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The Foundation of Castle Sponheim
The following legend tells us about the origin of Castle Sponheim in the valley of the Nahe. Once a Knight of Ravensberg was eagerly wooing the beautiful young Countess of Helmburg, but there was a serious obstacle in his path to success. Some years before a Ravensberg had killed a Helmburg in a quarrel, and since that time a bitter feud had divided the two houses. The brave knight felt this bitterly, but in spite of it he did not leave off his wooing. The young countess was much touched by his constancy, and one day she spoke thus to her impetuous suitor:
"My lord, if you will dare to go to the Holy Land there to expiate the sills of your fathers, and bring me back a relic from the sepulchre of our Redeemer, in that same hour your suit will be heard."
The knight in great joy kissed the maiden's slender hand and departed, carrying the memory of her sweet smile away in his heart.
Just at this time the call of the Emperor Barbarossa, now an old man, sounded throughout the land, and the Knight of Ravensberg did not neglect the opportunity, but hastened forth to join the imperial army.
The expedition was a long and terrible one, and the troops wearily made their way across the desert plains of Palestine.
The knight, though a brave man, had no special love for warlike adventures, and during these exhausting marches he thought sorrowfully of his quiet castle on the Nahe; of how he used to lie down there in peace and safety at night without being in fear of the Saracens who, under cover of darkness, would break in waving their scimitars in air, an event which was a nightly occurrence on this expedition.
Ravensberg however fought bravely in many a battle, and after the deaths of Barbarossa and his son, he joined the army of Richard the Lion-hearted.
Through all this anxious time he never forgot his dear one at home, and his longing for her became stronger every day, till it seemed to get beyond endurance.
King Richard was called back to England on some urgent state-affairs, and the Knight of Ravensberg was among the few companions-in-arms who embarked with him. The brave knight was very happy, and while the king's ship was sailing along the coast of Greece and up the blue Adriatic Sea, he would often stand on deck and weave bright dreams of the future; sometimes when no one was near, he would pull out a little black ebony box set with precious stones, on which a woman's name was written in golden letters; the interior was beautifully lined with costly silk, and a small splinter of wood lay within which the knight would kiss most reverently. He had paid a large sum of money for it in the Holy Land, where he had bought it from a Jewish merchant. This man had sworn to him that this fragment was from the cross to which the Son of God had been nailed.
The knight was very happy during this long homeward journey, but a great misfortune awaited him. Just as the crusaders came in sight of Italy their vessel was wrecked. The King of England, the Knight of Ravensberg, and a few others were saved with great difficulty, and brought to land. But our poor knight was inconsolable; he had held the precious little box high above him in the water, but a mighty wave had torn it from him, and on opening his eyes he found himself on shore. The holy relic had saved him, but he had lost his treasure, and now all hope of his promised happiness was gone.
One day a weary and dispirited crusader returned to the castle of Helmburg. He announced his arrival to the young countess most humbly, but she, her lovely face lighted up by a bright smile, hurried to meet the knight whose sunburnt countenance betokened great hardships.
She listened silently to his mournful story, then raising her beautiful head She asked: "Was not the little box set with precious stones, and was not my name in golden letters on it ?"
"Yes, noble lady," said the knight, the bitterness of his disappointment newly awakened, "And now it lies at the bottom of the sea in spite of my fervent prayers to St. George to save the precious fragment of our Saviour's cross."
The countess beckoned to a page, and after a few minutes the boy brought her on a velvet cushion a little black ebony box set with precious stones with a woman's name written on it The knight uttered a cry of joyful surprise, for he recognised the jewel at once.
"Entreat the Holy Patron of Knighthood to pardon you," said the countess with a smile. "A strange knight brought this to the steward a few days ago, and before I had time to send for him, he had disappeared."
"It was St. George himself!" whispered the knight, crossing himself piously, "which proves that the fragment really belonged to the Holy Cross."
Then he bent his knee before his charming mistress who, with a deep blush on her cheeks, gave the man she had long but secretly loved love's first kiss.
A happy marriage was speedily celebrated in Helmburg. The Knight of Ravensberg then called his castle Spanheim (Span being the German word for chip) in memory of the precious little relic. This name was later on corrupted into Sponheim.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine