The Imperial Abbey of Kempten was an ecclesiastical state of the Holy Roman Empire for centuries until it was annexed to the Electorate of Bavaria in the course of the German mediatization in 1803.

Located within the former Duchy of Swabia, the Princely Abbey was the second largest ecclesiastical Imperial State of the Swabian Circle by area, after the Prince-Bishopric of Augsburg. According to the 11th-century chronicles by Hermann of Reichenau, the monastery of Kempten dedicated to Virgin Mary and Gordianus and Epimachus was established around 752 under its first abbot Audogar. According to other sources, it was however erected by two Benedictine monks from the Abbey of Saint Gall, Magnus of Füssen and Theodor, who also founded the St Mang's Monastery in Füssen.

The abbey had financial and political support from the ruling Carolingian dynasty, mainly from Hildegard of Vinzgouw, the second wife of Charlemagne, and her son Louis the Pious. It soon became one of the more prominent monasteries in the Carolingian Empire. It was rebuilt in 941 by the abbot Ulrich of Augsburg after Magyar raids.

The status of Imperial immediacy was confirmed by King Henry IV of Germany in 1062. The Kempten abbots assumed the title of a Prince-abbot in the 12th century. In 1213 the Hohenstaufen king Frederick II of Germany vested them with comital privileges in the abbey's territory and in 1218 also ceded the rights of a secular Vogt protector, confirmed by his son King Henry VII in 1224.

Several attempts under their successors Conrad IV and Rudolph I to regain the secular lordship ultimatively failed. The abbey's development of an Imperial estate was accomplished with the bestowing of a single vote in the Imperial Diet in 1548.

By a privilege granted by King Rudolph I, the town of Kempten had freed itself from the authority of the abbot and became a Free imperial city, starting a long rivalry. When during the German Peasants' War in 1525 the Kempten Prince-abbot had to seek shelter within the city walls, he was forced to sell his last property rights in the Imperial City in the so-called “Great Purchase”, marking the start of a tense co-existence of two independent estates bearing the same name next to each other.

More conflict arose after the Imperial city of Kempten from 1527 onwards converted to Protestantism in direct opposition to the Catholic monastery. The citizens signed the 1529 Protestation at Speyer and the 1530 Augsburg Confession. In turn, Kempten Abbey joined the Catholic League in 1609. During the Thirty Years' War, the monastery buildings were burnt to the ground by Swedish troops in 1632.

From 1651, the Kempten Prince-abbot Roman Giel of Gielsberg commissioned a princely residence and the new abbey church St. Lorenz Basilica, one of the first major churches to be built after the war in Germany. Still in 1706, Kempten was the center of a religious controversy, when the abbot confiscated a Reformed church, which provoked King Frederick I of Prussia to confiscate all Benedictine properties until the church was returned.

Emperor Charles VI granted the monastery complex town privileges in 1728, however, an autonomous municipality was not established. In 1775 the abbey ordered the last witchcraft trial in the Holy Roman Empire, when Anna Maria Schwegelin was sentenced to death by decapitation, though the verdict was not enforced.

During the Napoleonic Wars the abbey's territory was occupied by Bavarian troops in 1802 and was formerly dissolved in the subsequent German mediatization. The abbey's territory as well as the Imperial city of Kempten were annexed by Bavaria, in 1819 both territories were merged into a single communal entity within the Kingdom of Bavaria.

References:

Comments

Your name



User Reviews

Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Quimper Cathedral

From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.

Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).

The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».

The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.