Guest Post: Sir Lancelot of Siedlęcin

“Painted tower in Siedlęcin: the unique residence of an ambitious Silesian duke”¹

Ducal tower of Siedlęcin. Photo courtesy of sekulada.com

The 15th International Castellological Conference „Castrum Bene” took place at Książ Castle, in Lower Silesia, Poland, on 16th – 19th May, 2017. This year’s conference brought together, as it always does,  prominent architectural historians and castellologists from across ten European countries. There were scholars from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, to name but a few.

The annual International Castellological Conference is a great opportunity for the experts to come together, learn from each other and exchange ideas. The participants are always treated to a series of diverse and intellectually challenging papers, some giving interesting fresh perspectives on castle exploration and preservation. The papers show considered approach to the key castellological issues and bring together a wealth of knowledge, talent and experience.

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„Castrum Bene” comes to Siedlęcin. Photo courtesy of Monika Filipińska

This year’s conference focused on castles as symbols of status. In their lectures the Polish experts discussed Henrys, the dukes of Silesia and their residences, castles and elites of the Cracow Land in the Middle Ages, motte-and-bailey castles of Lower Silesia.

18 May saw the participants taking a full-day study tour to the castles on the Piast Castles Trail. They visited, among others, Bolków, Świny and Wleń. In the Great Hall of the ducal tower of Siedlęcin they had an opportunity to listen to the lecture delivered by Dr Przemysław Nocuń, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, on the subject of the tower, its founder and unique wall paintings preserved in it.

Lancelot fighting a duel with Tarquin, the Siedlęcin set, detail. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Ducal tower of Siedlęcin displays one of the most complete and important sets of 14th century domestic wall paintings in Central Europe. The paintings are a rarity both for their mixture of secular, religious and didactic themes, and for their leading subject being the legend of Sir Lancelot of the Lake. Both the tower and paintings reflect its builder’s high ambitions. Preserved monuments and names of the Arthurian characters given to the sons of the Silesian nobility indicate that the Arthurian legends were known at the courts of medieval Poland and Silesia. However, most of the preserved monuments with Arthurian motifs date from the second half of the 14th or from the 15th century, which makes the Siedlęcin set  (created in 1320s -1340s) the earliest surviving example. Among the Piasts (Poland’s first ruling dynasty) Henryk I of Jawor (c. 1292 – 1346) is believed to be the first to commission the Arthurian paintings in one of his residences. Today Duke Henryk’s tower is the only place in the world where the medieval wall paintings depicting Sir Lancelot of the Lake have been preserved in situ. Their true subject matter was not recognised until the 1990s. Major conservation was carried out in 2006, actually saving them, for they were in very poor condition.

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Participants of the The 15th International Castellological Conference „Castrum Bene” at Książ Castle. Photo courtesy of P. Nocuń

The tower house of Siedlęcin is one of the best preserved castles of this type in Central Europe.  It was built as a ducal seat for both residential and defensive purposes (probably as a hunting „lodge”) near the River Bóbr [Bobber] crossing in the hunting territories north-east of Jelenia Góra [Hirschberg]. Initially crenelated, the tower stands 22 meters high (72 feet) with the remains of the moat still visible from the northern and eastern sides. The only siginificant alteration since the 14th  century is the addition of a roof (in the 16th century). Preserved massive tie beams are the oldest surviving wooden ceilings in Poland. Dendrochronolocial research has revealed the trees used for their construction were cut down in 1313 , 1314  and 1315 respectively. Adjacent to the tower is a manor house which dates from 18th century.

Książ Castle, the Lower Silesia, Poland. Photo courtesy of Przemysław Nocuń

The paintings have been preserved on the south wall of the tower’s finest interior space, being that of the former Great Hall on the second floor. The group includes representations of the scenes from the Vulgate Lancelot and depict Sir Lancelot of the Lake and his marvelous exploits with the focus on the beginning and ending of his brilliant career as a knight of the Round Table. There are scenes depicting the court of King Arthur, his queen Guinevere with her ladies, Guinevere’s kidnapping by Meleagant and her rescue by Lancelot. There are also representations of Lancelot and his cousin Lionel setting off for their first knightly adventure. Lancelot asleep under an apple tree and Lionel sleeping on guard, a duel between Lancelot and Tarquin and Lancelot with Arthur’s brother, Sir Kay. The unfinished portion depicts a duel between Lancelot and Sagramour and the healing of Urry de Hongre.

You can learn more about the tower and its marvellous paintings on Ducal Tower of Siedlęcin Official Website

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Footnote: ¹From an article by by Dr P. Nocuń.

Article by Kasia Ogrodnik of Henry The Young King.

Photos courtesy of The Ducal Tower of Siedlęcin Association and sekulada.com.

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©2017 Kasia Ogrodnik-Fujcik & Sharon Bennett Connolly

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Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

Guest Post: Bewitched by a Castle by Mary Ann Van Sickle

photo-1Today I welcome Mary Ann Van Sickle to History…the Interesting Bits to talk about her journey of discovery of her family history and her relationship with the Ducal Tower of Siedlecin:

Tell me a tale of majestic castles with beautiful princesses and gleaming knights of the round table, and I will always be enchanted. It’s not any wonder. I’m a California girl who grew up with regular visits to Disneyland and an overdose of every animated fairytale produced by Walt Disney from Cinderella to Frozen. I have yet to outgrow my affinity for all things magically medieval. Happily, I’ve watched that legacy pass from my daughter to her own daughter, Sarah. It was never more evident than just this week when our entire family spent a delightful day at the “Happiest Place on Earth.” My heart still skipped a beat as we walked through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and heard Jiminy Cricket softly singing “When You Wish Upon a Star” over the delighted squeals of children and the calliope of King Arthur’s Carousel.  It was on the drawbridge that my daughter snapped a photo of four-year-old Sarah who had just been transformed into a princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Despite the drizzling rain, she was clearly spellbound under the shadow of the beautiful castle.  I smiled recalling that I had experienced the very same enchantment some 5,000 miles away in a tiny village in Poland last summer. You see, I have a love affair with my own fairytale “castle.”

First a little history… Once upon a time there lived a Duke named Henryk I of Jawor. Early in the 14th century, he inherited his a “dukedom” (the country, territory, fief, or domain ruled by a duke or duchess) from his father Duke Bolko I Surwowy the Strict (Why he was “strict” is not quite clear to me…) The land he inherited is in Siedlęcin near Jelenia Góra in Lower Silesia, Poland which was one of the richest regions in Central Europe.  In 1313, the Duke commissioned the construction of his Ducal Tower which more than likely was built as a hunting lodge. Overlooking a primeval forest on the Bober River, the Duke and his Duchess, Agnes of Bohemia, created one of the largest and best-preserved medieval tower-houses in Central Europe which remains virtually unchanged since the 14th century.  It is one of more than fifty castles built by Bolko I and his descendants.

From the very beginning the tower was surrounded by a moat and a perimeter stone wall with the approach from a wooden drawbridge. Research has determined that in its initial design, the tower had slit windows and window seats with Gothic trefoil framings. These early medieval windows were filled with round crown glasses while the spaces between them were filled with tiny triangular pieces of glass.  The original tower contained a Great Hall, a full cellar, a “warm chamber” (a room with a fireplace), a large oven and even a primitive privy.

The most impressive level of the Keep is the second floor called The Great Hall.  Designed for ceremonial purposes, it had rich interior decoration including a beautiful wall of mural paintings of Lancelot du Lac from Arthurian legend. Commissioned in 1345 by the Duke and his Duchess, the mural on the south wall of the Great Hall occupied more than thirty-two square meters. According Dr. Przemyslaw Nocun, an archaeologist of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, Duke Henryk was not only the first to commission Arthurian paintings in one of his castles, but he might well have founded an order of chivalry based on the legend of the Knights of the Round Table. The main subject of the murals is the romantic story of Sir Lancelot of the Lake, one of the most famous legendary knights of the Middle Ages. And it’s incredibly beautiful and mysterious and romantic. When climbing to the Great Hall on the creaky wooden stairs, you are suddenly overcome by the beautiful pastel shades of the mural. The colors seem ephemeral and dreamlike. Frozen in time, the knights on their horses and Sir Lancelot kneeling over his Guinevere appear as a momentary memory.

photo-2How could one not fall in love with this magical castle? I know I did, but it was quite by accident. In the summer of 2015 I traveled 5,000 miles in search of my grandfather, Heinrich Wilhelm Ludwig of Emmett, Idaho. But along the way, it was my chance meeting of the quaint Ducal Tower that opened up an entirely new world of discovery.

 I’ve been on the trail of my family history since 1981. The pursuit of genealogy might seem cumbersome to some, but to me it is a patchwork of people, places and stories that form the fabric of myself. Madeleine L’Engle, author of the children’s classic “A Wrinkle in Time” summed it up the best. “If you don’t recount your family history, it will be lost. Honor your own stories. The tales may not seem important, but they are what binds families together and makes each of us who we are.”

My family is not all that remarkable but I am fortunate to have come from a family of record keepers and storytellers. Ancestry was important on both sides of my family. Since Kodak introduced it’s first Brownie camera, my family has been recording traditions and celebrations, births and marriages. Letters, journals, certificates and diplomas have also found their way into boxes marked “Keepsakes.” I cherish these magical boxes which have given me countless hours of pleasure as I’ve assembled the pieces of my family history like an intricate puzzle. When my father passed away in 2009, I was made the “Keeper of Keepsakes.” I soon realized that he kept every piece of paper and photograph that would connect me to the secrets of my tree. It was my job to put them all together.

My interest has been piqued for years with my father’s humble beginnings. Born in Emmett, Idaho in 1923, he was the youngest of three sons born to Henry William (née Wilhelm Heinrich) Ludwig and Lottie Nida Belle. My grandmother was born in the Appalachian community of Salt Rock, West Virginia. My grandfather, however, was born in Germany   and immigrated to America   as a toddler. Despite having Ludwig as my maiden name, I never knew too much more about my German heritage. But I knew the name of the village he was from – Boberröhrsdorf of Lower Silesia.

photo-3Everything I knew about the Ludwig family in Germany is from the actual words of Wilhelm Heinrich Ludwig, my grandfather’s father. (My grandfather, Heinrich Wilhelm, was his father’s namesake with the names reversed.) Remarkably, Wilhelm, a Master Blacksmith kept a journal in which he wrote down his daily activities, financial transactions, gifts received from family on the birth of my grandfather Heinrich, recipes and even his favorite hymns and poetry about his love for the Prussian empire.

From 1845 to 1883, Wilhelm kept a record and the key to his life. Had he not done so, I doubt I would ever have discovered his beautiful homeland or it’s magnificent Ducal Tower. Written entirely in German, the English translation had been done long before I was born. There is no reference to who provided the translation, but it had to have been a tedious job. My Aunt Helen (the wife of the middle Ludwig son and my Dad’s older brother, Ernest) was also a determined family genealogist. She kept meticulous notes and eventually expanded the translation to include a chronological list of financial transactions, names of cities and towns mentioned with maps, detailed summaries of what was happening in Germany at that time and an alphabetized list of names mentioned in the Journal.

 Since there is not an existing photograph of Wilhelm, the contents of the Journal has become all the more precious. I was finally able to hold Wilhelm’s Journal in my very own hands for the first time last year in October. For such a priceless record of his life, I was surprised at how significantly insignificant it was. The Journal is no more than a two-by-five inch notebook with a thin cardboard cover. I thought of how easily it could have been lost or thrown away as it changed hands over the course of 170 years. The keeper of the journal is my cousin Forrest Ludwig, the son of my Uncle Marion who was the oldest of the three sons of Heinrich (later Henry and Lottie). He and his wife live beautifully secluded in the mountains near Boise, Idaho. As my cousins and I sat in his living room passing the journal from hand to hand, we all commented on the exquisite handwritten script. I attempted to photograph the pages, but because of its size and the brittle pages, it was difficult to do so adequately. Still it is a wonder to behold. I’ve had dozens of similar little notebooks I have scribbled in during my lifetime. How could Wilhelm have ever had known that 168 years later his great-granddaughter would have followed his notes and fallen so completely in love with the village he had called home. Unfortunately no photo exists of Wilhelm, so this tiny journal becomes all the more precious. And it was the translation that pointed me in the direction Germany.

photo-4As I said, the little village of my Grandfather’s birth was Boberröhrsdorf. Indeed a mouthful, I eventually even learned to spell it! But knowing the German name won’t necessarily lead you directly to it. In fact, it took me years of searching to find it. The border between Germany and Poland changed dramatically at the end of the World War II. In 1945, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, Poland’s borders were redrawn and areas which had been for many centuries been populated by ethnic Germans became part of a newly enlarged Poland. In short, tiny Boberröhrsdorf was wiped off the map and became the Polish city of Siedlęcin. In July of 2015, I took an extensive tour through Central Europe as part of a Holocaust Memorial Tour. Almost as an afterthought, I decided to extend my trip for an extra four days to try to find my Grandfather’s village.

On July 23, I made the following entry on Facebook:

As this tour ends, a new journey begins early tomorrow. I am flying to Wrocław, Poland, renting a car (!!!!), then driving (carefully) 90 minutes to my Grandpa Ludwig’s village in Boberröhrsdorf – now Siedlecin. I will be romping through cemeteries, meeting with a museum curator, knocking on church doors – and maybe knocking on some Ludwig/Schiller cousin doors as I look for a house owned by Grandpa’s half-brother, Hermann. Asked if I was nervous to travel alone, I replied, “No. I have a lot of angels traveling with me and many hearts I carry as I make my way there. Especially my Dad. He will be my co-pilot!”

With the warmth of my Dad’s spiritual encouragement, I turned off the Autostrada (Poland’s sleek version of our freeways) and drove through the breathtaking back roads of Lower Silesia. Riding shotgun in my tiny red car were my paternal grandfather Henry William Ludwig, and his parents Ernestine Schiller and Wilhelm Heinrich Ludwig. And we were all heading toward a tiny fairy tale village they had left behind more than 130 years ago….

photo-5Somehow I knew it would be beautiful. My grandfather was an artist with a God-given gift. There seems is no other explanation why a poor sawmill worker of Emmett, Idaho with no formal art training could create such majestic American Southwest landscapes in oils. His work is extraordinary with incredible detail and technique.

Beautiful desert scenes of his beloved American Southwest were his signature. But as the rolling hills of the lush Polish countryside blinded me with greens I had never seen before,I was reminded of some of his other oil paintings. One was of an inviting woodland cottage which proudly hangs in our living room.

These woodland paintings had always been my favorite. They were somehow more inviting and familiar to me than his other works. I was forever grateful when this was the painting my father gave to me. I wondered what Grandpa’s inspiration had been. It certainly did not look like Idaho where he had lived since immigrating to America as a toddler. Was it from a postcard or a book? Or was there some distant lingering memory of his distant homeland?

Within ten short miles of my destination, there seemed to be clues as the church steeples began to change form. And as I rounded the corner, I pulled over to the side of the road. My heart stopped when I saw a picturesque church spire I knew I had seen before.

photo-6I had seen it in one of Grandpa’s paintings predominantly displayed with love in the living room of my cousin Karen Ludwig Scott of Boise, Idaho. Could this familiar little Polish church more than 5,000 miles from Emmett, Idaho be the same as the one in this painting? I stood at the gates of this little church for a long time just gazing up at the steeple. I took photo after photo trying in vain to hold on to this extraordinary moment.

After thirty years of collecting and logging photos, letters, taped interviews, home movies and countless ancestral charts, my journey had actually led me to this moment of complete connection. My family history was not about the countless notebooks I had filled with facts, but rather about the very real people who lived and laughed and loved. And I was only a few miles from another door of discovery about them and myself. I took one last photo from my little red car within a tunnel trees.  Then along with my undeniable angels of family past surrounding me, we headed towards Boberöhrsdorf….

Then I saw it! I knew I had arrived home before I was even there. It was the sloping roof of the Ducal Tower through the trees.

I was absolutely in awe of the stately medieval castle keep and while looking up, I drove through the old gate that looked like the entrance but was actually the ancient remains of the moat. Unaware, my little red car got stuck when I tried to make a U-turn. I had to flag down two British visitors (one with a baby in a Snugli) and the shopkeeper of the gift shop, Monika Filipiñska. Together, we were able to free my car as I became a legendary moment in the life of the Siedleçin Ducal Tower. I became forever more “that American lady who drove on the moat.”

photo-7Relieved that I had not lost life and limb, Monika Filipińska became the gracious angel who guided me toward the discovery of the Ludwig family from Boberröhrsdorf.  She first directed me to the two cemeteries just up the hill from the Tower so I could look for any headstones with familiar names. As serene as their final resting places were, the absence of German names was overwhelming. There were only long Polish names with elaborately decorated gravestones. And oddly, none were prior to 1945. Around the periphery of the Roman Catholic cemetery, there appeared a scattering of very old headstones with German surnames, but these seemed to be either broken or illegible. I returned to the Tower and said to Monika, “There are no German names….” She asked me to sit down while she printed out several pages from her computer.

As I was about to learn, arriving in Poland and announcing your German lineage might not endear you to the locals. Following the atrocities to the Polish people during World War II, Boberröhrsdorf became a province of the Polish state. The village was “ethnically cleansed” of all Germans meaning all people of Germanic heritage were forcefully removed from their homes. Houses, property and land were immediately occupied by Polish speakers from the east of Poland and the Soviet Union, who had in many cases been displaced themselves from places their families had lived in for many generations.The language was changed from German to Polish.

What Monika had printed out for me were several pages with the names of German men and a rendering of a World War I monument which once stood in front of the Roman Catholic Church I had just visited. In halting English, Monika was able to explain that the monument had commemorated the fallen men of the village who had died during The Great War. It had originally stood in front of the very churchyard I had had just been to but in 1945, it was an Evangelical Protestant church. Sometime that year, the monument and the adjoining cemeteries had been desecrated by the new Polish villagers. Headstones and pieces of the monument were smashed and thrown into the waters of the Ducal Tower’s moat. In the summer of 2015, only two of the tablets from the base of the monument had been recovered. They were retrieved from the bottom of the moat, meticulously cleaned and placed under the Linden tree in front of the entrance to the Tower’s entrance. The rest of the names Monika had given me were the names from the tablets still yet to be found.

photo-8Monika’s story of the lost WWI Memorial, was sobering. But she looked at me with her beautiful blue eyes and said, “Do you blame them?” Only days before had I completed an emotionally draining Holocaust Memorial Tour. Beginning in Munich where the Nazi Party was born in the 1930’s, I had been immersed in the rise of the National Socialist Party from the rally grounds in Nuremberg and observed the devastation as Hitler demolished and demoralized the Jewish people through the streets of Prague and Warsaw. I saw the tragic horror of the fiery genocide of the men, women and children of Lidice. I toured the atrocities of Dachau, Thereisenstadt, Gross Rosen and Auschwitz. Germany still remains an emotionally scarred country from the tragic vision of one mad man.

“No,” I said quietly to Monika. “I do not blame them…”

But I was saddened that this tiny village I had dreamed of visiting my entire life had erased its once proud German heritage. Though my family had left long before World War II, there lives had too been erased.

Almost forgotten was the slip of paper I had prepared earlier that morning. I had pasted some photos of my grandfather and translated a “Polish script” so I could somehow communicate my questions about the Ludwig family. I handed it to Monika as I noticed two names listed with the names of the forgotten heroes of World War I. OSWALT LUDWIG and HERMANN LUDWIG. Though I would not discover the thread to my own clan for another year, my eyes filled with tears. I had found my family, my family name, my grandfather’s home. Monika blessed me by directly linking me to this beautiful Polish village. I went there in search of the Ludwig family and discovered a portal into my own identity. There were no words…

The following day I needed to return my rental car and catch a plane for home. But there was one more thing I needed to do before I left this beautiful land.  I drove back to the Tower one last time but not before I found a tiny florist shop in Jelenia Góra which was once old Hirschberg where my great-grandmother, Ernestine Schiller Ludwig had been born. Of course, her ties to this magical land are another story….

I purchased a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers which made me think of my sunny California home. This is what I wrote that last day I spent in Poland in the summer of 2015:

photo-9As I begin my journey home, the skies remain glorious over this lovely land. There is a beauty here I cannot describe. So I found my family – Our family – after all. Before I left I wanted to stand in the shadow of the beautiful medieval tower one last time. I left a bouquet of flowers on the newly discovered tablets. I said a quiet prayer for the Ludwig boys and the other lost boys from Boberröhrsdorf. And finally, I said a prayer for all victims of wars. I realized that no one has done that for more than 72 years. I feel quite blessed to have such a solid connection to the ‘ties that bind.’ This Tower cast a spell on me like no other place in the world. I’m hoping 2016 brings another visit or more ways to stay connected. I only scratched the surface. Thank you Monika, the first person I met who gifted me with more history and tales to share with my family and Przemysław who dug into the Polish archives to place me and my family in the heart of this beautiful land. The connection is strong with this one.”

Mary Ann Van Sickle has been on the trail of her family history for more than 30 years.  In the dark ages, that meant long hours in dusty libraries whirling through microfilm and sending for records from the National Archives in Washington D.C. She has made two tours to Poland to discover her family roots in Siedlecin and to visit her beloved fairytale Ducal Tower. She is the mother of four extraordinary children and five awesome grandchildren who have patiently listened to her stories their entire lives. She lives with her husband John, her greatest supporter, in North County San Diego, California. You can find more stories about her genealogical travels and family tree on her website at www.Timestepping.net.

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Looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, will be published by Amberley later this year and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

 

In Search of Sir Lancelot

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The Great Hall and Round Table in Winchester

I have always had a soft spot for the Arthurian Romances. I love the legend of King Arthur and really hope that there was a historical Arthur who inspired the original tales. His Knights of the Round Table are held up as models of chivalry throughout Europe.

And the recent discovery of some wonderful wall paintings of Lancelot du Lac in a Ducal Tower in Siedlęcin in Poland is simply incredible.

Rodengo, Schmalkalden and Siedlęcin: Where Did the Knights of the Round Table Go?

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Castel Rodengo

King Arthur is mortally wounded and taken to the isle of Avalon, the cream of the crop – his best knights dead. With their passing the age of chivalric deeds and marvelous exploits is over.

Is it really? After all, what the king and his knights have left behind is an extensive body of literature and next to Arthur himself, each of the knights has his own story to be told and retold. And their stories have been retold many times in several versions in different languages.

Some of Arthur’s knights were so celebrated that their fame spread from the literary world to the world of art, music and architecture.

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Rodengo murals (detail)

Today I am going to focus on the two of these knights, both very popular and with an enormous impact on the literary world. Yvain and Lancelot, for they are the ones, became the main characters of Chretien de Troyes’ romances and many other poets and writers that followed and based their versions on Chretien’s.

A few groups of the wall paintings, for example, presenting their deeds and exploits survive scattered across Europe. The most famous murals are certainly those painted by Sir Lancelot himself in the Prose Lancelot, but let me take a closer look at those painted on the walls of medieval castles, towers and houses.

Yvain was beside himself. everything he heard upset him, and everything he saw tormented him. He wished he were far away in a land so wild that no one would know where to look for him…
(from Yvain ou le Chevalier au lion)

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Hessenhof in Schmalkalden in the Middle Ages

One look at Castel Rodengo mounted on a hilltop covered with thick verdure is enough to give the impression that Yvain’s wish has come true, fortunately the surrounding land is not as wild as it may seem and everyone has a chance to visit and admire the wall paintings preserved inside the former castle chapel, dedicated to St Nicholas. Dating back to the 1220s, the cycle depicts the story of Ivain as told by Chretien de Troyes and Hartmann von Aue and is an “extraordinary document without known precedent: the oldest surviving representation in the monumental arts of the High Middle Ages of a profane narrative subject in the context of profane architecture”. Little wonder that the discovery of the murals in 1973 caused a great sensation.

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Schmalkalden wall paintings (detail)

The castle itself was built c.1140 near Bressanone, in the South Tirol, and is known variously as Schloss Rodenegg or Rodeneck after its first owner’s surname: Federico I di Rodank. From the late 16th century to the 1970s, the paintings remained hidden under cover of vaulting and flooring. Eleven Yvain scenes represent the episodes from the first half of the epic, with the end of the story not depicted which led to speculations that the paintings were created before Hartmann completed his poem.

In further search for Ivain we move from the north-east of Italy to the central Germany, where in the small town of Schmalkalden, Thuringia, one more fine example of the remarkable wall paintings survive in the basement of the 13th-century Hessenhof house. This cycle is more extensive than the one at Rodengo, the surviving 26 scenes having been probably created between 1220 and 1230. The knightly adventure presented in them is shown as a game and courtly leisure. The Schmalkalden murals are the oldest surviving secular wall paintings in Germany.

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Schmalkalden in Thuringia today

My lady, it’s not fitting to speak of this, but take pity on him, for he loves you more than himself; God help me, when he came I knew nothing of his thoughts except that he was afraid of being recognized, and he never revealed anything else to me. (from The Prose Lancelot)

Henry I of Jawor was the 3rd son of Bolko I The Strict and Beatrice of Brandenburg, he was born in the early 1290s. His father died while Henry was still a child and it was not until 1312 that Henry assumed control of his Duchy of Jawor. Situated in Lower Silesia, it was only Henry’s political acumen that kept Jawor independent from its larger neighbour, Bohemia, despite other Silesian Dukes were swearing fealty to Bohemia’s king, John the Blind.

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Ducal tower of Siedlęcin (sekulada.com)

After joining a coalition against King John Henry married Agnes of Bohemia, only daughter of the late king Wenceslaus II of Bohemia by his 2nd wife, Elizabeth of Poland. Although the marriage proved childless it did make Henry a rival claimant to Agnes’s half-brother, King John, for the Bohemian throne.

The Ducal Tower at Siedlecin was built by Henry shortly after he assumed control of Jawor. One of the most important medieval residences in Central Europe, the Medieval mural paintings are in the great hall, on the 2nd floor of the keep. Commissioned in 1345 by Duke Henry, they remained unfinished following the Duke’s death in 1346.

Arthurian legends were very popular in the courts of Medieval Poland and Silesia,, but these paintings are the earliest surviving examples. Sir Lancelot managed to hide unidentified in the ducal tower of Siedlęcin for almost 700 years.

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Siedlęcin wall paintings

Fortunately his true identity was revealed, for today the Siedlęcin is the only place in the world where Lancelot wall paintings have been preserved in situ. The true subject matter of these remarkable 14th-century murals was not recognised until 1990s.

Their major conservation was carried out in 2006, actually saving them, for they were in a very poor condition – they had been almost lost due to perfunctory conservation process carried out in the 1930s. The Siedlęcin group includes representations of the scenes from the Vulgate Lancelot, which were to be the main source of Sir Thomas Malory’s romances in the 15th century…….

There are 4 scenes depicting the court of Camelot. The 1st shows Arthur’s queen Guinevere with her ladies, followed by Guinevere’s kidnapping by Meleagant and her rescue by Arthur’s champion, Lancelot. Below these are representations of Lancelot and his cousin, Lionel;  Lancelot asleep under an apple tree and Lionel sleeping on guard. Then we see a duel between Lancelot and Tarquin and Lancelot with Arthur’s brother, Sir Kay.

The unfinished portion depicts a duel between Lancelot and Sagramour and the healing of Urry de Hongre…..

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Siedlęcin murals

Today Siedlęcin really is the only place in the world where you can still admire the Lancelot paintings preserved in situ.

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For more details on the Ducal Tower at Siedlecin, just click here.

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Photos courtesy of: Winchester – Wikipedia, Castel Rodengo – Valle Isarco, Rodengo murals – sentres.com, Schmalkalden – romoe.com, Hessenhof and the wall paintings – schmalkalden.com, Ducal tower od Siedlęcin – sekulada.com, Siedlęcin murals – L.Bartosik (Go Lower Silesia), Siedlęcin murals – Wojciech Pudło
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Sources: Le Gof, Jacques. The Medieval Imagination. The University of Chicago, 1992; Allaire, Gloria. The Arthur of the Italians: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Literature and Culture. University of Wales Press, 2014; Lacy, Norris. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia; Lacy, Norris. A Companion to Chrétien de Troyes, D.S. Brewer, 2005; Witkowski, Jacek Szlachetna a wielce zalosna opowiecs o Panu Lancelocie z Jeziora; Wierssing, Johannes. Schmalkalden. Eine kleine stadt mit grosser Geschichte. 2013; Lupack, Alan. Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend. Oxford University Press, 2007; The Norton Anthology of English Literature (Norton Topics Online); Ducal tower of Siedlęcin

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly