who will count the stones three times and see the same number each time. It is also said that anyone who counts the same number three times will find his or her heart’s desire fulfilled (counting the right number is harder than you might expect!). A baker swore he could count them and to prove it, he baked a number of loaves of bread and placed one on each of the stones. But every time he tried to collect them, a few loaves of bread were missing, taken away by the devil or by fairies.

King’s Men, 1907

There are even more stories associated with the stones. For example, you might see fairies dancing around the stones and the stones would start drinking from a nearby stream at midnight on specific days. A local farmer is said to have removed one of the largest stones to make a bridge over a stream. It took 24 horses to drag the stone down the hill, and a man was killed along the way. They eventually got the stone across the stream, but by morning it had completely landed on the bank. This happened every time they tried. After that, the crops failed, so they decided to put the stone back. It only took one horse to drag it up the hill!

And as has been said about several standing stones in Wales, at the Rollright Stones too, any passing courier who chops off pieces of the King Stone will find the wheels of his cart locked irrevocably.

The Witch (created by David Gosling) and the King Stone near the Rollright Stones
The King’s Men, 1645

The myth about the origin of The Merry Maidens, the merry girls; a stone circle also pictured at the top of this article suggests that nineteen virgins were turned to stone as punishment for dancing on a Sunday. The Pipers, bagpipers, are two megaliths some distance northeast of the circle. These would be the fossilized remains of the musicians who played for the dancers. A more detailed story explains why the Pipers are so far from the Maidens. Apparently the two pipers heard the church bell chime at midnight in St. Buryan. Realizing that they were breaking the Sabbath, they began to run up the hill, away from the girls who continued to dance.

The site consists of a circular ring of 19 upright stones, about 24 meters in diameter. This is one of the best preserved stone circles in the UK and it is believed that the stones as we see them today are in their original place. The stones are not large, the largest is about 1.4 meters high. Excavations have shown that right next to this circle was a second stone circle that stood about 200 meters away, but was destroyed in the 19th century.

Next to the farthest Piper is a very large rock that is half buried in the earth. It never seems to be mentioned in descriptions of the site. West of the Merry Maidens circle is another menhir called Gun Rith. About 100 meters from the Merry Maidens is the Tregiffian Burial Chamber (marked with an A in the image below). The large stone tomb, half of which was cut off by a road in 1846, was, unlike Cornish quoits, mostly covered with earth, with only the entrance visible. From the edge of the site, a passageway, covered with four 3-meter-long stones, led to the 4-meter-deep burial chamber. In front of the room, a reclining ornate stone, with cup-and-ring markings, formed a barrier. The original stone is in Truro, in the Royal Cornwall Museum, the local stone is a replica. Inside the tomb was the chamber tomb, which consisted of upright stones and a cover plate. Tregiffian probably formed a sacred site along with the Merry Maidens and other sites in the area.

The Merry Maidens and the Pipers, with even more megaliths around

These petrification legends are often associated with stone circles, as is reflected in the folk names of some of the nearby sites, for example the Tregeseal Dancing Stones, the Nine Maidens of Boskednan, as well as the more distant Hurlers and Pipers on Bodmin Moor.

The Hurlers (three stone circles)
The Pipers are located near the three stone circles
The Hurlers, William Borlase, 1754

There is a legend about the Menhir of Hohenleina, also called Menhir von Krostitz or Die Steinerne Frau, which is related to its shape: according to the story, in a time of scarcity, a baker’s woman would secretly extract sand from a well to mix it with the flour for her bread. Because she also did this on a Sunday, she was turned to stone as punishment. According to a variant of this legend, the woman allegedly denied what she had done and vowed to turn to stone, which promptly happened. The stone was blown up around 1850. The fragments were used for the construction of the Krostitz brewery.

A few hundred meters from this menhir lay the Riesen- or Teufelsstein, where prints (giant finger) were visible. The giant would have thrown this stone from the Petersberg near Halle to Hohenleinaer, because a church was built here (1207). The stone flew between the two spiers. The giant would have been called ‘Pumphut’, this is a legendary figure from Upper Lusatia. He is usually depicted as a miller boy with a pointed hat and possesses great magical abilities. This also earned him the nickname of the warlock of Upper Lusatia. This devil stone was also destroyed in the 1960s. The same legend is told about other menhirs near the mountain, such as the Teufelsstein von Nehlitz, the Teufelsstein von Sennewitz, the Teufelsstein von Piltitz and the Menhir von Seeben.

The legend about Pumphut is of Sorbian origin and widespread in Saxony. In his work “Deutsche Mythologie” Jacob Grimm described Pumphut as a goblin who had long roamed the Pausa area and was also widespread in Westphalia. Pumphut is associated with Donar, the god of thunder, in the Burgenland district. A nail stone in Wethau bears witness to this connection. According to legend, Pumphut drove nails into this stone with his hat during a thunderstorm.

Die „Steinerne Jungfrau“ at Dölau
An iron nail has been driven into the menhir at Dölau

There are several legends related to the menhir at Dölau, where a giant maiden was petrified. During a thunderstorm, so as not to soil her dress, she had thrown her loaves of bread on the floor and walked on them through a puddle. Because of this iniquity she was turned to stone with her loaves. This makes it clear that there used to be even smaller stones in the area, the latter is indeed indicated on a special map from around 1840 where “the three stone virgins” were noted. Another version of the legend is that, surprised by the thunderstorm, a mother with two children (three again!) or one young girl who wanted to go to the ball in Lettin would have been petrified here for the same crime. Another legend says that here three women turned to stone and that there used to be two smaller stones next to the big one. For the ancient sanctity of this place also speaks a peculiar custom, which strangely enough persisted until the 19th century; the three preachers from the surrounding towns take turns preaching at this stone once a year. It was a Nagelstein, as early as 1886 nails could be seen that had been driven into the „Steinerne Jungfrau“. This is more common with blood or sacrificial stones, see also stories about sacrificial stones.

Also about the Malkstein at Groß-Storkwitz it is said that a virgin was turned to stone because she engaged in fraudulent practices in the milking of cows. The story also goes that milk was sold at this stone when the plague dominated the area.

An older story, however, is about Bockmarthe, a woman in a carriage pulled by four goats. She secretly milks the cows and when she is chased by horsemen, she disappears into the ground with the wagon and goats. This story is told in a larger area, it is said to be about the goddess Vrouw Holle.

On the Malkstein are two men meeting each other (one of whom carries a battle ax), on the wide side a man with a cross and a horse, on the narrow sides a standing man and a worm-like animal (the oldest known depiction of a dragon ).

The Malkstein (also called Reiterstein);
the stone may have been a monument to a hero from the 11th or 12th century or a memorial stone for the battle of Riade against the Hungarians in 933.

Before 1856, it was removed from its original location and placed in what was then the Museum of Antiquities in the Great Garden in Dresden. There, the stone fell victim to the bombing of Dresden on the night of February 13 to 14, 1945.

The feature that a person is turned to stone as a punishment returns several times in Germany. For example, there used to be seven large granite blocks on the Siebenbrüderbergen near Mohrin in the Neumark (near the former path to Zellin), one of which was larger than the other. It is related that there were once seven brothers who were tending the cows one morning and they were overconfident. As the sun rose higher, they opened their suitcases for breakfast. One of them had cheese. They wanted all this and it is not known whether they were mad or just overconfident, at least they took their whips and beat until the blood came out. For this they were punished, on the spot they turned to stone. They stood there until the road was moved to Zellin.

Something similar is also said about the Menhir of Artern: it is said to be a monument to a prince who died in battle. Another legend tells of a giantess. It traveled from north to south and carried a large lace of bacon on the back, which was fastened with ropes. She stopped at Edersleben and knocked stones out of her shoes. These stones would later have been used as field markers by the farmers. Finding her burden too heavy, the giantess called on the gods to turn her to stone. The gods heard the request of the giantess and turned the bacon side into stone. The furrows are said to come from the impressions of the cords. This menhir has also been destroyed in the past.

The name Sackstein comes from a legend associated with petrification. According to this legend, a farmer wanted to fill a sack of potatoes on Sunday morning. Just as he finished his work, the church bells began to ring.

Suddenly the bag became so heavy that the farmer could no longer lift it because it had turned to stone.

This menhir is also known as Der Lange Stein, Kluckstein or Hinkelstein. It is a menhir near Bürstadt in the Bergstraße district of Hesse.


At the Menhir von Wasserleben (also called Brotstein), a girl is said to have put a piece of bread she was carrying in a puddle when it rained (so as not to get her shoes dirty when crossing it). As punishment, she was turned into a bread-like stone. According to a similar legend, a local woman is said to have stolen bread. When she denied this when questioned, she would drop dead instantly. The stone marks her place of death.

According to legend, the Bülheimer Großmutter (also called the Menhir von Kleinenber) a lonely grandmother was turned to stone while she was collecting wood in the forest. In the Middle Ages, a Christian cross and a staff were carved into the stone.

Above: Brotstein

Right: Büllheimer Großmutter

The Räther menhir was recorded in a legend about the neighboring four stones of Krimpe. It is said of their origin that a coachman with a carriage drawn by four horses once got stuck during a thaw. Despite their best efforts, the horses could not move the carriage. Then the coachman started cursing and wishing the devil would turn them all to stone. No sooner had he said this than a thunderstorm broke out and horses, carriages, and coachman turned to stone. At night you should still be able to hear the roaring, screaming and snorting of the horses at the stones. The petrified coachman is identified with the Räther menhir.

The menhirs ‘Su Para e sa Mongia’ are known in Sardinia. The name can be translated into ’the nun and the monk’. The larger of the two trachyte menhirs, about two and three meters high, is anthropomorphic in shape but it is not a statue menhir. The legend associated with these two menhirs is about the love between them and their punishment in the form of petrification.

The oral tradition has yielded two versions of Su Para e sa Mongia: in the first, the two lovers, recognizing the impossibility of crowning their dream of love and fearing the judgment of the ecclesiastical authorities, decided to abandon their cassock lives and flee their monasteries to Sant’Antioco in the hope of a happy married life in another place. However, legend has it that, having arrived not far from the small island, they were struck by the divine wrath that turned them to stone.

The second version, on the other hand, tells of a young man who, in search of asparagus in the fields of the isthmus, caught the two lovers red-handed, overwhelmed by the passion of the carnal deed and recognized in them the two clergymen thanks to their clothes which are not far away. could be found. He appealed to divine intervention. Shortly afterwards, the young man saw the two bodies turn to stone at that moment. In both versions of the story, the petrified monk and nun stood erect in the ground as a warning of possible punishment for anyone who had committed such an unclean act.

Su Para, facing southwest and northwest, is three meters high, cone-shaped with cavities and protuberances that recall the masculine features. Sa Mongia is two meters high and has a protrusion and several cupels typical of the female figure, but is oriented to the southeast and northeast as if the two lovers can look each other in the eye but are not close enough to touch.

The menhirs were probably provided with human features to commemorate the ancestors. The menhirs in Sardinia were a place of prayer and worship at different stages of life in the village, their surface was touched, sprinkled with liquids or decorated with gifts at the time of childbirth or conception, to propitiate the gods during the transition to the afterlife or to invoke fertility in the fields. The rites were frowned upon by the church, which did everything it could to hinder the rites and even destroy some of them. Fortunately, there are still about 740 menhirs in Sardinia and their sacred character still lives on. They are important testimonies of the prehistory of the island, they are scattered throughout the territory: isolated or in pairs, but also aligned in parallel rows or forming concentric circles.

Above: Su Para e sa Mongia

Right: U Frate ea Suora

A similar story to ‘Su Para e sa Mongia’ is told about the megaliths U Frate ea Suora (the brother/monk and the nun/sister) in Corsica. Christianized legends are often associated with the Corsican menhirs. The images of a human being are always linked to the erected stones. Here the two monoliths standing close to each other are said to have been lovers who had fled the monastery in Sartène. They were turned to stone at the first rest for their crime.

Marinda Ruiter

Whispering Knights, William Stukeley, 1743 

This is a translation of a Dutch article, sources can be found in that article: Verstening


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