A historically significant abbey in scenic surroundings

Hirsau Monastery

Gothic relief at Hirsau Monastery, likely from the 14th century. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Andrea Rachele
REVISITING HIRSAU'S LONG HISTORY

MILESTONES

The sweeping Benedictine Hirsau Monastery in the Nagold Valley represents roughly 1,000 years of history in southwest Germany: It even played an important role in the Investiture Controversy. From the 18th century to today, these romantic ruins have drawn visitors to Hirsau.

Romanesque nave, view to the east, monastery church of St. Aurelius at Hirsau Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Arnim Weischer

Pope Leo IX initiated the re-founding.

PAPAL PRESSURE

Leo IX, a pope of German origin, was in close contact with the counts of Calw due to family ties. According to records, during a visit in the Black Forest in 1049, he vehemently insisted that his nephew, Count Adalbert II, re-found the derelict monastery in his town, Calw. This second founding finally took place more than ten years later, for the Aurelius Monastery, which the count outfitted with items from his own estate.

Model of the Benedictine St. Peter and Paul Monastery in Hirsau, together with Württemberg's ducal hunting lodge. Image: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, Arnim Weischer

St. Peter and Paul was erected after the first abbey.

RICH ABBEY WITH INFLUENCE

St. Aurelius soon enjoyed an active influx of members and extensive land grants. Within 20 years of its founding, the monastery was already bursting at the seams. This is why, in 1082, Abbot Wilhelm decided to begin building a second, larger abbey nearby. The new monastery, dedicated to St. Peter and Paul, stood on the papal side of the Investiture Controversy—a conflict between the pope and kings that began in 1076—and played a prominent role in church politics.

View toward the Owl Tower at Hirsau Monastery. Image: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, Dieter Geissler

An army destroyed the monastery in the 17th century.

DESTROYED AFTER 700 YEARS

In its 700-year history, more than 59 abbots presided over the monastery. 18 were Protestant, and directed the evangelical monastery school instituted here by Duke Christoph in 1556. The last abbot left Hirsau in 1692 after French troops reduced the monastery, its school and the ducal hunting lodge to rubble during the Nine Years' War. The surviving walls were either left to fall to ruin or were later used as a stone quarry.

Ruins of the hunting lodge at Hirsau Monastery. Image: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, Andrea Rachele

The hunting lodge was once an impressive structure.

RUINED WALLS SHADED BY GIANT TREES

The historically significant ruins of Hirsau combine different architectural styles; these include the remains of a columned basilica, which once belonged to the largest Romanesque church in southwestern Germany, and the walls of a Gothic cloister. The representative hunting lodge is from the Renaissance period; its walls once held a landmark of the town of Hirsau: the famous elm immortalized by Ludwig Uhland in the poem "Ulmenbaum" (elm tree).

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