Münsterschwarzach Abbey, dedicated to the Holy Saviour, the Virgin Mary and Saint Felicity, was founded before 788 as a nunnery. It was a private foundation of the Carolingian ruling house: the abbesses were daughters of the imperial family, for example Theodrada (d. 853), a daughter of Charlemagne. After the death of the last Carolingian abbess, Bertha, in 877, the nuns left the abbey and it was taken over by Benedictines.
Münsterschwarzach became a centre of monastic reform during the 12th century, when Bishop Adalbero of Würzburg, who was in close contact with the reform movements of Cluny, Gorze and Hirsau, appointed Egbert of Gorze as abbot. Egbert not only reformed and renewed the spiritual life of Münsterschwarzach but then, through the spread of the subsequent Münsterschwarzach Reforms, exerted an influence far beyond it, from Harsefeld Archabbey near Stade in the north to Melk and Lambach in the south.
In the 18th century a Baroque basilica was commissioned from Balthasar Neumann, with frescoes in the cupolas by Holzer; it was dedicated in 1743 by Bishop Friedrich Karl von Schönborn.
In 1803 the abbey was dissolved in the course of the secularisation of Bavaria. The monastic buildings were auctioned off. In 1805 the abbey church was sold and deconsecrated. In 1810 the buildings were struck by lightning and severely damaged by the subsequent fire, and between 1821 and 1827 the remains of the church were entirely demolished, and those of the monastic buildings largely demolished.
In 1913 the remains of the old abbey were re-acquired by the Missionary Benedictines, along with the necessary land to support it. The first abbot after the restoration was Dom Placidus Vogel (1914-1937). He was followed by Dom Burkhard Utz (1937-1959) and Dom Bonifaz Vogel (1959-1982), a nephew of Abbot Placidus. The monumental abbey church with its four towers was built between 1935 and 1938, when it was dedicated. The architect was Albert Bosslet.
Between 1941 and 1945 the abbey was confiscated by the National Socialists and used as a military hospital. Although the monastic community had been expelled, some monks were able to remain as workers in the hospital. It reopened after the war.References:
The Externsteine (Extern stones) is a distinctive sandstone rock formation located in the Teutoburg Forest, near the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg. The formation is a tor consisting of several tall, narrow columns of rock which rise abruptly from the surrounding wooded hills. Archaeological excavations have yielded some Upper Paleolithic stone tools dating to about 10,700 BC from 9,600 BC.
In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul (sacral pillar-like object in German paganism) idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne; there is however no archaeological evidence that would confirm the site's use during the relevant period.
The stones were used as the site of a hermitage in the Middle Ages, and by at least the high medieval period were the site of a Christian chapel. The Externsteine relief is a medieval depiction of the Descent from the Cross. It remains controversial whether the site was already used for Christian worship in the 8th to early 10th centuries.
The Externsteine gained prominence when Völkisch and nationalistic scholars took an interest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This interest peaked under the Nazi regime, when the Externsteine became a focus of nazi propaganda. Today, they remain a popular tourist destination and also continue to attract Neo-Pagans and Neo-Nazis.