(RNS) — Once upon a time, in the marshes of the Wadden Sea, which spans the western coasts of Denmark, Germany and parts of the Netherlands, a great center of trade and commerce arose. Known as Rungholt, the city grew rich off the the region’s abundant amber, salt and whales, and became an essential stop for North Sea traders.However, as often follows money and power, its people grew vain and arrogant. When they first built dikes to keep the great sea at bay, they shouted back, “Defy us if you have the courage, Blanke Hans,” using a local nickname for a rough and wild sea, “White Hans.”
One Christmas morning in the 14th century, its townspeople decided to defy God himself, like the biblical builders of the Tower of Babel before them.
A group of young men tried to make a mockery of the church by tricking a priest into giving last rites to a pig disguised as a man. When the priest refused, they beat him senseless.
A lightweight measuring cart provides large-scale magnetic mapping of cultural traces hidden beneath the surface of today’s North Frisian Wadden Sea mudflats in northern Germany. Photo © Dirk Bienen-Scholt, Schleswig
Barely escaping with his life, the priest prayed that the men would be punished. God answered him with a vision — leave the island at once. Shortly thereafter, Blanke Hans found its courage. The winds roared, the waves raged, and Rungholt was wiped from the face of the earth. All its thousands of inhabitants died. I …