St. Ulrich’s Chapel & Healing Spring

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Just outside the village of Eresing, near the Ammersee, there is a small chapel and a fountain house where people would come wash themselves devoutly, especially the eyes. This spring is said to have healing powers, is dedicated to St. Ulrich of Augsburg, the patron saint of the diocese, who once allegedly rested here and caused the spring to flow forth. This is supposed to have occurred immediately after Ulrich’s returning from the Battle of Lechfeld (TL;DR version: FC Holy Roman Empire versus visiting Hungary, the Germans won.) Interestingly, the road near the fountain house and the chapel is also the old Roman road known today as the Via Raetia – so it’s possible that the spring was already known during Bavaria’s Roman period, and that travellers drew water from it. I have heard it suggested – although without evidence proffered – that it may have been a holy spring for the Romans as well. The gentleman in the video posted below (warning: it’s in “Boarisch“) claims that this spring’s water is soft, in contrast to the hard water found everywhere else in the area (and I can attest to that, our tap water is quite hard), and so locals fill up jugs of the stuff to brew their coffee with it.

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The figure of St. Ulrich in the fountain house dates from the 15th century. In the 17th century the Court Margrave of Eresingen, Franz von Füll, subsidized the construction of the fountain house, the red marble basin, and the Ulrich chapel with hermitage.

“If the Baiuvarii on the Lech don’t block your way”*

My husband knows that I have this fascination with local maps and roads and routes from long ago. In a recent acquisition of used books he stumbled across something he knew I’d like — “Die Alpen in Frühzeit und Mittelalter” (The Alps during Antiquity and the Middle Ages) by Ludwig Pauli, C. H. Beck, 1980. I skipped ahead to the chapter on Alpine crossings and Roman Roads, and lo, look what I have learned:
It’s about 565 C.E., the Romans have retreated back to the Italian peninsula, and Rhaetia has gone through a few centuries of bloodbaths. The people who buried their silver coins in the hopes of recollecting them “when things died back down” are long dead and their stashes will remain buried for another 1,600 years or so. There’s no upkeep of infrastructure, but the roads are still there, more or less. Against this backdrop, a 25-year-old named Venantius Fortunatus has set off from Aquilea, on the Adriatic coast, for a long journey to Tours to pay respect at the grave of St. Martin of Tours. He wrote about his travels later**, and so we also know the route he took — over the Plöcken Pass (at the Italian border to Carinthia in Austria), then westward to the Brenner Pass, north to the “Seefelder Sattel” and on to Augsburg and beyond. What this means is that he took the (later named) Via Rhaetia, “our” Roman Road, which passes right through our area here between the Ammersee and the Lech River. Fortunatus passed through here — which means he is the earliest person of later world renown*** to have traveled in our area, all those years ago.

I must admit that I was unfamiliar with the name, but a check with Wikipedia revealed something quite interesting — I was already somewhat familiar with his works, musical versions of which are in the Episcopal Hymnal (it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that most classical singers in America, no matter what religion or denomination they grew up in, know hymns from the Episcopal Hymnal, because the Episcopal churches, unlike their R.C. counterparts, pay well for professional choirs.)

One of his greatest hits is Pange lingua gloriosi, Corporis mysterium.

 

*Venantius Fortunatus, advising a traveler about conditions on the Via.

** “The Life of St. Martin”, which of course I need to hunt down.

*** Hannibal and his elephants crossed further west.

Romans in Bavaria: comparing two online archeology maps for one specific area

Zeitspringer has a post up (in German) about the Roman road which ran between Augsburg and Salzburg, an important salt route referred to today as the “Via Julia”. Evidently there is a bit of uncertainty about the point where the road crossed the Isar River south of Munich. In his post, Zeitspringer mentions the site Vici.org, which I hadn’t known about before. Like the Bavarian Monuments Atlas (also in German), this site superimposes archeological sites—as well as presumed routes of Roman roads—onto satellite maps. I love these kinds of maps, and they have been an enormous help in finding things when you’re on the ground and need landmarks for orientation (with these maps, even a lone tree in a field—something you won’t find on a conventional map—can tell you something).

Well, most of what is known about the routes of these Roman roads north of the Alps comes primarily from 1) ancient (but still after-the-fact) maps, 2) excavated finds and 3) common geographical sense, particularly over the passes where there really wasn’t much choice about where to travel (see Scharnitz, in Tyrol). But as far as where-exactly, to the meter precision, it’s really only 2) that can provide any kind of accuracy, and only then at those points. The lines between those two points often must be assumed (unless they come up out of the ground, making for excellent aerial photography).

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Anyway, I was curious as to what Vici.org had to say about my Roman road, the Via Raetia, which runs along part of the western shore of the Ammersee. Knowing that these things can’t be anywhere near 100% accurate, I was still a bit surprised to see where they put the line.

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The aerial photo above is of the area west of Utting, south of Achselschwang. We know this area well because we often take walks here; it’s hilly terrain, unlike the flat fields in the photo above it. The Roman road, according to Vici, is the red line through the picture. However, can you make out that faint quadrilateral shape intersected by the line, with trees at three of its corners? That’s an old Celtic Viereckschanze, a four-sided earthwork that pre-dates the Roman road, and I have difficulty believing that the Romans would have simply built a road through it (although I suppose anything is possible, theoretically).

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Above is a screen grab of the same area (the Viereckschanze is in the center, marked in red). Here, the Via Raetia runs a good 200 meters further west, and, knowing the terrain quite well there, I am more likely to believe this. What’s more, it joins the present road at Achselschwang. That means little on its own, and I am certainly no expert, but Achselschwang first gets a mention in records in the year 760. Its beginnings might go back to an old straight(-ish) track that had been used for hundreds of years, why not? When the Romans retreated from the regions north of the Alps, they left behind quite a few “Romanized” locals whose descendants would have kept using the paths, just as they  pulled out Roman gravestones for early stone churches (like the one in nearby Leutstetten, a place discussed here before). Those roads carried pilgrims to Rome, and traders, and early travelers like Albrecht Dürer (who visited Italy twice), and some parts of the old Via Raetia are still part of the national road network, albeit under lots of asphalt. In other words, they left traces.

Weekend Mountain Rail Blogging

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The Mittenwaldbahn meets the trail at the Seefelder Sattel. Photo shamelessly purloined from Martin Schönherr.

Tyrolean omniscient and Friend of the Blog Paschberg sends a photo of greeting from the Seefelder Sattel, a little pass over the most easily navigable part of the Karwendel Mountains, and known as a point along the alignment of the Via Raetia. What he may not remember is that I myself have a similar photo, previously posted here, from pretty much the same spot, but looking the other way — the thing is, I had indeed been looking for the Seefelder Sattel, but didn’t realize that I had been standing right on it until now.
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In a somewhat related vein: the closed railway line which ran past my recent overnight accommodations in Passau’s Innstadt.
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It turns out to be part of the former Passau-Hauzenberg Railway, now used primarily by dog walkers. (The Beau, charmingly sarcastic as ever, suggested that it had probably been left behind by the Romans.)

In Via: Raisting

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If one is interested, as I am, in the routes of the Roman roads in southern Bavaria, then one has probably heard of Raisting; the north-to-south road from the Brenner Pass to Augsburg (Via Raetia) and the southwest-to-northeast road from Bregenz to Gauting intersected here. Evidence of the latter road can be found further west, but the former has left traces in the land here which can be seen from the air. I wanted to find out what can be seen from the ground, and I wasn’t disappointed.

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First one travels south of Raisting, to the field of giant satellite dishes belonging to the German Postal Service. Our starting point will be this church.

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The old pilgrimage church St. Johann is supposedly the oldest church in the area, founded in the time of the first Christian community in Augsburg. This thesis is based on the fact that the old Roman Augsburg-Brenner road lay just 100 meters west of it.
According to legend it was built “on a holy place” by Tassilo III (748-788), the last Agilolfinger Duke. Tassilo, so the story goes, got lost on a hunt in the woods between the Lech and the Ammer rivers. He swore that when he figured out where he was, he’d build a church on the spot. Eventually he reached an open space from which he could make out the lake, and that is where Tassilo built his promised chapel. The altar was placed over a spring. (A church on a “holy place, built in the region’s earliest days of Christianity, with the alter over spring, near the Roman road? That sounds suspiciously like the former site of a roadside pagan temple.)

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It was especially cold last week; the welcoming committee was surely happy to soak up the warm sunshine today. Our instructions were to follow the road past the church until the second ditch, and then look southeast into the field. And lo…

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It’s difficult to see in this picture that the ribbon stretching before us is slightly raised, but it is easier to tell its presence by its lack of snow — underneath lies the pebble road bed. We left the marked road and trekked into the field.

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And met up with a barbed wire fence. Which didn’t stop us, we slid over /under it and followed the track to the end of the field, observed only by a small herd of camera-shy deer. Here the road alignment is even clearer to the eye. There is supposed to be the remains of a peat cutting ditch in the strip of woods straight ahead, but we saw only a small border stone marker poking out of the deeper snow before turning back.

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The satellite facility is surrounded by farmland and is easily accessible. It was impressive to see them up close. With the Via Raetia, St. Johann church and the satellite dishes, we had 2000 years of human achievement presented before us in one short walk.

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And here the route of the Via Raetia is still in use, as the main road through Raisting and Diessen, after which it veers slightly westward on its way toward Augsburg. The next place to trace its route is in Achselschwang, which we documented back in May 2014. It has since become a regular walking route for us.

Soviodurum, and a Mysterious Stone Object

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Roman knee and shin guards with intricate details

I had the chance to visit Straubing, a small town along the Danube in Lower Bavaria – basically I was there on business, but arrived a few hours earlier in order to see the Roman exhibit at the town museum. As Straubing (Soviodurum) was along the Limes and had a military station there, the museum had quite a bit to offer. Perhaps not as much as Passau or even Fliess in Tirol, but a nice exhibit nonetheless.

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Head protection for Roman horses

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Roman glassware found in Straubing, Bavaria

I had never considered whether the Romans used glass, since so often one sees only ceramics. The designs are downright modern.

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A stash of coins hidden before the collapse

This found stash of coins, like many others discovered south of the Limes, reminds one of how it ended: things looked bad, treasures were buried, things indeed got very bad, and the owners never returned to the site to reclaim their property.

The photo below was made earlier and is not from Straubing. Knowing that I was going to be spending some time in Lower Bavaria, I had done a little advance research for any mention of early, pre-Roman history of the area, and stumbled across a fleeting reference to a schalenstein in the Passau Rathaus from 1899. ( I did wander a bit through the public areas of this town hall, but did not see anyone who looked like they might know what I was talking about if I should ask.) Later, however, I took a walk up to the fortress overlooking Passau and came across this.

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What could this be?

Which is, well, technically, a schalenstein (it’s stone, and it has cup markings)
but to me looks more like something made much later. There are what appear to be charcoal markings inside. It is simply built into the wall in one of the towers, with no explanation.

Circumitus: Batavis, Boiodurum

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(The name actually refers to the bicycle route and is not, apparently, what the Romans called it.)

This posting hails from the other side of Bavaria, a “detour” onto the Roman road which follows the Danube and also the boundary separating the Roman Empire (in this case, the province of Raetia) from the Germanic Marcomanni to the north. This border is known as the Limes, and covered the lands on all sides of the Mediterranean Sea, in one form or another.

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The Roman Museum in Passau is built on the site of one of the fortified structures from the Roman period, Boiodurum. This name, like many Roman sites in Germany is apparently of Celtic origin. There were people settled on Passau’s peninsula long before even the official founding date of Rome, but according to archaeological finds they were gone, or least no longer present in sufficient numbers (discontinuity), by the time the Romans arrived; no signs of destruction or conflict have been found either. This brings me to something I have been thinking about ever since I started looking at early European history: the way some history texts tell it, the reader can get the impression that the Romans simply arrived one day –  cutting through virgin land with their swords and putting down roads to get to their provincial capitals which had also just appeared out of thin air. Just as there had been settlements here before, and some infrastructure (mule paths over the Alps), there surely must have been some Roman presence here long before as well, even if only in the form of tradesmen or scouts. Polybius made remarks about the Raetians over a century before the transalpine road plans went into effect.

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The museum found a creative way to present the Tabula Peutingeriana in a large enough size to actually read it.

There were plenty of Roman soldiers in this “three rivers” area, but other people as well, judging from excavation finds. Below is a type of “diploma” awarded to a Roman soldier after completing his 25-year service (if he survived that long). He got some money and a little set of engraved dog tags, threaded together with wire like a spiral notebook, according him privilege wherever he went. Did Claudius Paternus Clementianus of Epfach possess one of these? Probably.

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Part of a roof tile found in the ruins of the Roman Boiodurum fortress at Passau, delightfully marred by a paw print before it was dry.

In Passau one may find a little light shed on the continuity of the place after the Romans withdrew. Roman troops at Boiodurum were among the last to stick it out along the Limes, after other frontier posts had already fallen. Eugippius says that a small group set out for Rome to collect the soldiers’ last pay but were killed by Barbarians, unbeknownst to those remaining and waiting for their return. Eugippius’ biography of St. Severinus mentions “people” – probably both Romans and Romanized Raetians – holing up together in Batavis (the fortified Roman settlement in Passau, on the hill where, not coincidentally, the Cathedral now stands) and defeating the invaders before being urged to leave for safety at Lauriacum (Enns). Eugippus also mentions St. Severinus founding a small monastery at “Boiotro”, most certainly using the existing Boiodurum fortress walls.

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A last sign of the Roman Empire’s long march toward being the Holy Roman Empire: not St. Severinus, but the Holy Bishop Valentin of Noricum (Roman province of Salzburg), who came to Raetia as a missionary. The silver box below his image is said to hold his relics. My understanding of the “Dark Ages” seems to have been a little wrong until now – it was certainly chaotic, violent,  in flux, and certainly dark to live in — but not completely shrouded in misty Unknown. The information is there, you just have to look for it.