Hail to St. Jakob, Patron Saint of Pilgrims!
Dropping my hot chocolate, I cried silently “Ohhhh God…help!” as the bells of St. Jakob’s Church chimed and all was frozen in time.
The packaged “Bauerngarten” painting was safely tucked under my arm,
purchased from new-found friend, Barbara Schacht, with hopes of bringing American recognition to her late father’s artistic legacy. As a college student, I had little money but managed the purchase, for somehow I wanted to be part of fulfilling Wilhelm Schacht’s dream …bringing one of his original masterpieces to America.
Now danger stared me in the face and had just spoken these words in a deep menacing German voice: “I believe you are carrying something of interest to me, Miss Karen.” How did danger know my name? And why did danger want this Schacht painting of mine?
Margaret, my college roommate and traveling companion, suddenly had her harmonica in hand and a cheerful rendition of “Jingle Bells” quickly permeated the Marktplatz (town square) as German children with their parents gathered round. Rosy-cheeked faces sang with glee amidst the beauty and revelry of the Christmas Festival of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.
The man with the deep menacing German voice retreated into the crowd. Thanks to Margaret’s swift thinking, her strategy worked!I whispered into Margaret’s ear “Meet me at the Weihnachtsdorf after your little concert.” Trodding about fifty feet in the accumulating snow, I slipped into the shop entrance.
Shopping at the outdoor Christmas Market this afternoon had been interrupted by our meeting Barbara Schacht and the subsequent visit to her home, which also housed the Wilhelm Schacht Museum. We planned to leave Rothenburg the next day with much Christmas shopping yet to accomplish!
In the warmth and quaintness of the Weihnachtsdorf (Christmas Village), music boxes spilled their melodic holiday joy. “O Tannenbaum” was chosen for my mother. I added several hand-blown glass ornaments and a wooden crèche candle mill for the shopkeeper, Mr. Hans Schmidt, to package for my journey home.
Peering out the store-front window, the crowd still encircled Margaret as she entertained. Flickering lights decorating the ancient half- timbered houses enclosing the Marktplatz brought a special glow to the scene. The clock tower chimed as I spied the man in the black coat with the deep menacing German voice.
Dashing into the snowfall, I grasped Margaret’s hand and bade a cheery “Frohe Weihnachten!” to the children. Entering the store, I approached the shopkeeper with fear in my voice.
“We’re being followed by a dangerous looking man trying to steal a painting from me. I first saw him outside the museum where I bought it, then he accosted me in the Marktplatz only an hour ago.”
“What painting might that be?”
“One by Wilhelm Schacht, bought from his daughter at the museum today.”
“My, my, Schacht’s paintings are worth thousands of dollars ; he’s quite renowned throughout Germany and Europe. Is the man nearby?”
“Yes, lurking near the Clock Tower minutes ago.”
“He’s probably part of an art crime ring ; you’re in much danger if that is so; these thugs will do anything to get prized art.”
“Oh, Herr Schmidt, can you help us? We’re college students from America traveling through Europe during Christmas break.”
“So you are pilgers…let me see your English word…pilgrims, yes…someone who journeys in foreign lands.”
“Yes, I guess you can call us pilgrims, then … scared pilgrims!”
“I have a plan to get you to safety for the night. Don’t turn around … I think your mysterious man is just outside the window. I’ll lock up and you two slowly go through this door to my back room.”
We huddled in the supply room until Herr Schmidt joined us. He then told us about underground tunnels leading from all the buildings encircling the Markplatz to St. Jakob’s Church.
“The church has been considered a sanctuary for all who enter since 1322. I’ll bring you there and the priests will ensure your safety. Let’s hurry …follow me.”
We walked through a metal door, down stairs, and entered the darkness of the tunnels; shadows danced on the walls in our lantern light. It was 1975, but I felt like a medieval pilgrim.
After ten minutes, we arrived at another locked metal door, opened with a large bronze key. I anxiously peered over my shoulder only to see danger again.
As the metal door slammed behind us, I gasped in relief. We ascended the stairs and walked into the ancient Gothic cathedral as I whispered “Hail to St. Jakob!”
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