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Gilsa-Online

A Brief History of the Village, its Church, and the Family

Gilsa is part of the municipality Neuental. The greater Neuental resulted 1971 from union of the formerly independent municipalities Bischhausen, Dorheim, Gilsa, Neuenhain, Schlierbach, Waltersbrück, Zimmersrode (administrative seat) and (three years later) Römersbrück. Neuental covers an area of approx 15 sq.miles and has 3550 inhabitants.

The Name

The first documented mention of the North Hessian hamlet of  “Gilse” (as Gilsa was called in former times) dates from 1209 when the collegiate church of St. Peter at Fritzlar possessed a “manse” (=  farmstead with plowland) there. The von Gilsa (subsequently, von und zu Gilsa) family of nobility was first mentioned in the case of Wigand v. Gilsa, in 1224. Gilsa’s name is derived from the creek named “Gilsa” (prehistoric name of the stream) which has its source at Gilserberg, runs through the lovely Gilsa meadowlands on the southeast edge of the Kellerwald forest past the villages of Schönstein, Schönau, Densberg, Jesberg, Reptich, and then through Gilsa where two mills used to be located, and ultimately into the Schwalm river at Bischhausen at the foot of the Altenburg, a Celtic refuge entrenchment. The family’s coat of arms is as follows: on vert, three bars wavy argent. Their heraldic device is: “They who are courageous, shall flourish eternally”.

Joint Ownership

At one point in time, the village of Gilsa was integrated into the “Ganerben” (= joint ownership) judicial circuit at nearby Waltersbrück. Such “Ganerben” held their inherited estates in joint ownership; they constituted a “Ganerbenschaft” (collective heirs’ group) and administrated a joint judicial circuit which was jointly owned in the 14th century, by the v. Löwenstein-Schweinsberg and v. Gilsa families. The judicial circuit was divided in 1359, between those families: the v. Gilsas retained the two villages of Gylse (= Gilsa) and Cymersrade (= Zimmersrode) hitherto co-owned, including all appurtenances, as their exclusive property. In addition they also received ownership of all personal property of Hermann v.Schweinsberg located in those two villages, i. e. the seigniory over the Bierlingsgut farm at Zimmersrode including its inhabitants, and the Zimmersrode and Gilsa forests. In addition, all property belonging to the v. Gilsas and located in the Schweinsberg portion of the circuit, was to be exempt from all jurisdiction, levies, usufructs and statute labor. The v. Gilsa family was also to collect the autumn levy from all villages within the circuit and were entiteled to garnish any outstanding amounts of such levies. The two families had a feud over hunting rights from 1589 until 1615 because the Gilsas claimed such rights based on their ownership of a free  tennant farm. They acquired manorial court jurisdiction over their villages (Zimmersrode and Gilsa), which they held in feudal tenure from the rulers of Hesse, since the end of the 14th century. In the Borken land register for manorial estates, Gilsa and Zimmersrode are recorded as nobility-owned villlages belonging to the v. Gilsas, within the Borken bailiwick. The horrors of the Thirty Years’ War probably affected our villages most devastatingly. When General Bönninghausen of the Emperor’s army ravaged the “Löwenstein plains” (as the area is called) in 1633, Gilsa presumably was also burned down. (Cf. Werner Ide, “Von Adorf bis Zwesten”, Melsungen 1972).

Churches

The villages of Gilsa, Zimmersrode and Bischhausen now constitute a parish within the Evangelical Church of Kurhessen-Waldeck, but that was not always the case in the past. In a document of abbot Willibold of Hersfeld, the name of the neighboring village of Bischhausen appeared for the first time in 1160, when Wernherus de Bisopeshusen was mentioned as a witness. In 1262, a latter Werner v. Bischofhausen conveyed all his possessions in Bischhausen to the nearby monastery at Haina, for the salvation of his family’s and his own souls.

A reference to a local churchyard in 1262 proves that a church must have existed at the time, at Bischhausen. In 1264, its patrons were the owners of the Waltersbrück judicial circuit; subsequent to its division, the v. Löwenstein-Schweinsberg exercised that function until 1657, and whoever was the local lord of the manor thereafter. Initially, the Gilsa and Zimmersrode communities were also part of the Bischhausen parish.

Patronage

Until late in the 16th century Gilsa had no church of its own and was assigned to Bischhausen, and only in 1582 did the von Gilsa family endow a parish which they named Gilsa, and which included Zimmersrode. Wigand, Werner and Reinhard v. Gilsa established a separate church at Zimmersrode. Ever since then, the v.Gilsas at Gilsa are the patrons of the two churches at Gilsa and Zimmersrode.Their status in that respect was confirmed at one point vis-à-vis the v. Baumbach family at Ropperhausen who had claimed the right to that patronage (C. W. H. Hochhut, “Statistik der ev. Kirchen im Reg.-Bez. Kassel”, Kassel 1872, p. 85). The currently valid patronage regime was reconfirmed recently, by the regional administrative agency of the Evangelical Church of Kurhessen-Waldeck, as an “unencumbered patronage” with regard to the building encumbrance.

The foundation established for the Gilsa church included accommodation and appurtenances as well as a modest pastor’s stipend, the latter including an involuntary share collected from the villagers. The Gilsa community soon submitted a complaint to the landgrave, alleging “that the aforesaid squires had separated them from Bischhausen where they had enjoyed all  parishioners’ rights from time immemorial and sought spiritual care; and had appointed a separate pastor with the Superintendent’ prior knowledge, obliging each and every one to contribute two “Metzen”  (former dry measure, appr.3 qts each) of grain per year”; that complaint was fruitless, however. (Wilhelm Bach, “Kirchenstatistik der ev.Kirchen im Kurfürstentum Hessen”, Cassel 1835, p. 95)

Church Building

The currently ecisting church at Gilsa was built in 1719 as a rectangular hall structure with a belfry. As early as 1846, the then decaying belfry had to be replaced by a new ridge turret. It had to be rehabilitated once more at substantial cost in 2000, because it was both warped and leaning. The present interior view is the result of an 1889 renovation. On the outer wall to the right of the entrance door, a sandstone slab indicates that Imperial Baroness Caroline v. Friesen, née Baroness v. u. zu Gilsa, had donated that refurbishment in memory of her late brother Ernst Levin Baron v. u. zu Gilsa. The organ built by Heinrich Möller of Rotenburg dates from the same year. Master organ builder Dieter Noeske (Organ Building Works at Rotenburg/Fulda) rebuilt this precious organ in 2001/2002 and restored its original romantic timbre, which made it all the more popular. 

The semicircular windows are provided with keystones (easily visible from outside). Salient entrance door moldings also exist in the exterior walls on the west and south sides, with a keystone on the latter indicating the year the church was built: 1719. In front of the south entrance (now closed off) a war memorial was erected in memory of soldiers from our village who were killed in action in WW II.

Within the entrance section on the west side, a slab with the inscription “1591” is embedded in the wall, which presumably came from the earlier church building. Inside, memorial tablets on the right honor soldiers who died in war. Tombstone ledgers dated 1612 and 1614 stand in the former south entrance.

Apart from the coat of arms of the v.u.zu Gilsa family, ”alliance arms” of families related by marriage to the founding family decorate the walls above the patronage pews and the pastor’s seat on either side of the sandstone altar: v. Veltheim, v. Voss, v. Lichtenstein, v. Korff, Marschal v.Bieberstein, v. Sanders, v. Wittgenstein, v.Münchhausen, v. Buttlar, and v. Cronenberg. On the east part of the north wall, a marble tombstone slab with an impressive inscription honors the memory of  Lieutenant-General Eitel Philipp Ludwig von und zu Gilsa who died in 1765. The burial vault of the v. u.zu Gilsa family is located underneath the church floor. From 1886 on (beginning with Major-General Friedrich-Wilhelm v. u. zu Gilsa and his wife, Friederike née Baroness v. Wittgenstein) the family grave has been located in a garden belonging to the family, adjacent to the village cemetery.

Family-related Buildings

Oberhof:  The manor house located in a park to the west of  the church is an originally medieval three-story stone structure which was subsequently enlarged northward into the park, by a new wing. The south façade is embellished by a prominent stairwell gable. Inside the courtyard armorial slabs dated 1634 (v. Scholley/v. Gilsa) and 1652 (v. Dalwig/v. Gilsa) are embedded into the brickwork. An oriel was added to the east façade in 1723. The exterior of the building was Gothicized around the middle of the 19th century.

Mittelhof: This structure  -  a formerly moated castle of the v. Gilsa family  -  is located directly to the north of the church. It is the oldest building in the village, its ground plan being a square with round towers at the corners. The v. Gilsa branch who formerly lived there became extinct in the male line. A draw bridge led across a (long since dried up) moat toward the entrance gate dating from 1730. An “alliance coat of arms” (v. Gilsa/v. Schaufuß) from the same year is embedded into the wall, next to the gate. The so-called "duck stones" remind of the formerly numerous duck crowds, which bred here in nist caves. The total decay of the structure was prevented by its sale to a team of artisans.

Unterhof: To the east of the church, a half-timbered manor house built in the early 18th century with its associated stable and barn buildings constitutes a spacious farming estate. Remarkable is the representatively carved entry door of 1809.

Around 1920 the barons von und zu Gilsa arranged a private cemetery with a monumental staircase and a cemetery portal at the wooded slope north of the Unterhof .

“Englandshaus”: According to an inscription on the lintel above the (horizontally divided) front door, the half timbered and subsequently clapboard-covered residential house was built in the year 1748 by Johannes Schmitt and his wife Anna-Elisabeth. The farm buildings around the backyard were finished by Johan Jost Engeland in 1799, according to the inscription on another wooden beam. The Engeland family sold the “Englandshaus”, as it is called locally, in 1870; it  belongs since that time to the v. u. zu Gilsa family. An inscription on yet another beam reads as follows: “Dies Haus ist mein und doch nicht mein, nach mir kommt wieder ein ander nein” (This house  -  though mine  -  does not belong to me: when I’ll be gone, another’s it will be”.