Abbey & Church

A Short Guide to Weltenburg

The Bene­dic­tine abbey of Wel­tenburg is the old­est monastery in Bavaria and was found­ed around 600 AD. by the monks of St. Colum­banus. It is sit­u­at­ed near the entrance to the scenic Danube gorge, on the north­ern slopes of the Arzberg moun­tain, near the site of the ancient Celtic set­tle­ment of Artobriga. 

 

The baroque church was built by the archi­tect broth­ers Cos­mas Dami­an Asam and Aegid Quirin Asam. Work began in 1716 by order of Mau­rus Baechl, Abbot of Wel­tenburg from 1713 to 1743; the entrance hall com­plet­ing the build­ing was fin­ished in 1751 by Franz Anton Neu. 

In the entrance hall, we find sym­bol­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Four Last Things (death, judge­ment, heav­en and hell) and the four sea­son which remind us of the pass­ing of all things Earth­ly. Fur­ther­more, there is an oil paint­ing by Franz Asam depict­ing the Last Judge­ment; the two con­fes­sion­als with reliefs of St. Peter and St. Mary Mag­dalen doing penance invite us to med­i­ta­tion and contemplation. 

The main body of the church con­sists of an oval space inter­rupt­ed by four large nich­es. The west niche con­tains the organ and choir gallery. The organ case was dec­o­rat­ed by Cas­par Mayr; the organ, built in 1728 by Kon­rad Bran­den­stein, is the only one of its kind to sur­vive into our time. 

In the south niche there is an al fres­co paint­ing depict­ing Christo­pher Colum­bus’ land­fall in Amer­i­ca, accom­pa­nied by Chris­tian­i­ty embod­ied by twelve Bene­dic­tine monks led by St. Bene­dict and the Vir­gin Mary. In the north­ern niche, we find the pul­pit made of columns of Wel­tenburg mar­ble reach­ing up to touch the cov­er which depicts St. Bene­dict teach­ing the first words of his Rules in Latin: “Lis­ten, my son”. Thus, the con­gre­ga­tion is exhort­ed to be lis­ten­ers, like the fig­ures on the left of the pul­pit, drink­ing the water of life flow­ing from the Gospel. The large niche to the east opens toward the pres­bytery and the main altar. 

Between those four large nich­es, we find four small­er nich­es that con­tain match­ing altars designed by Aegid Quirin Asam. The two altar paint­ings in the nich­es to the rear of the church depict St. Bene­dict in med­i­ta­tion and St. Mau­rus sav­ing St. Placidus, respec­tive­ly. In the front two nich­es, the pic­ture over the altar of the Holy Trin­i­ty shows the coro­na­tion of the Vir­gin Mary, a paint­ing by Matthias Daburg­er, while the paint­ing of Jesus being mourned by five angels over the altar of the Holy Cross is a work by Cos­mas Dami­an Asam, as are the pait­ings over the rear altars. Below the altar paint­ings, we find stuc­co medal­lions show­ing St. Scholas­ti­ca, St. John Nepo­muk, St. Joseph and a Guardian Angel with a child. 

Angels are fre­quent­ly depict­ed through­out the church, as in 1686 the monastery became part of the Bavar­i­an Bene­dic­tine Con­gre­ga­tion of the Holy Guardian Angels. In the half cupo­la, for instance, we see the Archangels in gild­ed stuc­co relief: Raphael, Michael, Gabriel (with the rosary), and Uriel with the incense of adoration. 

Above the sanc­tu­ary arch, we find a depic­tion of the death of St. Bene­dict; oppo­site, above the organ, the death of his sis­ter, St. Scholas­ti­ca. On the north side, we see Toti­la, king of the Ostro­goths, stand­ing before St. Bene­dict; oppo­site, the build­ing of the abbey of Monte Cassi­no in Italy, in 529 AD. Below these, each arch sup­ports one of the four Evan­ge­lists. The builder of the church, Cos­mas Dami­an Asam, looks down from between the breast­work of the half cupo­la, above St. Luke and a coro­na of stars. 

The large niche in the front of the church opens toward the the­atri­cal high altar rere­dos. Here, we see St. George, patron saint of the monastery, killing the drag­on and sav­ing the king’s daugh­ter. Behind, suf­fused with bright light, we see the Vir­gin crush­ing the ser­pent. To the left of St. George stands St. Mar­tin, the sec­ondary patron, on the oth­er side, we see St. Mau­rus depict­ed with the fea­tures of abbot Mau­rus Baechl. Above the rere­dos arch we see Elec­tor Karl Albrecht, lat­er Emper­or Charles VII. At the top of the rere­dos, we find a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Vir­gin, greet­ed on the one side by the Archangel Gabriel, while on the oth­er anoth­er angel hands her the scep­tre of dom­i­na­tion. This rep­re­sents at once the Annun­ci­a­tion and the Assump­tion of Mary; above, the risen Christ awaits her. 

On the ceil­ing in front of the high altar we find a sym­bol­ic depic­tion of Reli­gion with the sec­u­lar founder of the monastery, Duke Tas­si­lo of Bavaria, and St. Benedikt. 

The paint­ings in the nave ceil­ing, appear­ing to rise into a cupo­la flood­ed with light, are a high point of baroque style. We see the Trin­i­ty crown­ing the Vir­gin Mary as moth­er of the Church, and lead­ing a pro­ces­sion of the faith­ful depart­ed into the aspect of God. On the north side, there are the apos­tles togeth­er with St. Rupert, who con­se­crat­ed the abbey as well as the hill­side chapel con­tain­ing Our Lady of Wel­tenburg, a pil­grim­age stat­ue from the 15th cen­tu­ry. Behind those Saints, we see St. John the Bap­tist and St. Joseph. Above the organ, King David is play­ing his harp to St. Mary Mag­dalen, St. Cecil­ia, the patron saint of music, and four oth­er holy women. On the south side, St. Mar­tin approach­es with the monks under his patron­age, led by Abbot Baechl, St. Scholas­ti­ca and St. Bene­dict. St. George with the drag­on stands beside the Church Triumphant. 

In this church, the mys­ti­cal the­ol­o­gy of St. Diony­sius Are­opagi­ta with its main prin­ci­ples of purifi­ca­tion, enlight­en­ment, and uni­fi­ca­tion, has found a pow­er­ful artis­tic representation.