Idar-Oberstein, known as the gemstone center of Germany, is the site on which stands the legendary Felsenkirche. This church, known to English speakers as the Church in the Rock, was built some time during the 14th century. According to legend, there were two noble brothers, Wyrich and Emich, who both fell in love with a beautiful girl named Bertha. The brothers lived in Castle Bosselstein, which was situated atop a 450 foot high hill. Bertha was from a noble line that occupied the nearby Lichtenburg Castle (this castle later became the site of the Nazi’s Lichtenburg Concentration Camp).
Neither brother was aware of the other’s feelings for Bertha. When Wyrich, the elder brother, was away on some unknown business, Emich succeeded in securing Bertha’s affections and, subsequently, married her. When Emich announced the news to his brother, Wyrich’s temper got the better of him. In the heat of the moment, he hurled his brother out of a window of the castle and sent him to his death on the rocks below.
Wyrich was almost immediately filled with remorse. With the counsel of a local abbot, he began a long period of penance. At this time, Bertha disappears from historical record. Many romantics feel that she died of a broken heart.
As Wyrich waited for a heavenly sign showing that he was forgiven, the abbot suggested that he build a church on the exact place where his brother died. Wyrich worked and prayed himself into exhaustion. However, the moment the church was completed, he received his sign: a miracle spring opened up in the church.
Wyrich died soon after this. When the local bishop came to consecrate the new church, he found the noble lord dead on its steps. Wyrich was later placed in the same tomb with his brother.
It is debatable how much of this legend is based on historical fact. Actually, this story bears quite a resemblance to the 12th century Arthurian legend The Knight of the Lion. In this story, a noble knight falls out of favor with his lady. With the counsel of a hermit, he does penance for years and finally gains forgiveness. However, the legend of the Felsenkirche is so romantic that it is immaterial to most whether it is true or not.
The Church in the Rock can still be seen to this day and is often used for local weddings. For more information about visiting hours and the church’s historical artwork, visit the Felsenkirche’s website.
Gould, Baring S. “Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe”
Moncrieff, A.R. Hope “Romance and Legend of Chivalry”