Digging in the forest is one thing, digging in the archives and libraries is another. The interpretation and representation of what is dug up with the shovel is unfortunately not always compatible with what the desk historian considers to be correct. The only question is: what is right now?
For centuries the ?? St. Elisabeth Chapel near Rieneck ?? almost completely forgotten, from the side of the road one saw only a few stones. The place was known as ?? Einsiedel ?? or ?? Einsiedel Monastery ??. There was never a monastery here: The complex is always called the cell and chapel of St. Elisabeth in the springs. or similarly called, it was inhabited by two to three hermits who were ordained priestly at most in part and not continuously. There was no abbot and no prior. The name “Kloster Elisabethenzell”, as it has been used in recent years, is extremely unfortunate.
From 2012 to 2016 the ?? Archaeological Spessart Project ?? (ASP) with the help of numerous volunteers (with dissonance at the end) and the results were quite surprising and handsome. Finally, an “archaeological park” was created here, in which the excavated buildings were restored and secured. It was presented to the public in August 2018. However, since the remains of the wall are silent, the story was explained with boards. Only: What you read here corresponds only to a limited extent to what you can really know.
There is even a historical depiction of the district home administrator Bruno Schneider on the ASP website, which, in terms of historical facts, is far better than the contents of the boards. Otherwise only a few (problematic) reports of the excavation results have been published. Is that what sells on the notice boards and on the website of the ASP as historical truth ??? becomes durable at all?
First documented mention in 1295
The first written mention (StA Würzburg, Standbuch 704, fol. 258 f., Here also most of the other documents) dates from 1295 April 26. Countess Adelheid von Rieneck and her two sons, as well as Ulrich von Hanau and Ludwig the Younger von Rieneck [- Rothenfels] (whose guardian is the Hanauer), hand over the St. Elisabeth chapel and all its affiliations to the “brothers” who live with this chapel. These are now to live according to the rules of the order of the Premonstratensians, and after their death the Premonstratensian monastery in Oberzell near Würzburg is to send suitable and venerable brothers. So there is already the chapel and carers living there. Thus, the first statement on Table 2 in the Archaeological Park is already wrong, that there was no monastery yet.
When and why the chapel was built can only be guessed at. Saint Elisabeth of Thuringia was canonized in 1235 and her cult spread very quickly. It can be assumed that the chapel was donated around 1260: Count Ludwig III. von Rieneck gave his daughter, who was born around 1260, the name “Elisabeth”, the aforementioned Adelheid is her aunt, and she is married to Gerhard IV von Rieneck. His (not entirely certain) date of death was 1294 or 1295, the transfer to Oberzell ?? to secure the salvation of the family ?? has to do with Gerhard’s death.
The foundation could very well be related to the birth of Ludwig III’s daughter, Elisabeth: She appears to be the oldest of his children, and a male heir seems to be missing around 1260. That the emergence dates back to ?? around 1220 ?? could be dated on the basis of finds (see Table 2), is not verifiable: What find should it be that could be so precisely determined and point to the time of foundation?
The central statement of the excavators is: The complex was largely destroyed in 1333. This is supposed to have happened like this: The Counts of Rieneck laid out a clearing island in the first third of the 13th century, which was gradually provided with buildings. The core function is the ?? physical and mental care of travelers on the highway ?? been. Comment: The so-called ?? Birkenhainer Straße ?? was actually a long-distance connection between the Rhine-Main area and the Main Franconian area and it was probably already committed in prehistoric times. Only: how often? We don’t know, there are hardly any sources, but one shouldn’t overestimate the importance.
Einsiedel was not a business location
The same applies to the traffic of goods on the road: There is a customs post near Gemünden on the ascent to the Birkenhainer, which was only occupied in the High Middle Ages, but it does not seem to have been particularly lucrative. The ASP is now making Einsiedel a ?? business location ?? at a ?? eye of a needle ?? in front of the Mainfurt near Langenprozelten (which one does not know how intensively it was frequented). The picture on panel 14 gives a completely wrong impression; here it looks like rush hour in Frankfurt.
After all, in the Einsiedel area, the? Paving ?? discovered the road, and one wonders how far it went. That Einsiedel was an important (!) Resting place for travelers, so to speak an “inn in the Spessart”, is an unprovable assumption. If someone wanted to stay the night, they could have covered the few kilometers to Rieneck, Langenprozelten or Gemünden. Of course, it will have been the case that many travelers stopped here.
Now to the alleged destruction of the “monastery”. It is archaeologically certain that there was once a fire disaster, the only question is: when? In 1333 the? Rothenfelser Line ?? the Count of Rieneck, and there were inheritance disputes in which, among others, Ulrich II von Hanau (the son of Elisabeth) also conquered Partenstein Castle. The material found in the rubble there is said to be identical to that from Einsiedel.
No need for destruction
However, it is anything but unequivocal, in fact very unlikely, that there was massive destruction in Partenstein and that the fire rubble there could be linked to 1333. And even if: In the opinion of the ASP, Einsiedel should have been destroyed in order to protect the ?? economic empire ?? to bring down the Rienecker, the road traffic, supposedly ?? economic centers ?? connecting, subsequently came to a standstill. Such an ?? empire ?? is a pure fiction, the history of the County of Rieneck does not reveal such a thing in any way. Why should Hanau have destroyed a chapel and hermitage too? There was no good reason for that.
The written sources also speak absolutely against the fact that a turning point occurred after 1333. Although they bubble far less after this time than before, this is probably due to the fact that Einsiedel was primarily supported by the Rothenfelser line, which had just died out. And certificates can simply have been lost. In addition, a lot of property had flowed to the chapel and its caretakers up to that point; one could well exist.
Table 2 writes that only two brothers were named for Einsiedel in 1342 and that they would probably only have the right to income without living there ?? Well, the document dates from 1324, not 1342. In a document, the date of which is not given, it can also be read that the chapel has apparently been destroyed: which is true, but the document cited dates from 1538, when the cloister is really no longer consists.
In 1410 the Oberzell Premonstratensians handed over the maintenance of the chapel to two Dominicans from Würzburg, not a word that anything had changed, ?? dissolved ?? will the ?? monastery ?? by no means. In the beginning of the 16th century, the cloister really perished; Whether this has anything to do with the Peasants’ War and / or the Reformation must remain open. Maps around 1584 show the complex, it looks as if the buildings are no longer intact. But it wasn’t until 1723 that Oberzell sold his property to private hands.
Seal stamp of priest Heinrich
What about the fire disaster? By far the most interesting find is a seal stamp, which was attached to a document relating to the Einsiedel from around 1320? Priest Heinrich ?? can be assigned and who is called the ?? Procurator ?? referred to as. The name suggests the suspicion that it might have been an (illegitimate?) Member of the Rieneck family of counts, but this must remain speculation. The find is logically useless for dating the fire. Two houses with stone foundations and underfloor heating show that the hermits lived relatively comfortably. In view of the harsh conditions of the location, this is nothing special.
Einsiedel’s greatest mystery is the cemetery. Skeletons were found inside the church, which, despite a very thorough investigation, still raise some questions, but even more that of the 140 square meter cemetery north of the church. About 60 individuals were excavated, and an estimated 150 to 200 people are believed to have been buried. The ASP assumes that a large number of people lived on Einsiedel who kept the business going and were then buried there.
After 1333, the cemetery was no longer used, because the layer of fire lies on it that was no longer or only sporadically pierced to create new graves. However, this assumption also has many question marks. Cattle breeding and pond farming can be observed in Einsiedel, but how many people did you need for that? Einsiedel received income in kind and money from donations, which were far away.
A riddle about the many dead
200 dead in a few decades? As far as can be read, no studies were carried out that would allow conclusions to be drawn about the date of death of the persons. The grave pits were relatively shallow, some were only 40 centimeters below the original surface. Shouldn’t one rather think of a cemetery that was laid out in times of a health disaster, such as the plague around 1350? Or from a much later time?
Critical remarks could be made on many more statements about Einsiedel, and riddles will always remain. Neither spade nor spring can loosen them. But that’s the way it is with historical research. One should only be careful not to market theories as facts.
As is well known, Wilhelm Hauff created with the ?? Wirtshaus im Spessart ?? 1828 an entertaining novella that shapes the image of the Spessart in public to this day. At the same time, Hauff knew very well that this robber’s point didn’t even exist. Just as little as Einsiedel is a ?? significant rest stop ?? at the ?? first Spessart motorway ?? was. Einsiedel was nothing but a contemplative cloister near a chapel dedicated to St. Elisabeth, with occasional public traffic.
Should we now change the content of the tables? You should, you could, but you probably won’t.
About the author: Dr. Theodor Ruf is the district home nurse for the Altlandkreis Lohr, he wrote numerous articles on the history of the Main-Spessart region. The historian wrote his dissertation on the “Counts of Rieneck”.