Over the years, any number of places and artifacts have been ascribed to the work of the devil. These range from footprints to rocks to standing stones, but one of the most common things attributed to the devil are bridges.
These so-called devil's bridges all share common stories, though the folklore seems to have evolved independently. In most cases, the devil agrees to help build a bridge over some troublesome spot, but the help comes with a price. Deals with the devil seldom go well for the dealmaker, but in many of these devil's bridge stories, the locals manage to outwit their infernal engineer, often by offering an animal in place of the original sacrifice.
There Are Devil's Bridges All Across Europe, Each With Its Own Legend
Whether it's the Devil's Bridge in Ceredigion, Wales, or the Ponte del Diavolo in Italy, devil's bridges all over Europe boast their own stories about how they came to be associated with sinister powers. What's even stranger, they all seem to have developed entirely independent of one another. Theories about why bridges, in particular, seem to attract such infernal traffic range from their architectural complexities to their status as liminal in-between spaces to ancient rites of human sacrifice. Whatever the reason, there are dozens of different stories about devil's bridges ranging from Switzerland to Germany and beyond.
An online database of folklore assembled and maintained by D. L. Ashliman at the University of Pittsburgh identifies 14 stories of the "Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1191," AKA stories of devil's bridges, while others have been reported in countries all over Europe. These stories frequently share common elements, such as deals with the devil to build the bridges under difficult or unlikely circumstances and using an animal to trick the devil out of a promised soul, but they all appear to have evolved without reference to one another.
Before You Cross, You Have To Pay The Toll - Which May Be Your Soul!
According to The Encyclopedia of Superstitions by Edwin and Mona Augusta Radford, "It was formerly thought very unlucky to be the first person to go over a new bridge." This may be tied to an age-old habit of placing the body of an animal or another sacrifice under the foundations of important buildings in order to ensure those buildings stood the test of time. Even the familiar nursery rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down" is supposed by some to contain references to sacrificial practices in bridge-building, though there is no evidence of any such sacrifices in the history of the London Bridge.
In some interpretations, these sacrifices helped ensure that the bridge or other building would stand, while in others, the sacrifice was intended to "set a watchman" to keep an eye on the bridge for all eternity. Whatever the truth of these theories, the fact that being the first one across a new bridge was considered hazardous to your health - and possibly the fate of your immortal soul - is present in many of the devil's bridge stories throughout Europe, where crafty townspeople often make a deal with the devil promising him the first soul across the bridge in exchange for its completion, only to send a dog, rooster, or goat instead of a human.
Satan Took The Soul Of A Dog To Build A Bridge In Wales
The Ceredigion Bridge, which spans a deep ravine containing the Mynach River in Wales, is a strange enough sight on its own, even without the accompanying legends about the devil. Actually, three bridges stacked one atop the other, the newest dates back only to 1902, while the oldest may have been built as early as 1075. From the topmost bridge, you can descend a set of stairs called "Jacob's Ladder" to reach the middle bridge, which was built in 1753, or the original bridge, which still stands in the shadow of the other two.
Of course, such an odd bit of architecture has attracted legends, notably one stating that the ravine originally proved too steep to be bridged by human ingenuity alone. When the devil popped up and offered his services, his price was the first soul that crossed over the bridge. According to legend, when the bridge was done and the townspeople set out to cross it, a dog dashed out ahead and crossed the bridge first, thus cheating the devil of his prize.
According to versions of the story collected by D. L. Ashliman at the University of Pittsburgh, the devil approached an old woman who had lost her cow on the far side of the ravine. He offered to build her a bridge across so she could retrieve the cow but demanded the first living creature to cross the bridge as payment. When the bridge was finished, the woman threw a piece of bread onto the bridge and her little black dog ran after it. "The dog's yours, sir," the woman reportedly said, and the devil was "discomfited."
The Devil’s Footprint Can Be Seen On A Bridge In Ardino, Bulgaria
Built in the early 16th century over the remains of a demolished Roman bridge, the devil's bridge in Ardino, Bulgaria, is so visually striking, it even earned an appearance in the 1988 Bulgarian film Time of Violence. One need look no further than the bridge's distinct interior arches (used for monitoring water levels) or its nearly 40-foot tall central arch to see why.
The bridge is also the source of several dark legends. One says the builder's wife perished during construction and that her shadow was somehow bricked up in the structure. That's not why it's known as the devil's bridge, however. For that story, we must look to a tale of the devil crossing the arches at night, leaving his footprint behind in the stone, which some say can still be seen there to this day.