(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
Legends of the Rhine
Click Here to return to
the previous section
St. George's Linden
The ruins of Castle Rheinfels, which stand above the pretty little town of St. Goar, are the most extensive of their kind on the Rhine. The castle was erected in the middle of the 13th century by Count Dietherr, a nobleman belonging to the famous Rhenish family of Katzenelnbogen. It was a strongly fortified burg, and within ten years of its completion the mighty ramparts witnessed several bloody encounters. Twenty-six Rhenish cities once combined to carry the invulnerable fortress, but though some 4000 lives were sacrificed the army retreated baffled. For centuries after this, the banner of the Hessian Landgraf waved from its battlements, none daring to attack it. Then the fanatic Gallic forces of the Revolution entered the Rhineland, and laid the magnificent castle in ruins.
There is a legend associated with Rheinfels which dates from that age of chivalry when noble knights and their squires trod its courts, and this legend seems touched with the sadness of the history of the castle itself. The Count of Rheinfels was the proud father of a lovely daughter, and among her numerous wooers it was George Brömser of Rüdesheim who had won the maiden's heart. No one was more incensed at this than the knight of Berg. This knight belonged indeed to a race said to have been descended from an archbishop of Cologne, but his disposition was evil, and his covetousness and avarice made him wish to increase what earthly possessions he had. But the lord of Rheinfels was shrewd enough and hesitated before entrusting his pretty daughter and her large dowry to such a man. As already remarked this entirely agreed with the maiden's desire. She was really deeply in love with the chivalrous young knight of Rüdesheim, but shrank, almost with aversion, from the impetuous wooing of the harsh and selfish knight of Berg.
Some time after the betrothal of the lovers the date of the marriage was fixed. Before the marriage had been celebrated however young Brömser appeared at Rüdesheim in the early dawn on his steaming war-horse, having ridden during the night from Rüdesheim to bring the following sad intelligence to his beloved. The Emperor Albrecht had summoned the nobles to do battle against the Swiss confederates, who had renounced their allegiance, driven the imperial representatives from their land, and finally declared war against their overlord. The knights of the Rhineland were called upon to suppress the flames of rebellion. On receiving the pressing call of the Emperor, Brömser did not hesitate for a moment but resolved to obey his feudal superior.
At first the young bride wept, but when her lover comforted her with words of endearment, and her father praised the soldierly resolution of the young man, the maiden calmly submitted to the will of God. Before the young knight rode off he took a young linden-tree which he had pulled up in a grove, and having removed the soil with his sword, he planted the sapling in front of the castle. Then he spoke as follows to his bride. "Tend this budding linden which I have planted here to the honour of my patron saint. You shall keep troth with me so long as it flourishes, but if it fade (and may St. George in his grace prevent it) then you may forget me, for I shall be dead." The weeping bride threw herself in her lover's arms, and while he enfolded her gently with his right, with his left he raised his sword, and showed her .engraved upon it in ancient letters, for daily repetition, the words: "Preserve O everlasting God, the body here, the soul hereafter. Help, knight St. George." Then, after receiving many kind wishes from his sorrowing friends, the young soldier rode in the morning mist down through the woods to join the imperial forces.
Several months passed. Then the melancholy news got abroad in the German land. that something disastrous had happened in the campaign against the Swiss peasants. At last came a trustworthy report to the effect that a bloody defeat had overtaken the proud army of Albrecht. It was at Morgarten, where the noble hero called Arnold of Winkelried had opened up to his countrymen a pathway to freedom over his spear-pierced body. Many counts and barons found on that day a grave in the land of the Swiss, and sounds of mourning were to be heard in many a German castle. But to Castle Rheinfels no traveller brought any tidings either of weal or woe, and we can imagine with what sickness of heart the maiden waited, and how her hope faded as the days and weeks slipped past. It was so long since the ill-fated army had set out against the Forest Cantons, and now the thoughts of men were turned in other directions, while the Swiss peasants were quietly allowed to reap the fruits of their bravery. The most sanguine found it difficult to cheer the drooping maiden of Castle Rheinfels.
Then one day her former wooer, the mean avaricious Dietrich of Berg, presented himself. It was certain that George Brömser must be dead, and he was come again to sue for the hand of so desirable a young lady. The dejected maiden informed her eager wooer that she had plighted her troth to her absent lover beside the linden-tree flourishing in front of the castle. Only when this tree, consecrated to St. George, should fade would she be released from her promise. The knight of Berg departed in anger, and immediately betook himself to a wood and there selected a decayed linden, as similar as possible to the green one growing before Castle Rheinfels. In the night he cautiously approached the castle, tore up the linden, flung it with a curse into the Rhine, and then planted in its place the withered sapling. Next morning, a morning bright with the promise of spring, the fair daughter of Rheinfels stepped out on the lawn. A cry of pain escaped her lips when she perceived the faded tree. The days and weeks that followed were spent in deep grief. After a suitable time had elapsed, the knight of Berg again put in an appearance at Rheinfels, mightily pleased with himself. Again he sought the hand of the maiden now released from her solemn promise. Sadly, but firmly however she told her importunate wooer that she would keep troth with her lover in death as in life. Then the wrath of the despised knight drove him to commit a horrible deed. In his savage anger he drew his sword and buried it in the maiden's breast. Fleeing from the scene of his dreadful crime he was suddenly seized with remorse, and like Our Lord's avaricious disciple, he went and hanged himself. Deep was the sorrow in Castle Rheinfels over the sacrifice of this innocent young bride, who had kept her troth so nobly. But grief and tears could not replace the lost one. In the midst of the mourning a stranger was announced. He came from the Swiss land.
After the battle of Morgarten a brave Swiss had found George Brömser with broken limbs and many bleeding wounds amongst a heap of slain. In a peasant's hut the wounded man lay long in pain and weakness. His broken limbs required long and patient attention. Finally, after much suffering, George Brömser, the last of all three campaigners rode back to the Rhineland, with his lover's name on his lips and her image in his heart.
With uncovered head the lord of Rheinfels showed the young man the grave of his beloved, and there the two men embraced each other long and silently. The young soldier pulled up the faded linden-tree and hurled it into the Rhine, while on the newly-made grave he planted white lilies. George Brömser did not a second time fall in love, but remained true to his chosen bride to the end of his days. We are told that in the company of knightly minstrels he sought to forget his great sorrow, and that later he composed many pretty songs. One of them has survived the centuries, and was recently discovered, along with the melody, in an old manuscript. It begins:"A linden stands in yonder vale,
Ah God! what does it there?"
Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine