Pagans In Bavaria: Leutstetten

The church of St. Alto, in Leutstetten, north of Lake Starnberg. This church has a curiosity in its sanctuary.

This 1643 oil on wood painting features three unusual saints: Ainpet, Gberpet and Firpet. These are local, alpine-regional deities, so to speak. They’re not on the official register of Roman Catholic saints, and it has been postulated that they are pre-Christian, reformed into good Catholics simply by putting new stories on them and calling them the Three Virgins. Other paintings of them are found in scattered churches, and one is (was?) in the church of St. Vigilius, in Obsaurs, Tyrol. I have not been there and can only refer to it. This painting here was not always at St. Alto — it originally hung in the chapel in the village of Einbettl (Ainpet, Einbettl) which was torn down in the 19th century.

Here the chapel at Petersbrunnen, or St. Peter’s fountain; however, the name may well stem from “Betenbrunnen”. In any case the water was long considered to have healing properties, and in the 16th century Duke Wilhelm IV had the chapel built, alongside facilities for cure-seekers (to keep the riffraff separate from the paying guests). The baths are gone, the chapel is still there. In his book “Romerstraßen und Kultplätze” (Roman Roads and Ritual Sites), Martin Bernstein sees an irony in the fact that the chapel, built over a possible heathen holy site, has to be renovated frequently due to problems with moisture. The revenge of the Beten, perhaps.

The Villa Rustica (country villa and farm), built in 150 AD, excavated in 2002. The glass structure covers the part of the house which had heated floors (Hypocaustum) and a bath. Nearby Gauting (then Bratananium) was where the Roman road crossed the river Würm (Starnberger See was once the Würmsee. It began its name change in the 1800s and made it official in 1962.) Evidence of crops and livestock raising were found. Romans were good at adapting to what grew here already (spelt, emmer-wheat) and introduced wheat and rye. From other Roman farm excavations it is certain there were also animal stalls, silos, barns, and lodging for the farm workers. A millstone was found near this site, indicating a flour mill.
The method used to heat the floors allowed smoke to escape from behind the walls, thereby also heating the rooms to a comfortable temperature. To realize that, even over a thousand years later, kings were living in cold drafty castles, drives home the meaning of the term Dark Ages.

Finds from the nearby spring, most likely offerings, all copies for display here: two house keys, pottery, a slate writing tablet. The large stone is a copy of a Roman gravestone which is believed to belong to the owner of this villa. It is written that he came from Braga (northern Portugal), had a long military career, and that his loving wife erected this stone for him. The original stone was discovered to have been built into the side altar in the above-mentioned St. Alto church (where it remains today), presumably hauled off from one of two Roman urn graves nearby. Whether the stone, the graves and the villa all deal with the same 2 people is speculative, but highly probable. This spring, incidentally, provided the means of determining the date that the farm was in use — the farmer had had a wooden, box-shaped well built on it, which was nicely preserved upon discovery. The wood fragments of the well itself — plus other pieces which had been used to fill it when the farm was abandoned — were then dendochronologically dated.
The Villa Rustica is not directly accessible by car, but one can walk there along the bike path — from the above-mentioned village of Einbettl. And with that, the circle is complete.

2 thoughts on “Pagans In Bavaria: Leutstetten

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