Berkhamsted Castle | Trifels Castle

Berkhamsted Castle

Trifels Castle

Trifels Castle
Annweiler am Trifels, Germany

Reichsburg Trifels – the Imperial Castle of Trifels – towers on a rocky ridge above the town of Annweiler in Rheinland-Pfalz, 50km south-west of Heidelberg in Germany. It has stood for over 940 years, and so is roughly contemporaneous with Berkhamsted Castle. Its connection with Berkhamsted dates from the 13th century, and a religious excursion by one of Berkhamsted’s more adventurous royals, Edmund of Almain.

Richard of Cornwall was an important figure in the history of Berkhamsted Castle. His brother, King Henry III, granted Berkhamsted to Richard in 1231 and Richard was responsible for extensive renovations and extensions to the Castle. He was elected King of the Romans in 1257,  making him a hugely important figure in Europe. He might have become Holy Roman Emperor if politics has taken a different turn.

Richard’s son, Edmund, was born in Berkhamsted Castle in 1249. Because of his father’s German association, Edmund and his family acquired the name “Almain”, from “Allemande”, the French word for “German”. Edmund became a deeply religious young man. He participated in the Crusades and went on pilgrimages to the holy sites of Europe. His high standing in European politics undoubtedly led him to travel widely in German lands. In 1269, he made a pilgrimage to Reichsburg Trifels, an important castle in Franconia.

In the 13th century, the fragmented territory of Franconia was divided among a myriad of small states within the greater Holy Roman Empire. Trifels was an imperial possession of some importance; Richard the Lionheart had been imprisoned in the castle in 1192, and the imperial crown jewels were kept here.

However, it was another treasure that brought Edmund of Almain to Trifels: a relic of the Holy Blood of Christ, a phial of liquid purporting to be the True Blood of Jesus. Such relics were highly sought after in medieval Europe; the Gospel of Nicodemus, one of the apocryphal gospels, contains a legend that, after the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea preserved a sample of the Precious Blood. This mystical tale gained popularity among pious 13th-century pilgrims along with the legend of the Holy Grail.

Edmund brought the Trifels relic back to England and presented it to the Cistercian monks at Hailes Abbey in Gloucestershire in 1270, who built a shrine there. After his father’s death, the pious Edmund founded a priory in 1283 for the Augustinian order of Bonhommes (or Blue Friars) at Ashridge near Berkhamsted, and presented them with part of the Holy Blood relic from Trifels. Both Hailes and Ashridge became important pilgrimage destinations, attracting thousands of devotees from all over Europe.

Trifels Castle lost its importance after 1300 and fell into ruin after the Thirty Years’ War. Like Berkhamsted Castle, the derelict Trifels was plundered for its stone to be used in other buildings. In the 1840s, Trifels Castle was rebuilt by the kings of Bavaria add further reconstruction was carried out in the Nazi era and the postwar era.

Today, Trifels Castle is in the care of the Directorate for Cultural Heritage of the State of Rheinland-Pfalz and is open to visitors.


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