The former Benedictine abbey was first documented in 764 and existed until the 16th century. The gate hall (Königshalle) is one of the few examples of Carolingian architecture. The remains of the Romanesque basilica and the medieval monastery are reminiscent of the time when Lorsch was an important religious and cultural center in Europe, also through its important library (Lorsch Evangelikar).
Lorsch Abbey: facts
|former Benedictine abbey with former Altenmünster monastery
|Lorsch an der Bergstrasse, south of Darmstadt
|with the central »King’s Hall«, this is a rare example of monastery architecture from the Carolingian era
Lorsch Abbey: history
|July 12, 764
|documentary mention (Altenmünster)
|Donation of a monastery building site
|Lorsch becomes an imperial abbey
|Consecration of the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul
|Construction of the King’s Hall
|Crypt chapel built, burial place of Ludwig the German (d. 876)
|Abolition of the monastery
|Baroque reconstruction of the Königshalle
|Demolition of the basilica
|Excavations in the monastery district
|Restoration of the original royal hall
|partial destruction of the tithe barn (16th century)
|Exhibition of 12 double pages of the famous Lorsch Gospels (around 810), a splendid Gospel manuscript with valuable ivory binding
Architecture in the service of the renewal of the empire
Only three bays of the church and the gate or king’s hall remain from the once powerful Carolingian imperial abbey, which with its important library was a center of medieval culture and politics.
Against the background of the inconspicuous church walls, today’s gate hall with its filigree facade decoration looks all the more impressive despite its relatively small dimensions. Because nothing less than the claim to the renewal of the Roman Empire – the Franconian »renovatio imperii« – is reflected in this Carolingian gateway, which consciously refers to ancient models. Half-columns and pilasters with partly Corinthian and partly Ionic-looking capitals are placed in front of the two façades, which are decorated like a mosaic with red and white stones, and structure them vertically. A cornice band with fine ornamentation visually separates the upper floor from the ground floor, which with its arched openings is reminiscent of city gates in Rome or the Porta Nigra in Trier. The stairs in the two flanking towers lead to the hall on the 14th floor.
A properly trained Roman master builder would of course clap his hands over his head in view of the facade, because according to ancient ideas of supports and loads nothing goes together here: the pillars on the ground floor do not bear anything, the cornice is not a load, and on the first floor there are Pilasters stylized arches or gables, on the tips of which the console cornice seems to float. The high pitched roof completes the confusion; However, it is not part of the original building program, but was only added in the 14th century.
Despite or perhaps because of this “misunderstanding” of ancient building principles, the gate hall is one of the most precious examples of the “Carolingian Renaissance”, a comprehensive cultural and educational program initiated by Charlemagne, with which the return to the ancient tradition of Rome and the Carolingian claim to rule in closely following the papacy should be documented. But not only in the architecture, also in the illumination, precious masterpieces of Carolingian art were created in Lorsch, according to the Gospels from around 810.
Under Pippin III. the first building, the so-called »Altenmünster«, was erected in the 8th century, and a few years later it was relocated by about 600 meters. This abbey was given to Charlemagne, who was present at the consecration of the church in 774, as an imperial monastery. It is disputed whether the gate hall, whose original function is unclear, also dates from this time. Dating to the late 9th century seems just as plausible. Under the aegis of the Carolingians, Lorsch gained a position on a par with the monasteries of Fulda, St. Gallen and Centula. According to pharmacylib, King Ludwig the German even made the monastery church a burial place for himself and his descendants and had an outside crypt built for it.
With the end of the Carolingian rule, however, the abbey’s slow decline began. After a fire in 1090, Lorsch was rebuilt without regaining its old meaning. In 1557 the monastery was closed during the Reformation. During the turmoil of the Thirty Years’ War, the famous library was finally transported to Rome; on the spot there are only sparse structural remains of the former size. The remaining parts of the antechamber were used by tobacco growers as a drying barn, while the gate hall was only saved shortly before it was demolished in 1803 by the intervention of the sovereign. Today the large monastery district is characterized by privet hedges, and the gate hall is once again a jewel of Carolingian architecture.