Hirsau Abbey
Hirsau Abbey, formerly known as Hirschau Abbey, was once one of the most prominent Benedictine abbey
An abbey is a Catholic monastery or convent, under the authority of an Abbot or an Abbess, who serves as the spiritual father or mother of the community.The term can also refer to an establishment which has long ceased to function as an abbey,...

s of Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

. It was located in the town of Hirsau
Hirsau is a district of the town of Calw in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, located in the south-west portion of the country, about two miles north of Calw and about twenty four miles west of Stuttgart.-Town:...

, in the Diocese of Speyer
Diocese of Speyer
The Diocese of Speyer is a diocese of the Catholic Church in Germany. The diocese is located in the South of the Rhineland-Palatinate and comprises also the Saarpfalz district in the east of the Saarland. The bishop's see is in the Palatinate city of Speyer.The current bishop is Karl-Heinz...

, near Calw
Calw is a municipality in the middle of Baden-Württemberg in the south of Germany, capital of the district Calw. It is located in the northern Black Forest.-History:...

 in the present Baden-Württemberg
Baden-Württemberg is one of the 16 states of Germany. Baden-Württemberg is in the southwestern part of the country to the east of the Upper Rhine, and is the third largest in both area and population of Germany's sixteen states, with an area of and 10.7 million inhabitants...



The monastery was founded in about 830 by Count Erlafried of Calw at the instigation of his son, Bishop Notting of Vercelli, who gave it the body of Saint Aurelius
Saint Aurelius
Saint Aurelius was Christian saint who died around 430. He was a bishop of Carthage from ca. 391 and led a number of ecclesiastical councils on Christian doctrine. Augustine of Hippo admired Aurelius, and a number of letters from Augustine to Aurelius have survived. Aurelius's feast day in the...

, an Armenia
Armenia , officially the Republic of Armenia , is a landlocked mountainous country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia...

n bishop, brought from Italy among other treasures; they were first placed in the oratory of Saint Nazarius
Saint Nazarius
* Nazarius - a Latin rhetorician* Saint Nazarius - one of four Roman martyrs who suffered death under Diocletian* Saint Nazarius - the fourteenth abbot of the monastery of Lérins....

 at Calw, while the monastery at Hirschau was being built. It was settled by a colony of fifteen monks from Fulda Abbey, disciples of Rabanus Maurus
Rabanus Maurus
Rabanus Maurus Magnentius , also known as Hrabanus or Rhabanus, was a Frankish Benedictine monk, the archbishop of Mainz in Germany and a theologian. He was the author of the encyclopaedia De rerum naturis . He also wrote treatises on education and grammar and commentaries on the Bible...

 and Walafrid Strabo
Walafrid Strabo
Walafrid, alternatively spelt Walahfrid, surnamed Strabo , was a Frankish monk and theological writer.-Theological works:...

, under the abbot Liudebert or Lutpert. Count Erlafried endowed the new foundation with lands and other gifts, and made a solemn donation of the whole into the hands of Lutpert, on condition that the Rule of St. Benedict should be observed. The abbey church, dedicated to Saint Peter
Saint Peter
Saint Peter or Simon Peter was an early Christian leader, who is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The son of John or of Jonah and from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, his brother Andrew was also an apostle...

, was not completed until 838, in which year it was consecrated by Othgar, Archbishop of Mainz, who at the same time translated the body of Saint Aurelius from its temporary resting-place to the new church. Abbot Lutpert died in 853, having brought about a substantial increase both in the possessions of the abbey and in the number of the monks under his rule. Regular observance flourished under him and his successors and a successful monastic school
Monastic school
Monastic schools were, along with cathedral schools, the most important institutions of higher learning in the Latin West from the early Middle Ages until the 12th century. Since Cassiodorus's educational program, the standard curriculum incorporated religious studies, the Trivium, and the...

 was established.

Over about a hundred and fifty years, under the care of the Counts of Calw, it enjoyed great prosperity, and became an important seat of learning.

However, towards the end of the 10th century the ravages of pestilence, combined with the greed of its patrons and the laxity of the community, brought it to ruin. In 988 a severe plague devastated the neighbourhood and carried off sixty of the monks including the abbot, Hartfried. Only a dozen were left to elect a successor, and they divided into two parties. The more fervent chose one Conrad, whose election was confirmed by the Bishop of Speyer
Bishop of Speyer
The Bishop of Speyer is the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Speyer, which is a suffragan see of the Archdiocese of Bamberg.The diocese covers an area of 5,893 km².The current bishop is Karl-Heinz Wiesemann.-List of bishops:-References:...

, but some of the others, who favoured a more relaxed rule, elected an opposition abbot in the person of Eberhard, the cellarer. For some time the dispute ran high between the rival superiors and their respective followers. The Count of Calw supported the claims of Eberhard, but neither party would give way to the other and in the end the count brought in an armed force to settle the quarrel. The result was that the abbey was pillaged, the monks dispersed, and the valuable library destroyed. The count became master of the property and the abbey remained empty for over sixty years, during which time the buildings fell into a ruinous state.

In 1049 Leo IX, uncle of Count Adalbert, and grandson of the spoliator, came to Calw, and required Adalbert to restore the abbey. This he did, but so slowly that it was not ready for occupation until 1065, when it was settled by a dozen monks from the celebrated Swiss
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 Einsiedeln Abbey
Einsiedeln Abbey
Einsiedeln Abbey is a Benedictine monastery in the town of Einsiedeln in the Canton of Schwyz, Switzerland. The abbey is dedicated to Our Lady of the Hermits, the title being derived from the circumstances of its foundation, from which the name Einsiedeln is also said to have originated...

, with Abbot Frederick at their head.

It was however his successor who revived and even surpassed the former renown and prosperity of the abbey. This was the famous William of Hirsau
William of Hirsau
William of Hirsau was a Benedictine abbot and monastic reformer. He was abbot of Hirsau Abbey, for whom he created the Constitutiones Hirsaugienses, based on the uses of Cluny, and was the father of the Hirsau Reforms, which influenced many Benedictine monasteries in Germany...

, abbot from 1069 to 1091, a monk of St. Emmeram's Abbey, Regensburg, appointed abbot in 1069. When he came the condition of the monastery was far from satisfactory. The buildings were still incomplete, Count Adalbert still retained possession of some of the monastic property, together with a certain amount of unhelpful influence over the community, and regular discipline was very much relaxed. Abbot William's zeal and prudence by degrees remedied this unsatisfactory state of affairs and inaugurated a period of great prosperity, both spiritual and temporal. He secured the independence of the abbey from the Count of Calw and placed its finances on a sound footing; he completed the buildings already begun and afterwards greatly added to them, as the needs of the increasing community required; and he refounded the monastic school for which the abbey had formerly been famous throughout Germany.

But his greatest work, perhaps, and that for which his name is best remembered, was the reformation that he effected within the community itself. Cluny
Cluny Abbey
Cluny Abbey is a Benedictine monastery in Cluny, Saône-et-Loire, France. It was built in the Romanesque style, with three churches built in succession from the 10th to the early 12th centuries....

 was then at the height of its fame and William sent some of his monks there to learn the Cluniac customs and rule, after which the Cluniac discipline was introduced at Hirsau. By his Constitutiones Hirsaugienses, a new religious order
Religious order
A religious order is a lineage of communities and organizations of people who live in some way set apart from society in accordance with their specific religious devotion, usually characterized by the principles of its founder's religious practice. The order is composed of initiates and, in some...

, the Ordo Hirsaugiensis, was formed. Known as the Hirsau Reforms
William of Hirsau
William of Hirsau was a Benedictine abbot and monastic reformer. He was abbot of Hirsau Abbey, for whom he created the Constitutiones Hirsaugienses, based on the uses of Cluny, and was the father of the Hirsau Reforms, which influenced many Benedictine monasteries in Germany...

, the adoption of this rule revitalised Benedictine monasteries throughout Germany, such as those of Blaubeuren
Blaubeuren Abbey
Blaubeuren Abbey was a house of the Benedictine Order located in Blaubeuren, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.-History: Catholic:...

, Erfurt
Erfurt is the capital city of Thuringia and the main city nearest to the geographical centre of Germany, located 100 km SW of Leipzig, 150 km N of Nuremberg and 180 km SE of Hannover. Erfurt Airport can be reached by plane via Munich. It lies in the southern part of the Thuringian...

 and Schaffhausen
Schaffhausen is a city in northern Switzerland and the capital of the canton of the same name; it has an estimated population of 34,587 ....


The friend and correspondent of Pope Gregory VII
Pope Gregory VII
Pope St. Gregory VII , born Hildebrand of Sovana , was Pope from April 22, 1073, until his death. One of the great reforming popes, he is perhaps best known for the part he played in the Investiture Controversy, his dispute with Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor affirming the primacy of the papal...

, and of Anselm of Canterbury
Anselm of Canterbury
Anselm of Canterbury , also called of Aosta for his birthplace, and of Bec for his home monastery, was a Benedictine monk, a philosopher, and a prelate of the church who held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109...

, William took active part in the politico-ecclesiastical controversies of his time, principally the Investiture Controversy
Investiture Controversy
The Investiture Controversy or Investiture Contest was the most significant conflict between Church and state in medieval Europe. In the 11th and 12th centuries, a series of Popes challenged the authority of European monarchies over control of appointments, or investitures, of church officials such...

. He was also author of inter alia the treatise De musica et tonis, as well as the Philosophicarum et astronomicarism institutionuin libri iii.

The abbot then wrote his well-known "Consuetudines Hirsaugienses" which for several centuries remained the standard of monastic observance. Under William monks were sent out from Hirsau to reform other German monasteries on the same lines, and from it seven new monasteries were founded. The numbers of the community increased to 150 under his rule, manual labour and the copying of manuscripts forming an important part of their occupations. Numerous exemptions and other privileges were obtained from time to time from emperors and popes.

About the end of the 12th century Hirsau Abbey was again very perceptibly on the decline both materially and morally. It never afterwards again rose into importance.

In the twelfth century the autocratic rule of Abbot Manegold caused for a time some internal dissensions and a consequent decline of strict discipline, but the vigorous efforts of several abbots checked the decadence, and temporarily re-established the stricter observance.

In the fifteenth century, however, the famous "Customs" gradually became little more than a dead letter. Wolfram, the thirty-eighth abbot (1428-1460), introduced the contemporary Melk Reform. A few years later Hirsau adopted the Constitutions of Bursfelde Abbey
Bursfelde Abbey
Bursfelde Abbey was a house of the Benedictine Order located in the present Hemeln-Bursfelde, part of the town of Hannoversch Münden in Lower Saxony in Germany.-History:...

 and became part of the Bursfelde Congregation
Bursfelde Congregation
The Bursfelde Congregation, also called Bursfelde Union, was a union of predominantly west and central German Benedictine monasteries and nunneries working for the reform of Benedictine practice. It was named after Bursfelde Abbey.-Background:...

. Wolfram's successor, Bernhard, carried on the work of revival, freed the abbey from its debts, restored the monastic buildings, and also reformed several other monasteries.

In the days of Abbot John III (1514-56) Hirsau fell on hard times: the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 began to make its influence felt, and after a brief period of struggle, the abbey, through the involvement of Ulrich, Duke of Württemberg
Ulrich, Duke of Württemberg
Herzog Ulrich von Württemberg succeeded his kinsman Eberhard II as Duke of Württemberg in 1498, being declared of age in 1503.-Early life:...

, passed into Lutheran hands, though still maintaining its monastic character. In consequence of the Reformation it was secularized in 1558.
In 1630 it became Catholic again for a short time, but after the Peace of Westphalia
Peace of Westphalia
The Peace of Westphalia was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October of 1648 in Osnabrück and Münster. These treaties ended the Thirty Years' War in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Dutch Republic, with Spain formally recognizing the...

 (1648) it once more came under the control of the Dukes of Württemberg and another series of Lutheran abbots presided over it.

The community eventually came to an end and the once famous Hirsau Abbey was finally destroyed by the French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

under Melac in 1692. Only a few ruins now remain to mark its site.

Sources and references

  • Herrbach-Schmidt, B., Westermann, C.: Klostermuseum Hirsau: Führer durch des Zweigmuseum des Badischen Landesmuseums. Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe(1998), ISBN 3-923132-69-7
  • Teschauer, O.: Kloster Hirsau, Ein Kurzführer, Calwer Druckzentrum,(1991), ISBN 3-926802-10-3
  • Würfel, M.: Lernort, Kloster Hirsau. Einhorn-Verlag, Eduard Dietenberger GmbH (1998), ISBN 3-927654-65-5
  • The Chronicon Hirsaugiense, or, as it is called in the later edition, Annales Hirsaugienses of Abbot Trithemius by Trithemius, the celebrated Abbot of Spanheim, who had access to its archives before they were dispersed (Basel, 1559; St Gall, 1690), although containing much that is merely legendary, is nevertheless an important source of information up to the year 1503, not only on the affairs of this monastery, but also on the early history of Germany.
  • The Codex Hirsaugiensis was edited by A. F. Gfrorer and printed at Stuttgart in 1843.
  • Baer, 1897. Die Hirsauer Bauschule. Freiburg.
  • Giseke, 1883. Die Hirschauer während des Investiturstreits. Gotha.
  • Helmsdorfer, 1874. Forschungen zur Geschichte des Abts Wilhelm von Hirschau. Göttingen
  • Besides the "Customs" already referred to, William of Hirschau left a treatise "De Musica et Tonis" (printed by Gerbert, "Script. Eccles.", and also by Migne, P. L., CL).
  • Klaiber, C.H., 1886. Das Kloster Hirschau. Tübingen.
  • Steck, 1844. Das Kloster Hirschau
  • Süssmann, 1903. Forschungen zur Geschichte des Klosters Hirschau. Halle.
  • Weizsäcker, 1898. Führer durch die Geschichte des Klosters Hirschau. Stuttgart

External links

Hirsau im Nagoldtal
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