In the small town of Marpingen of Saarland, there are two holy wells with extraordinary history. As the village is located between Tholey and St. Wendel which are notable for their religious histories. They border east of Saarlouis and north of Saarbruecken and have fluctuated between German and French control.
The area was settled in the 5th century during the invasions following the collapse of the Roman Empire. It is believed that the locale of “Marpingen” was named after the early settler named “Marbod” or “Merbod”, first documented 11th century in various documents. Just east of the village is an important crossroads of ancient trade routes that connected Strasbourg with Trier running north-south via the “Alte Roemerstrasse” or Old Roman Road. The east-west route connected Metz and Mainz through Marpingen, the intersection of which was marked by the hamlet “Rheinstrasse” or Road to the Rhine (Rhine Road) is located on the Rhine River.
Atop a steep hill near the Parish church on the west side of town is Mary’s Well or “Marienbrunnen” which has been in use since the 14th century. According to folklore, the image of the Virgin Mary appeared in this well, and afterward many miraculous cures took place from its waters. Just above the well was built a lovely stone chapel with a stone surround. The well appears to have been in use until 1876 exclusively.
Another story involves three eight-year-old girls who were picking berries in the Haertel Woods during the summer of 1876. There they saw a “white lady”. The children saw this apparition multiple times as did other villages. They claim she identified herself as the Virgin Mary, having directed the villagers to stop using the Marienbrunnen well and to switch to a spring found in the Haertel Woods located 400 meters uphill from the chapel. There is a white and red sign officially warning about health hazards using the well water today. The news of the Virgin Mary appearing as well as associated cures from the well spread invoked hundreds then thousands of pilgrims descending upon the small town.
During this time period, much of Saarland was under the control of Prussia, and these kinds of gatherings around wells were frowned upon with rigid and unsympathetic regulations. Several weeks later, troops were sent to Marpingen and forcibly quartered there, they then proceeded to question the local parish priest and the three little girls. It was forbidden to visit the site of the apparitions or the spring in the woods, later being converted to a military restricted area until 1917. The three girls were taken from their families and put into a Protestant home for children. Eventually, they were returned to their families because of local outrage.
“There will be no Lourdes in Germany,” said Chancellor Otto von Bismark, thereby removing the troops from Marpingen. After that, the locals continued to use the Haertel Wood Spring or “Gnadenbrunnen” (Blessed Well). By the end of WWI, a chapel was built on the site of the apparitions with Stations of the Cross going up the steep hill to the Gnadenbrunnen. The well was capped and covered, and a small open-air chapel was built next to it. The iconography of St. Michael the Archangel was included. St. Michael was known in German lore to give protection of healing and holy waters with the advent of Christianity. Previously it was under Apollo’s care followed by Odin or Woden.
In May of 1999, another three young women reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary right where this chapel stands. The Bishop of Trier and the Catholic Church investigated and much controversy occurred from the situation as reports of the apparitions continued throughout the summer. The visions continued until October with the 13th apparition ending the phenomena. Upwards of 30,000 pilgrims came to see, spending cold nights in the woods and meadow near the chapel.
Believers still claim the Virgin mary urged all to use the water of the Gnadenbrunnen for their healing needs, but the authorities have placed the sign “Kein Trinkwasser” (non potable water) after testing determined the waters polluted.
- Marienbrunnen undated website referenced 1/10/2014 at www.marienerscheinung.de
- Taylor, Janet undated “Holy Wells Site”. Website referenced 1/10/2014 at http://www.angelfire.com/de/holywells/.
- Unknown undated website referenced 1/10/2014 at http://www.angelfire.com/de/holywells/Marienbrunnen.html
- Unknown undated website referenced 1/10/2014 at http://aweb.de/marpingen/historie/index.htm