The Imperial Abbey of Irsee is a former Benedictine abbey, now a conference and training centre for Bavarian Swabia.
According to tradition, the monastery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was founded in 1182 by Margrave Heinrich von Ursin-Ronsberg, to house a community that had grown up around a local hermit. The monastery was first established at the long-abandoned Burg Ursin, the margrave's ancestral castle, where St. Stephen Church’s cemetery is now located. A few years later, the monks headed by their first abbot Cuomo, decided to build a new monastery in the valley below where water was more readily available. The original name Ursin or Ursinium was eventually changed to Irsee.
During the troubled 14th century Irsee came close to collapse due to poor harvest, famine, war and excessive expenses by pleasure-loving abbots. It was saved only by the intervention in 1373 of Anna von Ellerbach, the second founder, sister of the Bishop of Augsburg, and her appointee, abbot Conrad III, known for his extreme frugality. Prosperity was restored within 20 years and during the late Middle Ages, Irsee Abbey had become one of the major abbeys in the diocese of Augsburg.
The abbey was nearly obliterated during the German Peasants' War and again during the Thirty Years' War. It was ravaged no less than five times by Swedish troops and then devastated by Imperial Croat troops and French troops. Its library as well as its archives were destroyed. For many years the monastery was so destitute that it could not accommodate even half a dozen monks. The abbey was finally able to put itself back on a stable footing in the later 17th century.
Irsee recuperated quickly but in 1662 the powerful prince-abbot of Kempten purchased the right of advocacy, which limited the autonomy of the abbey. In 1694, following the election of the energetic Romanus Köpfle as the new abbot in 1692, Irsee succeeded in obtaining the status of an Imperial abbey, which it will keep until it was dissolved in 1802.
In 1699 the dilapidated church tower collapsed and damaged the choir of the old Romanesque church built in 1194, which prompted Abbot Romanus to undertake the revamping of the church and monastery buildings. The construction project was greatly expanded by its successor, abbot Willibald Grindl and the monastery buildings were completely rebuilt. The plans have been attributed to Magnus Remy, an Irsee monk, who also created many of the paintings in the church. During the long rule of Abbot Bernard Beck (1731-1765), Irsee became a center of intellectual and scientific life in Swabia and beyond. Irsee’s natural history collection with its instruments of mathematics and physics were famous.
After 1849, the buildings served as an asylum and hospital for the mentally ill. Between 1939 and 1945 more than 2,000 patients, both adults and children, were transported by the then regime from Irsee and Kaufbeuren to death camps.References:
The original Cochem Castle, perched prominently on a hill above the Moselle River, served to collect tolls from passing ships. Modern research dates its origins to around 1100. Before its destruction by the French in 1689, the castle had a long and fascinating history. It changed hands numerous times and, like most castles, also changed its form over the centuries.
In 1151 King Konrad III ended a dispute over who should inherit Cochem Castle by laying siege to it and taking possession of it himself. That same year it became an official Imperial Castle (Reichsburg) subject to imperial authority. In 1282 it was Habsburg King Rudolf’s turn, when he conquered the Reichsburg Cochem and took it over. But just 12 years later, in 1294, the newest owner, King Adolf of Nassau pawned the castle, the town of Cochem and the surrounding region in order to finance his coronation. Adolf’s successor, Albrecht I, was unable to redeem the pledge and was forced to grant the castle to the archbishop in nearby Trier and the Electorate of Trier, which then administered the Reichsburg continuously, except for a brief interruption when Trier’s Archbishop Balduin of Luxembourg had to pawn the castle to a countess. But he got it back a year later.
The Electorate of Trier and its nobility became wealthy and powerful in large part due to the income from Cochem Castle and the rights to shipping tolls on the Moselle. Not until 1419 did the castle and its tolls come under the administration of civil bailiffs (Amtsmänner). While under the control of the bishops and electors in Trier from the 14th to the 16th century, the castle was expanded several times.
In 1688 the French invaded the Rhine and Moselle regions of the Palatinate, which included Cochem and its castle. French troops conquered the Reichsburg and then laid waste not only to the castle but also to Cochem and most of the other surrounding towns in a scorched-earth campaign. Between that time and the Congress of Vienna, the Palatinate and Cochem went back and forth between France and Prussia. In 1815 the western Palatinate and Cochem finally became part of Prussia once and for all.
Louis Jacques Ravené (1823-1879) did not live to see the completion of his renovated castle, but it was completed by his son Louis Auguste Ravené (1866-1944). Louis Auguste was only two years old when construction work at the old ruins above Cochem began in 1868, but most of the new castle took shape from 1874 to 1877, based on designs by Berlin architects. After the death of his father in 1879, Louis Auguste supervised the final stages of construction, mostly involving work on the castle’s interior. The castle was finally completed in 1890. Louis Auguste, like his father, a lover of art, filled the castle with an extensive art collection, most of which was lost during the Second World War.
In 1942, during the Nazi years, Ravené was forced to sell the family castle to the Prussian Ministry of Justice, which turned it into a law school run by the Nazi government. Following the end of the war, the castle became the property of the new state of Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate). In 1978 the city of Cochem bought the castle for 664,000 marks.