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Replica of an Irminsul in the Museum of the City of Marsberg

The Irminsul or Erminsul was an early medieval sanctuary of the Saxons , which, according to the entries in Frankish annals , was destroyed by the Franks in 772 at the instigation of Charlemagne . The name can etymologically be traced back to Germanic irmana- = large and sul = column, thus designating a large column . The existence of further "Irmin columns" is sometimes suspected, but has not been scientifically proven.

Location, destruction and whereabouts

Alfred Rethel : Fall of the Irminsul (1839); Fresco in the coronation
hall of the Aachen town hall

The Irminsul of the Franconian annals for the year 772 was probably at or some distance from the Eresburg , where today's Obermarsberg is located. In any case, this can be seen in the formulations in the Reichsannals . The column, known there as Ermensul, was destroyed by the Franks at the instigation of Charlemagne at the start of the Saxon Wars during the summer campaign of 772.

According to a tradition documented since the 16th century, remains of the Irminsul are said to be in Hildesheim Cathedral . The historian Walther Matthes writes about this source: “It says there that in the construction of the Corvey monastery (from 822), which took place in the time of Louis the Pious, an old stone column was found in the ground and that of Charlemagne Irminsul was conquered, brought to this place after the destruction and buried there. It is also described how the exposed heather column was brought from this site under dramatic circumstances to Hildesheim in order to set it up there in the cathedral as a candle carrier ”. In the original text by Johannes Letzner from 1590 it says about this event that Saxons followed the entourage in the direction of Hildesheim and attacked it at the height of today's town of Irmenseul in order to bring the column back, but without success:

"After Caroli Magnus died / and when his son Lodowicus Pius / Roman Keyser were / the Closter Corbei and the Stifft Hildesheim were founded / and the Seul at Corbei would be found harmless / Lodowicus Pius / so that the Saxons would not want to oppose this place get excited / lead to Hildesheim in the newe Stifft and have it brought [...]. Now, no matter how secretly this will not be done / the West Valen would be aware of it / gathered / and the Saxons agreed / to follow the poor owl / and to bring them back over the Weser. Now they are very grim and serious / followed the wagon into the Grafschaft Wintzenburgk / and at the place there is now the village of Armenseul / come to the wagon / they have seriously attacked / the opinion / the Seul to which their God confessed / mighty to become. Since against the others / so by the chariot they defended themselves bravely / and fought hard before the Seul / so that there in so little skirmish / for the will of a dead stone one of both parts remained deadly. But the Keisers kept their place / and brought the Marmelseul to Hildesheim in the Thum. "

Walther Matthes notes that the story reflects the growing importance of the Hildesheim diocese compared to the Corvey monastery, which was dominant in the 9th and 10th centuries. The remains of the Irminsul should either be in the ground below the Marian Column - this has been relocated several times to this day, originally it was in the middle of the cathedral in front of the cross altar in front of the steps of the crossing - or the Marian Column itself should be made from the remains have been. According to Letzner's report, the Irminsul is said to have been a stone pillar. The shaft of the Marian column in Hildesheim Cathedral, the creation of which is roughly dated to the 11th or 12th century, is made of lime sinter .

Irminsul replica on the Bornhöhe in Harbarnsen-Irmenseul

The location of the Irminsul has been suspected again and again in other places. Wilhelm Teudt , a national amateur researcher, believed to have discovered the location of the Irminsul in the Externsteine in the mid-1920s . Hans Reinerth then spread the thesis founded by Hermann Diekmann about the location on the Tönsberg near Oerlinghausen in the 1930s . The village of Irmenseul , the Desenberg near Warburg, the Iburg near Bad Driburg, the Gertrudenkammer (Drudenhöhle) in the Teutonia cliffs near the Karlsschanze in the Eggegebirge between Willebadessen and Borlinghausen and the Velmerstot at the northern end of the Eggegebirge are discussed as locations of the Irminsul.

Appearance and function

The manuscripts of the Annales Petaviani and the Chronicon Anianense do not provide any information on the appearance and function of the Irminsul.

The monk Rudolf von Fulda wrote in De miraculis sancti Alexandri in 863 (chap. 3):

"Truncum quoque ligni non parvae magnitudinis in altum erectum sub divo colebant, patria eum lingua Irminsul appellantes, quod Latine dicitur universalis columna, quasi sustinens omnia."

“In the open air they also worshiped a vertically erect tree trunk of not small size, which they called 'Irminsul' in their mother tongue , which in Latin means 'columna universalis' [German. All-Pillar ] means which in a sense supports the universe. "

The religious function of the Irminsul cannot be explained due to the poverty of sources. After the task assigned to it by Rudolf von Fulda to carry the whole universe, it is often interpreted as a world tree in an assumed conception of the Saxons of heaven as a vault and with the Donariche , the sacred tree of Geismar (today part of Fritzlar ) in Northern Hesse, of which Adam von Bremen reported in the 11th century, or Yggdrasil .

Interpretations in the late Middle Ages and early modern times

The Irminsul after Sebastian Munster; Woodcut from Cosmographey, around 1590

There have been a variety of interpretations since the Middle Ages. Writes Sebastian Münster from 1550 in his "Cosmographia":

"Then at Merspurg on the Eresberg mountain the Saxons had a set up idolatrous Seul / who are called Irmenseul / since Hermes was honored: that is / Mercurius / or as the others say Mars / and the place of it was also called Martinopolis un Merspurg. Quite a few speak Irmenseul was therefore called / that it was like everyone's Seul and a common refuge. "

Münster also draws a fantasy picture of the Irminsul, which he uses, however, in exactly the same way for other columns. He believed that Hermes (Roman Mercurius ) or Mars was worshiped on the column and that the city of Marsberg therefore got its name. He hands him sword and scales in his right hand, a flag with the Lippe rose in his left.

Irminsul after Heinrich Meibom, 1612

Heinrich Meibom , professor at the University of Helmstedt, who dedicated his work on the Irminsul to the Hildesheim cathedral chapter in 1612, published an Ektypon Irminsulae on the final sheet , which looks like a large candlestick and is probably supposed to show the column allegedly brought to Hildesheim (not to be confused with the bronze Bernwards column in Hildesheim Cathedral). Meibom's column does not have a shape, but only a pointed spike like the one carried by candlesticks. The decoration of the column corresponds completely to the past Renaissance, so it certainly does not reflect any structure from the pre-Christian era. His picture shows a clear resemblance to the Marian column, which is still in the Mariendom Hildesheim today and which has been redesigned several times and moved within the cathedral .

Irmensula as God without a column. After Schedius, De diis Germanis , 1728

In the work of Elias Schedius in 1728 an artist depicts the armed soldier who is said to have stood on the pillar, without a pillar. The personification now comes to the fore. The bear that he places on top of the breast shield is remarkable. A hundred and fifty years after Sebastian Munster, the cautious considerations had turned into supposedly reliable findings. In 1731 a scholar could already write:

“The Saxons held the so-called Irmen or Ermen-Saul extremely highly. It was said that this Götz indicated the mercurium, which Hermes is called in Greek. The picture that stood on this column is said to have been an armed warrior who was holding a war flag with a rose in his right hand. In his left hand he held a pair of scales. His chest was open and bare, marked with a bear. In the shield he led a lion, over which hung a scale. There was a weather cock on the helmet. When you went to the field, the Götz was taken away from the column and taken into the field, to which they tied the prisoners afterwards and killed them, or even their own, who did not behave well, as this often happens to the kings. This pillar is located in Paderborn Abbey, or as some say, near Merseburg in Meißen. After the conversion of Saxony it was brought to Hildesheim, where it is supposed to stand in the middle in front of the choir today and is used instead of a candlestick on festive days. It has the property that it is cold on the hottest summer days and makes a very nice sound when it is hit. "

The artistic and the scholarly world, which with the French Revolution changed into a more secular research, could only slowly break away from this image of Irmin . A real dictionary of German antiquities wrote in 1881:

“Irmin was a Germanic, warlike god, tall in stature and in any case a light heavenly being, who probably came into contact with Thurnarr and Ziu. Representations of him were the columns consecrated to the god Hirmin about divorces in Thuringia, Eresburg in Saxony, and the Irminsul, Hirminsul or Ermensul in the Osning forest mountains near Detmold. A sacred grove and a sacred enclosure surrounded this 'famous idol', and rich gold and silver treasures were deposited. It was a tall stump, erected in the open air. After conquering Eresburg, Charlemagne went to this sanctuary and destroyed it. The name Irm, Irmin is explained by Got.airman, ahd.irmin, ags.eormen, irmen, which is generally used as a reinforcing intent in the meaning ; Irmingod is the universal God, the God of all people. Mannhardt, gods. "

Interpretations in the 20th century

Imagination of Irminsul based on the depiction in relief from the Descent from the
Cross on the external stones .
Irminsul as the emblem of the German Ahnenerbe Research Association

In 1929 Wilhelm Teudt, in his book Germanic Sanctuaries , put forward the thesis that the relief of the Descent from the Cross on the external stones, with the curved object on which the figure of a man stands, shows the cult column of the Saxons bent to symbolize the victory of Christianity. The fact that Teudt could not provide any positive proof for his thesis did not prevent the renewed popularity of the old symbol. Its interpretation is not shared by specialist science. Teudt himself founded the Association of Friends of Germanic Prehistory in Detmold , which had a - re-established - "Irminsul" as a badge.

Following the trend of the times, the Irminsul was also used by other groups such as the Nordic Faith Community and the Nordic Religious Working Group . The Irminsul played an important role as a symbol of neo-pagan groups inside and outside of National Socialism .

When in 1936 the Teudts association was incorporated into the German Ahnenerbe Research Foundation , the community's emblem was also adopted. The focus there was on the idea of ​​having the Irminsul as a counter-symbol to the Christian cross and an obvious expression for the idea of ​​ancestral inheritance.

The meaning as a symbol lived on after 1945 and is sometimes also misused politically. In 1955, for example, the former Nazis smeared the relief of the Descent from the Cross on the external stones with black paint, covered the “bent Irminsul” with silver and wrote the slogan “Germany awake” next to it.

Irminsul is also the name of the journal of the ariosophical order of the Armanes , a Germanic-neo-pagan organization founded in 1976 .

Teudt's thesis of the bent Irminsul has recently been taken up and critically discussed. Uta Halle also examined the research history of the post-war period with regard to this symbol and then went on to explain that "the cooperation during the Nazi era with the SS" made the topic taboo. The topic is highly ideologically charged.

The Irminsul in Art

Opera and drama

The Italian author Felice Romani (1796–1867) is mainly known as a writer of opera libretti . He was also co-author of the Dizionario d'ogni mitologia e antichità , Volume 2 (D – H) of which appeared in 1820; there is an article on page 206 (in the digitized version "image" 238) Ermensul o Irminsulo . Irminsul is referred to there as an idol and at the same time as the god of the pagan Saxons who had a magnificent temple on the Eresburg ("Ermensul o Irminsulo ... idolo degli antichi Sassoni ... Aveva un magnifico tempio sopra il monte di Eresburgo ..."). And this god had his priests and priestesses ("Questo Dio aveva i suoi sacerdoti e le sue sacerdotesse ..."). A supplementary article (Irmasul, sinonimo d'Irmensul o Irminsulo) is contained in Volume 3 (I – M) of the aforementioned Dizionario , on p. 128/129 (“Bild” 156/157). The plot of two libretti Romanis takes place in the vicinity of the imaginary Irminsul sanctuary and, unsurprisingly, is based on the views of the Dizionario .

The first libretto was set to music by Giovanni Pacini : La sacerdotessa d'Irminsul (The Priestess of Irminsul), first performed in 1820. In the first scene, the sacred grove consecrated to Irminsul is named as the location of the action , in which here and there graves of Saxon heroes as well Widukind's tomb (Wittekind) can be seen («Scena prima: Bosco sacro a Irminsul… Quà, e là, nel bosco sono sparse le tombe degl'eroi sassoni… Il Sepolcro di Vitikindo è alla diritta…»). The priestess is called Romilda .

In the tragedy Norma ou l'infanticide by Alexandre Soumet, written in 1831, the scene in Act 1 is the sacred grove of the Druids , with the Irminsul oak in the middle (“Le théàtre représente la forêt sacrée des Druides. Le chêne d 'Irminsul occupe le milieu du théàtre; ... »). The French author moved the Irminsul sanctuary from Germanic Saxony into a Celtic environment. The priestess is called Norma here .

Soumet's tragedy is the basis for Romani's libretto for the opera Norma , set to music by Vincenzo Bellini , which premiered in 1831. Here is, with a slight modification, the setting (according to the theater bill of the premiere) in Gaul , in the sacred grove of the Druids and in the Irminsul temple ("La scena è nelle Gallie, nella foresta sacra e nel Tempio d'Irminsul"). At the beginning of the 1st act it is said that the oak of Irminsul stands in the middle ("Foresta sacra de 'Druidi. In mezzo la quercia d'Irminsul ...").

This is where the intellectual connection between the Irminsul and the Donar empire plays a role .


The Irminsul is a popular motif for bands in the Black Metal and Pagan Metal genres . For example, the band Surturs Lohe has the Irminsul in their logo, the band Black Messiah dedicated a song to the Irminsul.

See also


Web links

Commons : Irminsul  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Gerhard Köbler: irmana- * and * sul. In: Germanic dictionary .
  2. ^ Matthias Springer: Article Irminsul. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde , Volume 15. 2nd edition. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2000, p. 505.
  3. ^ Johannes Fried: Charlemagne. Violence and belief . Beck, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-406-65289-9 , p. 131, note 25.
  4. Annales regni Francorum 772: Et inde perrexit partibus Saxoniae prima vice, Eresburgum castrum coepit, ad Ermensul usque pervenit et ipsum fanum destruxit et aurum vel argentum, quod ibi repperit, abstulit. Et fuit siccitas magna, ita ut aqua deficeret in supradicto loco, ubi Ermensul stabat. Source: Regesta Imperii , Charlemagne - RI I n.149d .
  5. a b Johannes Letzner (1590): Corbeische Chronik . Hamburg. Online .
  6. Walther Matthes: Corvey and the Externsteine. Fate of a pre-Christian shrine in Carolingian times . Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-87838-369-X , p. 13.
  7. ^ Hildesheim stories / Hermann-Josef Brand: The Marien / Irmensäule .
  8. a b Mariendom Hildesheim: The Irmensäule .
  9. Diocese of Hildesheim (February 24, 2014): Irmensäule returns to the cathedral .
  10. MGH SS 2, p. 676 ( weblink ).
  11. ^ FR Schröder: Source book for the Germanic religious history . Berlin / Leipzig 1933, § 63, p. 103.
  12. ^ Sebastian Münster: Cosmographey . Cape. From the Teutsche Landt, in it section CCCCVVVI: How the Saxons of Faith were half disputed / by the King of France. Around 1590, S. dccccxciii.
  13. Heinrich Meibom: Irminsula Saxonica, hoc est ejus Nominis Idoli, sive Numinis tutelaris, apud antiquissimos Saxones paganos culti,… Helmstädt 1612 ( weblink )
  14. Güldener Denck-Ring Divine omnipotence and human deeds from 1731, eleventh part, 6th century, from the year 504 AD. Sometimes
  15. Article Irmin . In: Ernst Götzinger: Reallexicon of German antiquities. A handbook and reference book for students and laypeople . Leipzig 1881, p. 325f.
  16. ^ Wilhelm Teudt: Germanic sanctuaries. Contributions to uncovering the prehistory, based on the Externsteine, the Lippequellen and the Teutoburg . 1st edition. Eugen Diederichs Verlag, Jena 1929, p. 27 f.
  17. Uta Halle: "Driftings like in the Nazi era". Continuities of the Externstein myth after 1945 . In: Uwe Puschner, Georg Ulrich Großmann (Eds.): Völkisch und national. On the topicality of old thought patterns in the 21st century . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2009, ISBN 3-534-20040-3 , p. 198.
  18. So from: Walther Matthes, Rolf Speckner: The relief on the Externsteinen. A Carolingian work of art and its spiritual background. edition tertium, Ostfildern before Stuttgart 1997.
  19. Uta Halle: The Externsteine ​​are Germanic until further notice! Prehistoric archeology in the Third Reich. Bielefeld 2002, p. 518.
  20. ^ Dizionario d'ogni mitologia e antichità, incominciato da Girolamo Pozzoli… (six volumes), online at the Austrian National Library
  21. ^ Libretto of the Sacerdotessa d'Irminsul online at
  22. ^ Libretto to Norma online in the opera guide