St. Matthias' Abbey is a Benedictine monastery in Trier. The abbey church, a Romanesque basilica, is a renowned place of pilgrimage because of the tomb of Saint Matthias the Apostle, after whom the abbey is named, located here since the 12th century, and the only burial of an apostle in Germany and north of the Alps. The abbey was originally named after Saint Eucharius, first Bishop of Trier, whose tomb is in the crypt. The church has been given the status of a basilica minor.
St. Matthias' Basilica, which was dedicated on 13 January 1148, combines four functions. It is the parish church of the parish of the same name; the monastic church of the Benedictine community; a pilgrimage church centred on the tomb of Saint Matthias the Apostle; and the burial church of the first bishops of Trier, Eucharius und Valerius. The church building, like all such, is in a constant state of tension between on the one hand the preservation and care of the structure, and on the other the need to meet current demands.
The basilica has therefore been thoroughly transformed during a long-drawn-out exercise in cleaning up and alteration. The crypt has been extended by a further two bays and provided with new means of access. The place of the veneration of Saint Matthias the Apostle, as well as the altar space, have been adapted to modern requirements. Stable choir stalls have been built for the monks' choir.
In the Chapel of the Cross (Kreuzkapelle) in the north side-tower of the basilica is kept the reliquary of the cross, or 'staurotheca'. It dates from the 13th century and is made of worked gold; in the centre is a golden cross set with precious stones, which is said to contain pieces of the True Cross. The Chapel of the Cross is accessible on guided tours.
Monks have lived in the present St. Matthias' Abbey since late antiquity. The monastery adopted the Rule of St. Benedict in about 977. Since the 10th century the bones of the founders of the Archbishopric of Trier, bishops Eucharius and Valerius, have been preserved here.
The bones of the Apostle Matthias were supposedly sent to Trier on the authority of the Empress Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, but the relics were only discovered in 1127 during demolition work on the predecessor of the present church buildings, since which time the abbey has been a major centre of pilgrimage.
Efforts to reform in the wake of the Council of Basle, under Johannes Rode, the Carthusian prior appointed by the bishop, led to spiritual and economic renewal, to the extent that St. Matthias' became an example for other monasteries. The attempt to found a congregation round it came to nothing, however, and St. Matthias' in due course joined the Bursfelde Congregation in 1458.
The abbey passed through the Reformation almost unscathed, but it was badly affected by wars and looting, and also by conflicts with various bishops or abbots. The last abbot was relieved of his office as early as 1783, years before the actual dissolution of the abbey, and management from then on lay in the hands of the prior.
When the troubles of the French Revolution spilled over onto German territory, the abbey buildings were requisitioned by the French army, and monks were obliged to leave the abbey, at first with the intention that this was to be a temporary absence, living from 1794 to 1802 in the parish house (Mattheiser Pfarrhaus). In 1802 however the abbey was nationalised and secularised. When the premises were sold off, the local businessman Christoph Philipp Nell acquired the bulk of the main building complex and used it with little alteration for his residence, thus preserving it from the demolition and gross alterations for industrial purposes that befell many other monastic buildings at this period.
After several attempts to revive the monastery in the 19th century, monks from Seckau Abbey, part of the Beuron Congregation, moved into the Mattheiser Pfarrhaus after World War I. On 22 October 1922 the main building complex was rededicated as a Benedictine abbey and resettled. The new community joined the Beuron Congregation.
In 1941 the National Socialist government suspended the monastery and the monks moved to Maria Laach Abbey. After their return in 1945 there was dissension over the care of the parish of St. Matthias, which was now independent of the Benedictine order, for whom parochial duties with the secure income they provided represented a staple economic resource. It was recommended that the monastic community should move to Tholey Abbey in the Saarland, a move which split the community between those who were willing to go to Tholey, and those who preferred to stay in Trier. Those monks who remained in St. Matthias' became independent of any congregation, and remained so until 1981, when they joined the Congregation of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.References:
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