Neustadt am Main Abbey

Neustadt am Main, Germany

Neustadt am Main Abbey was first mentioned in a document dating to 768/769. Reportedly, the consecration of the abbey church was in 793. Berowelf, who succeeded Megingoz as Bishop of Würzburg, sent 50 monks to join him at this Nivenstat or Nuovenstatt ('new place').

To establish the new foundation's independence from Würzburg, Megingoz succeeded in making it a Königskloster, chartered by the Franconian king and not subject to control by a bishop. Charlemagne is known to have supported the abbey financially and gifted it with large properties in the nearby Spessart hills.

With substantial land holdings in the region, the abbey rose to become one of the most important in Franconia and monks from Neustadt played a key role in bringing Christianity to the Saxons from Verden an der Aller, working closely with the abbey at Amorbach, which was often led by the same abbot as Neustadt.

During the struggles for independence, the abbey's position and wealth was repeatedly damaged by its Vögte, the lords of Grumbach (from 1243 the Counts of Rieneck). In 1148, Marquard von Grumbach built Rothenfels Castle on abbey land contrary to the abbot's wishes, but with support from the bishop. The Rieneck family also managed to take many rights and privileges from the abbey. In 1343, the bishop tried to force an administrator from a Würzburg monastery on the abbey. Depending on the power positions of emperor and bishop, the fortunes of the abbey changed. Emperor Charles IV supported the abbey, freeing it from the jurisdiction of the Würzburg Landgericht (court) and granted it a toll on the river Main.

However, despite these struggles the abbey was also successful in protecting and even expanding its territory in the face of rival feudal rulers like Rieneck, Würzburg and the Archbishop of Mainz, who held territory in the Spessart. It established two Probsteien: in 1264 at Einsiedel and in 1336 at Retzbach, where the Benedictines of Neustadt were also in charge of the important pilgrimage to Maria im Grünen Tal.

Early modern period

The abbey was sacked and its church desecrated during the Peasants' War in 1525. The church was rededicated in 1534/35.

In 1555, Johann Fries became abbot and converted to Lutheranism. When Friedrich von Wirsberg was made Prince-bishop of Würzburg in 1558 he immediately took steps and had all documents and charters of the abbey seized and brought to Würzburg, thus robbing the abbey of any means of legal defence.

Making use of this, when abbot Martin Knödler refused to rebuild the church for financial reasons, Prince-bishop Julius Echter deposed him, appointing Prior Valentin Minor as administrator in 1615. Echter forced the abbey to rebuild in 1615-23, causing it to incur substantial debts. The old monastery was demolished and replaced by new buildings, the church was rebuilt. Further damage followed in the Thirty Years' War, when the abbey was occupied by Swedish troops in 1633 and plundered twice (in 1636/37 and 1648). From 1632 to 1634 during the Swedish occupation of Franconia, the abbey became the property of Laurentius Gubben von Nabben. In 1635, six monks died during an outbreak of the plague.

A late flowering of the abbey and local arts and sciences came under abbot Bernhard Krieg (1703–29) who had many Baroque buildings in the area constructed. Under abbot Benedikt Lurz (1764–88) the long feud with Würzburg was finally settled.

Dissolution and later history

The last abbot, Johann Weigand (1788-1803) successfully led the abbey during the period of the French Revolutionary Wars. However, on 22 January 1803, the abbey was dissolved during secularization. 19 brothers and two novices were expelled. The abbey's properties were given to Prince Konstantin von Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg in compensation for losses of territory west of the Rhine.

In 1869-79, the parish church was rebuilt after its destruction by lightning in 1857. In 1907, what remained of the abbey buildings was taken over by nuns of the 'Dominican Order of Saint Catherine of Siena' from South Africa. By the early 1960s, the monastery had been rebuilt.

Structures

The current parish church was formerly the abbey church St. Maria und St. Martin. Although findings indicate earlier structures in this location, the current building mostly dates from the early 12th century. It was built in Romanesque style from local sandstone.

Under abbot Krieg small changes were made and a choir and a sacristy added. Another renovation followed in 1837 under the Princes of Löwenstein-Wertheim. A fire caused by lightning destroyed the church and much of the monastic buildings around it in 1857. The church was subsequently reconstructed based on plans by Heinrich Hübsch in Romanesque Revival style, by builders Friedrich Wießler and Wilhelm Sentjens, and rededicated in 1879. Despite the substantial changes made at that point to the medieval structure, the church is considered one of the most important Romanesque buildings in the region.

The interior ornaments and the redesign of the apse followed in 1913/14. Father Riedmann, the priest at the time, had sold off various valuable Romanesque works of art to what is today the Mainfränkisches Museum at Würzburg. In return, the church received plaster casts of the pieces, financial support and two paintings loaned from the Pinakothek at Munich.

Today, the church features numerous works of art, including Baroque altars and paintings, as well as late Romanesque reliefs/spolia and tombs from Gothic through Renaissance times. The Romanesque baptismal font (c. 1150) is present only as a copy. A Madonna figure attributed to the workshop of Tilman Riemenschneider can be found in the Marienkapelle. A small museum over the chapter hall contains additional pieces of art.

The location of the original abbey church from the 8th century is controversial. It may have been at the site of today's clergy house, where remains of a small church have been discovered. It may have been where the 12th-century church stands today. Or it may have been sited where larger foundations were excavated in 1968/69, north of the parish church.

These foundations are all that remains of the chapel of St. Peter und St. Paul. It possibly served as a first temporary chapel to the newly arrived monks, later expanded. However, the structures visible today are located on top of remains of a smaller and earlier church. They are thus unlikely to be Carolingian and are thought to date to the late 10th or early 11th century. A layer of ash may indicate that the earlier church was destroyed by fire, which could indicate a connection with the Hungarian raids of the 9th/10th century. St. Peter und St. Paul was redesigned in the early 12th century. The larger chapel was definitely used by the 17th century as a burial site for the local clergy. It was demolished in 1841. Due to 20th-century excavations, the foundations can now be viewed again.

St. Michael on the Michaelsberg mostly dates from the first half of the 13th century, with some significant alterations made in 1729-33. It stands on the foundations of two previous structures. The earlier one was an aisleless church with an apse to the east. The second, smaller one, had no choir and was likely half-timbered with no masonry foundations. The earlier chapel likely dates from the period 770-850.

The top of the hill is surrounded by an almost rectangular rampart measuring 120 m by 100 m. It was probably built between 770 and 850. and likely served as a retreat for the people of the village on the river as well as an outlook over the river, the Via Publica and the nearby Royal forest.

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Details

Founded: 760-793
Category: Religious sites in Germany
Historical period: Part of The Frankish Empire (Germany)

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