We’re all familiar with the classic Disney movie “Snow White.” In it, Snow White has an evil stepmother who does things for her other daughters but treats her stepdaughter shabbily. In the end, the protagonist finds her Prince Charming and lives happily ever after.
“A German museum has put on display the gravestone of a woman who has been put forward as the model for Snow White . It is the marker of a German lady who lived in the 18th century and had a very tragic life. The headstone was thought to be lost for years, but it survived by chance and was recently donated to a museum.
“The burial plaque is that of Maria Sophia von Erthal, who was born into a wealthy family, who were members of the local elite in the German town of Lohr am Main, near Bamberg, in Bavaria. The young Maria Sophia was a very attractive girl and loved to help the many unfortunates in the district. Her life changed forever when her mother died, and her father remarried.”
The Wicked Stepmother
Yes, Sophia’s stepmother (just like Snow White’s), was not a nice person. The Daily Mail notes she “had a reputation for being domineering and favoring her natural children.”
Sadly, the story of the real Snow White doesn’t have a happy ending: Not allowed to marry, Sophia went to live with a poor woman and eventually became blind:
“She died in 1791 and had her own headstone which was an unusual distinction for a woman of her time. The church where she was buried ‘was demolished in 1804 and her gravestone was moved to the local hospital, which was founded by her brother’ the Archbishop of Mainz reports Sky News.”
Reality Becomes Fairy Tale
The Snow White story was transformed from reality to fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm in the early 19th century. They reportedly traveled across Germany and learned of Sophia’s sad life and thought it would be perfect for their collection of stories.
Bamberg Museum director Holger Kempken told the BBC that Sophia’s story was “well known at the start of the 19th century” and:
“There are indications – though we cannot prove it for sure – that Sophia was the model for Snow White.”
Mirror, mirror …
The region where Sophia lived, Lohr am Main, was a center of the glass industry and known for making mirrors, which play an essential role in the story of Snow White. The place where Sophia lived was also surrounded by a lush forest, which the Grimm brothers also included in their Snow White story.
The Disney version of Snow White (which was taken from the Grimm story) also features the Seven Dwarves:
“They play a very significant part in the tale. The area of Bavaria where Sophia was born and raised was also a mining area. The Daily Mail reports that ‘Dwarfs and children did historically work in local mines, as they could squeeze through small gaps.'”
While we may never know the exact connection between the real Snow White and the story we all came to know and love as children, people in Lohr am Main are incredibly proud of their connection to the fairy tale and the attention it has brought to their region.
Perhaps the most important message any of us can take away from the Snow White legend is that we all face hardships in life, and the best way to overcome them is by doing the best we can and always keeping a firm grasp on both hope and magic.
For more on the real Snow White, there’s this informative video:
Featured Image Via Stefan Schubert/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)