'Snow White' gravestone surfaces in Germany

The long-lost gravestone of an 18th-century baroness believed to be the inspiration for the fairy tale “Snow White” has surfaced in Germany.

Earlier this week, the Bamberg Diocesan Museum in Southern Germany announced the rediscovery of Sophia Maria von Erthal’s gravestone. “

The gravestone was considered lost until it recently re-emerged privately and was handed over to the Diocesan Museum,” a museum statement reads.

The gravestone is now on display in the museum.

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Born into an aristocratic family in 1725, von Erthal was the daughter of Prince Philipp von Erthal, who owned a mirror factory. Her brothers were Prince Bishop Franz Ludwig and Archbishop Friedrich Karl Joseph.

The long-lost gravestone of Baroness Sophia Maria von Erthal.

The long-lost gravestone of Baroness Sophia Maria von Erthal. (© Press Office Archbishopric Bamberg/Dominik Schreiner)

The Spessart Museum in von Erthal’s birthplace of Lohr am Main notes that after the death of Sophia’s mother, her father married Claudia Elisabeth Maria von Venningen, the imperial countess of Reichenstein. The young baroness, who was about 18 at the time of her father’s remarriage, had a difficult relationship with her stepmother.

In a clear nod to that “magic mirror on the wall,” the museum notes that it has a von Erthal family mirror inscribed with the words “amour propre” (self love) in its collection.

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The Bamberg Diocesan Museum notes that the presence of mines in the local area may have fed into the famous fairy tale. “There were mines where children or minors worked in the tunnels, which could point to the seven dwarves,” it said. Visitors also have to cross seven hills to get to the mines.

"The fairy tale reference is more of a gag for us," said museum director Holger Kempkens in a statement, adding that the stone would have been displayed regardless of its link to the fairy tale. The fact that a woman living in such a male-dominated period as the late 18th century got her own tombstone is noteworthy, according to officials.

The baroness, who went blind, died in a Bamberg monastery in 1796. The church where she was buried was demolished in the early 19th century and, although the gravestone survived, it was lost for many years until its recent rediscovery.

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Some 60 years after von Erthal’s death, the famous Brothers Grimm were born in the town of Hanau in Southern Germany. It is quite possible that the fairy tale writers were aware of von Erthal, who may have inspired the character of “Snow White,” according to the Bamberg Diocesan Museum.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers