Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Seligenstadt - A Blessed City?

In my German/English dictionary the meaning given for “selig” is blessed (rel.). In the Bible in the fifth chapter of St Matthew we read, “Selig sind, die reines Herzens sind; denn sie werden Gott schauen.” Oops. Sorry! That should be Ev. Matthäi. St Matthew, chapter 5, verse 8 in my old King James version reads, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. (Many modern translations do not use “blessed” but “happy”, which seems to miss the point of it all.)

All of which takes us back 1200 years to the early 800s, to Charlemagne, the supreme ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, and to Einhard. Einhard? I would hazard a guess that most people have never heard of Einhard. He was, however, quite big in Charlemagne's day. He was a trusted envoy and close advisor of the Emperor and later wrote a definitive biography of the great ruler. He was born in the Main Valley region (that's where we are at the moment) but then lived in the royal court at Aachen, doing what royal advisors used to do in those days. But apparently – according to legend – Einhard did a little more than most.

It is reported that Charlemagne had a number of daughters who were a little generous with their affections. Einhard was smitten and ran off with one of these 'wild' daughters, Imma, headed back to his home districts (the Germans call it his “Heimat”) and settled in the small town of Obermuhlinheim on the Main river. The lovebirds were tracked down, but rather than exacting revenge, Imma's forgiving father cried, “Selig sei die Stadt genannt, wo ich meine Tochter wiederfand”. (May the town be called blessed, where I found my daughter again.) Hence Obermuhlinheim became Seligenstadt.

Well, maybe. It is true however that Einhard was important in the early (i.e. around 800) development of the town. The settlement itself was really founded by the Romans some 800 years before Einhard's time. Today a huge church, Einhard's Basilica, surrounded by a restored Benedictine Monastery, stands witness to his influence in the town those many centuries ago.

Einhard, whose wife was indeed Imma, but the sister of the Bishop of Worms, had been granted a number of estates in recognition of his work for the Emperor. He chose to live in one of these – Obermuhlinheim. Here he had erected a pilgrim church which contained the relics of two early Christian martyrs which he somehow had transported from Rome. This is the basis of another version of the origin of the name Seligenstadt. Pilgrims visiting this place would call it “Saligunstat” - the blessed place.

Whatever the case, Einhard's Basilica and the restored monastery beside it, create a focal point for the visitors to Seligenstadt today. And if you ever happen to be in Seligenstadt and want to go to Steinheim (also an interesting place) down river a little, you can leave by the Steinheim tower gate (photo). Over 300 years old that fine structure.

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