Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/The great loop of the Main - Part 2

Illustrated by Thomas Sulman.

Part 1



There was in all probability an ancient Roman ferry at Urphar, the odd name of which place seems simply to have denoted a ferry, “Ueberfahrt” appearing in old German as Oberphar. At Eichill is to be seen a rude sculpture of a wolf and a lamb, which is thus accounted for. Long ago lived at Eichill a pious hermit, to whom a shepherd was desirous of bringing a lamb as a present. He found the hermit not at home, so he tied the lamb to the church door, and went out to seek him. In the meantime a wolf came, and marked the easy prey, but so eager was he to seize it, that he sprang past the lamb into the church through the open door. The lamb, which was tied to the handle, in its eagerness to escape, closed the door on Isegrim, who was thus taken prisoner. Hence a saying arose, “At Eichill, where the sheep caught the wolf.” In all probability the sheep merely symbolises the Paschal Lamb of Christianity, the wolf denoting Satan or heathenism. This place was once signalised by the ravages of the Black Death, of which Fries of Wertheim says:

He came, a gloomy cloud his head did cloak,
And hence his name, Black Death, among the folk.

In Eichill it was said that all the inhabitants perished by the pestilence, except seven heads of families, who were mortal enemies before. These, having lost wives and children, embraced each other under the Linden-tree, formed themselves into a holy brotherhood, and continued ever after firmly united till their deaths. We have crossed the hill which cuts off the part of the river containing these interesting places, and passed over a long slope to Kreuz-Wertheim, where we see on the opposite bank of the river, glorified by the evening sun, and strongly bringing to mind Heidelberg in Turner’s picture, the town and castle of Wertheim, perfectly repeated in the windless river. From the houses of entertainment on the banks come sounds of music and merriment, for Wertheim is making holiday, and has tricked itself out with flags to inaugurate the completion of negotiations for a railway, which is destined to restore its prosperity and, in due time, completely to vulgarise it.

The town of Kreuz-Wertheim is still distinguished by extensive remains of fortifications, with towers at intervals. It must have completely secured the command of the navigation of the river to the possessors of Wertheim as long as both places were in their hands. The town of Wertheim is built on both sides of the mouth of the Tauber, a good sized river, navigable for a short distance in its picturesque course. The castle, as its situation is exactly similar to that of Heidelberg, resembles it in colour, size, and general grandeur of effect. As a piece of antiquity it is far more interesting: parts of it, the keep for instance, are coeval with the earliest date of castle-building, while its more modern portion has not the exuberant Renaissance ornamentation of the Heidelberg castle, which is more of a palace than a stronghold. The front towards the Tauber was built by Count Rudolph, in 1310, and destroyed in the Thirty Years’ War. Well worth seeing are the vaulted chambers, formerly used as stables, and the ruins of the church, which, in less pious times, became a hall, containing some windows which are specimens of the purest early Gothic. The trees and shrubs have grown in the roofless spaces so as in a measure to obscure the details of the architecture, standing as they do on an accumulation of rubble from the ruin of the upper part of the building. Around the machicolated walls wind pleasant walks, which lead past the remains of higher outworks into a kind of carefully kept shrubbery, and up to the crest of the hill, whence the castle is overlooked, and an extensive view of the reaches of the river on both sides is obtained. As we pass down again, we remark standing in the garden an image carved in stone of some four-footed animal, considerably mutilated. It is said to represent a hart which was shot there from the window of the castle by a fair countess, after it had long baffled the pursuit of her husband. He must have looked rather foolish when, in sportsman’s phrase, his eye was wiped by his wife.

The Counts of Wertheim are mentioned as early as 900 in the Turnirbücher. They were often at feud with the Bishops of Würzburg, from whom they transferred their allegiance to the Emperors. One of the towers of the castle is remarkable as having ten iron rings driven into it. It is said that on one occasion when a bishop came with a powerful force to besiege the castle, he boasted that his horses would pull it down into the Main, unless it were instantly given up to him. The Count of Wertheim, in defiance, drove these iron rings into the nearest tower, and asked the bishop if his men had brought the ropes to pull by them. He then sallied out with his men, and drove the episcopal forces away. Notwithstanding their disrespect to bishops, in the times of the Reformation, these Counts of Wertheim were deadly enemies to the movement. One of these swore that he would kill Luther, and hearing that the Reformer had arrived at Miltenberg, rode thither in all haste. Early in the morning he threw open the window of the room in the inn where he had slept, and, at the same time, he heard a window opposite opened, and saw standing before him a portly clergyman; entered into conversation with him, and then into controversy, which ended by his becoming a convert to the new doctrine. The clergyman was Luther himself. In the ancient collegiate church in the town below the castle hill, built 1382, is a monument of a Count of Wertheim, with two wives at his side—one with, and the other without, a rosary; but in all other repects exactly alike. It is said that that Count, who entertained a deep affection for his first wife, determined to marry again only in case he found a second lady precisely like her; that he travelled east, west, north, and south, and at last succeeded. The second differed from the first only in religion, as one was Catholic and the other Protestant. Probably the story arose from the artist of the monument having had but one model for both. Affixed to the wall of the church, near the door, is a very beautiful Gothic structure, which may have been a pulpit.

Opposite the church is a fine Gothic house, formerly a convent, and now used as a school. The peasants who assemble at Wertheim on market-days are remarkable for their costumes. Many of the men have long “Noah’s ark” coats of a grass-green colour, with large shovel hats, which give them a very clerical appearance. It is well known that the costumes of Noah and his family, which are so familiar to children, are to be ascribed to the fact that this dress has been in vogue for centuries in those parts of South Germany where toys are made. a.d. 326 is mentioned as the date of the first origin of the town of Wertheim, when the Frankish Duke Gunibald, with his Sicambrians, came up the Main and made a castle here. But the first information to be relied on was obtained by Schannat from the archives of Fulda. In the year 779 a Count Kunibert gave up his possessions at Wertheim, Bischofsheim, and other places to St. Bonifacius, whose bones were sent to Fulda. In 1009, Bishop Heinrich of Würzburg granted the town a privilege, by which all merchandise passing up or down the river was obliged to be exposed for sale for three days: in 1306, it was made a free imperial town by the Emperor Albert II., on the same footing as Frankfurt; and Ludwig, the Bavarian, assimilated its position to that of Gelnhausen. Wertheim sank, in consequence of the Archbishops of Mainz placing an embargo at Miltenberg on the trade of the river.

We now pass down the river to Hassloch. The scenery is everywhere much the same as on the upper course of the river in the Loop, save that the curves which the stream makes are shorter, and give it the appearance of a series of lakes. At intervals occur quarries of excellent sandstone, which reveal horizontal strata. Near Hassloch there is a rock on which that goddess or fairy of Teutonic mythology, Hulla or Holle, was said to rest, after carrying the peasants’ burdens for them. She was beneficent or the contrary, according to their behaviour; and if they displayed a selfish desire to profit by her supernatural assistance, could make herself exceedingly disagreeable. Then we pass through the Town Prozelten, a long, fortified old place with a castle overhanging it. There are three Prozeltens on the Main, the first called Long Prozelten, above Lohr; this one is the second; and the next is called Village Prozelten, a little farther on. The name appears corrupted from Berathesheldin. Its etymology is a riddle. Dorf, or Village Prozelten, appears to have been older than the Town, which doubtless clustered itself under the castle for protection. Farther down the river, on the other side, we see, through the vine-trellised arbour at “the Rose,” the ruins of the castle of Freudenberg, another Heidelberg in miniature. The town is said to have been devastated by the Huns in very early times. The castle is remarkable for one of those very old embossed towers often erroneously ascribed to the Romans, and probably copied by the Germans from their so-called rustic style.

There is a queer story connected with a ruined castle belonging to the family of Rüde von Collemberg. Here lived once a knight of savage disposition who was linked to a gentle wife. One day a beggar-woman, with many children, who solicited alms of him, was dismissed with a curse. As she went away she prayed that the knight might have twelve sons at once to consume his substance and reduce him to the same state of penury in which she lived. The lady, in consequence of the curse, bore him twelve sons at a birth. He ordered eleven of them to be drowned like Rüden (puppies) in the Main. But, for the sake of the gentle mother, the water fairies protected them and saved them, to become in distant parts knights of renown. After the grim father’s death they returned, and became a powerful family in those parts, but still bore the name of the “Puppies of Collemberg.” It is most probable that the story had its foundation in an heraldic cognisance.

On the road we meet a number of young women, with enormous coffin-like coffers on their heads, and are told that it is the day on which there is an annual flitting of farm-servants. The coffers contained their “things,” called in America “plunder,”—perhaps, in some cases, not without reason. In Burgstadt itself there is little interesting besides an ancient town-hall; but on the hill above are the remains of an elliptic fortress of stones, still eight feet high in some places, and the whole 4503 feet in circumference. The Romans appear to have included it in their fortified lines. In the forest of Burgstadt are found huge stones called Hainfässer; two of these, fifteen feet long, were apparently intended to be sawn into pillars, but the work was interrupted at an earlier stage than in the case of the columns which we shall presently come to at Klein-Henbach. It is but a short distance now to Miltenberg, a welcome assurance after a broiling day’s walk. The “Angel” inn opens its hospitable wings to shelter us.

On the site of Miltenberg there appears to have been a settlement in the times of the Romans near to the extreme limit of their circumvallation, which was commenced as early as the reign of Tiberius. About the end of the fourth century an inundation of Alemans and Suabians poured in upon the colony, and carried away every vestige of civilisation. In later times the town was on the limit of the old province of Franconia. It was the constant object of the Electors of Mainz, as well as of the Emperors, to conciliate it to their interests, on account of its advantageous position.

In the tenth century there was no town on the present site of Miltenberg, but the town of that date stood on the left bank of the Mud. It is called Vachhusen in a chronicle of Ludwig, the German, in the year 856. It was utterly destroyed by the Huns in 910.
Gate Tower at Miltenberg.
When the remnant of the inhabitants returned, they divided themselves between Klein-Henbach and a place which arose under the protection of the Castle Miltenberg, which may have been as old as the Roman occupation. This castle became the property of the archiepiscopal see of Mainz after the death of Duke Otto, of Bavaria, in 985. That Miltenberg was formerly a place of much more importance than now, is testified by the distance between the two entrance-gates which are now standing. What is now a vacant space between the gate on the Mud and the town, was formerly occupied by buildings which were destroyed by fire by the Margrave Albrecht in 1552. Nothing definite is known about the castle till it came into possession of the Archbishops of Mainz. Adalbert, who renewed the fortifications of the castle at Aschaffenburg in 1122, is said to have had the chief hand in fortifying this castle. The heraldic wheel of Mainz is everywhere seen on the carved escutcheons about the walls. In 1803 the building passed into the possession of the Prince of Leiningen. It now belongs to a gentleman who has purchased several castles about the Rhineland, with the praiseworthy object of their preservation. He alters nothing, but merely lends a hand now and then to arrest the ravages of Time, and turns the interior into a flower-garden. Of the beautiful effect of flowers amongst old ruins, any one may judge who has seen New College Garden in Oxford. Eppstein, on the Taunus, owes its present state of preservation to the reverent care of this enthusiastic archæologist, a very Old Mortality of ruined castles. The view from the castle of Miltenberg is one of the most delightful that can be conceived; the river comes to the town in the shape of a horse-shoe. The forms of the hills are seen in profile. The old fortifications wind up the slopes round the castle with towers at intervals, like those of Bellinzona in Italian Switzerland. Miltenberg is certainly the eye and gem of the Main.

About an hour’s walk from Miltenberg on the other side of the Mud, which is, notwithstanding its name, a tolerably clear stream, is the long straggling village of Klein-Henbach. It is best approached through the finely-wooded park of the Lowenstein family, the walk through which, open to the public as all German parks are, terminates in a fine château, and a gate guarded by two colossal lions. On the roadside near Miltenberg we passed one of those dilapidated crosses of unknown antiquity which bear the name of Rappenkreuz, or Raven-cross,—why, it is hard to say, unless it was believed that ravens brought them from heaven. We were conducted by the hospitable clergyman of Klein-Heubach to a spot in a pinewood on the side of a mountain towards the Odenwald, where lie in two heaps six huge columns of sandstone, some twenty feet long or more, with protuberances on the upper side, which may have been made with a view to transporting them. They are now quite covered with the fine moss of the wood. There are seven other such scattered about in different directions. The popular story is, that the giants meant to build a bridge over the Main with them, but that they were thwarted by divine interference. It is commonly supposed that they bear witness to the catastrophe which cut short the colonising energy of the Romans in these parts, and that they were intended for a temple or public building at Miltenberg. Many other Roman relics—some of glass—have been found scattered about, and at Great Heubach, in the wall of the church, is to be seen an alto-relievo representing warriors in action. On the other side of the Main, on the hill called Eulshöhe, is a stone called the Hainenschüssel. Whether this is of Celtic origin, having been used as an altar for human sacrifice, or an unfinished work of the Romans, has not been decided. There is a magnificent view from the hill opposite Klein-Heubach, called Engelsberg, from the little monastery at the top dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. The picturesque beauties of the Main cease at Klingenberg, although Trennfurt, Wörth, and Obernburg are places of antiquarian interest. A slumbrous post-omnibus plies between Miltenberg and Aschaffenburg, on a road which is one straight line for about seven English miles, at the rate of five miles an hour. Such a conveyance is only welcome after a thoroughly fatiguing walk.

G. C. Swayne.