Rüeggisberg Priory was founded between 1072 and 1076 by Lütold of Rümligen. He granted the property and estates to Cluny Abbey making it the first Cluniac house in the German-speaking world. Under Cuno of Siegburg and Ulrich of Zell the first cells were built. Construction of the Romanesque church lasted from about 1100 to about 1185, of which there still remain the north transept and parts of the crossing tower. The Priory was dependent on Cluny Abbey and normally had a prior and two to four monks from Cluny. In 1148, it had two priories that were dependent on Rüeggisberg, in Röthenbach im Emmental and Alterswil.
At its peak the priory controlled estates throughout what is now the Canton of Bern, including Guggisberg, Alterswil, Plaffeien and Schwarzenburg as well as scattered farm houses and vineyards on the shores of Lake Biel.
The priory was one of the most important monastic houses of Switzerland during the Middle Ages, but in the late medieval period decline set in, and in 1484 it was incorporated into the newly built college of the Augustinian Canons of Bern Minster. By 1532, when much of the town was destroyed in a fire, the Priory was abandoned. The church was shut down in 1541 during the Reformation. The monastic buildings thereafter served as a source of building stone and partly as a barn.
Between 1938 and 1947 on an archaeological dig the old foundations were again laid bare, as may be seen in the little museum next to the rectory.
The ruins are generally open to the public, though they may be reserved for picnics or other gatherings. Each November an advent market is held in the ruins and over the years a variety of open air plays and concerts have been held here. Between Easter and September, church services are held monthly in the ruins.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.