Burg Thurant in Alken, © Fotostudio Mooi

The seeswead knight

Castle Thurant is the landmark visible from far above the village Alken at the Mosel. Partly built on Roman foundations, it is one of the oldest castles in the Mosel region. Count Palatine Heinrich, a brother of King Otto IV, erected it in 1197 – when he got home from a crusade – in memory of the failed siege of the Syrian fortress “Thuron”.



Located above Oberfell, after the hiker has passed rugged cliffs, which formerly reached down into the stream, Castle Thuron, which was built in 1198, and the settlement Alken look down on him from dizzying heights. In the year of 1231 Otto, Count Palatine of Bavaria, which together with his princely friend, Emperor Friedrich II., was banished by Pope Innocent IV, sent his commander in chief of army, Zorno, to this location, in order to protect his castle against the archbishop Arnold II of Trier. Zorno, however, was a brave, but also cruel man, and when he managed to get a young woman related to the archbishop into his hands, he one day lost his temper and forcibly took a child, which had been born in the castle, off its mother’s arms and in front of her eyes threw it down the hill into the yawning abyss. Through bribery the unfortunate woman managed to get away from the castle while he was absent. She hasted to her relative, who was a mighty man, to ask him for his help against the ruthless tyrant. The archbishop, which had meanwhile heard that the Count Palatine himself advanced at the forefront of a small army with the aim of relieving the castle, knew how to get support of his clerical brother, archbishop Conrad von Hochstetten zu Cölln, together with him he moved towards the Count Palatine and they managed to strike him back so that he could now think himself of besieging Castle Thuron, which was said to be unconquerable. Meanwhile the castle had been well fortified and thus allowed its defender to calmly wait for trial of besiegement, because he was convinced that his master would surely find a way to come and help him, if only he managed to maintain his position for at least half a year. Because of his unprecedented rigour and unyielding severity he had the castle’s residents, as a strong party, against him. Therefore, a young knight, called Brenner, whom Zorno once had forced to take up service at the castle, found many open ears when he asked several of the unsatisfied castle inhabitants, to ally with him and assault the lord of the castle during the night, put his hands and feet in chains and hand him over to the archbishop. Even before they could think of putting their plan into practice, Zorno got to know about it and before the conspirators knew it, he and his followers assailed them, killed part of them and had the others thrown into the dungeon, among them also Brenner. For him, however, as the instigator of the outrage, Zorno thought out a peculiar, but horrible punishment.

He ridiculed him and said to the defenceless: “You desired, to leave my castle, in few days I will give you the opportunity to fulfil your wish!”

On the pinnacle of the tower facing the east a huge scaffold was timbered and a catapult with a tremendous beam attached to it. By means of this machine the unlucky Brenner was intended to be catapulted over the abyss to the opposite where the archbishop was positioned. When the besiegers watched the construction of the scaffold with suppressed dismay, Zorno sneered and shouted he wanted to send them a representative, at which the archbishop could, if he was captured, atone his pleasure of throwing him into the abyss. When the machine was erected and all Brenner’s prayers and pleas could not do anything about Zorno’s irrevocable rigour, he plucked up courage, asked the castle vicar to hear his confessions and gave the solemn undertaking that, in case he actually reached the opposite mountain without danger, he wanted to erect a chapel for the Holy Virgin. He then took off his armour and climbed up the pinnacle. On the opposite mountain the archbishop and his followers kneeled down and beseeched God and the Holy Virgin to protect and rescue the unfortunate man. Now Brenner was placed in his position and after the machine had been seesawed several times catapulted with tremendous power over the abyss to the other side where the archbishop was waiting. Without the machine’s power the knight would for sure have been lost, but like this he was thrown into the bushes of the hillside. He managed to cling to some scrubs and with the help of the people standing above him he was able to climb up the hill. When the archbishop spoke to him, he promised to take the worst revenge on the brute. Only when Brenner described him the situation of the besieged inhabitants and did not conceal that it would not be possible to conquer Thuron by means of an attack, but solely by starving them out. This would, however, also last quite a while, because they had stocks for at least a year, the archbishop lost his optimism and he asked Zorno to hand the castle over. If he did so, he was assured safe conduct. Zorno, however, refused all his suggestions, because he hoped for relief through his master, the Count Palatine, who, however, did not turn up and eventually a servant delivered the message that the count would not be able to help him. Shortly after that the castle’s inhabitants started to suffer from raging hunger. Now Zorno himself had to care for freedom. Zorno and his vassals were assured their life, but they all had to swear the oath of truce and Zorno was to enter a convent. Furthermore, it was determined that neither Zorno nor any of his relatives were ever allowed to take residence in or around Alken.

To keep this glorious victory in memory for ever the archbishop and Brenner, according to his vow, built a chapel for the Holy Virgin at exactly the place, where Brenner had hit the ground. Until the beginning of this century this chapel on the mountain “Bleidenberg” had been a highly frequented place of pilgrimage. Nowadays it, like Thuron, has become an abandoned place. In the palace at the foot of the mountain, however, an old, unfortunately heavily damaged picture showing the knight Brenner hovering in the air over the abyss, part of the settlement Alken, the castle and the chapel on the mountain “Bleidenberg”, can be seen until today.

Source: Johann Georg Theodor Grässe: „Sagenbuch des Preußischen Staates 1–2“, volume 2, Glogau 1868/71, P. 152-154.

Further information on Castle Thurant in Alken is found here.

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