The Virgin Mary impersonates a knight’s wife to save her from the devil

Pocket Bard’s notes: This is one of those rare Golden Legend stories that’s pretty much good to go as-is. It’s got everything you need: a nasty-but-sympathetic man, a virtuous woman, deals with the devil, deception, comeuppance, and even a happy ending that doesn’t need to be modified at all. Amazing! I suspect this will be one of those stories that I tell relatively frequently, once I get it worked up in proper bardic form.

The Virgin Mary impersonates a knight’s wife to save her from the devil
The Golden Legend, Volume II, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.85-86

A very rich and valiant knight had squandered all his wealth with careless liberality and was reduced to such poverty that he, accustomed as he was to giving his money away, began to want for the barest necessities. His wife was a most virtuous woman and very devoted to blessed Mary. Now a solemn feast day was approaching, a day on which the knight had always made many large donations, but now he had nothing to give. Driven by embarrassment and shame, he went out to a desert place to let the feast day go by, hoping also to find some companion in misery with whom he could bemoan his bad luck and escape his feeling of humiliation.

Suddenly a fearful horse, with a still more fearful rider in the saddle, galloped up to the knight. The rider addressed him and asked the reason for his woebegone look. The knight told him everything that had happened to him, and the rider said: “If you are willing to do me a small favor, you will enjoy greater fame and more riches than ever.” The knight answered the prince of darkness that he would gladly do whatever he was asked to, provided the other would fulfill his promises. The demon said: “Go home and look in a certain cupboard in your house, and you will find large amounts of gold, silver, and precious stones. And here is what you will do for me: bring your wife to me on the day I tell you.”

After that exchange of promises the knight went home, found the treasures as directed, and proceeded to buy palaces, make lavish gifts, redeem his lands, and purchase slaves. Then, as the appointed day drew near, he called to his wife and said: “Get up behind me, we have a long ride ahead of us.” She shook with fear but dared not refuse, so she devoutly commended herself to the Blessed Virgin and set out with her husband. They had ridden a long distance when they came to a church beside the road, and the lady dismounted and went in while her spouse waited outside. Then, as she prayed earnestly to blessed Mary, she fell asleep. Next, the glorious Virgin, dressed as the matron was and looking exactly like her, came down from the altar, went out of the church while the woman slept on inside, and mounted behind the knight. He, thinking it was his wife, continued the journey.

When they reached the place agreed upon, the prince of darkness hurried up to meet them, but when he saw who was there, he dared come no closer and said to the knight: “You treacherous fellow, why have you tricked me this way after all I did for you? I told you to bring your wife to me, and instead you have brought me the mother of the Lord. I wanted your spouse and you come here with Mary! Your wife has done me great harm and I wanted to take my revenge, and now you bring this woman to torment me and send me to hell!” The knight was stupefied at what he heard and could not say a word for fear and wonderment. Mary, however, spoke: “Wicked spirit, what rashness led you to presume to harm my devoted follower? You will not go unpunished for this, and I now impose this sentence upon you. Go down to hell, and never again dare to do injury to anyone who invokes me with devotion!”

The devil vanished, loudly lamenting his frustration. The knight got down from his horse and prostrated himself at the Virgin’s feet. She rebuked him and ordered him to go to his wife, who was still asleep in the church, and to throw away all the demon’s riches. He went into the church, awakened his sleeping spouse, and told her all that had occurred. They then returned home, threw out all the ill-gotten treasures, and lived thereafter praising the Virgin most devoutly. In time they acquired much wealth, blessed Mary herself bestowing it.


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