Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A short trip to Germany - Black Forest - Part 1

Whenever I go to visit my family in South Germany,
halfway between Strassburg-France and Basel-Switzerland
(to give you a geographic idea),
having a bit of a "wallpaper change",
I always make some outings or/and excursions to the Black Forest.

At my recent short trip in June I planned to visit some of the  beautiful priories and small monasteries,
 almost hidden in the valleys and mountains of the Black Forest.

St. Ulrich  
just about 40 minutes drive from the University city Freiburg i. Breisgau

 St. Ulrich's Priory in the Black Forest (St. Ulrich im Schwarzwald)
was a priory of Cluny Abbey (in Burgundy)
founded in the valley of the River Möhlin in the Black Forest in about 1083.

The origins of the Cluniac priory of St. Ulrich lie in the time of the Investiture Controversy
when Ulrich of Zell (d. 1093), a monk of Regensburg and Cluny, 
founded a priory of the latter house on the western edge of the Black Forest. 
In the process Ulrich took over an already existing monastic community,
 founded before 1072 on the Tuniberg (near Ober- and Unterrimsingen),
which had moved between 1077 and 1080 to Grüningen near Oberrimsingen.
 Ulrich was considerably helped in this matter by the strong links with Cluny
 which had already been built up by the founder of the existing monastery, 
the nobleman Hesso of Eichstetten and Rimsingen, 
and by Hermann I, Margrave of Baden (d. 1074). 


At Ulrich's instigation the community moved yet again in about 1087, this time to Zell in the Möhlin valley, 
where in 868 there had been a cell of the Abbey of St. Gall. Burkhard of Hasenburg (or of Fenis), Bishop of Basle from 1072 to 1107, obtained possession for the priory of the surrounding land, which was in need of clearance.

This, the only Cluniac house on the right bank of the Rhine, developed very satisfactorily. 
The priory's estates included possessions in the Breisgau, Alsace and in the Ortenau
 it owned inter alia the rectories of Grüningen, Wolfenweiler, Bollschweil and Hochdorf, 
and in 1315 exchanged the contested rectory of Achkarren for that of Feuerbach.

The Vögte (lords protector) were: the Counts of Nimburg
the Bishops of Strasbourg (1200); the Hohenstaufen Kings (1236); 
the Counts of Freiburg im Breisgau; and the Dukes of Further Austria (1445).

Coat of arms-Fresco inside the church

The priory and settlement were referred to both as "Zell" and as "St. Ulrich's" until the 14th century, 
when St. Ulrich's became the established name.
The monastic community declined in the 13th century. 
Repeated visitations from Cluny bear witness to a drastically reduced community, 
of four to seven monks and the prior. 
There was some revival under Prior Paulus von Kůnheim (1448–1489), 
but the community lost all independence during the Reformation.


St. Ulrich's became in 1547 a priory of St. George's Abbey in the Black Forest,
 and then in 1560 of St. Peter's Abbey in the Black Forest, into which it was fully incorporated in 1578.
In 1806, during secularisation, it was dissolved at the same time as St. Peter's.


Walking through the gate into the courtyard

there is this amazing Taufscheinschale - Baptismal font...

 ...made of red sandstone in the 11th Century (1)


And when you open the door to the church,
the former monastery church which was build between 1739 and 1742
by the wellknown Austrian building master Peter Thumb,

....it feels like coming to a "Baroque Heaven"



joyful Putties everywhere.....

detail of one of the side altars with St. Barbara



...it's as if they accompany their music-making friends with singing....


...with fervent joy....

...and delight.

The mural and ceiling paintings - frescoes

tell of the life of St. Ulrich

Saint Ulrich of Zell, also known as Wulderic
sometimes of Cluny or of Regensburg (1029 – 1093), 
was a Cluniac reformer of Germany, abbot, founder and saint.

Statue of St. Ulrich

Ulrich was born at Regensburg in Bavaria in early 1029. 
His parents, pious and rich, were Bernhold and Bucca, niece of Bishop Gebhard II of Regensburg
Ulrich was probably educated at the school of St. Emmeram's Abbey, along with William of Hirsau
with whom he remained friends throughout his life, but in 1043 he was called to the court of his godfather, Henry III, King of the Germans where he acted as page to Queen Agnes
who was of the ducal house of Aquitaine, patrons of the reforming Abbey of Cluny
Ordained deacon by his uncle Nidger, Bishop of Freising, he was made archdeacon of the cathedral there, 
but was deeply moved by the spirit of reform that was sweeping from Cluny through the 11th century church. 

On his return from a journey to Rome he distributed his possessions to the poor, 
made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and, after another short visit to Rome, returned to Regensburg, 
where he founded a religious community, 
and then entered the Abbey of Cluny in 1061, during the abbacy of Saint Hugh.
Here he was ordained priest and appointed confessor to the convent at Mareigny in the diocese of Autun
and prior of the community of men in the same place. 
He also lost an eye and was obliged to return to Cluny.

In later life he was then named prior at Peterlingen (now Payerne) in the Diocese of Lausanne, but on account of troubles caused by Bishop Burchard von Oltingen, a partisan of Henry IV, Ulrich returned again to Cluny, where he acted as adviser to the abbot. His influence drew the Benedictine community of Rüeggisberg to become a Cluniac priory in 1072, the first reformed priory in German-speaking lands [1]. A nobleman had donated to Cluny some property at Grüningen near Breisach, and Ulrich was sent to inspect the place and eventually to lay the foundation of a monastery. Not finding the locality suitable, he and his monks moved in 1087 to Zell (Sell, Sella, Villmarszelle) in the Black Forest, where his high reputation soon brought him many disciples. He enjoyed the good opinion of Blessed Gebhard III, Bishop of Basle, who frequently visited him. In 1090 he established Bollschweil Priory, a Cluniac nunnery at Bolesweiler (now Bollschweil), about a mile from Zell. For the last two years of his life he was blind.

He died at Zell, later known as St. Ulrich im Schwarzwald
probably on 10 July 1093. 
He was buried in the cloister, but three years later his body was brought into the church.


His feast was celebrated for the first time on 14 July 1139, 
and 14 July remains his feast day.

Ceiling frescoes


all frescoes created by
Franz Ludwig Herrmann (* 7. Januar 1723 in Ettal; † 25. Juli 1791 in Konstanz)


 The High Altar

left: statue of St. Barbara - right: St. Ulrich

St. Barbara

High Altar with statues

St. Petrus  (left)


St. Paulus  (right)


detail of the Orgue


detail of one of the Madonna statues


...that's how we felt...

...when we left, 
heading back light-hearted to "real world",
back to Freiburg.

Passing by....

...Cows and 


...having their peaceful siesta.

A memorable day!

To be continued with Part 2 - Black Forest and St. Märgen....

Photo credit:
Image (1) and all church interior images with great thanks to Andreas Praefke

Peter Thumb (1681–1767) was an Austrian architect whose family came from the Vorarlberg, the westernmost part of Austria. He is best known for his Rococo architecture, mainly in Southern Germany. Outstanding examples of his work include the pilgrimage church at Birnau on Lake Constance and the monastery library at the Abbey of Saint Gall, Saint Gallen, Switzerland.


  1. I am amazed at all the beauty you beheld. The marble in the church is gorgeous, too. It makes me wonder what life was like back then. Thanks for sharing your trip. xo Jenny

  2. Thank you for the tour and history; I feel like I have taken a trip from my desk. Stunning photographs.

  3. Loved this + I feel like I was in your pocket for the tour + great images. xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

  4. Your photos are wonderful! I was trying to map where you were in relation to my location in Switzerland. One of the things that amazes me here is how different the architecture is from one country to another...in spite of how close geographically they are to one another.

  5. The cows and goats, at least, never change! Or not much ---
    Such rich associations for me in this post. Where we have gone most often in France is to the ecumenical monastic community at Taize, whose nearest town is Cluny, where we are well acquainted with the ruins of the Mother House, since we often went to town for special chocolates or the occasional glass of wine at a cafe. Now thanks to your post about one of Cluny's "daughters" it is more apparent to me how huge and grand the original Cluny Abbey was! I don't have much of a visual imagination, so it's always before appeared small to me, like what remains. Your account speaks of the intricate crisscrossings of all of these churches and churchmen and history! Here is Ulrich resting in the Black Forest, but before that, he was living in Cluny ---
    And it is through the German friends we originally met at Taize that we have traveled so much in Germany, seeing many of the exuberant later churches that your post also brings to awakened memory! Thank you for a wonderful time out of time.

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