History » 1143 - 1901 » Old Schoenstatt » The Ruins of the Convent

10. The Ruins of the Convent

1. The Church:

Foundation - Description - Style - Patroness - Relics - Decline - Downfall.

“Sicut lugubre ita insigne documentum ruinae.” Civius.

The convent church at Schoenstatt was built towards the end of 12th or beginning of 13th century. It must have been wonderful building if we take the style of the West tower, which is all that remains, as a measure. From the little remaining evidence, it would seem to have been basilica rising on massive piers in a transitional style. It was about 33 meters in length with two relatively narrow and low side aisles and a higher central nave. It seems that it also had a 5.50 meter long transept with gables, and probably two side chapels attached to the choir. The transept and choir were higher than the main body of the church, and was paved with permanent white, red and black tiles. Quarried stone from nearby was used for the walls; the sculptures were from sandstone, tuffstone and limestone. The vaulted ceilings appear to have rested on pillars, the attic bases of which were decorated with oak leaves. It is probable that the church formed a quadrangle with the convent.

The Western towers, which are four storys high, as well as the structure joining them, remain and are clearly built in the transitional style. The ground floor of the towers has no openings, and is built with quarried stone in the early Romanesque style. The three upper storys have been built of dressed stone. In the first there are two windows with rounded arches on each side. In the second story there is a pair of arched windows with a central pillar framed with a clover leaves. On the third floor there are three arched windows, the central one being taller than the other two. The pillars between the windows are connected by the frame of the arch. The pillars have attic bases, and in the southern tower simple cubic capitals, while the 28 pillars of the northern area are a whole collection of various material and varied, interesting capital shapes. Inside the towers there are traces of vaulted ceilings.

The connecting building appears to be a portal with rounded arches with two rows of round arched windows on either side.

The church was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St John the Baptist. The cloister took the name of “Our Blessed Lady”. There were altars dedicated to St Barbara and St Margaret, etc. In 1465 the nuns sold revenues belonging to the altar of St Margaret to the two vicars Heymann Nutzeling and Wernher van der Ham for 5 Malter, 3 measures of wheat and 9 Albus.

The church possessed valuable relics, among others, as already mentioned, part of St Barbara's skull set in silver, through which a number of miracles are said to have been worked. Besides this, Schoenstatt boasted of part of the finger of St John the Baptist with which he had pointed to the Saviour: “Look, there is the Lamb of God!” It is said that the relic rattled in its capsule whenever one of the nuns was close to death. In addition, the church had an important particle of the arm of St Bartholomew, a relic of St Catherine from which oil flowed, etc.

Even after the departure of the nuns, Holy Mass continued to be said in the church. However, since the nuns had taken everything of value with them, including the bells and most of the altars, the church was soon badly neglected and began to collapse. The Swedes (1633) and the French in particular, destroyed the church completely. The last time excavations were made, all the ground round the foundations was found to be filled with bits of the roof slates, often with the nails still attached.

In 1901 the Prussian government restored the towers and given a protective roof. 

2. The Cloister

Layout - Chapel of St Michael - Different owners of the ancient cloister buildings.

As has already been mentioned, the cloister probably formed a square with the church. The Wambach stream, or at least an artificial arm of the stream, flowed through the cloister grounds. The whole area was enclosed with a wall. The main walls of the present cloister buildings seem to have come down to us from ancient times; the rococo doors were put in at the end of the 18th century.

The cloister mill, what was re-build in the first half of the last century, was situated at the south-eastern end. The farm buildings probably stood where the present-day dyeing factory and pipe factory now stand.

In the east there was a cemetery connecting to the church. The skeletons are still fairly well preserved.

The foundations of the little chapel within the cloister walls were laid in the earliest years of the cloister. It was dedicated to St Michael. On 18 September 1319, Guda von Kastorf, the Prior of Schoenstatt's maid, gave three vineyards to the chapel of St Michael, to ensure the income of the priest, so that Holy Mass could be said there every day. The chapel was also destroyed by the Swedes, but rebuilt in 1681 and restored to its original function. After 1812 it was again destroyed, but was again re-built in the first half of the 19th century, and can still be seen today.

As we have already seen the cloister buildings and all its possessions became the property of the Trier chancery after the departure of the nuns. They were paid 4312 Raedergulden and 8 Albus. Until this sum was paid the nuns received 4 measures of wine, 24 Malter of wheat, 4 wagons of hay, and 100 Gulden. For safety sake the Elector moved his customs house to Koblenz, but retained the right of redemption to the 4312 Gulden.

At first the administrator of the Trier Chancery, Hermann Weigel, leased the whole of the Schoenstatt cloister property, but after a few years purchased it. Later this property passed to Marioth, a important family that possessed a number of mines between the Lahn and Rhine during the 18th century. Under Marioth an iron hammer was purchased for the production of vessels that were plated in the cloister.

At the marriage of one of Marioth's daughters, Schoenstatt became the property of Mr Coenen, and later the Frenchman, Moritz Masson (Marceau). In 1780 the latter set up china factory in the cloister buildings. The fine work done there became very famous. Nevertheless Masson could not make the factory pay and he sold it to Mr Meyer, a privy councillor from Cologne. He too was not very lucky with the business. He built a glazing mill, which soon failed, and gave way to a colour mill. He also used the hammer again to work steel, but only for a short time.

Meyer left Schoenstatt to his grandson, Shultheiss Mueller, among others. He subdivided the property of the former convent in 1823 and sold it to various owners. The buildings that were still standing, as well as the towers, were sold to Merkelbach in Koblenz, who continued working the china factory for another year-and-a-half. In 1825 the property was again subdivided. Merkelbach sold the towers and factory to Christop Bender, the other buildings, the courtyard and the chapel of St Michael to Peter Desmond from Hoehr. He continued to manufacture pipes for almost half a century with good results.

At the end of the 1860s the Grey Sisters took over the ancient rooms. However, as a result of the “Kulturkampf”, they soon had to leave again. The cloisters then became the property of Mr Karl Dorsenmagen (here written with an “n”). In the closing decade of the 1800s he took great pains and showed great taste in creating the present gardens that surround the quiet cloisters.

The noise of hammers and the factory are no longer heard. Instead the song of many birds fill the air.


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