This week’s journey takes us back to Maulbronn Abbey (German: Kloster Maulbronn), an 870 year-old former Cistercian monastery and Protestant seminary in the beautiful German state of Baden-Württemberg. We’ve made two journeys to Maulbronn since moving to Germany roughly a year and a half ago, including a visit in March 2016 to the abbey’s annual Ostereiermarkt, or Easter Egg Market.
The monastery was founded by twelve monks of the Cistercian order in 1147. The main church, built on a stretch of land donated by a local knight, was consecrated 31 years later by the Bishop of Speyer. A number of other buildings in the complex — including an infirmary, forge, inn, cooperage and mill — followed in the course of the 13th century. The west, east and north cloisters date back to the 14th century, as do most fortifications and the abbey’s famed fountain house.
In the early 16th century, the monastery was seized by Ulrich, Duke of Württemberg, who added a hunting lodge and stables to the property. It was pillaged repeatedly, first during 1519 and again during the German Peasants’ War in 1525. Nine years later, Duke Ulrich secularized the monastery, but the Cistercians regained control – and recognition as an Imperial Abbey of the Holy Roman Empire – during the reign of Charles V. After the Reformation, in 1556, Duke Christoph of Württemberg converted the complex into a Protestant boarding school. Its pupils included prominent scientists and writers including Johannes Kepler, Friedrich Hölderlin and Hermann Hesse.
In 1630, the abbey was returned to the Cistercians. This restoration was short-lived, however, as the monks were forced to leave again two years later. Under the Peace of Westphalia, in 1648, control of the monastery was finally settled in favor of Protestantism. A Protestant abbacy was re-established in 1651, with the seminary reopening five years later.
The monastery was secularized by King Frederick I of Württemberg in 1807. The following year, the seminary merged with that of nearby Bebenhausen, becoming the Evangelical Seminaries of Bebenhausen and Maulbronn. In 1993, UNESCO declared the abbey a World Heritage Site, describing the Maulbronn complex as “the most complete survival of a Cistercian monastic establishment in Europe”. It combines a multitude of architectural styles, from Romanesque to late Gothic, in one place – creating a truly unique atmosphere. The abbey’s medieval water-management system, with its elaborate network of drains, irrigation canals and reservoirs, is also of special interest.
The photographs below represent two separate visits – the first in autumn of 2015 and the second in March of 2016. We started both visits with a walk through the outer structures of the complex. While the buildings of the 14th century have long-since been converted into modern businesses – including a book store, pharmacy, museum/ticket office and several restaurants – the outer complex remains a site of historic significance and great beauty.
During our March visit, we joined the queue to enter the Ostereiermarkt – held in the exhibition hall adjacent to the monastery – as soon as it opened; after a wait of roughly 45 minutes, we were ushered inside to admire the Easter eggs on display (and for sale). The artistry and detail were extraordinary! Each egg was individually blown, etched and/or painted by hand, many by artists working on site. Although a number of the vendors didn’t permit photographs, we were able to capture a handful of their colorful designs.
After enjoying the market – and purchasing two beautiful eggs! – we procured tickets to visit the abbey. Our first stop was at the double-leaf main portal, pictured below. While no longer used as the primary entrance, this unique door dates back to the original church of 1178. Featuring artistically worked decorative wrought iron armatures, the portal also once included a parchment cover composed of whole animal hides painted red; the remains have been found on both leaves.
The refectory – pictured below – served as the monk’s dining space. Its quality stonemasonry and large dimensions – 27 meters (89 feet) long, 11 meters (38 feet) wide and 10 meters (34 feet) high – reflect the hall’s important role in monastic life. During mealtimes, one brother would read from the Bible and other scripts from an elevated pulpit on the east wall. A former serving hatch situated between the monks’ refectory and adjacent lay refectory can still be seen on the west wall.
The monastery church – with a Gothic roof and Romanesque arcades – beautifully illustrates the abbey’s famed transition between these architectural styles. The first Gothic structure in the German-speaking world, the church had a major influence on the spread of Gothic architecture over much of central and northern Europe.
A half-timbered building in the north wing houses a beautiful three-tiered fountain, one of the most popular visual icons of the abbey. Initially built in the 13th century in a circular shape that reached chest height, the fountain – filled daily with fresh mountain spring water – was used by the monks for cleaning and ritual washing. The upper two bowls were added in the late 19th century.
Thank you for joining us on this adventure in Baden-Württemberg! – T. & B. June
Next week’s journey: Skagit Valley Tulip Festival – Washington, USA