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Egisheim near Colmar
The Penance of the Count of Egisheim
There are but three ruined towers now left of the once proud Castle Egisheim, but the name of this fort and of the race which inhabited it are still preserved in the little town of Colmar.
Towards the end of the tenth century Hugo IV, Count of Lower Alsace and nephew to Conrad II, lived at Egisheim Castle. His beloved wife Heilwig had died, leaving him one son who was called Bruno.
A wrinkled old woman came one evening to the castle gate and desired to be allowed to enter. She was a well-known fortune-teller in the country, and she wished to speak to the lord of the hall. But the gate-keeper refused her request, saying sharply that his master had something better to do than listen to her gossip. Just then the count himself appeared, and the withered old woman would not leave off begging, until he at last allowed her to tell him something about the future.
She examined the lines of his hand very carefully, and then shaking her head mournfully looked up at the count.
"You are a very powerful ruler here in Alsace, but your son will be even more powerful, and you will be obliged to bow down to him."
The knight's features darkened, and with angry words he bade the gate-keeper dismiss the woman. The old witch went her way ils great anger.
From that day gloomy thoughts seemed to take possession of Hugo. He began to hate his only son, firmly believing that he would one day take possession of his dominions, treat him disgracefully, and banish him, it might be, or persecute him as the German Emperor Henry IV. had been persecuted by his son.
Every day his displeasure increased in violence. At last this gloomy father bribed his old steward with gold, and bade him take this child, who seemed born only to do him injury, out into the forest and there shoot an arrow through his heart, so that he might never commit any evil deed against his father. He would rather have no son than be the father of such a monster. The boy's heart was to be brought back to him as a proof that his order had been carried out.
The steward bore away the child thus doomed to death, and returned the same evening bringing the melancholy father a heart covered with blood, through which an arrow had been shot.
Hugo seemed at first to be relieved from all his anxieties; but his peace was not for long. His conscience soon began to trouble him, leaving him no rest day nor night. He spent his days in affliction and sadness, finding no comfort for his remorseful heart. Time wore on, and the count became an old man. At last the burden of his sin being too great to bear, he revealed all to the priest of the castle, confessing his terrible deed in all its horror. The holy father declared himself incapable of absolving him from such a crime, and told him he must make a pilgrimage to Rome to receive pardon from the Pope himself.
The knight, dressed in sack-cloth, set out in the depths of winter for the great city of Rome. On arriving there he threw himself at the Pope's feet, confessing most humbly his wicked deed. At that time Leo IX. reigned over the ecclesiastical world; he listened silently to the gray-haired penitent, and then covered his face in deep emotion.
The great Pontiff at last stood up and spoke in a low trembling voice.
"Be comforted! your son lives! God had pity on him, and the steward who was to have put him to death, was a merciful man and gave the child to some kind-hearted people to take care of at the same time bringing you a deer's heart as the proof you desired. This child was well taught and afterwards became a priest, then a bishop, then... I am your son!"
Thus father and son were at last reconciled. The Count of Egisheim died a holy death soon afterwards.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine