A quiet place to linger and introspect for a while.Älgbert Elgson
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The Wachau region in Austria is known for the many impressive buildings from the Middle Ages and attracts thousands of visitors every year. The church ruins of the Gossam castle chapel, however, are slightly hidden in the Felbring valley in the municipality of Emmersdorf. The castle was already mentioned in documents in the 11th century, but was soon no longer inhabited and left to decay. The owner at the time used the small castle only irregularly as a place to sleep and otherwise had little interest in it. The castle and its chapel came into the possession of the church in Emmersdorf through a donation. They expanded the small church in the 15th century and added a church tower to accommodate the increasing flow of pilgrims. However, the castle has not been adequately maintained and little of it remains today. In addition, the castle complex had served as a „quarry“ for many years. During excavations, the bones of about 30 children were found along the church wall. Those illegitimate or unbaptized children who died shortly before or after birth were not allowed to be buried in a cemetery. They were therefore buried along the walls of the church so that the rainwater running down from the roof would baptize them and give them access to heaven. In the years 1988 to 1994, extensive archaeological and architectural studies were carried out on the complex and steps were taken to stop further deterioration of the exposed walls and to be able to visit them safely. The important Romanesque frescoes were removed and can now be seen in the museum of the nearby city of Krems.
The trail of history
Gossisheim Castle was built by a noble family at the beginning of the 12th century – one part of this small castle was a castle chapel in the center of the complex. Before that there has been a fortress-like building at this point from the 10th century, which was supposed to secure an important trade route north to what is now known as the Waldviertel region. With the construction of a ring wall and a chapel around 1100, the complex got the characteristic appearance of a castle.
The castle and chapel were of little importance to the owners when construction began, and they probably only used them as a place to sleep when passing through. The later owner was even less interested in the building and gave it to the church in Emmersdorf. They expanded the church in the 14th and 15th centuries and added a church tower. The building material was partly used for this from the castle that was no longer needed. This and the fact that the castle was not maintained is one of the reasons why today only little of the former structure is visible.
The remains of more than thirty children were found during excavations. These illegitimate or unbaptized children, who died shortly before or after birth, were not allowed to be buried in any cemetery. People hoped that because of the rainwater falling from the roof of the church the dead children would be granted access to the kingdom of heaven.
While before the excavation only the ruins of the castle chapel and later pilgrimage church of St. Pankratius could be seen, the remains of the walls of a relatively early, more complex castle complex gradually came to light. The walls, most of which were only preserved in the foundation area, were rebuilt after they were uncovered and thus protected from further decay.
A Roman tombstone was walled up in the former altar. This suggests that either an ancient sanctuary or a Roman sentry post was located here. The tombstone is now on display in Melk Abbey. It is also assumed that the castle church was once richly decorated with frescoes. The few remaining bits of these Romanesque frescoes were professionally removed in 1961 and transferred to the museum of the nearby city of Krems.
The investigation lasted from 1988 to 1994 and with the knowledge gained, Gossam Castle is now one of the few large-scale scientifically investigated castle complexes in Austria.
Today, the Gossam Castle Church is connected to a hiking network via the so-called „Eselsteig“ (donkey trail), making it accessible to a broader public.
The ruin itself can be visited at your own risk.
It is possible to drive the vehicle to the foot of the castle hill.
How to get there?
The castle ruins are a bit off the well-known tourist routes and yet not completely isolated. It is only 6.5 kilometers from Melk Abbey.
If you want to come by car, you only have to turn off the B3 federal road in Schallemmersdorf to Gossam. The road to the castle is relatively narrow. This is not a problem for cars, but larger motorhomes could have problems here. From Schallemmersdorf it is only about two kilometers on foot with a slight incline.
There is also the bus stop for buses from Melk and Krems (bus 715 and 719).
The small castle complex stands in the shadow of Melk Abbey, which is only a short distance away. Few tourists come to this place, but this makes it all the more appealing for hikers, photographers and anyone who doesn’t just want to explore the typical tourist destinations.