The churches and monasteries of the Benedictine order on the 430 hectare Lake Constance island are a reminder of the religious, cultural and economic importance of the order. At the same time, they testify to the church architecture of the 9th to 11th centuries.
Reichenau monastery island: facts
|Official title:||Reichenau monastery island|
|Cultural monument:||Cultural landscape in Lake Constance with the three Romanesque churches of St. Peter and Paul, St. Maria and Markus and St. Georg with restored wall paintings from the 10th and 11th centuries.|
|Country:||Germany, see extrareference|
|Location:||Lake Constance, Constance district|
|Meaning:||Illustrative example of early medieval monastery architecture in Central Europe|
Reichenau monastery island: history
|at 724||Founding of the monastery by traveling bishop Pirmin|
|799||Consecration of the Church of St. Peter and Paul in Niederzell|
|816||Consecration of the minster St. Maria and Markus|
|824||Creation of the poem “Visio Wetti” by Walahfrid Strabo|
|827||Creation of the poem “Hortolus” by Walahfrid Strabo|
|890-896||Foundation of the Church of St. Georg in Oberzell|
|11th century||Reconstruction of the Church of St. Peter and Paul and redesign of the Marienmünster|
|1104-26||Creation of the apse painting in the church of St. Peter and Paul|
|1535||Incorporation of the Reichenau Monastery into the Diocese of Constance|
|1757||Dissolution of the abbey|
|1750/60||Redesign of the interior of St. Peter and Paul|
Artistic center of its time
While the flower island of Mainau attracts large numbers of visitors, the monastery island of Reichenau is usually more peaceful. But that is why the 4.3 km² large island of Lake Constance is no less worth seeing: Even today it is a lively testimony to the religious and cultural role that a large Benedictine monastery could have in the Middle Ages.
The monastery was founded in 724 by the traveling bishop Pirmin. According to legend, the island in the Untersee was a completely inhospitable place at that time, teeming with snakes, toads and insects. But when the man of God entered the island, the vermin fled across the lake. Together with his companions, the traveling bishop soon made the island habitable for people and founded the Benedictine abbey.
In the following 400 years the abbey developed into a political, spiritual and cultural center of the Holy Roman Empire. Its three churches, which are excellent examples of early Romanesque architecture from the 9th to 11th centuries, also contribute to this. In the end, some of the most important book illuminations of all were created in the scriptorium of the monastery. The monastery island Reichenau was an important artistic center in the Middle Ages, which exerted a great influence on the European art history of that time. Among other things, Abbot Waldo (* around 740, † 814), who later became Bishop of Pavia and Basel and raised Pippin, the son of Charlemagne, worked here. Walahfrid Strabo (* 808/9, † 849) later taught, who in his Visio Wettini the Christian worldview set out on the Reichenau. His Liber de cultura hortorum (From the care of the gardens) was also created on the island of Reichenau. The work, also known as Hortulus, is considered the first European horticultural treatise.
Probably the most important abbot in the history of the monastery was Hatto III. (* around 850, † 913), who headed the abbey from 888 and seven years later received the George relic from Pope Formosus. In order to give her a suitable home, the abbot had the church of St. George built. Hatto III was also politically. Not insignificant: After the death of the Roman-German Emperor Arnulf of Carinthia (* around 850, † 899) he became guardian of the heir to the throne, who was only six years old. Later he crowned Konrad I (* around 881, † 918) as King of the East Franconian Empire.
From the 13th century, the monastery began to decline gradually, both spiritually and materially. Several attempts at reform failed. In 1367 Abbot Eberhard von Brandis (* 1343, † 1379) had to sell all goods and rights of the monastery due to financial hardship. From 1540 the monastery was a priory with 12 monks and was subordinate to the diocese of Constance. In 1757 the monks tried to regain their monastic independence, but the opposite occurred: the monastery was closed. As part of the secularization, it was finally abolished in 1803 and the last three monks left the island of Reichenau. For almost 200 years there was no longer a monastery on the Reichenau. That only changed in 2001 when Benedictines settled on the island again. Trying to create new monastic life there should initially be limited to three years, but in 2004 the Cella St. Benedikt was founded – a dependent house of the Archabbey of Beuron. The Reichenau is again a “real” monastery island.
Since the whole island was monastic ground, the medieval monastery buildings are not concentrated in a single place, but are distributed over the whole island. The three churches are located in three different places, and the monastery farmers lived right next to their fields. Thanks to the mild climate, the fertile soil of the island and the rich fishing grounds of Lake Constance, they were able to create a precious gem there and grow vegetables and wine. Even today, around 20,000 tons of vegetables are harvested each year on the Reichenau. In order to preserve its natural beauty, large parts of the island are under nature protection. Numerous animals and plants have found a protected home in the wetlands on the shore, and many migratory birds also like to use the area for a rest on their long journey south.