Tale of the
How the Lego Castle Got Its Name
Many hundreds of years
ago, deep in the Middle Ages, lived a ruthless baron and his son, Rolf.
Baron von Skitter was a stout man with dark black hair. He wore a patch over
his left eye.
Along the banks of the Rhine
River in Germany, the baron built his
mighty-make-believe castle, the Skittersburg. Baron von Skitter was
one of several “robber barons” who had built their castles along the Rhine. From his castle, he stopped boats traveling along the wide river and
forced them to pay heavy taxes if they wanted to pass. He stopped the boats
by stringing a giant chain across the river. If they paid the tax, he would
lower the chain deep into the water and allow the boat to pass. If they
somehow tried to sneak through, he would hurl large rocks from the mangonel
high on the castle tower.
From this castle, he also ruled the
villagers in the nearby town of Legoland with an iron fist. He burdened the
townspeople with taxes and unjust laws. Villagers were required to pay many
different taxes. One tax called a multure had to be paid in order to
have one’s corn ground at the castle windmill. Villagers could not even bake
their own bread. Instead, they had to pay to have their bread baked in the
castle bakery’s great oven.
Outside of the town, the serfs were
even less fortunate than the villagers. The serfs, who where poor
peasants, cared for the baron’s fields. Among other taxes, they had to pay a
wood-penny to collect firewood, a bodel-silver for housing,
and an agistment to graze their animals in the forest. Even when a
serf died his family had to pay a tax called a heriot, which was
the dead man’s best beast, or the equivalent amount in money.
Unlike the villagers, who were mostly
freemen and could come and go as they liked, the serfs had few rights.
They were almost slaves as they could not move away from the baron’s lands.
They could not marry without the permission of the baron. And if a serf
had children, his children were automatically serfs as well. Only the
baron could set a serf free.
Although the serfs could grow a meager
amount of food on small strips of land, they did not own the land. They also
had to care for the baron’s land. When the baron’s land, or demesne, needed
farming, the baron could demand that the serf work on them without pay.
When harvest time came, the serfs first had to harvest the baron’s land
before harvesting their own.
The baron was a cruel tyrant. Although he
was obligated to protect the townspeople and serfs, he rarely did so. His
laws and punishments were harsh. Freemen in the town had the advantage of a
trial by their neighbors, but serfs were usually tried by the baron
himself – and the baron was rarely fair. To determine if a serf was
guilty, the baron often held a “trial by ordeal”.
In “trial by boiling water”, the accused
person plunged his hand into a bucket of boiling water. The hand was then
bandaged. After a few days the bandage was removed. If there was a blister
half as big as a walnut, which there usually was, the man was considered
In “trial by fire”, the accused person
had to carry a red-hot piece of iron in his hands. If there were no burn
marks, which was unlikely, then the person was considered innocent.
In “trial by drowning”, the accused person
was thrown into the river. If he drowned, he was considered innocent. If he
floated, he was considered guilty and immediately hung on the gallows.
Although people sometimes deserved their
punishment, sometimes they did not. For minor crimes, such as lying, the
prisoner was chained to a post and made to wear an iron mask with a long
metal tongue sticking out. For cheating, the prisoner’s feet were locked in
the wooden stocks for a day. People passing by would throw rotten fruits,
vegetables, and eggs at him. Someone who had done an evil deed might have
the letter “M” (for malefactor) branded permanently on his forehead.
For especially bad crimes, the criminal
would be hung on the gallows to slowly choke to death. If he was a
higher-ranking or richer criminal, he would be fortunate to have his head
cut off instead, which was a quick death.
The baron cared little about the people
under his authority. He mostly worried about himself. Rolf, the baron’s only
son, was not much different. He was a brown-haired boy of eleven years old.
At the age of seven, he had become a page. In a couple more years, he would
become a squire, and then finally dubbed a knight. Honorable knights
practiced a code of chivalry – bravery, courtesy,
honor, and gallantry towards women. It did not appear that Rolf would
be an honorable knight.
Not too far from the castle,
in one of the baron’s vineyards on the steeply-sloping hills of the
Rhine River valley, lived a poor serf named Friedrich. It was here
on the baron’s land that Friedrich worked the vineyards during the day.
During harvest time, Friedrich
would load his funnel-shaped wicker basket with grapes, hoist it on his
back, carry it down to the village, and dump the grapes into a large open
barrel. Girls would then climb bare-footed into the barrel and stomp the
juice out of the grapes. Later, the juice would be made into choice wine and
shipped up and down the river to be sold for a high profit – a profit which
the baron kept for himself.
As Friedrich worked in the
vineyard, he would listen for the bells of the Monastery Church of the
Nativity. At noon the bells in the church tower rang to signal people in the
entire river valley to stop whatever they were doing and pray the Angelus.
When they rang, Friedrich would stop, take off his hat, bow his head, and
The angel of the Lord declared unto
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Behold the Handmaid of the Lord,
Be it done unto me according to they word.
And the Word was made flesh,
And dwelt among us.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
That we may be made worthy of the
promises of Christ.
Let us pray:
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we,
to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of
an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His
Resurrection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen
During the evenings, Friedrich
would sit on the slopes and play his horn, which he had carved himself. His
music could sometimes be heard for miles up and down the river valley. His
favorite tune was Ave Maria, which he played so sweetly, that it
almost made you cry. Friedrich was a righteous man and tried to do
everything for the glory of God. Even though his work was back-breaking at
times, it helped him all the more unite his suffering with Christ’s Passion,
especially the Carrying of the Cross.
Friedrich’s wife, Marta, was a
beautiful and loving woman. It was her job to shear the baron’s sheep. After
she sheared the sheep, she took the wool down to the spinner in the village.
The spinner spun the wool into yarn. The weaver made the yarn into cloth,
and the tailor made the cloth into clothes. But Marta could not afford to
buy clothes from the tailor. They were too expensive for poor serfs like
herself and her family. Instead, Marta made all their clothes by spinning
and weaving and sewing the cloth herself.
The men wore linen shirts and
breeches, which were made from the flax plant. Underneath, they wore prickly
woolen underpants. They held up their baggy underpants with a piece of
string tied around their waste. The women wore a linen smock covered with a
loose-fitting woolen tunic. Their clothes were never dyed because dye cost
too much. When it was cold, they wore a long tunic on top. They were too
poor to afford hose (long woolen stockings) to keep their legs warm.
Marta tried to make meals a
special and dignified time for her family. She always covered the table with
a linen tablecloth. Before eating, everyone washed their hands in a metal
bowl. Friedrich sat at the head of the table in the only chair. The others
sat at the sides of the table on benches. Before dinner, they always thanked
God for their food and asked Him to bless it.
When the harvest was good, they ate mostly
the same modest meal every day – bread and a thick bean and pea soup called
pottage. They drank home brewed-ale poured from a pottery pitcher. When the
harvest was bad, they often went hungry.
Even though life was hard,
Friedrich and Marta journeyed together towards God – that is, until Marta
died of the bubonic plague – also called the Black Death. Marta caught the
plague while helping others who were sick. Eventually, she and her young
daughter Elise died of it. In fact, one of every three villagers died of the
plague. Many who died helping the sick were later added to the Church’s
official list of saints, like St. Aloysius Gonzaga.
Marta left behind three sons
for Friedrich to care for. Their oldest son, Johann, was fifteen. He liked
to tinker with things and fix them. Then there was Mark, who was a bright
boy of thirteen. Finally, there was Franz, who took after his father. Franz
just happened to be the same age as the baron’s son, Rolf. But Franz was
much different than Rolf. Franz was such a kind boy that he wouldn’t hurt a
fly. He loved to listen to his father’s horn. He would sit silently and
think of the Holy Virgin Mary as his father played the Ave Maria.
or twice a year, a fair was held in the
in front of the Cathedral. Traders came from far and wide to set up tents
and booths, from where they would shout their wares:
“Roasted chestnuts – get ‘em
while they’re hot!”
“Apples, big round apples!”
“Knives so sharp they’ll split
“Silk cloth from the Orient.”
“Pig’s ears. Get your pig’s
The potpourri of smells mixed
together was remarkable – the malty smell of freshly brewed ale; melted fat
from the candlemaker’s atelier (workshop); dead fish recently caught from
the river; the tanner’s solution of water and dog excrement for making
leather; roasted chestnuts; horse droppings; salty pretzels; the foul smell
of rain-soaked daub which coated the walls of half-timber buildings; fresh
pastries; the rotten garbage that was thrown out of people’s windows onto
the muddy streets. But Franz hardly noticed. His rarely-washed lice-ridden
clothes were so smelly that they sufficiently masked the other smells.
There were many interesting
things to see – hats, gloves,
musical instruments, lengths of fabric, pots and pans, girdles, swords,
capes, saddles, and all sorts of other unusual things. Plus the tamed bear.
A very courageous man must have trained this bear, for he was big and white.
The bear tamer could make the bear stand or sit or wave its paws. The bear
tamer even put his head into the bear’s mouth and lived to tell about it.
Since his family was very poor, they
rarely ever bought something at the fair. But this day, Franz’s father had a
surprise. He had been saving up some money for the occasion. He bought each
of the boys a “pig’s ear”, which was a pastry made by wrapping dough around
a metal funnel, tying it with string, then frying it. They were very happy
and all gave their father a big hug and an enthusiastic, “Thank you!”
Not only were there things to see and
smell, but there were sounds coming from every direction. Merchants were
shouting; horses were clomping; water was gushing into containers as
villagers fetched water from the town fountain; the glockenspiel was playing
its animated and musical story about King Rudolf; and craftsmen were
pounding away in their ateliers.
Franz had always wanted to be a craftsman.
He dreamed that perhaps he could make beautiful statues or gold chalices or
carved wooded crucifixes. Becoming a master craftsman took many years.
Starting at age twelve, a boy trained as an apprentice for seven years. An
apprentice was not paid, but he did get a room and food to eat. He worked
hard, slowly learning about a particular craft. At age nineteen, the
apprentice became a journeyman. At this point, he was paid a little, but
still needed to learn new skills and become more responsible. The
journeyman finally created a “masterpiece.” His masterpiece was taken to the
Guildhall, and if the masters of his trade thought it was good enough, then
he could become a master too.
Becoming a craftsman was just a dream.
Franz could never become a craftsman because he was not free. Serfs were
not allowed to be craftsmen.
As they walked around the village eating
their pig’s ears, they noticed a nervous looking man with a black hood. He
was leaving the inn and seemed to be in a hurry. He rushed past a shopkeeper
sweeping the walkway and nearly knocked him over. The mysterious man
hurried down the street, passed through the barbican, and walked down to the
pier. Franz wondered if he had come on one of the boats docked at the pier.
The pier was always interesting. Boats
were constantly traveling up and down the Rhine
River, bringing goods to the town and castle from other towns and countries.
They brought fabric, exotic woods, rare metals, and unusual animals. When
they left, they usually took several large casks of wine with them. The town
of Legoland was famous for the wine
made with grapes from the baron’s vineyards. Franz’s father had worked hard
to pick many of those grapes.
As they looked toward the barbican, Franz
noticed a metal rod sticking straight out. He asked his father, “What is
that rod for?”
His father replied, “It is a standard
length that merchants must use for measuring. It helps keep merchants from
As they continued walking past the inn,
Franz could smell the aroma of blood sausages and sauerbraten floating out
the inn’s windows. The Inn of the Jumping Fish was known to have the
best blood sausage anywhere on the Rhine. He had never tasted it himself,
but from the aroma, it sure seemed like it must be the best.
Behind the inn, Franz noticed beautiful
flower gardens. People rarely grew flowers because they figured they could
use that precious space to grow food and vegetables instead. All the same,
the flowers were sure lovely to see. He thought heaven must be like a flower
garden, with Mary and Jesus waiting for him there. He longed to be with Mary
Down the dirt road were some children
playing. He asked, “Father, can we play a while with the other kids?”
“Yes, Franz,” his father
replied. “But remember, play with the other children as though you were
playing with Jesus.”
“Yes, father,” said Franz and
his brothers, as they skipped toward the others.
First, they played hide-and-seek. Then,
they played Blind Man’s Buff. One player was blindfolded. He tried to catch
the other kids and figure out who they were. Finally, they played camp-ball.
The team that had the ball, which was made from a pig’s bladder filled with
dried peas, tried to get it into the other team’s goal.
After playing all these games, they were
exhausted. It was time to return home and get as much sleep as they could,
for tomorrow was another long day of work in the vineyards.
Emperor is dead! Long live the Emperor!”
The shout rang out from every corner of
the village. The Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg had died. Now,
Louis IV Wittelsbach of Bavaria had been elected by the seven
Prince-Electors as the new emperor. Even more, he was coming to visit
Legoland and the Skittersburg. This meant that there would be a royal
feast in the castle’s Great Hall.
countries, like England or France, the king was the most powerful person.
But not so in
Germany. Germany was ruled by an Emperor, who was like a king
of kings (which would make Jesus a king of kings of kings).
The Holy Roman Emperor was a powerful man.
He ruled over more than 300 independent states in Germany, Italy, and other
areas. These states included
ecclesiastical (church) states, imperial
villages, lordships, counties, baronies, and principalities. Each of these
states was ruled by its own count, duke, prince, baron, or archbishop. Some
of the states, like
Bohemia, were even ruled by kings.
The baron wanted
to make sure that the Emperor was given a royal welcome. He told all of the
villagers to wear their best clothes and line the
streets of the
town. The serfs were told to stand behind the freemen so that the Emperor
couldn’t see their worn and dirty clothes.
As the Emperor
made his way down the main street, people yelled out, “Long live Louis the
Forth! Long live the Emperor!”
that everyone shouted, except for that same suspicious looking man with the
black hood. The sharp-eyed man seemed to be looking very intently at the
large wooden chest at the back of the Emperor’s carriage. The man grinned,
then wormed his way through the crowd and headed towards the pier. As Franz
had suspected, and would later find out, this man was up to no good.
Preparing for a
royal feast required an enormous amount of work for the kitchen staff.
The chief cook was making
sure that food was properly roasted, broiled, or baked in the fireplaces and
carefully measured valuable spices which were locked away in the spice
store. The baker was busy making bread. The apiarian fetched honey from the
bee skeps. Scullions (kitchen helpers) carefully gathered
sleeping doves from the dovecote to throw into the pot, caught fish from the
castle fish pond, collected herbs from the herb garden and picked fresh
fruit and vegetables from the castle garden.
Servant boys called turnspits slowly
turned whole animals on the roasting spits in front of the kitchen fire. The
pantler carefully arranged food on plates, ready to be served. The rat
catcher tried to keep rats out of the food.
While food was being prepared, the baron
and his guests were themselves getting ready. Since the trip to the castle
had been dusty, the Royal guests took baths in a large wooden barrel.
Water-carriers carried bucket after bucket of warm water up the steep stairs
of the keep and filled the wooden barrel. After bathing, the
Ladies-in-waiting helped the Empress and baroness dress. The chamberlain
helped the Emperor and baron dress.
As the Royal
party approached the Great Hall, the usher opened the door for them and gave
a deep bow. The Emperor, Empress, baron, and baroness made their way to the
High Table. The High Table was reserved for important guests and was the
only table with chairs. It was covered with fine linens. All the other
guests, such as knights and significant people from Legoland, sat on benches
at the low tables (serfs and other poor people weren’t invited). People
at the High Table had plates; the others had to put their food on large
slices of stale bread called trenchers. On the High Table were the only
bowls of salt, which were in boat-shaped salt-cellars. Since the cook didn’t
put salt on the food, guests had to put on their own salt. Important guests
sat “above the salt” at the High Table; less important guests sat “below the
salt” at the low tables.
was a blare of trumpets from the trumpeters standing in the gallery (the
balcony overlooking the Great Hall). The feast was about to begin. This was
the signal for servants called ewerers to bring bowls of warm
rosewater-scented water for guests to wash their hands.
Then, a steady
stream of food began to be served. One course after another.
fish or poultry was served, it first needed to be properly carved, or cut.
This was the job of the carver, who was a young noble. The
carver would “dismember” a heron, “splat” a pike, “untache” a curlew,
“display” a crane, “fin” a chub, and “spoil” a hen.
All of this food made the guests very
thirsty. The butler was in charge of the drinks and made sure that everyone
had enough to drink. He made sure that the cellarer hoisted wine up the
dumb-waiter and stocked it into the cellar, the tapster drew wine and ale
from the barrels, the dispensers in the buttery poured the drinks, and the
cupbearers carried the drinks up to the guests. The Emperor and baron each
had their own personal cupbearers who made sure that their cups were never
empty. And dapifers made sure that the important guests had clean napkins.
People used their best manners while
eating in the presence of the Emperor. Guests were expected to know these
manners: “Do not spit upon or over the table,” “If you wash your mouth out
while at the table, do not spit the water back into the bowl, but instead
spit politely on the floor,” “If you blow your nose, remember to clean your
hand by wiping it on your clothes (there were no handkerchiefs),” “Don’t
wipe your teeth or eyes with the tablecloth,” “If there is a man of God
(such as a priest) at the table, take special care where you spit,” “Do not
pick your teeth at the table with a knife, straw, or stick,” “Do not belch
near anybody’s face if you have bad breath.”
was eating, there was plenty of entertainment. The jester performed his
silly antics and made everyone laugh. Jugglers and stilt-walkers performed
amazing skills by throwing knives and flaming torches high into the air.
Minstrels sang songs and played their instruments from the gallery. A
trained monkey climbed up on the chandelier, which was burning expensive
candles on this occasion. Usually, torches dipped in tar were used to light
All of this
talking, laughing, music, and bustling of food in and out created quite a
exactly what the black-hooded man
was hoping for. He peeked out the top of the barrel he had been hiding in.
Then, he silently made his way across the pier, lowered himself into the
cold water, and swam across the moat towards the castle. Once on the berm
(narrow strip of grass) of the other side, he tossed his grappling hook high
up into the air. It caught on the balcony with a clank. But no one heard. He
slowly pulled himself up the rope, being careful that no sentries or
lookouts saw him in the shadows.
After climbing onto the balcony, he made
his way through the open doors. What a strange room, he thought. Lots of
bottles with strange looking liquids in them. Large pieces of lead and other
metals. But no gold.
“I see you,” someone said.
He ducked under a table, bumping his head
while doing so. Just then, an old man with a white beard and a pointed blue
hat came into the room. He went over to another table, and began mixing some
things. While he was doing so, another man mysteriously appeared over by the
bookshelf. He looked identical to the first man. They began to talk to each
“Did you find the eagle’s feathers?” said
“No, but I did find some edelweiss
flowers,” replied the second.
“Edelweiss flowers won’t help turn lead
into gold,” said the first.
“I know,” responded the second, “but they
sure are pretty. By the way, wasn’t it funny yesterday when the apothecarist
in town thought he had seen you taking some herbs from his garden? But when
he came to the castle to report the matter, the baron assured him that he
had been having dinner with you at the same time.”
“Yes,” said the first, “but we need to be
careful. If people find out that there are two of us, we’ll be in a lot of
Just as hastily as the two men entered the
room, they both left. Since it seemed safe to come out now, he began to
crawl out from under the table.
“I see you.”
He stopped where he was and scanned the
dark room, looking for the source of the voice.
“Polly want a cracker. Polly want a
cracker. I see you.”
There it was, over by the bookshelf. A
silly parrot. He got out from his hiding place, and went over to the
bookshelf. Although he couldn’t read, the books on the shelf sure seemed
interesting. He pulled out one of the books to look at its cover, when
unexpectedly, the bookshelf began to move. Behind it was a secret passage.
He climbed through the secret opening, closed the bookshelf, and started to
make his way down the passage.
A bat flew past his face, startling him so
that he nearly fell down the ladder. There were spiders everywhere. At the
end of the tunnel, he found another secret door, made to look like a wall.
He opened it, only to find that he was in the kitchen cellar. He heard
someone coming down the stairs from the kitchen. He quickly hid behind a
large barrel of smelly fish. It was just a scullion who had come down to
fetch some salt pork.
He softly moved towards the kitchen
stairs, when suddenly, the floor where he had been standing opened up. A
large barrel fell through with a crash at the bottom.
“That was close,” he thought.
By the stairs, he saw a servant’s apron
and put it on to disguise himself. He made his way up the stairs towards the
“Hey you!” the pantler shouted. “Take this
over to the Great Hall. It’s getting cold.”
He was handed a large platter of sausages
and meatballs. Another server pushed him on his way. Once in the Great Hall,
he was told to put the platter on the High Table. As he slyly looked around,
he noticed that the Emperor was not wearing his crown.
“Good,” he said to himself. “This is very
“Hey you!” the butler called. “Go down to
the wine cellar and see if the cellarer needs any help. We’re starting to
get low on wine.”
He made his way down to the wine cellar,
but before the cellarer noticed him, he hid behind one of the large wine
barrels. As he was hiding, he saw that there was a dumb-waiter bringing up
full barrels of wine, and lowering empty barrels of wine. He had a plan. He
crawled into one of the empty barrels.
A few minutes later, he was being lowered
down to the undercroft. Halfway down, he jumped onto a ledge. The storeman
almost saw him. As he made his way around the ledge, he noticed a small
room. And it wasn’t just any small room. Inside, he saw what looked like
some jewels. He gingerly made his way towards the jewels, when all of a
sudden a ghost seemed to fall on him from the ceiling.
“Eeek!” he cried.
Then, without warning, the floor opened up
and he fell through. Splat! He found himself in a pile of…
“Yuk!” he cried again, as he realized he
was in the smelly cesspit.
As he looked around, the saw a large
spider web. Behind the spider web was a skeleton. A dead skeleton.
“At least I’m still alive,” he consoled
He saw only one way out, and he didn’t
like it. Nevertheless, he would have to take his chances. He started to
shimmy himself up the latrine shaft. Then the worst happened. Plop! Drizzle…
He waited awhile, then continued his way
up. Finally, he emerged at the top, crawling through the garderobe. He found
himself in the garrison quarters. This was a dangerous place to be. Luckily,
the soldiers were warming themselves near a basket of hot coals called a
brazier. They didn’t see him – or luckily smell him – as they were busy
playing a game of dice.
He spotted a ladder leading down a floor.
He quietly moved towards the ladder, then climbed down. He didn’t like where
he found himself. He was in the dungeon, the last place he wanted to be.
Upstairs, he heard a commotion.
“Thief! There’s a thief in the castle!”
“Where is he?” asked one of the soldiers.
Another replied, “We don’t know, but the
storeman said he saw someone suspicious up on the ledge in the undercroft.”
He was in trouble now. He ran to the other
side of the dungeon. As he leaned against the wall, it abruptly opened. He
passed to the other room, then softly closed
the secret door.
He found himself in a dark room. He saw a
little bit a daylight peeking through what seemed like another secret door
on the other side of the room. The door was shaped like a large rock. That
door must be the sally port, he thought, where soldiers could secretly and
stealthily leave the castle.
As his eyes adjusted to the dark, his
mouth began to drool. What he saw were piles of jewels and gold. He had
found the treasure. This is where they must have stored the Emperor’s crown.
He looked and looked, but could not find it. Perhaps it was in the dark
corner at the back of the room?
He carefully crawled over the piles of
treasure. From the dark corner, he heard a noise. It sounded like breathing,
as though something were asleep. He attempted to move backwards, when he
tripped over a treasure box and landed on the floor with a big thud! A pair
of eyes opened, looking straight at him. He heard what sounded like a
muffled miss. The eyes began to move towards him.
“A dragon!” he thought.
Remembering the other secret door, he
began to run. He pushed open the door, and jumped. Splash! He found himself
back in the moat, right where he had started. He swam as fast as he could,
made his way to the pier, climbed out, and ran right out of town, never to
return. As he hurriedly left, a pair of eyes watched him from the secret
door. There really had not been any reason to be too scared, because it was
just “Phantom”, the mischievous castle cat.
after the Emperor had left, the baron decided to hold a tournament. He
needed to recover some of the money he had spent on the great feast, and had
an idea of how he might do it.
Barons and knights came from up and down
the river valley to prove how brave and skillful they were. Baron von
Skitter was especially interested in challenging the rich and powerful
Rhinegrave Hidelbrand. A Rhinegrave was a count who had large holdings of
land along the Rhine River. Counts were
typically much richer than barons because they usually had much more land.
After all of the contestants arrived at
the lists, which was a large grassy area where the tournament took place,
the spectators in the pavilion began to yell, “Hola!” This meant that the
tournament was to begin.
Next, the herald announced the names of
all the contestants, listing off all of the great deeds that each had
Then, the jousting began. Knight after
knight charged at each other on their horses. Separating the knights was a
long fence, called a tilt. Their lances were aimed straight ahead in an
attempt to knock the other knight off his horse. The loosing knight had to
pay by giving up his armour or horse. Some knights even paid with their
lives because this was such a dangerous sport.
The herald announced loudly, “And now,
what you have all been waiting for! The Baron von Skitter is to challenge
the Rhinegrave Hidelbrand!”
As the spectators chattered among
themselves about this exciting challenge, the baron’s squire helped put on
his armour. First, he put on some padded underclothes. Then he strapped on
his leg armour, fastened on his breastplate, and finally put on his helmet.
He helped him onto his horse, then handed him his shield, which had the
baron’s coat-of-arms painted on it. Next, he handed him the long jousting
The baron needed to win this contest so
that he could make back the money he desperately needed. And just to make
sure, he sent one of his spies to perform a nasty deed. While no one was
looking, the spy sneaked over to the Rhinegrave’s horse and loosened his
The herald yelled, “Contestants to your
places!” Once they were in place, he shouted, “Charge!”
As they charged towards each other, and
just as their lances were about to hit each other, the Rhinegrave’s saddle
came loose and he fell to the ground. The baron dismounted from his horse
and ran over to Rhinegrave Hidelbrand, who was still laying on the ground.
He demanded that the Rhinegrave pay 10,000 pieces of gold because he had
lost the contest.
Hidelbrand said, “That is a ridiculous sum
of gold to pay. And besides, I do not carry that amount of gold with me.”
The baron called out, “Guards! Guards!
Come arrest this man and put him into the tower prison, high in the keep!”
The baron looked down at the Rhinegrave
and said, “You will remain in the keep as a ransom prisoner until your
people pay the gold.”
When the Rhinegrave’s constable heard what
had happened, he was outraged. He found out that the contest had been
unfair. Also, 10,000 gold pieces was the ransom for a prince, not a count.
It was too much to pay. The constable made up his mind quickly as to what
should be done.
He called the Captain of the Rhinegrave’s
Castle Guard and instructed him to put together a large force of knights,
archers, crossbowmen, pikemen, and foot soldiers. He told the carpenters to
prepare the siege engines.
The castle lookout at the Skittersburg
was the first to see the Rhinegrave’s troops from the watch turret, the
castle’s highest lookout tower. This was not what the baron had expected,
but he was prepared nevertheless. The food store high in the castle keep was
loaded with food. The town gate had been closed. The portcullis had been
dropped and the drawbridge raised.
As the Rhinegrave’s troops massed outside
the town walls, the baron’s troops stood ready. Their long bows and
crossbows were aimed through the bow loops of the town’s covered wall-walk
and the crenels of the castle walls.
But the Rhinegrave’s troops did not
attack. Instead, they just waited, making sure that supplies or people could
not go into, or out of, the town or castle.
“Fine,” thought the baron, “we can outlast
But there was something the baron didn’t
know. One of the Rhinegrave’s spies had snuck into the castle the night
before and poisoned the well. When the baron found out, he was furious. At
least, there was the cistern. But that water wouldn’t last for long. In
fact, it only lasted for about a week. People could go for weeks or months
without food, but only days without water. After two weeks, the baron gave
up and set the Rhinegrave free.
baron was not a religious or holy man, and rarely ever stepped foot into the
castle chapel. But the villagers in the town, for the most part, were
religious people and loved God. Since their village had been spared
destruction (thanks to the prayers of the villagers, monks, and the hermit
high in the castle), they wanted some way to thank God. The bishop called
for a special Feast Day.
Franz especially liked Feast
Days. It was then that his father and brothers would walk down the slopes
and attend Mass at the beautiful Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. On this
special day, before Mass, the Bishop processed up and down the town’s
streets, carrying the Relic of Christ’s Thorn, which was kept in the
castle’s Chapel of Christ the King.
At the end of the procession,
as they prepared to enter the Cathedral, Franz craned his neck to look up at
the statues of the saints. He said a little prayer to each of the saints
“Saint Joan of Arc, pray for
“Saint Michael the Archangel,
pray for us.”
“Saint Christina, pray for
“Saint Stephen, pray for us.”
“Saint Joseph, pray for us.”
“Saint Mary, pray for us.”
“Saint John, pray for us.”
The Cathedral of the Blessed
Sacrament was still many years from completion. They had already been
working on it for over two hundred years. Sculptors had just recently
finished the statue of St. Joan and St. Michael. In front of the Cathedral
was the Mason’s temporary lodge, where the Master Mason directed all of the
workers and craftsmen as they built this monument to God.
By the lodge, Franz could see
a section of a stained glass window. Stoneworkers carefully pieced together
the narrow tracery, or pieces of stone that would hold in the glass.
Glassblowers would then lay in different colors of glass and melt lead
around their edges to hold them together within the tracery. Windows and
statues were very important to Franz, because it was about the only way he
learned about God. Since no one in his family could read, Franz’s father
would take him to the Cathedral and tell him the various Bible stories that
were depicted by the windows and statues, just like his own father had done
when he was a boy.
Some of Franz’s favorite
statues were above the doorways in the tympanum’s, or recessed spaces. Above
the left doorway were the bones of a dead man. This showed that all of us
will die someday and that death seemed like it would be the end of our
existence. Above the central doorway was Jesus on the cross, with his poor
Mother at the foot. This showed that by dying on the cross, Jesus solved the
problem of death. Above the right doorway was an empty tomb. This showed
that by rising from the dead, Jesus defeated death forever.
Once in the Cathedral, Franz
noticed a new window that had must have been put in since the last time he
was here. It was a small round window of a dog biting its tail. His father
told him that it represented the Devil. No matter what bad thing the Devil
tried to do, God always made something better come from it.
During Mass, people stood or
knelt on the stone floor. There weren’t any seats. At communion time,
everyone went up to the front of the Cathedral and waited their turn to
kneel at the altar rail. Perhaps fifty people could kneel at the same time.
Father would go back and forth, giving communion to each person. As Franz
knelt there after receiving the Eucharist, he thanked Jesus for coming down
to live inside of him.
After Mass, Franz’s father,
Friedrich, said that they could watch the Miracle Play which was just
starting in front of the Cathedral.
Troubadours, minstrels and mummers (traveling actors) had come from
another town to put on the play. They had brought their own stage with them,
which was on wheels. Today, the play was about St. George and the dragon.
When they were in town, they
also liked to visit the Monastery Church of the Nativity. It was not as
large as the Cathedral, but it was very beautiful. It was in this church
that the monks would chant their office (say their prayers together). There
were eight times during the day that they did this. The first office was
Matins, which was at two o-clock in the morning. In the middle of the
day, at noon, was the Angelus. In the evening was Compline and
finally Vespers before they went to bed.
Sometimes, the monks were so
tired that they could hardly even get out of bed to say their office.
Someone even wrote a song about one of the monks, Brother John.
Are you sleeping, are you sleeping,
Brother John, Brother John?
Morning bells are ringing, morning bells are ringing,
Between prayers, the monks
would read or work in the scriptorium copying books. Some of the monks
helped take care of the poor by giving them food in the almonry. Others
helped the sick in the infirmary.
The monks in this monastery
followed the Rule of St. Augustine. Following a rule, or certain way of
life, helped to develop discipline and obedience. Just like children need to
be obedient to their parents so that they can learn to be obedient to God,
monks also need to learn to be obedient.
Outside the monastery there
was a group of children, standing about Brother Andrew. The brother was a
kind monk who helped the children learn their catechism. After the lesson,
the children would recite their prayers. If they did well, Brother Andrew
would give them a pretzel.
For hundreds of years, monks
would give out pretzels as rewards to children who had learned their
prayers. The first pretzels started in a seventh century monastery.
A young monk preparing unleavened bread
for Lent realized he could take the leftover dough and twist it into a shape
similar to the way people prayed at that time. Christians, especially
children, prayed with their arms folded across their chests, each hand on
the opposite shoulder.
Franz was especially pleased to receive a
pretzel. He had been practicing his prayers very hard.
As he and his father and brothers were about to
enter into the quadrangle (or courtyard) in front of the monastery church,
Franz noticed a poor man without any hands. He was begging for alms. Franz
didn’t have anything except for the pretzel, which he had hoped to eat as
his lunch. But Franz figured that this man needed it more than he did.
Once in the church, Franz
admired the large window of the Nativity. He was so pleased that Jesus had
come down to earth to save a poor boy like himself.
From far and wide, pilgrims
would come from other towns and villages to visit this church, and its
precious relic. Beneath the church, in the crypt, there was a gold reliquary
that contained a drop of the precious myrrh which had been given to Jesus by
the wise men. While visiting, the pilgrims would stay in the monastery’s
hostel, which was free.
On the main floor of the
church was a diagram of a large labyrinth, or maze, made from hard stone
tiles. Pilgrims would walk through the maze on their knees. While they did
this, they would pray and imagine that they were making a pilgrimage to
Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
That evening, as Franz and his family were
returning home, there was a great noise coming from down the dirt road.
Around the bend, two horses suddenly appeared, galloping at top speed.
Friedrich and his sons tried to get out of the way. Franz pushed his brother
Mark to safety. But he himself tripped on a stone and couldn’t get out of
the way. Neither could his father.
The horseman – the baron and his son, Rolf
– paused for a moment to see the damage they had caused. The horses had
trampled over Friedrich’s legs. Johann and Mark were okay, but Friedrich’s
beloved son Franz lay there – lifeless. Franz was dead.
The baron laughed and called out, “Stupid
serfs! Watch where you’re going!”
As the horsemen continued on their way,
Rolf turned back and gave Friedrich a nasty smirk.
That winter was especially hard and bleak.
Not only had there been a bad harvest, but the great feast used up much of
the town’s supplies. The siege by the Rhinegrave’s troops did not help
matters. Everyone’s stomachs were half-empty, and sometimes, completely
empty. Franz had been given a simple funeral and was laid to rest in the
common graveyard. They grieved the loss of gentle Franz who used to cheer
them with his stories during the dreary winter evenings. Friedrich’s legs
were of little use since the accident. He could only hobble around on a pair
of make-shift crutches.
One cold winter day, as Friedrich tried to
collect a bit of firewood, he heard a faint voice. He carefully and feebly
moved towards the voice along the slippery slopes of the vineyard. There, at
the bottom of a pit, was the source of the cry. It was Rolf. He had been
sledding down the slope and had fallen into the pit. His sled lay next to
him at the bottom. If Rolf did not get out soon, he would freeze to death as
the weather was quickly turning colder.
Friedrich, who was always prepared, took
out a length of rope from his knapsack. He tossed the rope down to Rolf. But
because his legs were weak and the ground was so slippery, he was unable to
pull up Rolf without falling into the pit himself.
At this point, Friedrich thought it would
be best to get help. But when he tried to get up, his crutches suddenly
began sliding down the slope. They were gone. He had to think of another
A little way above the pit, Friedrich
noticed a tree. He took the rope and tossed it around the tree. He held onto
one end of the rope, and threw the other end back down into the pit. Since
Rolf’s arm was broken, Rolf wouldn’t be able to climb up by himself.
Friedrich called down, “Rolf, loop the
rope around yourself, and then get ready. You’re about to have the ride of a
“Ready, set, now!” Friedrich
yelled. He moved himself towards the edge of the pit, then allowed himself
to fall in. As he fell, Rolf was quickly pulled up. Now, Rolf was at the
top, and Friedrich was at the bottom.
Rolf called down, “Why did you help me?”
Friedrich replied, “Would Jesus do any
Rolf took one last look at Friedrich at
the bottom of the pit, then proceeded to walk slowly back to the
Skittersburg. Once at the castle, Rolf decided he shouldn’t mention what
happened, because his father was sure to be angry and would give him a harsh
That night, as Rolf laid on his
straw-filled bed, he could hear faint sounds of the Ave Maria echoing
through his open window. He tried covering his ears, but it did no good. He
finally fell asleep, only to be awakened by a dream of the boy Franz crying
over his poor father. Rolf could take no more of this.
He rushed to the solar, the family’s large
living room, to find the baron sitting before the immense fireplace. He told
his father everything that happened – how he had carelessly fallen into the
pit; how Franz’s father risked his life to pull him out.
Much to Rolf’s surprise, the baron
listened intently, but did not become angry. Instead, he just sat there for
what seemed like hours. Thoughts kept running over and over through baron’s
mind. He had recklessly crippled Friedrich and killed his son, Franz. Worse
yet, he had laughed about it. It would only seem fair that Friedrich should
have the last laugh by allowing Rolf to die at the bottom of that pit. Why
didn’t he? Why didn’t he!?
Suddenly, the baron covered his face with
his hands and began sobbing uncontrollably. By morning, there were no more
tears left to come out.
“Why am I sitting here?” said the baron to
himself. “What a fool am I!”
The baron rushed down from the solar and
quickly assembled a rescue party of his best knights. They hurried up the
icy slope. But alas, it was too late. At the bottom of the pit, all they
found was a frozen man holding a horn to his frozen lips.
von Skitter could not believe what had happened. He pondered it long and
hard. After several days, he was finally drawn towards confession and
reform. He set the rest of Friedrich’s sons, Johann and Mark, free. Then, he
decided to leave the castle and join the Augustinian monastery.
He became a good monk. He grew a long gray
beard and was known simply as “Brother Jakob.” To make up for his terrible
past sins, he took it upon himself to care for the sick and poor in the
almonry and infirmary. He lived a humble and saintly life, and after he
died, was buried in the monastery cemetery. When he was later dug up (on
account of all the miracles attributed to his intercession), it was found
that his body was incorrupt. He was then laid to rest in the Monastery
Church of the Nativity.
As for Friedrich’s sons –
After gaining his freedom, Johann became
an apprentice to a tinker. Tinkers made pots and pans, and could fix just
about anything. Johann worked hard and made his way through journeyman, then
finally became a master. He started his own atelier across from the
monastery. He married and had ten children.
Young Mark joined the monastery. After a
time, he learned to read and write. Because his handwriting was so
beautiful, he was put to work in the scriptorium copying Bibles by hand.
Copying a Bible was monotonous work and could take up to three years. Mark
wrote on a special type of paper called vellum, which was made from
sheepskin. It took one thousand sheep to make a single Bible – no wonder
they were chained up in churches and schools, so that others could read
Franz had received his reward and was now
in heaven’s flower garden with Jesus and Mary and the saints. He was
reburied in the crypt of the Cathedral and honored as a saint.
As for Friedrich, he also was honored as a
saint and laid to rest in the crypt below the castle’s chapel.
What about Rolf?
In time, he became a knight – an
honorable knight. He took control of the castle and ruled the town and
farms with compassion, justice and generosity. It was then that he renamed
the castle to the Hoernersburg (“Horn-blowers castle”) after the hero
who had saved his life – Friedrich, the “horn-blower”.
…and if you listen carefully on a cold
winter’s night, some say that you can still hear the faint sounds of the
Ave Maria echoing up and down the Rhine River valley.