The Schächental Valley by Ted Tschopp

The Well in the Schächental Valley

A Swiss Folktale from Uri

written by

The Schächental Valley : an image by Ted Tschopp

Legends from Uri 1-3. Vols. 1-2 ed. Hanns Bächtold-Stäubli; Vol. 3 ed. Robert Wildhaber.

by Josef  Müller

Basel: G. Krebs, 1926

The Well at Schwanden

In the Schächental Valley, it is impossible to sink a well, not even with mercury1. In olden times, there was no well water there. Therefore, the people began to pray to St. Anna 2, the patron saint of the chapel. One evening, a beggar came and asked for a place to stay overnight. The people kindly took him in, but said that if he should be thirsty, he would have to provide water himself in God’s name, as they had none in the house. He said that by tomorrow, they would have water. In the early morning, the beggar had already left, and next to the house flowed a magnificent little fountain with clear water, which subsequently never dried up and never froze, even in winter.

  1. Sinking a well with mercury is not a practical or environmentally sound method. In fact, it’s not used in modern well construction. The mention of mercury in the folktale “Der Brunnen zu Schwanden” is likely metaphorical or symbolic, illustrating the difficulty or impossibility of sinking a well in that particular area. In reality, mercury is a toxic heavy metal, and its use in any environmental or construction context would be hazardous. Traditional well construction involves drilling or digging into the ground to access groundwater. The folktale likely uses the concept of mercury in a well to convey a sense of a miraculous event, as mercury, being dense and liquid at room temperature, would not be useful for well sinking in any practical sense. 

  2. Saint Anna, often referred to as Saint Anne in English, is traditionally recognized as the mother of the Virgin Mary, making her the grandmother of Jesus Christ in Christian tradition. Although not mentioned in the Bible, her story and identity have been fleshed out in various apocryphal texts, most notably the Protoevangelium of James, a non-canonical gospel written around the mid-second century. Her role in the story of “Der Brunnen zu Schwanden” as the patron saint of the chapel indicates her importance in local faith and folklore, reflecting her status as a figure of maternal care and divine intercession. 


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