Family history of the Andechs line
The first Andechs family member was called Graf Rasso and lived in the 9th century. During the Middle Ages, he was admired as the popular saint Grafrath or Graf Rath. During Charlemagne’s reign, he supposedly was margrave in the area between Ammersee and Starnbergsee and founded a cloister among other things. The town in which he is buries is named after him: Grafrath.
The second saint from this family is St. Hedwig of Silesia. She lived from 1174 until 1243. At age twelve, she married the Count of Silesia (and later Poland) Henry I. She was said to be particularly ascetic and benevolent; after the death of her husband, she joined a convent. According to legend, she preferred walking barefoot even in winter. Because her father confessor recommended she wear shoes, she simply carried them in her hands. This is why images of saints often depict her carrying shoes or a church in her hand.
The daughter of her sister Gertrude and King Andrew II of Hungary is equally famous. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) is one of the most important saints of all times. Because she voluntarily gave up all of the aristocratic luxuries, she is considered a shining example for a pious and ascetic life. She tended to the sick and cared for the poor with truly exceptional dedication for her time. The most significant legend about her life is referred to as “Miracle of Roses”. The legend says that Elizabeth decided against the will of her husband to take a basket filled with bread down to the poor. When he confronted her and forced her to show him the contents of the basket, it was allegedly filled with roses instead of bread. Numerous hospitals are named after her.
But the Andechs family is not only known for these important legendary figures, they also had vast political influence for centuries. They ruled large areas all the way from Upper Franconia to Italy and the eastern Adriatic Sea. Their ancestors in all likelihood came from the area neat Ammersee. This is where the Andechs castles are located where Count Rasso founded a church back in the 9th century. Initially the family went by “of Diessen” named after the village with their ancestral seat. After the local cloister and entire village were transferred to the Pope, the family finally decided to go by “of Andechs”.
The town of Andechs is first referred to in a document in 1030 as “Andehse”. Later the monastery Andechs was founded, which is still known for its good beer. Another branch of the family was “von Wolfratshausen” – named after the village where they lived. This line already ended in the 12th century. In 1180, Frederick I Barbarossa awarded Count Berthold IV of Andechs the title “Duke of Merania”. Otto IV of Andechs was also bishop of Brixen, his brother Berthold III count in Inntal and Pustertal. The latter is considered the founder of the city of Innsbruck. Strategic marriages allowed the Andechs family to secure their political influence all the way to Burgundy, Italy and Hungary. They were in charge of important trade routes across the Alps and were considered faithful followers of Barbarossa.
When Ekbert Bishop of Bamberg and Henry Margrave of Istria – both Andechs family members – were suspected of having been involved in the murder of the last son of Barbarossa, Philipp of Swabia, they were excommunicated. This lead to the loss of all fiefs and privileges. Even though their involvement could never be confirmed in any historic sources, the suspects were not able to regain trust and respect in aristocratic circles. This event caused the downfall of the Andechs family. The noble line ended with the death of Duke Otto VIII of Merania in 1248.