A historically significant abbey in scenic surroundings

Hirsau Monastery

Miniature of Abbot Wilhelm von Hirsau (circa 1030–1091) from the Reichenau Monastery endowment register, circa 1150. Image: Wikipedia, in the public domain
A PIOUS MAN WITH GRAND IDEAS

Wilhelm von Hirsau

Wilhelm von Hirsau (1026–1091) dedicated his life to reforming monasticism. In 1079 he wrote the "Constitutiones Hirsaugienses" (Hirsau Constitution), in which he recorded his interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict. His monastery reforms spread across the entire southern German realm.

St. Benedict, mural at Ochsenhausen Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Steffen Hauswirth

Wilhelm learned the Rule of St. Benedict as a child.

WHEN DID WILHELM FIRST COME INTO CONTACT WITH THE MONASTIC WORLD?

He was born into the monastic life. At an early age, his parents promised him to the St. Emmeram Monastery in Regensburg as a "puer oblatus," Latin for "boy dedicated to God." Thus, Wilhelm lived according to the Rule of St. Benedict from a young age and had access to a comprehensive education within the monastery. He became a priest and taught mathematics and astronomy.

HOW DID HE COME TO HIRSAU?

While Wilhelm was at St. Emmeram, a man appeared to him one night and tasked him with building and leading a school. At the time, the counts of Calw were desperately searching for a successor to Abbot Friedrich, whom they had dismissed. Their distant connection to the Bishop of Regensburg was likely part of the reason why Wilhelm was called to Hirsau on May 28, 1069. He is credited with the monastery's success over the following 20 years.

Monastery garden at Hirsau Monastery. Image: Calw Tourist Information

Initially, he refused the position of abbot.

DID WILHELM ASSUME HIS POSITION IMMEDIATELY?

After he became aware of Abbot Friedrich's wrongful dismissal, Wilhelm could only be persuaded to stay by the ardent pleas of the Hirsau monks. However, he refused to assume the position of Abbot while his predecessor was still alive, instead taking on the priory. Only after Friedrich's death did Wilhelm allow himself to be appointed Abbot of Hirsau. He was solemnly inaugurated by the Bishop of Speyer on Ascension Day in 1071.

Church of St. Aurelius at Hirsau Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Andrea Rachele

Abbot Wilhelm implemented the "Hirsau Reform."

WHAT DID WILHELM VON HIRSAU CONTRIBUTE?

As a polymath scholar, he was ahead of his time; for example, he studied and wrote on the laws of the universe. As the Abbot of Hirsau, he was both sophisticated and adept in his interactions with popes and kings. He supported the right to operate religious offices without secular interference. The monastic reforms he called for in his "Hirsau Reform" became the most influential reforms of the 11th and 12th centuries east of the Rhine river, and served as an example to other monasteries.

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