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the final resting place

Lorch Monastery

Gedenktafel für Irene von Byzanz von 1898 an der Innenwand der Klosterkirche Lorch; Foto: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, Steffen Hauswirth
A rose without a thorn at Hohenstaufen Castle

Irene Angelina of Byzantium

She was the subject of tragic legends: Irene Angelina of Byzantium (circa 1180–1208), the exotic bride of King Philipp of Swabia, died shortly after the murder of her husband at Hohenstaufen and was buried in Lorch Monastery.

At the deathbed of Irene Angelina of Byzantium, painting by Hans Kloss. Image: Ulrich Rund

She died during the birth of her eighth child.

Where was Irene from?

Irene was the daughter of the Emperor of Constantinople. Her first marriage was to King Roger of Sicily. After his early death, she was taken prisoner in the military turmoil of a crusade by the House of Staufen. Emperor Heinrich VI married the Byzantine princess to his younger brother, Philipp of Swabia, in 1197. The bride from Byzantium attracted attention at the courts of Germany.

Remains of the walls of Hohenstaufen Castle. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Rolf Schwarz

Irene lived at Hohenstaufen Castle.

What is known about her?

Today, very little is known about noble medieval women like Irene. It is known that she bore seven children to Philipp. Of her children, four daughters reached adulthood and married into noble families in Europe. The three other children died in childhood and were buried at Lorch. In 1208, after her husband was murdered, Irene fled to Hohenstaufen Castle while very pregnant and died there during the birth of her eighth child.

Walther von der Vogelweide, depiction from the Great Heidelberg Collection of Ballads (Codex Manesse), circa 1300. Image: Heidelberg University Library

Walther von der Vogelweide dedicated a poem to Irene Angelina of Byzantium.

Who wrote about Irene Angelina of Byzantium?

The most famous author was certainly Walther von der Vogelweide, the greatest author of medieval Germany. His poem about the "rose without thorns" is dedicated to Irene Angelina of Byzantium and quickly made her famous. An exotic heritage, a tragic history, and her marriage to King Philipp of the House of Staufen provided literary fuel for centuries. Irene became shrouded in legend.

Why was she given a memorial in the monastery church?

Irene Angelina of Byzantium was buried at Lorch Monastery. The exact location of her grave has been lost. Particularly in the 19th century, people would have loved to find the remains of the venerated emperor's daughter. When a medieval enamel ring was discovered during excavations in the church, it was promptly declared to be her wedding ring. Called "Irene's ring," it was repeatedly copied and was a popular wedding ring. The memorial plaque for Irene, created in 1898, is an expression of this romantic veneration.

Irenenring, Abbildung in der Präsentation in der Klosterkirche; Foto: Braun Engels Gestaltung Ulm
Gedenktafel für Irene von Schwaben von 1898 an der Innenwand der Klosterkirche Lorch; Foto: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, Steffen Hauswirth

The veneration of Irene lasted for centuries, clearly demonstrated by this ring and memorial plaque.

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