Genoveva Castle is one of the landmarks of the city of Mayen and is visible from far due to its location on a hilltop overlooking the market square. In the course of its eventful history the late Gothic castle was several times besieged, destroyed and reconstructed. The current complex consists of the upper castle with the 34 m high Golo Tower and the outer bailey situated below. Towards the town the castle is protected by a large gate, to the other side by the castle keep and the dungeon. Today the former moat is a ring road spanned by a 20 m long Gothic stone bridge and the Eifel Museum and the German Slate Quarry is accommodated in or rather underneath the castle.
The mighty castle built on the volcanic cone Hochsimmer near Mayen was the residence of Count Palatine Siegfried and his spouse Genoveva. They peacefully lived in kindness and faith in God and their subjects were pleased to be under their reign.
When Karl Martell set up his armed forces to provide support in the liberation of the Holy Land, also Siegfried had to take part. With a heavy heart he said goodbye to Genoveva. Before he went, he instructed his castellan Golo to faithfully look after his spouse and the castle while he was away.
Siegfried, however, mistook his castellan’s character. In fact he was false, devious and cruel. Soon he approached Genoveva, to tempt her into unfaithfulness towards her husband. But Genoveva remained steadfast no matter how often Golo tried it. Fierce hatred took possession of him because of her refuse and he vowed vengeance.
When the Count Palatine returned home after a long time, a servant reported him about the ostensible unfaithfulness of his wife. Outraged and blinded by his deep disappointment he gave the order to murder Genoveva, although he could not understand that his wife had allegedly cheated him.
One cloudy morning two servants led the Countess Palatine with her little son, who was born while the Count was away, to the place of execution in the woods. At the bridge leading over the stream Nette Genoveva stopped, took off her ring, threw it into the water and choked with tears she said:
“I release my master from his pledge of loyalty, in order to mitigate his guilt!"
These words made the servants feel so much pity with her that they did not have the heart, to execute the command.
Genoveva and her child hid in the woods for seven years. A dark, dry cave provided them protection from cold and humidity. They nourished themselves with herbs, berries and roots and a hind, which had joined them, gave the milk.
Also the Count had enough time to think about his decision, after his anger and disappointment faded. Soon he regretted that he had cast his wife out and thus arbitrarily caused her death.
One day a fisherman brought a big pike to the castle. When the chef cleaned the fish, he found a golden ring in its bowels. He took it to his master, who immediately recognized it as his wife’s ring. The remembrances of Genoveva revived and he again reproached himself. The Count’s trusted friend worried about his master’s well-being, wanted to take the Count’s mind off his worries and had a hunting event prepared.
When he was chasing a big hind, the lord of the castle could not catch up with the fleeing animal, which suddenly disappeared in a cave. Now the Count thought to be close to his goal and step by step he carefully went into the dark cave. There Genoveva and her son appeared and came towards him. Siegfried immediately noticed how much the boy resembled him and thanked God for the fortunate coincidence. After Genoveva told him about Golo’s disgraceful deeds, he had the untrue castellan sentenced and put to death. Siegfried’s happy time did, however, not last long. Genoveva soon died and was buried at the place she spent the most difficult years of her life. In gratefulness and remorse Siegfried had a chapel built over her grave, in which later the son was intended to be buried as well. The chapel “Frauenkirch” became a place of pilgrimage.
Source: Hans-Peter Pracht, „Sagen und Legenden der Eifel“ [Myths and Legends of the Eifel], J.P. Bachem Verlag Cologne, 1994, P. 152-154
Further information on the Genoveva Castle in Mayen is found here.