Facing the World
Frau Welt and Prinz der Welt, Lady World and Prince of the World respectively, are symbols of the dangers of worldly love that are used widely throughout the region. The prince is depicted as having a beautiful front and a back covered with toads, snakes, worms and other serpents. He is often holding either an apple or a flower both of which symbolize temptation. Similarly, Lady World is depicted as having a beautiful front and back covered with disgusting features or animals. The two represent how the world can be full of beauty, but one must be wary of the dangers that can accompany living a life focused on worldly passions alone.
A commonly referenced tale depicting Lady World is Konrad von Würzburg’s “The Reward of the World.” In short, the story tells of a noble and honorable knight who is successful in many quests; however, he can never find the satisfaction that he is longing for. One day, the most beautiful woman he has ever seen appears in his court and declares she is ready to give him the gift that he has earned for serving her. The issue that the prince has with this declaration is that he does not remember ever meeting her and is hesitant to receive any type of reward. As she walks away from their conversation, the prince is able to see that her back is adorned with worms, reptiles and other repulsive features. After the initial shock, he realizes that he has been serving the world and seeking the wrong type of satisfaction, so he abandons his lifestyle and devotes his life to God.
The symbolism of the two figures and their importance to the culture of the medieval period resulted in their inclusion on several cathedrals. In fact, a Prince of the World motif can be seen on the Basel and Strasbourg cathedrals as well as the Freiburg münster. The statue is typically placed near the entrance of the buildings in order to serve as a reminder both entering and leaving to not focus on the temptations of the world.