BW Story - CMR
The Spiritual Centre of the World
Great works of art, winegrowing and living spirituality all contribute to the cultural wealth of Lake Constance. The region's many monasteries and convents have long been an important feature. Visit Reichenau Island and Salem.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
This island really has it all: great spiritual and cultural depth, as well as being easy-going to an almost Mediterranean extent. The monastic island of Reichenau has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. And tour guide Uwe Anker is convinced that it's not just the architecture of the island's three famous churches that's important here, but also the everyday culture that's still lived even now and is part of the monastic tradition. As a Catholic, he grew up on Reichenau, and as a member of the parish council, a choir member and head of education, he is personally committed to keeping the faith alive. "We celebrate three religious holidays on the island," he says, adding, "In the Middle Ages, Reichenau was the spiritual center of the Holy Roman Empire for a while.
It's so hard to believe because this vegetable-growing island seems so small and idyllic. You have to go back in time to understand. A certain Pirmin founded the first Benedictine monastery on German soil on Reichenau Island in 724. His successors became powerful churchmen, at times holding the offices of Imperial Archchancellor and Archbishop of Mainz in personal union.
The monks built three magnificent churches on Reichenau Island - St. Mary and St. Mark in Mittelzell, St. Peter and St. Paul in Niederzell, and St. George in Oberzell. And each of them harbors unique cultural treasures, such as the relic of the Holy Blood in the Minster of St. Mary and St. Mark, the 11th-century apse painting in St. Peter and St. Paul, or the even older, enormous cycle of paintings with scenes from the life of Jesus in St. George. Uwe Anker brings things to life when he talks. It's a pleasure to discover the island's monastic past with him, especially now that it also has a modest monastic future. A few years ago, three Benedictine monks and two nuns arrived on Reichenau Island. They live in the small St. Benedict Cella and revive old traditions with their services and the liturgy of the Divine Office.
Famous Cistercian Abbey
Salem Monastery and Castle
We travel on to the north shore of Lake Constance to visit what was once the region's most powerful abbey, Salem Monastery and Castle, built from 1134. The Margraves of Baden took over the property in 1802, and since 2009, Salem has been owned by the state of Baden-Württemberg.
Walking through the great hall, admiring the baroque tiled stove in the former dining hall, or gazing at Bernhard Strigel's famous nocturnal painting for the altar of Our Lady, it is hard to imagine Salem as a strict Cistercian abbey steeped in work and prayer. "This is because on a cold March night in 1697, this place experienced a gigantic catastrophe," explains Birgit Rückert, the castle's administrator. An oven overheated and exploded, and everything but the farm buildings and the church quickly burned to the ground. Reconstruction began immediately, Rückert continues, but was no longer taken so seriously because of monastic modesty and because the abbots of Salem had become important men. The abbey owned huge estates, grew fruit and grapes for wine, managed forests, and created fish ponds. All are still features of the surrounding countryside.
Monks may no longer live here, but at least one tradition remains strong. Monasteries have always seen themselves as committed to education, and part of the baroque ensemble has housed Salem's boarding school since 1920. Young people from all over the world study there.