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January 02, 2008

Rhine Ramblings

High above the town of Rüdesheim stands the enormous statue of Germania, guardian of the Rhine. The view across, up and down the river from her vantage point is stunning and I hope I will be able to download and share with you some of the pictures I have from there soon. The statue was erected in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon and the ejection of the French from the Rhinelands and the Palatinate states between the Rhine and the French borders. It has to be said that we did not linger here today as the wind is from Siberia and the temperature, though a balmy -5 degrees Celsius, is made much sharper by the wind!

We next moved to the adjoining hillside and the Abbey of St Hildegard. Hildegard of Bingen, the town opposite Rüdesheim on the South bank of the Rhine, was a tenth century Christian noble woman who founded a monastic community on the North Bank of the Rhine in Eibingen. Her monastery, a community of nuns under the Rule of Benedict, did well and survived until the Republican French invasions of the late 18th Century. It was dissolved and destroyed in 1803 under the "secularisation" of church property. Refounded in 1904 it now has a community of eighty nuns who still live according to the rule set by Benedict over fourteen hundred years ago. The ethic of "work and prayer" is very much in evidence with the services of the hours still said daily.

Moving a little further up the valley and back up onto a hilltop, we came to Schloss Johannisberg, until recently the home of the last Prince von Metternich. He and his wife are buried just outside the attached Basilica of St John the Baptist. The estate was originally built as a summer residence by the Prince Bishop (Fürstbischof) of Fulda and is famous for its wines. It was here, by accident that the now famous and popular "Spätlese" wines were first created. According to the story a rider was sent with a bunch of grapes to the Bishop each year and, if he felt the vines were ready he ordered the harvesting of the grapes to begin. One year the rider was delayed returning with the order and when he arrived, the grapes had become slightly over ripe and a yeast had attacked them. The harvest went ahead and the wine turned into Spätlese!

The restaurant adjoining the Schloss provided a welcome bowl of soup - essential fare in this weather - and a rather fruity white wine to accompany it. Both delicious and worth a second visit at some time, though preferably on a warmer day when the spectacular views can be enjoyed without getting frost bitten. The Basilica is also well worth the visit, though it had to be restored after being raised in 1942 when bombs intended for Mainz fell on this side of the river instead. It has been lovingly restored and gives a really good example of what a Romanesque church of the tenth century would have been like. A nice touch is the statue of the monk holding open the gospel book for the day.

A quick walk around the outside was rewarding, again the views are stunning, but by now severe frost bite was beginning to penetrate even the multiple layers we had on - so it was back to the car and home!

Pictures to follow in due season!

Posted by The Gray Monk at January 2, 2008 03:22 PM

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