Prestigious Castle Residence
The Puricellis, the family of Niklaus Kirsch-Puricelli’s wife Olga had owned the ‘Rheinböller Hütte’, one of the largest and oldest ironworks in the Hunsrück since the 18th century. Olga’s great-great-grandfather Giacomo Antonio Puricelli, who was born at Lake Como in Italy in 1719, emigrated to Germany in the middle of the 18th century. His son, Anton Puricelli, married Margarethe Utsch, the daughter of Friedrich Wilhelm Utsch, whose family owned the ironworks, and who is still known today from the tales and songs of the ‘Jäger aus Kurpfalz’ (Huntsman of the Palatinate). Ownership of the Rheinböller Ironworks was transferred to the Puricelli family through this marriage. They went on to become one of the most successful families in Germany in the 19th century. They supported a number of charitable institutions in the Rhine-Nahe region, such as the home for the blind in Bingen, a hospital in Bad Kreuznach and the orphanage in Rheinböllen. Reichenstein Castle was a property which suited their social status. This prestigious castle residence was proof of their economic importance. All at once they gained proximity to the ruling Prussian house which had rebuilt some of the neighbouring castles. Through Reichenstein, it was possible for the family to lift itself out of the bourgeoisie and towards nobility.
Live as it was 120 years ago – with contemporary living comfort
Reichenstein Castle is a classic example of the Rhine romanticism in the Rhine Gorge. The oldest parts of the building suggest that the castle was built in the early 11th century. It served as a safe fortress for lords, churchmen and robber barons. In the Middle Ages the region surrounding Reichenstein belonged to the distant Kornelimünster Abbey near Aachen. The castle was presented to the monastery by Louis the Pious. The Abbey appointed bailiffs for the administration and safeguarding of its rights. One of these bailiffs was Knight Rheinbodo (1151-1196) with his offspring. One of his sons, Gerhard von Rheinbod, resided at Reichenstein. He ravaged the region as a robber baron, stealing wares from travelling merchants and from ships travelling through the Rhine valley. In 1213 he was therefore discharged as a bailiff. In this year we find the first documented mention of the castle. His successor was Knight Philipp from the prominent “von Bolanden” family. His son assumed the name “von Reichenstein”. As he died without an heir, the castle was transferred to his relative Philipp von Hohenfels in the year 1241. Hohenfels, however, proved to be the worst robber baron of his day, disobeying the orders of his overlords in the Kornelimünster Abbey and constantly preying on merchants travelling through the Rhine valley.
In 1253 the Archbishopric of Mainz and the army of the Rhine League brought Philipp’s thieving and plundering to a temporary end by conquering and destroying Reichenstein. Philipp von Hohenfels surrendered and escaped with his life. However, he used the following time to rebuild Reichenstein stronger and more defensive than before. He continued as a robber baron and even rose to the high office of Imperial Vicar in the politically unstable times of the so-called Interregnum (various rulers fought for the German crown, superseding each other in rapid succession). In this position Philipp even misappropriated church property. As a consequence, the Archbishopric of Mainz excommunicated him. When Philipp von Hohenfels died in 1277, his son Dietrich inherited Reichenstein Castle. Meanwhile, feudal law had passed from the distant Kornelimünster Abbey to the Archbishopric of Mainz. It seems that Dietrich von Hohenfels became a robber baron who even managed to dwarf the reputation of his father. It was not until Rudolf von Habsburg was elected as the King, marking the end of the Interregnum, that the era of the Rhine robber barons – who were by no means limited to Reichenstein – was brought to a close.
In 1282, the new king besieged Reichenstein Castle. He did not succeed in storming the well-defended stronghold, but did manage to force the garrison to surrender by means of starvation. Proof of these tough battles, which raged around Reichenstein in the 13th century, can be seen in the arrow heads which have been found in the area surrounding the castle. Some of these are on display in the castle museum. Although Dietrich von Hohenfels was not decapitated – contrary to legend – but managed to escape, his accomplices were hung on the trees in the valley by order of Rudolf von Habsburg. The castle was burnt down. Although the king, in 1290, expressly forbid the rebuilding of Reichenstein and the neighbouring Sooneck castle – at times an equally feared robber baron’s lair – both had already been rebuilt shortly after 1300. In the meantime, Reichenstein was owned by the Counts Palatine who were in dispute with the Archbishops of Mainz regarding the rights to the castle. In 1344, Kaiser Ludwig IV awarded the castle to the Archbishops of Mainz. However, they mortgaged it several times until 1361, including to Kuno von Falkenstein, a descendant of the Bolanden gentlemen who had already resided at Reichenstein as bailiffs a mere 150 years earlier. In 1396 a period of unrest returned: Gottfried von Leiningen – the antibishop of the Archbishop Johann von Nassau, elected by the Mainz cathedral chapter – sought refuge at the castle and it was granted to him by Nikolaus vom Stein who was the bailiff at the time. Renewed bloody battles for Reichenstein were only prevented after lengthy negotiations finally resulted in Gottfried’s voluntary withdrawal.
Electoral Mainz retained ownership of Reichenstein until the end of the 18th century. The old castle, originally built as a fortification, increasingly lost its military significance following the invention of firearms. It began to decay. In the 18th century the cathedral chapter of Mainz ceded it to four families from Trechtinghausen as a leasehold. This included, in particular, their having the right to cultivate the vineyards on the adjoining land. The four families later became owners of the ruins. It was only a matter of time until the old walls became overgrown and began to crumble away. Yet the 19th century finally brought a turning point which must be seen from the cultural tendency of that period: the romantic era led to a new interest in the Middle Ages. Gothic churches and monasteries, old castles and the lives of knights inspired the imaginations of educated circles of the nobility and wealthy middle classes. Affluent citizens attached particular importance to a prestigious residence, with the motto: “I am as I live”. And so Reichenstein was acquired by General Baron Franz Wilhelm von Barfuß in 1834. He began initial restorations, discovering numerous kestrels (Turmfalken) nesting in the walls. He therefore gave the castle the fantasy name “Falkenburg”, which can still be found in descriptions to this day and is commonly used for a section of the present site. Baron von Rehfuß purchased the castle in 1877 from the heirs of General Barfuß and set up a small flat for himself there. The next owner was the Mexican Consul, Chosodowsky.
The major step towards the present style of the castle was not made until 1899 with the new owner, Nicolaus Kirsch-Puricelli, the iron industrialist from Rheinböllen, whose wife Olga was a direct descendant of the renowned “Huntsman of the Palatinate”. The Kirsch-Puricelli family had the castle rebuilt as a neo-Gothic English style castle residence, residing here until the year 1936. The castle returned into the hands of a descendant of the Kirsch-Puricelli family in 2014 and since then, has once again been extensively restored and modernised.
The Wrong Suitor
Once upon a time, a young knight lived at Castle Reichenstein, who was in love with a maiden from the neighbouring Castle Rheinstein. He returned from a journey bearing the gift of a wonderful white horse for her and they frequently rode through the wooded countryside together. Their love deepened, and they decided to marry. In those days it was the custom for a matchmaker to first ask the father of the beloved for the hand of his daughter. The Reichenstein knight appointed his uncle as a matchmaker and sent him to Castle Rheinstein. When the uncle saw the beautiful bride, he desired her for himself and was able to convince the father to give her to him as a bride and not to his nephew. Despite the girl’s cries and pleas, her father did not yield as the uncle seemed to him a much better match for his daughter than the young knight. On the day of the wedding, the bridal procession rode down to Saint Clement’s Chapel on the Rhine. Suddenly a hornet stung the bridegroom’s horse, which shied, upsetting the whole procession. The bride had been waiting for just such an opportunity and galloped away on her white horse. The horse easily found its way to Reichenstein and before the father and bridegroom realised what had happened, the mighty drawbridge had closed behind the bride and the spears of the alarmed guards glistened from the battlements in the early morning sunlight. The bridegroom quickly mustered his escort and the knights from Rheinstein and attacked his nephew’s castle. Yet the strong walls of the castle always were a difficult obstacle and the devious uncle fell so badly, that he died shortly afterwards. The father of the bride finally yielded, recognising the true happiness of his daughter. The daughter and her proud Reichenstein knight were soon married and lived happily ever after.
The man without a head
We now know from historical research that Rudolf von Habsburg had the Reichenstein robber knights hung on trees in 1282 and that their leader Dietrich von Hohenfels even managed to escape. However, a gruesome legend tells a different story of the events that came to pass centuries ago in the Middle Rhine valley. Dietrich von Hohenfels, the last robber baron, begged the king to save not his own life, but those of his nine sons who he claimed were innocent. It was he who had ordered them to rob, loot and murder. The king denied his request as he wished to set a daunting example for all robber knights. Yet he was prepared to let God judge. Dietrich was led to the execution site – where St. Clement’s Chapel now stands – to where his sons were standing side by side. The King then said “Look you murderer, here are your sons. Soon your head will roll in the sand, but if you can manage to still walk past your brood, I will grant the life of each son you pass.” Dietrich von Hohenfels looked firmly at his sons and glanced silently at the path he had to walk. The next moment the executioner struck off his head with a single stroke of his sword. Yet now the unthinkable occurred, sending icy shivers down the spines of all those present. The bleeding corpse did not fall down, but swayed briefly and strode stiffly on unsteady legs towards the row of sons. One, two, three, four, five sons it passed, then the sixth, seventh, eighth and finally the ninth son. Only then did the most dreaded robber baron in the region fall to the ground in his jangling chain mail, whereupon a fountain of blood shot from the stump of his neck spraying all those around him. An ashen-faced Rudolf von Habsburg granted the sons their lives and departed in haste from this eerie, bloody place.
St. Clement’s Chapel
There are two stories about the chapel which lies just below Reichenstein.
One is closely connected to the era of the castle’s robber barons. The relatives of the robber baron who was executed at Rudolf von Habsburg’s bloody trial are said to have built the chapel to repent and pray for the salvation of the soul of their next of kin. They are also said to have ordered a hermit to read the Mass in the chapel for those who were executed.
The other story tells of a Dutch raftsman who got caught in a terrible storm just below Bingen. The storm threatened to toss his whole raft on to the treacherous cliffs in the Rhine gorge which would surely have destroyed it. As his whole fortune was in the raft’s wood he prayed to God and promised to build a church on the site where he would find his wood after the storm. When the storm passed, he was indeed able to retrieve his undamaged belongings from a flat sand bank below Reichenstein Castle. He was able to continue his journey and when he returned to the Rhine in the following year, he built a chapel on the riverside opposite the sand bank which had saved him – St. Clement’s Chapel.
The Mysterious Tombstone
This is how the French poet, Victor Hugo, described his visit to the ruins of Castle Reichenstein in the 19th century:
“On leaving the lower chamber, the corner of a stone, one end buried in the rubbish, struck my view. I immediately stooped, and with my hands and feet cleared everything away, under the impression of finding upon it the name of this mysterious ruin. On this large block of stone, the figure of a man, clothed in armour, but without a head was sculptured, and under his feet were the following lines:
‘VOX TACUIT. PERIIT LUX. NOX RUIT ET RUIT UMBRAVIR CARET IN TUBA QUO CARET EFFIGIES.’
I had sought for words. I had found them: that is, an inscription without a date – an epitaph without a name – a statue without a head…. Sad destiny! What crime had that miserable man committed? Man had bereft him of life; Providence had added to that forgetfulness. His statue was deprived of a head, his name is lost to legends and his history is no longer in the memory of man! His tombstone, also, will soon disappear. Some vine-dressers of Soneck, or of Rupertsberg will take it, and trample upon the mutilated skeleton that it perhaps still covers, break the stone in two, and make a seat of it, on which peasants will sit, old women knit, and children play. In our days, both in Germany and France, ruins are of utility; with old palaces new huts are constructed.”
As a matter of fact, the stone seems to no longer exist. It is possible that a wine-grower from Trechtinghausen dashed it to pieces for some down-to earth and mundane purpose. It may be that it was either destroyed or built over during the reconstruction process at the turn of the last century. Nobody knows in which part of the castle it lay. And so, as with so many other castles, Reichenstein still harbours secrets.