Is Dörrenbach Really 1000 Years Old?

by Bishop Jude Speyrer

In previous articles of mine in the Newsletter and elsewhere in this publication, reference has been occasionally made to the 1000th Anniversary of the village of Dörrenbach. What made the year 992 the starting date from which the recent millenial anniversary was computed? And what evidence do we have that Dörrenbach is not much older?

Both are good questions and I intend to deal with them in this article.

Puzzled? I too wrestled with this difficulty until I read the history of the village. Called Dörrenbach 992 1992, this narrative was published in commemoration of the 1000th Anniversary. Quite simply, what established the year was the discovery in German national archives of a manuscript dated 992 in which the name Dörrenbach is found in writing for the first time.

This reference does not at all mean that the hamlet was founded only in 992. In fact the opposite is more likely true, i.e., the fact that it appears in a royal edict simply proves that it already existed and could well have been in existence for some time.

Although archeological studies of the area have been conducted, the range of dates which these studies suggest is not very helpful. The incontrovertible documentary evidence we do have shows without a doubt that as late as 992 this settlement was already well established and flourishing.

Which then is the document which first refers to Dörrenbach?

It is an imperial decree written on parchment, in which the Emperor (Otto III) ceded to a new monastery, Selz, in Alsace, the revenues from three nearby villages. Dörrenbach happens to be one, though its name at the time is spelled Turrenbach. This same manuscript is clearly dated March 11, 992. Nothing earlier is known in which the village is mentioned by name.

I repeat that this in no way means that the hamlet could not have been founded beforehand; all this discovery means is that no earlier written proof is known to exist. At this time, one can only guess at the surprises which further archival research may bring to light.

Concerning Dörrenbach, here is what I found in Walter Schlicher's book cited above and used with permission:

``In its first documented appearance in 992, the place is named ``Turrenbach,'' i.e., a water-poor settlement on a scant and often dry stream. According to [Ernst] Christmann, the name later appeared variously as Duerrenbach, Dörrenbach, Thurrenbach, Derrenbach, then finally in the 19th century, as it is as present, Dörrenbach.''

And concerning the royal decree, Schlicher adds:

``Among the oldest imperial and royal documents preserved in the General Archives in Karlsruhe is Number 57, in Section A which is a decree of Otto III. He ratifies therein the handing over of Ober and Nieder Otterbach as well as Dörrenbach to the Benedictine Monastery of Selz. This 1000 year old document is what establishe[d] the occasion for the celebration of 1992.''

The other two towns profited from the same discovery to schedule in 1992, millennial observances of their own. For example, Oberotterbach followed D”rrenbach's July gala with a festival in October. But neither of the other towns undertook anything quite so impressive or costly as the tome on Dörrenbach edited and published by Walter Schlicher.

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