Weesen Abbey, established in 1256, is the oldest Dominican monastery of nuns in Switzerland. The buildings and the library (about 8,400 works) respectively archives are listed in the Swiss inventory of cultural property of national and regional significance.
In 1259 Count Rudolf IV von Rapperswil, Countess Elisabeth's father, donated certain duties and lands for the construction of their monastery. Initially, the community was supported by Predigerkloster Zürich, because its close relationship to the House of Rapperswil. Heinrich III, Bishop of Konstanz, in 1272 issued the authorization to build a chapel, and called a Dominican priest for the fair, the sacraments and the pastoral care of the nunnery.
After the defeat of the House of Habsburg at Näfels on 9 April 1388, the city of Weesen was burned down. At the beginning of the 15th century, the town was rebuilt, again as a confederate of the Habsburg family, being then an open settlement at its present location at the Dominican convent. As one of the few monasteries in Switzerland, Weesen widely was spared from the repercussions of the 1520s Swiss Reformation, probably not least because the monastery still eked out a poor existence, so there was no reason for looting. Nevertheless, the iconoclasm lay lamed the monastic life briefly, and the sisters fled to a two-year exile. On their return, the nuns found their monastery desecrated and devastated.
Only in the second half of the 17th century, the convent completely recovered. But also some pastors of the town of Weesen repeatedly tried to undermine the preferential rights of the monastery. Thanks to the episcopal safeguards, the monastic life, however, remained untouched. The life of the monastic community ever has been ruled by simplicity and poverty, and its history is closely connected to the small town of Weesen. To date there is a good relationship between the people of Weesen and the nunnery.
Probably the original monastery church was built in the area of the present guest house in the southernly wing of the present building complex. Between 1688 and 1690 the nunnery was rebuilt and its church was richly decorated. The basic shape of the church was also given to the monastery as it exists today. Until recently, the community severed repeatedly, in particular, in the 18th century the monastery was three times heavily affected by the river's water, and the foundations even partially washed-away.
The church and monastery guest house are open to the public, but the other sections of the nunnery are part of the private area (Klausur) of the monastic community.
From 1688 to 1690 a new building was erected, which was no longer open, but designed as a closed, compact square, in contrast to the previous three-winged church. In the baroque new building some components of the original construction phase were integrated, as well as the church interior. With its onion dome, the church forms the west wing of the square-shaped building complex. In 1822 the new organ in the choir of the monastery church was completed for the amount of 323 Gulden. The organ was moved to the gallery in 1884, and in 1958 replaced by a new instrument. The oldest still visible components are the 200-year-old ceiling beams.
The library includes works of asceticism, mysticism and liturgy. The reference library is located in the enclosure area, and is therefore usually not open to the public, but intake by agreement with the librarian. The library occupies two rooms in the northeastern part of the monastery.References:
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.