This region is blessed with true wealth: When you travel to Lake Constance, great art treasures, viticulture and a lively spirituality await you. For a long time, this wealth was also shaped by the many monasteries. We will take you to the island of Reichenau and to Salem.
Small and idyllic the island of Reichenau appears to its visitors today. But the almost Mediterranean lightness meets here a great spiritual and cultural depth. Since 2000, the monastery island of Reichenau has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tour guide Uwe Anker is convinced that this is not only about the architecture of its three famous churches, but also about the everyday culture that is still lived today, some of which is still in the monastic tradition. The Catholic grew up on the Reichenau and cannot imagine living anywhere else.
The history of the island goes back a long way: In 724, a certain Pirmin founded the first Benedictine monastery on German soil on the island of Reichenau. His successors became powerful churchmen, sometimes holding the post of Archchancellor of the Empire and Archbishop of Mainz in personal union. "In the Middle Ages, Reichenau was for a time the spiritual center of the Holy Roman Empire," explains Uwe Anker.
Three famous churches were built by the monks on the Reichenau, and each of them holds unique cultural treasures: St. Mary and St. Mark's is in Mittelzell and is the repository of a Holy Blood relic. In St. Peter and Paul in Niederzell, an apse painting from the 11th century can still be admired today, and an even older huge picture cycle with scenes from the life of Jesus is hidden in St. George in Oberzell. For a few years now, monastic life has also had a modest future here again: three Benedictines and two sisters live in the small cella of St. Benedict and revive old traditions with their hourly prayers and church services.
Who visits the island, should definitely visit the viewpoint Hochwart in the center of the island: From there you can enjoy beautiful views of the Reichenau, can see all the way to the Swiss shore and to Constance. In the Werkgalerie you will find shady places in the café garden - and also art and ceramics.
Strabo's herb garden is also worth a visit. This garden was originally laid out as early as around 840 by an abbot named Walahfrid Strabo. It is something like the archetype of a monastic herb garden. His poem Hortulus on the effects of medicinal plants is considered the first gardening book ever written. Today's herb garden between the cathedral and the shores of Lake Constance is modeled on the original of yore and is freely accessible to visitors.
The tour continues to the northern shore of Lake Constance. We visit Salem Castle, once the most powerful abbey in the region. An astonishing amount of splendor and pomp awaits us there - as well as spacious grounds with a baroque courtyard garden. The complex with its long corridors with portraits of former dignitaries and the state hall looks more like a huge castle than a Cistercian monastery characterized by work and prayer. Yet scenes from simple everyday life in the monastery can be studied in the former dining room: The baroque tiled stove shows men doing handicrafts, fishing, working and studying books in the library.
The unusually magnificent appearance of the buildings has its reason in a devastating fire in 1697, explains castle administrator Birgit Rückert. Reconstruction began shortly thereafter - but the abbots of Salem were also important churchmen by then and no longer took monastic modesty very seriously. This was reflected in the architectural style and furnishings. The monastery owned huge estates, cultivated fruit and wine, managed forests and created fish ponds.
Fortunately, the minster held was exposed to the flames at the time. Today, together with its interior, it is one of Salem's most important sights: after Ulm and Freiburg, it is the third largest Gothic church building in Baden-Württemberg.
After the great fire the Cistercians at Salem installed a fire protection system that was highly modern for those times - and today it forms the basis for the exciting exhibition in the fire department museum in Salem. There you can see a variety of historical disaster equipment: fire extinguishing syringes from four centuries, old hoses and ladders as well as the first fire insurance policies. Those who are more interested in the history and art treasures of the town can visit the monastery museum, which is part of the Baden State Museum.
Monks live in Salem no longer today. Nevertheless, the tradition of education lives on here day after day: since 1920, the castle has been home to a boarding school where young people from all over the world live and learn.
Cover photo: What a location: Reichenau Island in Lake Constance © Oliver Raatz
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