Sunday, July 31, 2005

Postcard from Klostereberach

It was only a day trip to the Frankfurt area, to get an introductory drive in the diesel version of Mitsubishi’s Grandis MPV, but for a couple of hours during it I was transported back to the 12th century. And, in a sidewise way, to the 14th.

One of the locations near where the drive ended was the Rhineside town of Eberach, a pretty and typical place for the region where I'd been a couple of times before. It has all the colour and cared-for old buildings that the Germans seem to do so well with their built heritage, at least that part of it which wasn't destroyed in the war.

But you have to drive out of the town to find one of the most significant things about the area, the 'kloster' of Eberach, a monastery founded by the French Cistercian abbott St Bernhard. It nestles in forest and hills, and is the quinessential survivor, because it is the only full monastery campus of its kind remaining in Germany. All the others were dismantled some 200 years ago by Napoleon's secularisation policy.

He had his reasons. As an emperor with ambitions to dominate the then world, the much older empire of Church represented the biggest impediment to this achievement, and dismantling the network of monastic institutions that was at the core of its power was a key element of his domination strategy. But that whole story is for another time, and for more knowledgeable historians.

Eberach, for some reason, was mostly not physically dismantled, which leaves to us the original gaunt Romanesque architecture of its church, and the sympathetic additional monastic components in various styles of the time and later ages. These include the Monks' Dormitory and Chapter Hall in Gothic style, and the Baroque Monks' Refectory. The Lay Brothers Building was subsequently used as a wine press room, and the presses are still there today. The old door leading into it is worth examination, too.

Though the buildings survived, none of the furniture did, apart from a very ornate piece in the Chapter Hall. The basilica itself was used to keep livestock, the effluent from which destroyed most of the ancient tiles. And many of the stone-carved tomb tops were broken up and used as stepping stones by the cattle herds.

In the mid-eighties, the local state government began a restoration project for the kloster, and today it is used for a variety of cultural programmes, and there's also a museum with many of the artifacts and statuary carefully maintained.

If parts of the place seem familiar to those of you who have never been there, it might be because the monastery was used as the location for the 1986 movie, The Name of the Rose, which starred Sean Connery as a Franciscan monk, William of Baskerville, investigating a murder in a 14th century Italian monastery.

For me, though, I seem to always feel the real stories retained in the atmosphere and the very fabric of such places. There's a phrase, 'if these walls could speak'. You know, sometimes they do.

1 comment:

Richard said...

I thought you were gonna use flickr for photos. Need help?