A historically significant abbey in scenic surroundings

Hirsau Monastery

Aerial photo of Hirsau Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Achim Mende
A BLACK FOREST SETTING STEEPED IN HISTORY

THE MONASTERY

One of the most famous Benedictine monasteries of the 11th century: Hirsau's religious and political importance during the Middle Ages was great and was reflected in its architecture. These ruins represent historically significant architecture from the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance periods, and are still worth visiting today.

Winged altar panel from the 15th century depicting St. Aurelius and St. Benedict, from the Church of St. Aurelius. Image: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, Böhm

Aurelius was the patron saint of the first monastery.

EARLY MEDIEVAL BEGINNINGS

The monastery in Hirsau was founded three times. It is unclear when it was first founded, possibly around 830, when the relics of St. Aurelius were brought here from northern Italy. They were enshrined in a small monastery, one which did not survive for long. In the middle of the 11th century, it was re-founded by papal request and operated by Benedictine monks. The second Aurelius Monastery was built on top of the original monastery walls in 1059 and included a new church and convent buildings.

Bridge across the Nagold river in Hirsau near the Hirsau Monastery. Image: Calw Tourist Info

The new monastery was built on the other side of the Nagold river.

THE THIRD FOUNDING OF THE MONASTERY

Wilhelm, a monk at the St. Emmeram Abbey near Regensburg, was named abbot of the Aurelius Monastery. With his appointment began the monastery's heyday. The monastery experienced such an influx that, just a few years after its founding, it was already too small. Construction began on a new monastery in 1082, this one located on the opposite side of the Nagold river. This third monastery on Hirsau ground was dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul. The old Aurelius Monastery remained as a minor priory.

ABBOT WILHELM AND THE HIRSAU REFORM

The monastery dedicated to St. Peter and Paul became one of the most influential abbeys in the Roman Empire. In his own monastery, Abbot Wilhelm expanded the reforms from the French abbey in Cluny, which advocated stricter adherence to the Rule of St. Benedict, including greater austerity, discipline and obedience. A life of poverty and fraternal community were also stipulated. Abbot Wilhelm's reforms had a considerable effect: More than 120 monasteries reformed based on Hirsau's example.

Gothic ogival arches at Hirsau Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Andrea Rachele
In the background: the Owl Tower at Hirsau Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Andrea Rachele

Hirsau Monastery became the center of a monastic reform movement demanding a stricter interpretation of the rules of the order.

Hunting lodge at Hirsau Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Andrea Rachele

The hunting lodge was built under Duke Ludwig.

DISSOLUTION AND DESTRUCTION

The monastery was dissolved in the Reformation. Duke Christoph von Württemberg established a Protestant monastery school here. Shortly thereafter, his son, Duke Ludwig, had a hunting lodge built on the site of the abbot's house. Almost the entire monastery was destroyed by French troops during the Nine Years' War at the end of the 17th century. Its ruins served as a quarry for a long period of time, until they came under monument protection in the 1850s.

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