Willkommen! Schön daß du wieder da bist!
The last stretch, though 300 years through history, takes a mere 45 minutes on the Autobahn. World Heritage sites are prolific and close in south-western Germany.
In the car park, I spot a woman on a bicycle. That’s Andrea Klitsche, welcoming me to Lorsch Abbey. I’m eager to go out to the site as soon as possible, but Andrea advises a walk through the visitor centre first. Explanations are necessary.
And she’s right. Not many buildings remain, so Lorsch Abbey is a site that asks a lot of your imagination. Walking around, it’s at first difficult to picture this as one of the most famous monasteries of its time.
So what happened?
Remember Charlemagne? He was the first leader of the Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne and his successors, the Carolingians, regarded themselves as heirs of the Roman Empire. And as they were recognised by the Pope they had divine rights as well.
In 764, Count Cancor and his mother, Williswinth, founded Lorsch Abbey. It was a proprietary abbey, meaning that it was built on private grounds by a feudal lord, who also appointed the religious personnel. Cancor’s nephew, Chrodegang, became the first abbot here at Lorsch.
Cancor, Williswinth, Chrodegang… they had such wonderfully curious names in the Early Middle Ages, didn’t they?
Now, how do we draw the crowds, Chrodegang must have thought. Why, relics, of course. Preferably those of a martyr. He secured the body of Saint Nazarius from Rome, and Lorsch soon became a place of miracles. A bit like Lourdes or Fatima or Medjugorje is today.
Lorsch was very popular with pilgrims. For centuries, the monastery prospered. Then – through time – fires, politics and wars happened. The abbey lost its privileges and gradually its standing.
During the Thirty Years’ War, many of the buildings were torn down, and late in the 1600s, French soldiers burned down even more. But not everything.
Pictured above is the Königshalle, the King’s Hall. This intriguing 9th century building was added by King Ludwig the German. Try to imagine it without the metal fence. It’s a gorgeous building. And all that is left of this once magnificent monastery that was once a power centre.
Gorgeous, yes – but what’s intriguing about it, you ask? Simply that nobody knows what it was for. How was it used? Who used it? Theories abound, but no one really knows, says Andrea. All we know with a relatively high degree of certainty, is that it was a profane building. Worldly. Not religious.
So what is the function of a secular building in the middle of such holy surroundings? Did King Ludwig use it himself? If so, for what? As a court, perhaps? Though that would be highly unusual in a monastery. At least a court of this world.
Continuing our walk around the grounds, I try to imagine the church, Altenmünster Abbey. Landscape planners have helped by creating the base outline, as you can see below. Merovingian graves are thought to be underneath here.
Wandering the grounds, we pass by a herb garden, based on the Lorsch Pharmacopoeia, a UNESCO World Heritage document. There are also farm houses, showing life in the Middle Ages.
Lorsch Abbey practicals
- Lorsch Abbey is a great family outing. School classes come by, workshops are organised, and festivals and various celebrations take place throughout the year.
- You’re free to wander around as you like, though I recommenend a guided tour.
- There are no hotels in Lorsch, but small B&Bs and guest houses.
- Lorsch Abbey is about 35 minutes by car from Frankfurt airport, or a 10-minute walk from Lorsch railway station.
From Lorsch, we’ll travel even further back in time. So far back, in fact, these 1300 years will seem like 10 minutes ago. Watch this space.
Disclosure: On this journey through German history, I was a guest of UNESCO Germany and the German National Tourist Organisation. Of course, anything I write is entirely up to me. Goes without saying, really.