Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hirsau, historic religious treasure in the Black Forest. Former abbey and ducal hunting lodge

The Aurelius Church, consecrated in 1071

Hirsau was not on my itinerary. I had planned to take the train from Stuttgart by way of Pforzheim to visit Calw, the birthplace of Hermann Hesse, walk around, take some photos and then come on back home to Bad Cannstatt all in the same day. As it turned out, Hirsau was the best part of my day. Calw was interesting in its own way, cradled snugly into the low foothills of the Black Forest on its eastern side, and it probably deserved more time than I felt like giving it, but I saw the ruins of Hirsau from the train window as it made its way to Calw, and all I could think of while there was to make sure I left enough time to stop by Hirsau on the way back. So I hurried up in Calw, promised to come again to see it in more depth (it is indeed worth the trip), and made my way back to Hirsau.

Note the deer, or Hirsch, in the Wappen
(coat of arms) of Hirsau

People do in fact live in the historical houses around the former monastery grounds, but over all it felt more like a ghost town which leaves any history lover to the devices of his or her own imagination.  The summer season had not fully set in at the time of my visit, so there was hardly anyone else wandering around there. It also didn't hurt that it was a week day. 

The Church of St. Aurelius, built almost 1,000 years ago. It was spared the fires that consumed the Monastery of Hirsau just across the Nagold River there.

So what's so special about this place? I had certainly never studied anything about Hirsau Abbey, or St. Aurelius for that matter, in my German history courses at university. And there are definitely many places throughout this country which are older and also boast their own rich histories. The answer? A lot, really: besides dating back to possibly around 830, having ruins through which to wander today, telling its own significant story, and simply providing a lovely place in the beautiful Black Forest to wander and photograph, it was once an especially important Benedictine abbey, destroyed by the French in 1692 during the Nine-Years' War (as was the village where I presently live) and never rebuilt. But I invite you to keep reading here, and I'll tell you what I learned as I meandered about, read the plaques and allowed my imagination the freedom to be colorful while envisaging monastic and medieval life 1,000 years ago.

The Nagold River, which begins in the northern Black Forest at Urnagold and 
joins the Enz River in Pforzheim.

Hirsau Abbey (also referred to in history as Hirschau Abbey) is located approximately three kilometers north of Calw in the northern Black Forest, a little over 22 miles (35 km) west of Stuttgart, the state capital. It sits directly on the Nagold River (pictured above). The bridge that straddles the Nagold there dates back to Carolingian times (see below). The first church of St. Aurelius was founded there in 830 by Count Adelbert of Calw. It was established in order to house and honor relics of the Armenian saint St. Aurelius, which the count's son, a bishop, brought from Rome. Once the monastery itself was completed, a small group of 16 monks from Fulda, in what is today Hessen came to take up residence there. 

Carolingian-era bridge across the Nagold

Now, I got a little confused while trying to figure out the two different churches and monastic communities I was reading about. Hirsau Monastery (or Abbey) contained the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul. St. Aurelius Abbey was centered around the Church of St. Aurelius, which housed the Aurelius relics. The first St. Aurelius church was consecrated in the first half of the 9th century. Archeologists have found evidence of another church or churches in this immediate that date back even earlier. The first church of St. Aurelius was partially destroyed and rebuilt in the Romanesque style. This second church was consecrated in 1071. Only 20 years later, however, did the "newer" Hirsau community spring from its St. Aurelius origins, and the community moved across the little river into the larger monastic complex which was now to be known as Hirsau. This is explained further as you read on.

Hirsau Abbey ruins nestled in the Black Forest

Hirsau Abbey soon began to flourish. In time, one of the largest monastery edifices constructed in the southwest Germany was built there: the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul was immense. It was consecrated in 1091and was a Romanesque structure with three naves.  It is indeed a great loss that this original structure was completely destroyed, as it was the model on which so many other German Benedictine monasteries were built; monasteries which were also to follow the Cluniac Reform (more on this further down) that Hirsau Abbey had introduced into the German lands under the Abbot William between 1071 and 1091. However the Church of St. Aurelius, the patron saint in whose name the monastery was established in the first place, still stands (see first two photographs above). (It must be noted, however, that what is seen today of that little church was renovated after a partial destruction in 1584, so not all of it is original. The fact that it had been used as a barn at some later part of its history probably helped to save it from complete ruin. It is restored and used for church services today. (Photo below)

Interior of St. Aurelius today

A variety of beautiful window 
frames still remain 400 years 
following their destruction

Renaissance-styled Jagdschloß of the Dukes of Württemberg

In 1092, the successor to Abbot William, who had died the year before, left the Aurelius Monastery and moved his monks the short distance across the river to the newly finished Sts. Peter and Paul Basilica, leaving the older monastery complex as a subordinate priory (Ref: Calw Tourist Office). The ruins of the Sts. Peter and Paul monastery area is where I spent most of my time for these photographs.

Let's look a little bit into the Cluniac (also Clunic) Reform that I mentioned above because this is what really put Hirsau Abbey on the map of history. It was initiated in Cluny, France in the 11th century as a result of various problems endemic to the monastic orders of the day. Due to a variety of reasons such as war, local politics, plague, etc., monasteries at this time had allowed themselves to become more subject to local lords and princes than to the pope or even their own founding principles of solitude: refraining from being an integral part of worldly matters and living.  In many cases, the land on which monasteries sat belonged to a secular lord. This often caused issues when the monks wanted to select their new abbots. The land-owning lords felt it their right to interfere in the process if it served their own needs thus taking away the autonomy the monastery itself needed in order to function outside of the daily events of the world. Not being a part of the world was exactly what monastic life was intended and secular interference diminished this fundamental monastic purpose. In time, many religious orders became less rigorous in true monastic living and customs and became more involved in the politics of the day in order to survive – again, something completely counter to their reason for existing in the first place. 

Two photographs below of the main gate to the former Ducal Jagdschloß, or Hunting Lodge/Castle. This also served as a bell tower. Bells have been restored to the tower and chime the hours beautifully throughout the day even now. This has been restored and a bit altered since its destruction by fire in 1692.

In 910, Duke William the Pious of Aquitaine enabled the Monastery of Cluny (of the Benedictine Order) to return to true monastic living. Due to his donation, the monastery became completely autonomous, owing allegiance to none other than the pope himself. They could once again focus heavily on what monks had originally set out to do several hundred years before, i.e., prayer, enhancing the beauty and solemnity of the Holy Rites, the singing of the Psalms, and celebrating Holy Mass, etc. It was, if you will, a Renaissance of the monasteries. Many other Benedictine monasteries throughout central Europe began to follow this renewal of monastic living. You can read more here about the Cluniac Reform. But, where does Hirsau come into the picture? 

The Chapel of Our Lady (Marienkirche), which is just outside of the ruined cloister, is still in use today.

When the Abbot William of Hirsau (not to be confused with Duke William) learned of the Abbey of Cluny and what was going on there, he sent some of his own monks to find out more. When they returned, he too began the process of returning monastery life to what it was originally ordained to be. The reforms had the blessings of the pope in Rome. Less secular interference and influence returned monastic focus to the Vatican See. The Church would become stronger at the local level. Abbot William sent monks out to share this with other monasteries in what is today Germany. As the monastery at Hirsau was the first of these German orders to take up these reforms, it was the "Hirsau Reforms" that was to become known throughout Germany, and it was this name that was often used instead of the "Cluniac Reforms" in this part of Europe. 

Note: I must add that in my humble opinion, the reference to "Hirsau" rather than "Cluniac" Reforms was not meant to deflect any credit away from Cluny. As word spread in the medieval days, and the ones who brought the reforms to the other Germanic monasteries were initially from Hirsau, I would imagine that it was simply a matter of associating the news with the Germanic brothers from Hirsau who brought it. 

View of the single remaining  tower 
of the Basilica ruins
Here, the Bell Tower and the ruins of the ducal hunting residence can be seen outside of the cloister grounds. Almost all of the window and door arches remain in the cloister wall.   Although there is no longer an active monastery here, the serenity of the grounds can be quite meditative if you are lucky to be here on as quiet and empty a day as I was.      
The ducal hunting-lodge ruins are in the background      

In the following two photographs, the ruins of what must have been an imposing edifice in its day: the Church of Sts Peter and Paul. The architectural supports pictured here would have supported the outer walls of the rounded altar area of the church. The Marienkirche, or Chapel of Our Lady, can be seen in the background of the second photograph below. This church was restored for use in the latter half of the 19th century. While I was walking the grounds, I could hear lovely music coming from the Marienkirche. It is a two-storied church. Unfortunately, I was not able to enter it, and as of this writing, I have yet to find any photos online of the interior, though I am sure they exist. Just another reason to return to Hirsau.

Note the ruins to the left in the photo. These supported the walls of a side chapel just off the left side of what was the main altar of the huge church.

View of the side-altar chapel ruins from the other side, with the Marienkirche in the background
Marienkirche from the side of the Jagdschloß
Two floors, two chapels

Remnant walls of the cloister. The door led to the Summer Refectory, where the monks ate.
The monks dormitory would have been on the floor above this.
For an example of a monastery that has survived almost completely intact over the past 300-400 years, see my earlier blog, Bebenhausen, Where it all Ended. Scroll down on this page and you will see photos of Bebenhausen which are no doubt quite similar to how the cloister at Hirsau very likely looked once upon a time.

Fortunately, this one of the two Basilica towers survived the blaze.  Note the relief 
with the monk in the middle looking out into the distance. After the destruction 
of the monastery in 1692, this tower was used as a prison!

The cross marks where the altar stood in the Basilica

A view of the refectory kitchen ruins
A view out of the bell tower of the main gate

Hirsau today, beneath the walls of the former monastery ruins, nestled in the beautiful Black Forest.

Another view of the cloister ruins of Hirsau Abbey

These two arches will lead you into the monastery grounds. There are other accesses, but this is how I got through.

Another way in, around back. 

The other side of the arches shown in the photograph above. Some of the other buildings which have popped up on the grounds over the years since the monastery was destroyed in 1692 can be seen here. Some of them are replicas of buildings destroyed in the fire; others may be original. 

To the left are the ruins of the former Jagdschloß, or hunting castle, of the Dukes of Württemberg with the bell tower in the foreground. The Renaissance castle was built on what had once been an abbot's residence. At the time the ducal residence was built, the monastery was no longer Catholic, as the Reformation had already taken place by this time and the territory was now Lutheran. The ruins to the immediate left of the tower are of the former
priory kitchen.

A number of beautiful examples of Fachwerk (half-timbered) structures 
can also be found here.

Following the Protestant Reformation in 1532 and during the reign of Duke Ulrich of Württemberg, Hirsau became secularized. It was during this time, between 1586 and 1592 that Duke Ulrich built his hunting residence. Lutheran abbots were appointed to lead monastic life. In the mid-1600s, it became Catholic again, but only a few years later following the Treaty of Westphalia, Hirsau Abbey became Lutheran once again and remained so until the destruction of the abbey in 1692 at the hands of the French troops under the command of General Mélac during the War of the Palatinate Succession (also known as the Nine Years' War). It is indeed a sad ending to a once great and leading monastery. It has never been rebuilt.

A closer view of the ruins of the Jagdschloß of the Dukes of Württemberg

How to get to Hirsau: Unless traveling by car, one arrives at Hirsau train stop on the small line that actually dead-ends in Calw, which is the next stop due south after Hirsau. The stop is just across the River Nagold from the monastery-hunting lodge area; the walk onto the monastery grounds is only a matter of minutes. As this is in the Black Forest, and as the photos show, it is all wooded and very beautiful. It is also possible to walk from Hirsau to Calw along the Nagold. 

Via train from Stuttgart, you will need to check online at for train times. I would strongly recommend looking for the connections that take you via Pforzheim Hauptbahnhof (train station), where you can change to a local line that takes you directly to Hirsau. It's a nice ride through the Black Forest, and the total time is less than 90 minutes.

Hirsau train station 

There are other train routes which require a connection via bus, which aren't all bad, but it might take a bit longer. The S6 to Weil der Stadt leaves Stuttgart station (underground) as well, but you will need to change to the 670 bus at Weil der Stadt to get to the monastery. However, depending on which train or bus you use to get to Weil der Stadt, you might have to make another transfer at Calw.

Via car from anywhere in Germany (or the entire world, for that matter) use your navigator because I don't have a car and you could be coming from anywhere. The least I can do here though is to tell you the "navi" info:

State: Baden-Württemberg
Town: Hirsau (or even "Calw", since it technically belongs to the Calw municipality)
Postal code: 75365

Buckle your seatbelts because it's gonna be a historically beautiful ride!


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Late Afternoon in Markgröningen, where barefoot shepherds run

Markgröningen's main square in the late afternoon sun.

My visit to Markgröningen was a short one as I was there on business, so I regret that I don't have a lot of photos or stories to tell you about this very interesting town. Still, I wanted to post this because it is definitely an interesting place with a very unique tradition - the Schäferlauf. I'll tell you more about that further down.  First, a little something about this historically unique town.

Bartholomäuskirche, Markgröningen
(Bartholomew's Church)

Evidently, Markgröningen was originally known as Gruoninga when it was first mentioned in a deed in 779. This deed was a gift (from whom, I don't know) to the Monastery of Fulda, which is today the seat of the Archbishop of Fulda, yet another beautiful city worth visiting which is located in the center of the German state of Hessen. Later, Mark (meaning: border region, particularly of an area of defence) was added to the name to denote its location at the time between the Alemannisch (today, roughly the area of western Baden-Württemberg running along the French border down into the Basel area of Switzerland) and Frankish (basically in what is today northern Bavaria, parts of Baden-Württemberg, Hessen and also Thuringia) territories.

Close-up of the Markgröningen Rathaus on the main square

(I can assure you that the wood is solid. My own home is of the same style and age. It is so old, it almost
seems to be petrified. Drive a nail in and you will never get it out again. It's as solid as rock!)

Markgröningen is located 15 km northwest of Stuttgart, but it is not accessible by train. Buses run there regularly from Asperg. The trip from Stuttgart should be about 35 minutes, so it still makes quite a reasonable excursion. If for no other reason, it is worth the trip for its Fachwerkhäuser (half-timbered houses). So, if you are in the area, make a point to stop by.

A view through the main square toward the Bartholomäuskirche 

For those of you interested in German history, this town was designated a Free Imperial City as far back as 1229. This meant that the city was responsible directly and only to the Holy Roman Emperor himself, and not to the local lord no matter how high his or her rank. And yes, this was a good thing.  Markgröningen did not last long as a Free Imperial City, however, as the Swabian House of Württemberg acquired it in the 1300s. It was designated a seat of government at different times between then and the second half of the 15th century. 


Just look at that house. Doesn't it look a bit top heavy? Looks like you can just 

give it a good push and it will fall right over. It has been there a very long time.

Following the Reformation, Markgröningen became Protestant. Its Spital (can be a hospital for the poor or a wayside shelter for pilgrims; the word is also used for "hospital" in Switzerland and Austria today), which was established in 1297 and run by the Catholic Order of the Holy Spirit, was taken over by the city in 1552 and has been administered by it ever since. 

Another view of the Rathaus

Note the angle of the clock and bell tower at the top. Beneath it, you might be able to make out
the eagle on the Wappen (coat-of-arms) on the right-hand side. This eagle distinguished the city as
a Free Imperial City. See below for other photos.

Okay, so I said earlier that I would tell you a little about the shephards' run, or Schäferlauf. I do wish I had photos to show you, but I don't. You will have to see it for yourself and make your own photos. Fortunately, if you are in the area, you still have time to get there because it will be held August 22 - 25 this year.  As of this posting, that is only a few weeks away!

So what is it? It is a barefoot race through what is called a Stoppelfeld (field of stubble). Sounds like it would hurt. Anyway, young girls race each other for the coveted crown and title of queen, and the boys do the same for the king's crown. And what else do each of their majesties receive? Well, something that all kings and queens covet, of course. A sheep! 

This has been going on in Markgröningen since about 1445. (They ought to be pretty good at it by now, I would think.) The event has turned into a three-day festival with a period costume-filled parade, church service and demonstrations of the various tasks of shepherds. Yes, there are even sheep. Surprised? Although I have yet to see the actual event, I have only heard that it is indeed worth meandering through and experiencing.

I do wish I had more photos to show you. Hopefully the few I have here will at least whet your appetite enough to at least do some research on your own via the internet. Don't just look at Wikipedia. Go to other sites, or click here and find more online photos of the actual Schäferlauf on Google. 

Der obere Torturm
(Upper gate tower)

This is the last remaining of the four gates into the city of Markgröningen when a wall surrounded it.
The wall was dismantled before 1850.

How to get to Markgröningen by public transportation: From Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (main station), take the S5 (underground platform) to Asperg (another interesting town with a castle above it). This takes about 18-20 minutes. From there, go out to the front of the station and catch the no. 532 bus in the direction of "Mühlstraße Oberriexingen". Ask the driver to tell you when you have arrived because the old town is not where he drops you off. I don't believe any buses go through that part of town, but it is merely a couple of blocks away. Remember where you got off, because you will need to come back to that spot to return to Stuttgart. Altogether, the trip from Stuttgart should take you about 35 minutes.

By car? Hmm, I don't travel that way, so I can't tell you, but I would assume streets and perhaps a highway or two might be a good idea ;-). Otherwise, I think most of you who drive have a navigator, so enter "Markgröningen" or "Markgroeningen", and any of the options that come up will get you there.