The foundation of the old convent at Schoenstatt took place in 1143, a time when faith and religion were flourishing after the collapse of spiritual and political order in the 9th and 10th centuries. In Church history the 10th century is known as “dark”. On the one hand, unruliness and the breakdown of morals spread, so that many churches and abbeys in Rome, but also all over Italy and France, were abandoned. On the other hand, there were a number of pious and ethically upright Popes who were murdered in Rome.
It was in this time that the Benedictine Abbey at Cluny, in Burgundy, prepared the ground for the reform of the Church. At the end of the 10th century, the dictator Alberich ruled Rome. The Popes were dependent on him. Alberich became the involuntary pioneer of reform. Former convents and the lands belonging to Abbeys were divided among the noble families of Rome, and their power grew. They became a threat to Alberich. So he looked for help from the Popes and Abbot Odilo from the reformed abbey at Cluny to breathe new life into the cloistered way of life through the Benedictine reform. The church of St Paul outside the Walls, St Agnes and the convent of St Andrew came into the hands of the Cluny Benedictines. The Convent of our Lady on the Aventin in Rome became the residence of the Abbots of Cluny in Rome.
Although the Pope continued to depend on either the German Emperor or the Roman nobility until well into the 11th century, the reform of the Church continued. With Clement II (1046-1047) a new time began for the Church. Although he had become Pope at the suggestion of the German Emperor Henry III, he was confirmed by the Roman clergy and the people, and not violently imposed by the Roman nobility. His immediate successors died shortly after they were enthroned. Bishop Brun of Toul became Pope in 1049. He was a deeply religious man and enthusiastic about the reform of the Church. He called himself Leo IX (1049-1054). He came to Rome barefoot and praying as a pilgrim together with Hildebrand, later Pope Gregory VII. During the five years of his reign Leo IX was mostly journeying outside Rome. In all he spent about six months in Rome. He had set himself two goals: He wanted to end simony the sale of Church offices; and he wanted to urge priests to observe celibacy. When he died in 1054 he was only 50, but he was known throughout Europe in a way no other Pope had been.
In the following years, and with the following Popes, the reform continued. The leaders in the Church emphasized the sanctification of life according to the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount. This attitude spread. People again began to choose the religious life.
The Crusades, which began in 1095, also contributed to the growth of religious zeal. Pilgrims who wanted to travel to the Holy Land were threatened first by the Arabs, then by the Turks. It was the task to the knightly orders to set off for Palestine and open up the way for pilgrims, or else to accompany them on their pilgrimage.
In 1147 the Second Crusade began. Orders of Knights came into existence. They were monk-like associations of laymen, who were knights, who had set out for Palestine. Some of them remained there. The Knights Templar, the Knights of St John and the German Order of Knights were among them.
New religious orders also came into existence at the end of the 11th and beginning of 12th centuries as a result of the efforts at reform:
There are many great names associated with this period:
The Popes at the time of the foundation of Old Schoenstatt:
Churches built at this time:
The Old Schoenstatt convent was given the Rule of St Augustine, as were countless foundations in the 11th and 12th centuries. A basic insight of the increasingly self-confident Church in the 11th century was that possessions and riches were a danger for clerics and religious. For this reason religious were admonished to lead an apostolic and simple life. Celibacy was to be taken more seriously again; the marriage of priests and concubinage were no longer tolerated.
While they were searching for an ideal of the priestly life coming from the early Church, they believed that they had found it in a strict Rule dating from the year 500 in Africa that has been falsely attributed to Augustine, especially as it reminded them of the community life that Augustine lived with his clergy in Hippo. A detailed letter from Augustine to a community of nuns, with a number of practical admonitions for their lives, also confirmed the opinion of the people of the 11th century that in him they had found the father and example of a priestly way of life.