The ruins of Breitenstein Castle stand on a 220-metre-high crag on the northern side of the Speyerbach valley. It was probably built in 1246 by Pope Innocent IV during the unrest over the excommunication of Frederick II. Not until 1257 was it mentioned in the records in connexion with a knight of Kropsberg, castellan of the Breitenstein and Dienstmann of the counts of Leiningen. The knight was named in 1265 as Burkhard of Breitenstein. In 1339 James of Flörsheim was appointed as Burgmann.
After the death of King Rudolph of Habsburg fighting broke out in 1291 between the Habsburgs and their opponents. At that time the counts of Sponheim built a siege castle just a few metres south of Breitenstein Castle. The two sites were separated from one another by a broad neck ditch. The siege castle was mentioned in 1340 as Lower Breitenstein (Nieder-Breitenstein). In that year, Count Walram of Sponheim was found guilty at the royal court in Munich of building a castle on the territory of the prince-bishopric of Speyer without permission and was to hand it over to the Speyer vassal (Lehnsmann), Friedrich Horneck. However, Count Palatine Rudolph II appealed against this decision and announced that the Sponheim lord was his vassal, so that he was allowed to retain the castle.
In 1357, a Burgfrieden treaty was agreed that specified that the larger siege castle would henceforth become the inner ward, and the older, smaller building complex would become the outer ward. After the castle was mentioned for the last time in 1382, it probably came into the possession of the counts of Leiningen and was likely destroyed in 1470/71 during a feud between its tenant family and the prince-elector, Frederick I – the so-called Electoral Palatine War. After the ruins had been taken over in 1963 by the Rhineland-Palatinate State Castle Administration, conservation and safety measures were carried out on the walls in 1988 and 1989.
The Late Hohenstaufen inner ward is built on a narrow rock base that, today, is only accessible to experienced climbers. The shield wall, made of rusticated ashlars on all sides, has survived almost to its full height. Seen from the uphill side its right-hand edge is sloping. The corbels of the chemin de ronde on the inside of the wall display Gothic elements. The attack side is guarded by a neck ditch hewn deep into the rock. Behind the shield wall rises a modest domestic building of which the enceinte has only partly survived. Access to the castle was not over the moat, but up a staircase hewn out of the rock on the south side. Around the crag is an almost rectangular lower ward, of which only a few wall remains can still be seen. On the other side of the neck ditch, 50 metres away and 20 metres higher, are the remains of a separate outer ward with its own moat.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.