Nestled in the tiny town of Maulbronn in the Enz Province of Baden-Württemberg, Germany, sits the Maulbronn Monastery, a Romanesque-style monastery with a long past. This Monastery, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a long and bloody past but is also a beautiful and unique place to visit.
The name comes from ‘Maul’ (mule) and ‘Brunnen’ (fountain/well/spring), which comes in turn the foundation story. The monks used a mule to find water at the site and then built the monastery in the 1140s. It quickly became a Vogt (an administrative unit of the Holy Roman Empire based on hereditary); there was a layman who controlled the lands of the Abbey (although not the religious order part) and was known as the ‘protector of the Abbey’. The Abbey often struggled (sometimes violently) with families who tried to use the Abbey to gain more power.
The 14th and 15th centuries saw the Abbey grow physically, control surrounding land and villages and generally become quite rich. The 16th century however was not as kind. In 1505, the Duke of Württemberg laid siege and captured the monastery where he built stables and a hunting lodge. Then began the pillaging. In 1519 and in 1525, peasants overran and sacked the Monastery. It would have been destroyed if the leader of the second peasant sacking hadn’t stopped the peasants from demolishing the buildings.
The Reformation in 1517 saw the Duchy of Württemberg change from Catholic to Protestant. As a result, it did not tolerate the Catholic order at Maulbronn. During the Thirty Years’ War, the Monastery changed hands between Protestants and Catholics several times before finally returning to the Duke’s possession. He converted the monastery to a seminary (religious school) in 1556. Johannes Kepler, the famous mathematician/astronomer, studied here from 1586 to 1589.
In 1630 the Monastery became Catholic again before the Swedes pushed the monks out in 1633. It returned to being a seminary before changing to Catholic again the following year. In 1648 the Peace of Westphalia settled the religious issue once and for all for Protestantism. As a result, the Abbey reopened as Protestant and the seminary followed suit a few years later. Finally, in 1807 the Abbey became secular and lost its semi-independence from the rest of Württemberg.
The Monastery was originally built in the Romanesque style was also the first place in Germany where a building (in addition to the monastery) was constructed using the Gothic style. The Monastery is also a place where beer-lovers and architects can really come together. Beer (of the heavy, wheat-based variety) was part of the daily meals of the monks. In the area used for dining, beer came from outlets near the ceiling. The beer would flow down the pillars of this dining hall (this was a continuous motion, not something that was on demand at the time) and the monks would fill up their tankards at the nearest column to where they were sitting. Think about having something like that in your home!
The monastery today
Today, the Monastery is part tourist attraction and part seminary. It is the best-preserved monastery (or monastery complex) north of the Alps and it was the first place in Germany where the Gothic style was used. If you are in the area, I would definitely recommend a visit! Admission is €7 (I think students and seniors get a discount) and you buy the tickets at the door.
Another thing to think about when visiting the Monastery to see what concerts are playing. Concert styles range from classical and organ music to jazz and big band style. Past performances include philharmonic orchestras and choir groups.
Here are some more photos from the monastry:
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