The church

Begun in 1716 by Philipp Blank, the abbey (and parish) church of Wel­tenburg was rad­i­cal­ly revised from 1720 on by Cos­mas Dami­an Asam. Its white, cut-stone façade, off­set against the old-rose plas­tered walls of the monas­tic build­ings, is rem­i­nis­cent in its Pal­la­di­an pro­por­tions and Roman mon­u­men­tal­i­ty of a tri­umphal arch­way – an impres­sion con­veyed pri­mar­i­ly by the triple round-arched win­dows – or, with its clas­si­cal ped­i­ment, of an ancient tem­ple. The rel­a­tive­ly flat façade was exe­cut­ed by local stone­ma­sons.  Its cen­tral axis dis­plays a dynam­ic move­ment which seems to soar towards heav­en. This impres­sion is cre­at­ed by the sequence of a del­i­cate­ly arched door­way, the large, round-arched cen­tral win­dow pierc­ing the cor­nice (with its hint of a bene­dic­tion bal­cony), the clock, and the tri­an­gu­lar ped­i­ment capped by a lead-encased stone cloud bear­ing a stat­ue of St. Bene­dict by Franz Anton Neu (d. 1758). The impact of this sym­bol­ic design can only be grasped from the Danube Gate, a van­tage point from which the façade of the church is bal­anced by the con­cave retain­ing wall of the abbey court­yard, with the Guardian Angel group adorn­ing its balustrade, and by the great drum of the Baroque dome soar­ing seem­ing­ly weight­less above it. Only then does it become evi­dent that the church front is an image of the Por­ta coeli through which St. Bene­dict ascend­ed from tem­po­ral exis­tence (rep­re­sent­ed by the clock) into the eter­ni­ty of Heav­en­ly Jerusalem rep­re­sent­ed by the drum of the dome with its 12 sun-spoked win­dows). Ges­tur­ing vig­or­ous­ly towards this celes­tial image, the order’s founder and patron is trans­formed into a medi­a­tor and teacher admon­ish­ing his wards, whose earth­ly sojourn is placed under the pro­tec­tion of the stat­ue of the guardian angel. These two stat­ues also indi­cate the monas­tic lin­eage of the Wel­tenburg com­mu­ni­ty (St. Bene­dict), and con­firm the community’s affil­i­a­tion (since 1686) to the Bavar­i­an Bene­dic­tine Con­gre­ga­tion (the guardian angel).

While the drum of the dome may already sug­gest a cen­tred archi­tec­tur­al struc­ture, the exte­ri­or of the church hard­ly pre­pares the vis­i­tor for the aston­ish­ing wealth of forms and the opu­lence of the Baroque embell­ish­ments of the inte­ri­or. This over­whelm­ing impres­sion is the basis for the fame both of Wel­tenburg and the Asam broth­ers who cre­at­ed it. The elder Asam mould­ed the space formed by the rec­tan­gle of Philipp Blank’s walls into a large domed ellipse – the first of its kind in Bavar­i­an church archi­tec­ture. At the ends of its long axis, he added two small­er, sim­i­lar­ly round­ed spaces: to the west lies the vestibule, with the monas­tic choir above it, and to the east we find the sanc­tu­ary with its attached round­ed apse. The cen­tral ellipse of the church gains its full archi­tec­ton­ic dom­i­nance from the broad inward sweep of the entab­la­ture, which ris­es above a mas­sive bro­ken cor­nice to cul­mi­nate in the small­er dome cut into its cen­tre. The whole is set on a cru­ci­form axis marked by four equal­ly lofty semi­el­lip­ti­cal arch­es, accen­tu­at­ed by sym­met­ri­cal­ly paired mar­ble columns, which open onto the sanc­tu­ary and vestibule at either end, and onto a wide cen­tral bay on each side of the main ellipse. With­in that ellipse, the four diag­o­nal­ly placed nich­es con­tain­ing the side altars remain spa­tial­ly sub­or­di­nate, rhyth­mi­cal­ly punc­tu­at­ing the larg­er open­ings and keep­ing well below the sur­round­ing cor­nice rather than break­ing through it. Although pre­fig­ured else­where in the work of sig­nif­i­cant ear­li­er archi­tects, the com­pound dome at Wel­tenburg remains, in its inti­mate union of archi­tec­ture, paint­ing and (stuc­co) sculp­ture, a unique artis­tic syn­the­sis. At its apex, the out­er dome seems to open out to the sky (as it does in real­i­ty in the Pan­theon in Rome), and heav­en itself seems tan­gi­ble, not only in the paint­ing adorn­ing the flat wood­en clo­sure of the out­er dome, but also in the light effect from the win­dows of the drum, which are con­cealed by the exu­ber­ant fres­coes of the inner dome. A sim­i­lar the­atri­cal effect recurs at the east­ern end of the church, where a light-filled apse hid­den behind the tri­umphal arch of the high altar rere­dos pro­vides dra­mat­ic backlighting.

In order to height­en this effect, the light in the main body of the church is inten­tion­al­ly sub­dued; its only direct source are being the win­dows above the cor­nice in the side bays, both of which are dimmed by the prox­im­i­ty (to the south) of the steep face of the Frauen­berg and (to the north) of the monas­tic build­ing around the quad­ran­gle. In its mon­u­men­tal­i­ty, for­mal idiom, and dom­i­nant colour-scheme of gold, brown, and grey – appar­ent not only in the stuc­co reliefs, but also in the columns and pilasters of Wel­tenburg mar­ble – this rel­a­tive­ly small (19.5 m x 14.5 m) Baroque nave can claim to be the most Roman of the Asams’ sacred structures. 


The west entrance is orna­ment­ed with a tra­di­tion­al dec­o­ra­tive pro­gramme of apoc­a­lyp­tic scenes, the cen­tral fea­ture being F. E. Asam’s ceil­ing paint­ing of the “Last Judg­ment” (1745). Around it are grouped his uncle’s stuc­co reliefs of the “Four Last Things”: Death (whose arrows none can escape); Judg­ment (with trum­pet, book, sword, and scales); Hell (with ser­pent, flames and torch­es); and at the tran­si­tion to the main part of the church, Heav­en (the soul sym­bol­ized by a heart look­ing at the Holy Trin­i­ty). Between these images, the “Four Sea­sons” (flow­ers for spring, sheaves and fruit for sum­mer, bare branch­es for autumn, and a stove for win­ter) express the tran­sience of earth­ly life. In both form and dec­o­ra­tion, the low vestibule antic­i­pates the ele­ments of the nave. Thus, the two mar­ble con­fes­sion­als by J. J. Kürschn­er (1736) – which bear F. A. Neu’s stuc­co busts of the typ­i­cal pen­i­tent saints Mary Mag­dalen and Peter (1751) – point to the heav­en­ly sphere depict­ed in the dome.

High altar

To the vis­i­tor enter­ing the dim church from the vestibule, the “The­atrum sacrum” of the high altar beck­ons in the dis­tance, flood­ed by the light from the high, sun-like win­dow of the apse. This work was begun in 1721 by Egid Quirin Asam and paint­ed in 1724 by his sis­ter Maria Salome (mar­ried Born­schlögl), but the altar was not fin­ished until 1734. The altar rere­dos opens in a lofty cen­tral arch flanked by paired Solomon­ic (corkscrew) mar­ble columns. Through this tri­umphal arch­way rides the church’s patron, St. George. The red Tem­plar cross on his breast iden­ti­fies him as a Roman-Chris­t­ian hero (and explains its pres­ence in the Wel­tenburg arms), and his armour reflects the dom­i­nant back­light­ing. Raised on a mon­u­men­tal plinth, he flour­ish­es his flam­ing lance at a drag­on which rears up at him in anger, while to his left an equal­ly vivid Libyan princess hasti­ly flees her oppres­sor. In its pyra­mi­dal com­po­si­tion, this scene from the saint’s leg­end is high­ly dra­mat­ic in itself, but it is made even more so by the the­atri­cal light­ing effects. Plung­ing from the radi­ance of heav­en into the dim inte­ri­or of the church, St. George is staged as the arche­typ­al Chris­t­ian war­rior in the bat­tle of light with dark­ness. This motif is echoed in the fig­ure of Mary Immac­u­late crush­ing the ser­pent in the apse wall fres­co by Cos­mas and Franz Asam which forms a back­drop for the sculp­tur­al group. From the clouds high above this scene, God the Father extends a pro­tec­tive hand over his combatants.

From this dynam­ic scene, two fur­ther life-size plas­ter­work stat­ues form a tran­si­tion to the per­spec­tive of the audi­ence: on the left stands St. Mar­tin, the abbey church’s sec­ond patron, whose leg­endary goose hiss­es angri­ly at the drag­on, while a naked put­to wrapped in the folds of the bishop’s cloak does duty for the beg­gar of Amiens; on the right we find the abbot St. Mau­rus, the name­sake of the Abbot Mau­rus Bächl who ini­ti­at­ed the Baroque rebuild­ing of Wel­tenburg. For this rea­son the stat­ue of the saint has the facial fea­tures of the builder. The paint­work imi­tat­ing mar­ble con­nects the stat­ues with anoth­er group at the apex of the rere­dos, where, framed by the Archangels Gabriel and Michael, the Vir­gin Mary is assumed bod­i­ly into heav­en, await­ed by her Son (who is depict­ed in the ceil­ing fres­co above). The the­mat­ic coher­ence of this scene with the apse wall fres­co is evi­dence enough that the Asam broth­ers remod­elled the high altar group even before it was completed.

A fur­ther lev­el of mean­ing is pro­vid­ed by the mag­nif­i­cent full coat of arms of Prince-Elec­tor Max Emanuel (who vis­it­ed Wel­tenburg in 1721) at the top of the tri­umphal arch; he sought to rein­state the Wit­tels­bach Order of the Knights of St. George, a goal ulti­mate­ly achieved by his son, Karl Albrecht, in 1729. The good rela­tions between Wel­tenburg and the Bavar­i­an rul­ing house are again the­ma­tized in the sanc­tu­ary ceil­ing fres­co, which por­trays Duke Tas­si­lo III as the abbey’s founder.

Dome painting

With its com­bi­na­tion of fres­co, lime­wash and sec­co tech­niques, the strong­ly lit paint­ing of the inner dome presents a har­mo­ny of blue, gold-ochre and red that is best seen in per­spec­tive from the west­ern focus of the church’s main ellipse. Odd­ly, the some­what inde­pen­dent tem­ple rotun­da (a so-called monopteros) which uni­fies the painting’s com­po­si­tion does not present the type of illu­sion­is­tic con­tin­u­a­tion of the church’s archi­tec­tur­al lan­guage which is so typ­i­cal of Baroque art. The base of this cir­cle of columns remains hid­den, and so seems to be weight­less. Medi­at­ing between the sub­dued light of the real space below and the light-filled heav­ens above is a frame-like wood­en coro­na held up by angels around the rim of the out­er dome – a sym­bol­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the crown of life that awaits the faith­ful at Heaven’s Gate. And peer­ing over the south­ern edge of this coro­na, we find the smil­ing bust of Cos­mas Dami­an Asam (cre­at­ed by his broth­er), with the sig­na­ture oblique­ly behind him (dat­ed 1721) iden­ti­fy­ing him as the cre­ator of the ceil­ing fres­coes and archi­tect of the church.

The massed fig­ures pop­u­lat­ing the dome rep­re­sent the con­gre­ga­tion of saints assem­bled before the cloud-borne throne of God. Above the  per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of the church tri­umphant which crowns the sanc­tu­ary arch, they are arranged in hier­ar­chi­cal order from the vic­to­ri­ous fig­ure of St. George (trans­posed, as it were, from the high altar) to the Blessed Vir­gin, humbly await­ing her coro­na­tion, to the Holy Trin­i­ty itself, which forms the cen­tre of the scene. At the north­ern edge of the fres­co, the apos­tles are led by St. Peter; with St. Rupert tak­ing his place among them as the apos­tle of the Bavar­i­ans, to which he is said to have brought the mirac­u­lous Madon­nas of Altöt­ting and Wel­tenburg (Frauen­berg). Fur­ther on, the Archangel Gabriel fore­tells the birth of their son, John the Bap­tist, to the priest Zachary and his wife Eliz­a­beth; the Holy Kin­dred is com­plet­ed by the fig­ures of Mary’s par­ents, Joachim and Anne, and her spouse, Joseph – all of whom belonged to the House of David. King David him­self is por­trayed next in con­cert with St. Cecil­ia, the patron of church music. Their prox­im­i­ty to the monks’ choir and the organ makes the ref­er­ence of the paired fig­ures unmis­tak­able. A sim­i­lar inten­tion­al ref­er­ence is pro­vid­ed by the pen­i­tent Mag­dalen and the Angel of Judg­ment which pro­vide a tran­si­tion to the vestibule below.

Begin­ning again on the south­ern rim of the dome, one finds St. Peter, the foun­da­tion stone of the Church, stand­ing oppo­site St. Bene­dict, the founder of the order and the Rule to which the abbey adheres, and his sis­ter St. Scholas­ti­ca. Under his pro­tec­tion, we find Abbot Mau­rus Bächl, the builder of Wel­tenburg, and the monks of this com­mu­ni­ty. Between this group and the church’s sec­ond patron, St. Mar­tin of Tours, stands a fig­ure bear­ing the facial fea­tures of Egid Quirin Asam – close to the laugh­ing stuc­co bust of his broth­er. This panoply of fig­ures is com­plet­ed by St. Wolf­gang, one of the patrons of the dio­cese of Regens­burg, the sib­ling saints Placidus und Flavia (all mem­bers of the Bene­dic­tine Order), and final­ly by a dense throng of jubi­lant female saints, among them the saints Hele­na, Ursu­la, Bar­bara, and Catherine.

Wall frescoes

Also cre­at­ed by C. D. Asam, albeit some­what lat­er (c. 1735), fur­ther wall paint­ings adorn the two cen­tral side bays: On thenorth side, the paint­ings brack­et the mar­ble pul­pit made by J. J. Kürschn­er in 1732, form­ing a coher­ent the­mat­ic com­po­si­tion: The pulpit’s sound­ing board is crowned by an impos­ing stuc­co stat­ue of the order’s founder, St. Bene­dict, admon­ish­ing the lis­ten­ers to be atten­tive to his words. On the left side of the pul­pit, those who heed his words (or those of the preach­er in the pul­pit) fol­low the path of virtue to Heav­en­ly Jerusalem, for­ti­fied by the grace of the Gospel which has been unlocked for them by the ser­mon. The suc­cess­ful con­ver­sion of those who had at first despised the word of God by St. Bene­dict and his order is depict­ed to the right of the pulpit.

The paint­ing in the south­ern bay, which suf­fered ear­ly in its his­to­ry from ris­ing damp, doc­u­ments the glob­al mis­sion of the Bene­dictines for the King­dom of God and the sal­va­tion of humankind. The his­tor­i­cal exam­ple which it depicts is Colum­bus’ sec­ond arrival in Amer­i­ca in 1493 with twelve Bene­dic­tine monks on board of the “San­ta Maria”. That this stal­wart ves­sel, which mas­tered all per­ils and hard­ships, is also meant to sym­bol­ize the Church is appar­ent from the sculpt­ed rocks on either side of Kürschner’s marble

Side altars

Each of the four nich­es set diag­o­nal­ly in the main body of the church con­tains a side altar (1735–36) fur­nished with a canopy sup­port­ed by twist­ed columns in the mar­bled stuc­co typ­i­cal of E. Q. Asam’s work. The paint­ing by his elder broth­er at the north-east­ern altar shows “Christ’s Death on the Cross”, accom­pa­nied by angels, while the paint­ing of the “Coro­na­tion of the Blessed Vir­gin” by the Land­shut mas­ter Matthias Daburg­er (1690–1763) on the south-east­ern altar shows a the­o­log­i­cal con­se­quence of Christ’s redemp­tive mis­sion: the celes­tial crown­ing of Mary by the Holy Trin­i­ty. The oth­er two side-altar paint­ings (both by the elder Asam) illus­trate, at the north-west altar, the vision in which St. Bene­dict saw the entire world lit in a beam of light, and at the cor­re­spond­ing south-west altar the leg­end of St. Mau­rus sav­ing the young monk Placidus from drown­ing. Com­ple­men­tary to this nar­ra­tive, the sil­vered wood­en relief medal­lions by E. Q. Asam on the side altar pre­del­las depict a Guardian Angel, St. Joseph, St. Scholas­ti­ca, and St. John Nepomuk.

Stucco reliefs

Adorn­ing the low­er dome shell of the dome above each of these side altars, we find four large reliefs (1721) by E. Q. Asam Exe­cut­ed in ele­gant gild­ed stuc­co on a green bro­cade back­ground, they depict the archangels Raphael, Michael, Uriel, and Gabriel, their head­gear indi­cat­ing the four then known parts of the earth which they pro­tect­ed. Between these fig­ures, gild­ed stuc­co reliefs by the same mas­ter con­nect the real space of the nave (both for­mal­ly and the­mat­i­cal­ly) with the illu­sion­ary heav­en­ly space of the dome fres­coes above. Above the sanc­tu­ary arch, in the “Death of St. Bene­dict”, the saint, still on his feet, expires in the arms of his brethren. This is jux­ta­posed with the “Death of St. Scholas­ti­ca”, Benedict’s sis­ter, on the west­ern side. Her soul is depict­ed as ascend­ing to heav­en in the shape of a dove. The two reliefs on the long sides depict scenes from Benedict’s life: to the south, the con­struc­tion of the order’s moth­er house at Monte Cassi­no in 529 (com­plet­ed in spite of the devil’s inter­ven­tion); to the north, the prophe­cy of the immi­nent death of the Ostro­goth King Toti­la. These eight reliefs are sep­a­rat­ed by flat bands dec­o­rat­ed with the so-called “St. Bene­dict Medal­lion”, which con­tin­ue the upward line of the mighty pilasters around the nave. The four high flat­tened arch­es are crowned by typ­i­cal Asam fig­ures of the evan­ge­lists, John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with the last-named, the patron saint of artists, placed imme­di­ate­ly below the above-men­tioned stuc­co bust  of C. D. Asam.

Organ and the monks’ choir

Leav­ing the church, one pass­es beneath the mag­nif­i­cent Wel­tenburg mar­ble gallery cre­at­ed for the organ by Pietro Francesco Gior­gi­oli. This organ, built in
1728–29), is char­ac­ter­is­tic of the famous organ builder J. K. Bran­den­stein. In its present form, it has 13 reg­is­ters, which are played from a sin­gle man­u­al and ped­al. Look­ing up to the gallery from the nave, one sens­es a light-filled room behind the organ, tied archi­tec­ton­i­cal­ly to the main space of the church by the sur­round­ing cor­nice. Reached com­fort­ably via a spi­ral stair­case, the monks’ choir is an inti­mate space ded­i­cat­ed to choral recita­tion. Beneath the ceil­ing vault of 1736, with its Asam fres­co admon­ish­ing the brethren to atten­tive prayer, the horse­shoe-shaped ranks of pol­ished oak and spruce wood choir stalls (c. 1730) are orna­ment­ed with carv­ing and inlay work.

Main (8′)
Gam­ba bas­so (8′)
Gam­ba disc. (8th’)
Echo (8′)
Copel (8′)
Dol­drums (4′)
Gemshorn (4′)
Quint (3′)
For­est dol­drums (2′)
Supe­r­oc­tave (2′)
Mix­ture triple (1′)
Octave (4′)

sub bass (16′)
octave bass (8′)

Man­u­al range: C, D, E. F, G, A — c’
Ped­al range: C, D, E, F, G, A – a°. The man­u­al reg­is­ters also sound via the ped­al, so it is “attached” and has two addi­tion­al ped­al registers.
Mechan­i­cal actions left in their his­tor­i­cal condition.
The wind tur­bine works with a fan and mag­a­zine bel­lows or with three recon­struct­ed wedge bel­lows, as they were com­mon in 1729; they are wound either by hand or by elec­tric motors, as in the past, as is the case with our recording.

Audio exam­ple: Pas­torale in F major, BWV 590 from the CD Donauk­löster Wel­tenburg, Met­ten, Nieder­al­taich, avail­able in the monastery shop.


The bells I — III come from the Otto bell foundry, Hemelin­gen near Bre­men, 1948. Their patrons are St. Bene­dict, St. Georgius and the Holy Guardian Angel.

I.g’ + 2. “The devi­a­tions from the tones of tem­pered tem­pera­ment typ­i­cal of bells are giv­en in six­teenths of a semi­tone. The ref­er­ence tone is a’ = 435 Hz.” (Kurt Kramer in “The Bell and its Ring­ing”), Ø 102 cm, approx. 650 kg, wood­en yoke, hourly strike of the clock.
Inscrip­tion: 547 PAX 1947 JUBILATE DEO, effi­gy: “St. Benedict.”

II.a’ + 4, Ø 90.5 cm, approx. 500 kg inscrip­tion; ESTOTE FORTES IN BELLO – Be stead­fast in bat­tle, effi­gy: St. George

III. h’ + 4, Ø 80 cm, approx. 320 kg. Inscrip­tion: ANGELUS DEI VOBISCUM EST – The angel of God is with you. Image: A guardian angel.

IV. Cast in 1642 by Georg Schelchshorn in Regens­burg, d” – 3, Ø 71.5 cm, approx. 250 kg. Quar­ter hour strike of the clock. Inscrip­tions: Two lines on the shoul­der: CAMPANAM ISTAM FIERI CVRAVIT MATTHIAS ABBAS IN WELTENBVRG ANNO MDCXLII (Abbot Matthias in Wel­tenburg caused this bell to be cast in 1642). GEORG SCHELCHSHORN FROM REGENSBVRG GOS ME — AVS DEM FEVER FLOS ME
(In a 1986 art guide, the bell is erro­neous­ly list­ed as “no longer in exis­tence” under the artists’ and craftsmen’s names — Schelchshorn.)

Audio sam­ple of the bells, CD Donauk­löster Wel­tenburg, Met­ten, Nieder­al­taich, avail­able in the monastery shop