8

I was recently reading Martin Luther's commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (English translation by Charles A. Hay, 1892) and I was intrigued by a reference to "the legend of the Knight Tondalo".

Here is what Luther wrote, when discussing the strait gate and narrow way (Matthew 7:13,14), and specifically Luther's concept of battling against the devil, the world and one's own flesh:

The ancients have admirably depicted this in the legend of the Knight Tondalo (except that they did not rightly apply it, and interpreted it of purgatory or the punishment of souls after this life,) how he had to pass over a small bridge that was scarcely as broad as a hand, with a burden on his back, and under him a sulphurous pool full of dragons, and besides there was one coming towards him to whom he had to give place.

(The full text of this book, matching my print version, is online here: https://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2005/10/commentary-on-sermon-on-mount.html)

Some basic web searches for "Tondalo", "pool of dragons and sulfur" and similar terms do not turn up anything relevant. I'm thinking perhaps the form of the name Luther used is different from the modern one. It also would not be unusual if he had some of the details wrong or adapted them for his purposes in explaining the Bible.

I don't know which "ancients" he is referring to, either, although it seems most likely to me that this would be a Greek or Roman hero figure, rather than an actual "knight". Or maybe the story comes from an old Germanic legend or some other tradition, instead.

I would like to find out:

  • What is the underlying myth or legend Luther is referencing?
  • Where can I find a more complete version than this short reference?
  • 1
    Great question. Welcome to mythology and folklore! – Tom Nov 1 at 5:59
0

This motif sounds a lot like the Bridge Chinvat, from Zoroastrian tradition and As-Sirat is Islamic. In those religions, upon the death of the body, a soul comes to a bridge which must be passed over. The good may pass over a broad bridge and come into paradise; the evil try to pass over a narrow bridge.

There is certainly no official teaching of crossing such a bridge in either Judaism (that I'm aware of) or Catholicism, though pious inventions and traditions are a different matter! I'd hazard the guess that Luther, who by the way, got purgatory wrong (it's not a place of punishment at all), was not referring to either one or the other of these beliefs, but rather to an older story.

As for der Ritter Tondalo, we need to look back to the 12th century and the Visio Tnugdali, written by an Irish monk living in Germany. The story takes place in Ireland where the knight, Tundale (his English name) is guided by an angel on a visionary tour through Heaven and Hell, antedating Dante by a good while.

It could well be that monk Marcus had some knowledge of the Islamic or Zoroastrian traditions. Or it could be his own, parallel, invention.

New contributor
elemtilas is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.