Hirsau Monastery

Between the densely wooded hills of the Black Forest, in the Nagold Valley, lie the ruins of Hirsau Monastery (Kloster Hirsau). Also known as the Monastery of St Peter and Paul, the former Benedictine abbey is an architectural milestone.

The crumbling walls still hint at the erstwhile size and significance of the abbey. In the 11th century, under Abbot Wilhelm, Hirsau Monastery was part of the Cluny reform movement. From here, the reforms, which emphasised the independence of the Church, spread across much of southwestern Germany. As a loyal supporter of the Pope, Hirsau played an active role in the Investiture Controversy, a power struggle between the Church and European monarchies.

Eulenturm of Hirsau Monastery

The Eulenturm, a Romanesque church tower, with its enigmatic statues, merits closer inspection.

Rise and fall of a mighty monastery

The first monastery in Hirsau was consecrated in 838. The Monastery of St Aurelius was built in 1059, on the foundations of the original structure. In 1082, construction of the Monastery of St Peter and Paul began, on the opposite bank of the Nagold River. Upon completion, St Peter and Paul was the largest monastery building in German-speaking Europe and one of the largest Romanesque structures in what is now southwestern Germany.

After the Reformation, the former monastery became a Protestant boarding school. In the late 16th century, a Renaissance-style hunting lodge was constructed for the dukes of Württemberg. A grand structure with three wings, the palace abutted onto the enclosed grounds of the monastery, on the site of the former abbot’s residence.

In 1692, while occupied by French soldiers, the palace and monastery was destroyed by fire. In the aftermath, local residents plundered the remains in search of building materials, partly for the reconstruction of the town of Calw, which had been damaged in the war.

Hirsau Monastery

Magnificent Renaissance gables still adorn the ruined hunting palace of the dukes of Württemberg.

Dramatic ruins in a picturesque setting

Today, the former monastery complex is a beautiful but atmospheric place, with the striking Romanesque and Gothic ruins set against the scenic backdrop of the Black Forest. Rising above the landscape, the 37- metre high Eulenturm (owls’ tower) features a frieze of mysterious figures. The late Gothic Marienkirche (church of St Mary) and an assortment of monastic buildings offer a glimpse into everyday life at an abbey that was once one of the most influential spiritual and economic centres of the region.

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