1841 (pub): Morowa Dziewica: The Plague Maiden of Lithuania

In Lithuania, it was believed that plague was spread by a woman in white carrying a bloody handerkerchief... wherever she waved her kerchief, people became ill and died. It was said she could be seen in lone burial grounds and fields, wearing a fiery wreath and divining rods upon her head. She is called morowa dziewica -- literally "plague maiden" -- and there is a tale from an old Lithuanian ballad, which was first published (as far as I currently know) in the notes for an 1841 edition of Adam Mitskievitch's Konrad Vallenrod, a story which made a reference to the legend and therefore elicited an explanation in the notes.

The Ballad of Morowa Dziewica

       Morowa Dziewica was spreading the plague in the village by thrusting her hand through windows and doorways and waving a bloody handkerchief; the inhabitants of these houses always died of the plague. People shut themselves up within their houses, refusing to open doors or windows... but hunger and other needs soon forced them to open their homes and suffer again.

        One brave man "of the lesser nobility" chose to do something about this situation. Even though he was well supplied with food and could have waited longer than any in his village, he purposely opened his window and waited, a sabre in his hand which was inscribed with the powerful phrase 'the name of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.' A short time later, the plague maiden thrust her bloody handkerchief into his home... and he sliced off her arm and took the handkerchief. The man and his family died, but from that time on there were no other victims of the plague within the village. The handkerchief was said to be held at a small church, but where it is now is anyone’s guess.

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