Saturday, 20 August 2016

Monastic Island Reichenau

Last week we have visited the Pile dwellings, a UNESCO site on the shores of Lake Constance. But this is not the only UNESCO site in this area. Today I will be happy to take you to yet another one - the Monastic Island of Reichenau.

The Reichenau Island is the biggest island on Lake Constance. It is connected to the land by a small causeway created in 1838.

At the beginning of the eight century, a monk called Pirmin (who later became Saint Pirmin) founded there a Benedictine monastery, in which the monks prayed and worked ("ora et labora"). Their primary work related to the books. Since Gutenberg invented the printing centuries later, the Benedictine monks were re-writing precious manuscripts by hand.

The first church was located in the village called Mittelzell. It is dedicated to Virgin Mary and Saint Marc.

The interior of the church is really modest, almost refreshing after all the baroque cathedrals drowning in gold.

The church was built in the the Romanesque style. You can easily see it by the type of arches supporting the ceiling. Not as high as in the gothic style, invented much later.

On the walls, the old frescoes could probably tell more stories than we could understand.

When they were not praying or working in their famous garden, the monks of Reichenau were spreading christianity amoung surrounding Allemanic nations. This brought them close with the Frankonian and Germanic kings. The Carolingian Emperor Charles III the Fat is buried in the Mittelzell church.

At the end of the eight century another church was build, dedicated this time to Saint Peter and located in Niederzell. Did I mention that Reichenau was famous for its agriculture? Well, it still is, you can even judge by yourself.

From the original church only the towers survived the turmoil of time.

The main part of the church was rebuilt. Luckily it was done with a lot of good taste.

Only the ceiling is decorated with an amazing painting. It completes the original frescoes in the old part of the church, near the altar.

Those of you who speak German surely noticed that we have been in the Mittelzell (or the Middle Cell) and in the Niederzell (or the Lower Cell). Of course there is also an Upper Cell - Oberzell. And of course there is yet another church there, dedicated to Saint George. Unfortunately, it was closed when I arrived there. Really bad luck since it caters some of the most magnificent murals depicting the miracles of Christ. These unique pieces of art from the tenth century are the witnesses of the Ottonian Renaissance.

The Benedictine monks were forced to leave Reichenau in the middle of the eighteenth century. They only returned here in 2001. I hope that you have enjoyed this walk on the peaceful island that despite its small size had an immense impact on the culture of France, Germany and Switzerland over the last thousand years.

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