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Foundation of the Abbey of Altenberg
The magnificent cathedral, of Altenberg is well known in the Bergish country. Our pious forefathers had begun it in the Dhun valley seven years after they laid the foundation stone of Cologne Cathedral.
A whole century elapsed before divine service could be read in the new church.
For five hundred years it was open to devoted Christians, until a conflagration in the beginning of this century partly destroyed it.
Through the liberality of a royal admirer of art, who is always spoken of with gratitude by the inhabitants of the country, it has stood in all its original beauty since the year 1847.
In the Abbey of Altenberg an old manuscript is still preserved, which records how the abbey was founded five hundred years ago.
In the beginning of the twelfth century two brothers, Count Adolph and Count Everhard of Berg, lived in the castle of Altenberg.
The whole province watered by the Wupper and its tributary, the Dhun, belonged to that noble family.
Between the Dukes of Limburg and Brabant there existed a bitter feud at this time. The latter had been slain by his adversary in a treacherous attack by the two "Bergish" counts.
In that fray not only did he lose his life, but many of his retainers were also killed.
It was Count Everhard's hand that had dealt the fatal blow to the Duke, but he in turn received a deep wound in his face, which left a scar for his life.
Immediately after this horrible deed was done, Count Everhard felt bitter remorse. The image of the slain man, who had never done him the slightest harm, followed him everywhere and robbed him of his peace.
One clear night he left his stronghold in a monk's garment, and went alone on a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre to seek forgiveness for his sins.
He arrived safely at Rome and knelt at the graves of the two great apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul. But his fervent prayers did not bring him peace. He therefore directed his weary steps towards the sepulchre of St. James in Spain, then a place much sought after by repentant sinners.
But everywhere the bitter memory of his cruel deed followed him, and his heart remained laden with the curse of his sin.
He journeyed on and came at last to Burgundy. Weary of wandering he engaged himself as a simple workman on a farm which belonged to the convent Moribund at Langres.
In the meanwhile Count Adolph who had remained in the country, searched in vain for his beloved brother.
But Count Everhard was not willing to give up the low estate he had chosen, and remained a simple labourer far from his home.
Yet his destiny was to be a very different one. One day two men appeared at the farm where he worked. They were going on a pilgrimage and had missed their way. A man was feeding the swine in the farmyard close by, and they asked him which road to take. The man lifted his head and directed them kindly. Great was the astonishment of the two pilgrims when they recognised in the swine-herd, Count Everhard, whose vassals they had been.
His face though darkened by the scorching sun and marked by deep lines, the dire traces of his suffering, showed clearly the large scar they knew so well in their former lord.
Their joy at having so unexpectedly found their good lord was very great, and they told him who they were. Count Everhard started back and hesitated for a moment, but then the old love for his country seized him irresistibly, and he clasped his faithful vassals in deep emotion to his heart.
The true rank of the humble swine-herd was at once revealed to the farmer, who speedily informed the Abbot of the neighbouring convent of the discovery. This pious man urgently begged Count Everhard to become a monk. The penitent man entered the convent and thenceforward served the Lord night and day.
Some time elapsed. The love of home that after long years of slumber had suddenly been awakened in Everhard's heart when he saw his two faithful men, now took such hold on him that he could no longer resist it. He therefore begged permission of his Abbot to return once more home to his own country, and embrace his beloved brother.
The Abbot consented willingly.
A short time after an unknown monk was seen in the wood round the castle of Altenberg. Count Adolph had been informed of his brother's homecoming. He stood at the window looking anxiously out towards the path that led to the castle. When he saw the solitary monk approaching, he ran down to meet him. Soon the two brothers were locked in each other's arms, crying with joy.
They resolved to erect a convent on the spot, where they, who had been separated for so many years, had met again. Count Everhard became its first Abbot under the name of Everhard of Berg, now called Abbot Everhard.
Count Adolph too became a monk later on, after having divided his dukedom between his sons. When Everhard died, he succeeded him as Abbot of the Convent of Altenberg. But he lived only a few weeks after his brother's death. Grief at his great loss broke his heart.
They both died in the year when Frederick Barbarossa was crowned German Emperor. The remains of the two brothers who had loved each other so tenderly, lie buried side by side in the cathedral of Altenberg. One stone covers both graves.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine