Maulbronn Monastery

Maulbronn Monastery (German: Kloster Maulbronn) is a former Cistercian abbey and UNESCO World Heritage Site located at Maulbronn, Baden-Württemberg. The monastery complex is one of the best-preserved in Europe. The monastery's narthex, called "the Paradise", is the oldest example of Gothic architecture in Germany.

Maulbronn Monastery
German: Kloster Maulbronn
Maulbronn Abbey, circa 2017
Location map and miscellaneous data
Maulbronn Monastery
49°0′4″N 8°48′46″E
DenominationPre-Reformation church
Previous denominationCatholic Church
DedicationVirgin Mary
Official nameMaulbronn Monastery Complex
CriteriaCultural: (ii), (iv)
Inscription1993 (17th Session)

It is part of the Northern Black Forest Monastery Route with Alpirsbach, Hirsau, and Reuthin monasteries.[1]

The complex, surrounded by turreted walls and a tower gate, today houses the Maulbronn town hall and other administrative offices, a police station, and several restaurants. The monastery itself contains an Evangelical seminary in the Württemberger tradition and a boarding school.

An average of 235,000 persons visit the monastery per annum.[2]


Imperial Monastery of Maulbronn

Reichskloster Maulbronn
Coat of arms
StatusImperial Abbey
Historical eraMiddle Ages
 Founded as Imperial abbey
 Placed under Imperial protection
 Seized by Württemberg
 Monastery alternates between Protestantism and Cistercians
 Peace of Westphalia settles monastery to Protestantism
 Seminary merged with that of Bebenhausen
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Bishopric of Speyer
Kingdom of Württemberg
Today part of Germany

As early as 1138, the Cistercians had established a religious community in Eckenweihar (now Eckenweiler), a plot of land donated by a free knight named Walter von Lomersheim.[3] Twelve monks and an unspecified number of lay brothers, from Neubourg Abbey in Alsace,[4] arrived at Eckenweihar on 23 March 1138.[5] The site was soon abandoned, however, as it was found by the monks to have water and pasture space in poor quality and quantity.[6] Günther von Henneberg, Bishop of Speyer, deeded the fiefdom of Mulinbrunn from Hirsau Abbey to the Eckenweihar community and moved the latter community there in 1147.[7][8][lower-alpha 1] Local legend tells that the Cistercians decided to use a mule to locate water, and built the monastery at its present location when it found water. The etymology of the name "Mulenbrunnen," the root of Maulbronn ("Maul" is German for "Mule"), reveals that the monastery was likely founded at the site of a spring and a watermill.[9]


From 1156, the monastery was a Vogtei of the Holy Roman Empire, and was confirmed in 1332. However, the abbey continued chose to be under the protection of the Bishop of Speyer, who awarded the title as a sub-Vogt to his minister Heinrich von Enzberg, who would from 1236 appear in documentation as the protector of the abbey. Over the following decades, Maulbronn monastery would struggle, sometimes violently, with the von Enzbergs who tried to use their protection of the monastery to expand their own power base. From 1325 onward the Rhenish Palatine Counts were entrusted with the Vogt title.

In 1525, during the German Peasants' War, the monastery was looted by rebel forces. Their leader, Jäcklein Rohrbach, stayed at Maulbronn for a time and complained to Hans Wunderer of the disorganization of the peasant force who were unable to decide whether to demolish or ransom the abbey. Due to Rohrbach's intercession, Maulbronn Abbey still exists today.

Because the Duchy of Württemberg became Protestant, the monks of the abbey were no longer tolerated by the political authority of the state. The monastery was at first intended to be a collection monastery (German: Sammelkloster) for retired monks from all the remaining monasteries in Württemberg. In 1537, the abbot and the convent moved to Pairis Abbey in Alsace, the abbot died 1547 in Einsiedeln. After the defeat of the Schmalkaldic League, Ulrich had to return the monastery to the Cistercians in 1546-47.

The Peace of Augsburg gave the Duke the right to decide on the faith of his subjects. In 1556 he issued the Württemberger Klosterordnung, a decree that would form the basis for a regulated education system in all the remaining monasteries for men in Württemberg. The conversion of the monastery into a school remained legally disputed for a long time, the Emperor trying twice to reverse this development. During the Interims from 1548–1555 and 1630–1649 due to the Imperial restitution edicts, monks could return to the monastery due to the temporary political situation of the time.

The possessions of the Abbey grew first and foremost through donations and endowments. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the abbey's possessions were realigned via purchase so as to make its boundaries more compact. At the end of this development, the monastery's possessions included 20 villages, called Klosterflecken. Besides the income provided by the abbey's immediate surroundings, there were also cottage industries in Illingen, Knittlingen, and Unteröwisheim and 6000 acres of forest, spread out over 25 villages, that were administered by the abbey. Land privileges were loaned out for additional income in addition to the tithe, giving the abbey enormous income as a result, illustrated by the size of the abbey's granary. To manage this income, the abbey had seven Pfleghöfe, located in Illingen, Kirchheim am Neckar, Knittlingen, Ötisheim, Speyer, Unteröwisheim and Wiernsheim.

Ulrich, Duke of Württemberg became the owner of Maulbronn in 1504.[10] After the Reformation began in the year 1517, Ulrich built his hunting lodge and stables here. The monastery was pillaged repeatedly: first by the knights under Franz von Sickingen in 1519, then again during the German Peasants' War six years later. In 1534, Duke Ulrich secularized the monastery, but the Cistercians regained control — and Imperial recognition — under Charles V's Augsburg Interim.

In 1556, Christoph, Duke of Württemberg, established a Protestant seminary,[11] with Valentin Vannius becoming its first abbot two years later although the Reformation banned religious orders and abbots; Johannes Kepler studied there 1586–89.

In 1630, the abbey was returned to the Cistercians by force of arms, with Christoph Schaller von Sennheim becoming abbot. This restoration was short-lived, however, as Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden forced the monks to leave again two years later, with a Protestant abbot returning in 1633; the seminary reopened the following year, however the Cistercians under Schaller also returned in 1634. Under the Peace of Westphalia, in 1648, the confession of the monastery was settled in favor of Protestantism; with abbot Buchinger withdrawing in process. A Protestant abbacy was re-established in 1651, with the seminary reopening five years later. In 1692, the seminarians were removed to safety when Ezéchiel du Mas, Comte de Mélac, torched the school, which remained closed for a decade.

The monastery was secularized by King Frederick I of Württemberg, in the course of the German Mediatisation in 1807, forever removing its political quasi-independence; the seminary merged with that of Bebenhausen the following year, now known as the Evangelical Seminaries of Maulbronn and Blaubeuren.

The monastery, which features prominently in Hermann Hesse's novel Beneath the Wheel, was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1993. The justification for the inscription was as follows: "The Maulbronn complex is the most complete survival of a Cistercian monastic establishment in Europe, in particular because of the survival of its extensive water-management system of reservoirs and channels". Hesse himself attended the seminary before fleeing in 1891 after a suicide attempt, and a failed attempt to save Hesse from his personal religious crisis by a well-known theologian and faith healer.

The Paradise and the fountain in the lavatorium appear on the 2013 German Bundesländer series 2 euro coin.[12] 30 million of these coins were minted in Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, and Hamburg.[13]


Maulbronn was constructed in a Romanesque style,[14] then native to Swabia. Motifs of the "Hirsau style" are uniform pillars and the rectangular frames around the Romanesque arches, as at Maulbronn. Near the end of the 12th century the architecture of the Cistercians became influenced by Gothic architecture, which required less stone than the Romanesque style, and the order began disseminating it from northeastern France. An anonymous architect trained in Paris erected the first example of Gothic architecture in Germany at Maulbronn's narthex, the southern portion of its cloister, and the monks' refectory.[15][16] The Late Gothic came to Maulbronn from the late 13th century to the mid-14th century, and again in the German Romantic era of the late 19th century.[14]

Although little of the 12th century work, such as the portal and its original doors, have been preserved,[14] the monastery as a whole survives due mostly to the Dukes of Württemberg, who obtained ownership of it in the 16th century.[17] Today, Maulbronn is considered the best preserved medieval monastery complex north of the Alps.[18] The architectural history of the complex is still not fully understood.[19]

Water system

As was customary with Cistercian monasteries,[20] Maulbronn stands on top of a sophisticated water management system.[21] By draining the wetlands around the monastery and digging a series of canals,[20] the monks created some 20 ponds and lakes. A local stream, the Salzach, was diverted to flow under the monastery to form its sewerage.[22] The water levels in these lakes could be controlled, allowing Maulbronn's monks to power their mill,[23] but also to raise fish and eels for consumption or commerce.[24][lower-alpha 2] In one of these ponds, the Aalkistensee, the monks could raise up to 5000 carp.[25] Much of the system remains in use and is part of Maulbronn's UNESCO inscription.[22][18] The water system has been the subject of study for Baden-Württemberg's Office for the Preservation of Monuments since 1989.[26]

Monastery complex

The monastery was protected by stone wall, a drawbridge gate, and five towers.[27] The complex is still entered through the gatehouse, at its southwest corner, though the drawbridge is no longer present. The half-timber building on the back of the gatehouse was built around 1600, and the present roof is Baroque, built in 1751. Just behind the gatehouse is another the pharmacy, originally an inn and also built in the Baroque style. Also attached to the old pharmacy is the Frühmesserhaus (Early morning house), residence of the monk responsible for early morning mass for monastery guests.[28] The interior of the building is divided into a large, open fireplace and the entrance hall.[29] Also attached to the old pharmacy is a 19th century carriage house, now a museum, standing on top of a chapel built around 1480. The foundation for the choir of this chapel are still extant behind the carriage house, as are the remains of a Romanesque gate demolished in 1813. The lead pipe in the locality suggests that there used to be a well in the area.[28] East of the gate is the Fruchtkasten, today a concert hall. It was built in the 13th century and then totally rebuilt and enlarged in 1580 for the storage and use of wine-making equipment.[30]

To the north of the gate is the monastery's administrative and economic buildings. Along the western wall of the monastery are what used to be the blacksmithy wheelwright's workshop. East of the blacksmithy is the former mews, which has been Maulbronn's city hall since the early 19th century. The building was converted in 1600 from its original Gothic appearance into the present Renaissance style structure. Just north of the city hall is the Haberkasten, used as a granary, and adjacent to that is the workplace and residence of the monastery's chief baker. Finally, there are three half-timber buildings. The first is the Speisemeisterei, next to the sawmill, and the third is the Bursarium, built in 1742 as the cemetery office but used as a police station and notary as of 2019. The middle building, built in 1550, was a servant's quarters and is now an Italian restaurant.[30]

The Dukes of Württemberg came to own Maulbronn in 1504.[10] In 1588, Duke Louis III built a lustschloss over the cellar of an earlier building, likely the abbot's residence. During the existence of the Oberamt Maulbronn, Louis III's lustschloss was its administrative office. Nearby are the ruins of the Pfründhaus, where donors who had bought a life pension from the monastery resided. The building was erected in 1430 and used as a poorhouse in the 19th century until it was destroyed by fire in January 1892.[31] In the southeast corner of the complex is the Faustturm, the tower where Faust is alleged to have lived while staying at the monastery in 1516.[32]

To operate their monasteries the Cistercian Order was allowed to own property such as bodies of water, vineyards, and forests. At the beginning of the 12th century, 17 monastic granges surrounded Maulbronn, operated by lay brothers. Also nearby is a portion of the Eppingen lines built by Louis William, Margrave of Baden-Baden from 1695 to 1697.[23]

The gardens around the monastery, in its cloister and east of the church, grew fruits and medicinal herbs.[33]


At the center of the monastery complex is the abbey, where the monks and lay brothers lived and prayed. The monastery had strict divisions between the two groups. This was so even in the church,[19] which is divided into sections for the former and the latter by a choir wall. There are two ciboriums, decorated with toads, lizards, and skulls and a number of medieval works on both sides of the choir wall.[34] In front of this wall on the lay brother's side is a large image of Christ crucified, carved around 1473 from a single block of stone.[35] At the end of the lay brother's section is the organ, installed by Gerhard Grenzing in 2013.[36] In the choir is a Madonna and Child, the Maulbronner Madonna, crafted somewhere between 1307 and 1317.[37] In the chancel below is a set of 15th century of choir stalls and abbot's chair to seat 92 monks. They were carved by an unknown master, possibly Hans Multscher, who covered them in biblical scenes and mythical creatures.[38] The frescoes within the church depict the Adoration of the Magi, the entrance of Maulbronn's founder Walter von Lomersheim into the monastery as a lay brother. Also present are the coats of arms of nobles who donated to the monastery's construction.[39] The donor chapels and vaulted Gothic roof, replacing the original flat and timber roof, were added when the church was renovated in the late 15th century.[34] The altar, likely of South German make, depicts the Passion of Jesus was once gilded and painted. Those pieces of the set that remain have since 1978 sat on a standstone slab in the chapel.[40]

The church's narthex is Germany's oldest example of Gothic architecture – the "Paradise",[41] built around 1220. The portal into the lay brothers' church contain the oldest datable doors in Germany, fashioned from fir wood in 1178. The door was decorated with wrought iron and parchment that would have been glued onto the door and painted red.[42] Immediately north of the abbey church is the cloister, the southern portion of which was built by the Master of the Paradise's workshop from 1210 to 1220.[43] Lay brothers could enter or leave the cloister from a corridor on its west side.[19] This leads to a flight of stairs to the lay brothers' dormitory, and the lay refectory on the ground floor. The groin vaults are supported by seven slender double-column pillars installed in 1869.[10] Opposite the corridor to the cloister from the lay refectory is the cellarium, now a display of stonemasonry paraphernalia.[19]

On the north side of the cloister is the lavatorium, where monks washed before meals and for ablution. The majority of the fountain within dates to 1878; only the base bowl is original. The five Gothic windows were added from 1340 to 1350 and the half-timber structure above the lavatorium was built around 1611 in a style similar to that of Heinrich Schickhardt.[44] The vaults of the lavatorium were painted with a depiction of Maulbronn's founding myth.[9] Across from the Brunnenhaus is the monks' refectory,[44] where the full brothers ate their meals and listened to a reading of the Bible. This building was possibly also built by the Master of the Paradise, as evidenced by the Early Gothic elements of its interior. The ribbing of the vaults was painted red in the 16th century.[10] The kitchen that supplied the two refectories is located between them, but arranged such to keep smoke and odors away from the rest of the monastery.[29]

Although the Cistercian Order banned heated rooms,[17] Maulbronn has a calefactory that was heated by lighting a fire in a vaulted chamber underneath the calefactory. Smoke was funneled outside and the heat rose into the calefactory through the 20 holes in its floor.[45] It was the only heated room in the monastery.[19]

Attached to the center of the eastern side of the cloister is the chapter house. Three pillars hold up the room's star vault, capped with keystones depicting the Four Evangelists, the Lamb of God, and an angel blowing a trumpet. Beneath these, and the frescoes painted in 1517, monks met and could break their vowed silence to discuss goings-on.[46]

A staircase on the east side of the cloister leads to the monks' dormitory.[43]

A corridor on the eastern side of the cloister goes to a Late Gothic connecting building, built by lay brother Conrad von Schmie, leading to the monastery hospital, the Ephorat. The connecting building is decorated with a mural depicting Benedict of Nursia and Bernard of Clairvaux kneeling before the Virgin Mary. From the symbolism, it is thought this space was used as a Marian chapel, a scriptorium, or a library.[43] After Maulbronn's acquisition by the Dukes of Württemberg, the hospital was renovated as the abbot's residence and gained its name from the abbot's title, "Ephorus".[31]


The cooperage, near the gatehouse, is the visitor center. On the ground floor is a diorama of the monastery complex and on the second floor is a museum room detailing post-monastic life at Maulbronn. The nearby Frühmesserhaus displays a three-panel display made by the monks of Maulbronn documenting its foundation and attached circumstances.[47][48] There is also an art museum displaying 300 pieces, located in the Schafhof, operated by art collectors Jutta and Manfred Heinrich.[49]

Within the monastery complex is a three-part literary museum, "Besuchen-Bilden-Schreiben",[50] operated by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The first of these, "Visit" exhibits Maulbronn's image in literature. Next is "Learn", dedicated to the monastery's use as a Protestant seminary and with a focus on notable alumni such as Johannes Kepler, Friedrich Hölderlin, and Herman Hesse. Finally, "Write" showcases the works of the monks at Maulbronn and a library spanning 800 years and 50 writers.[51]

The cellarium, in the monastery proper, is a lapidarium and exhibit detailing the construction methods used at Maulbronn.[47]

Panorama photograph of Maulbronn Monastery's western courtyard, facing the abbey

See also


  1. While the move from Eckenweiler to Maulbronn occurred in 1147, the deed confirming the ceding of Maulbronn from Hirsau Abbey was crafted and confirmed a decade later.[7]
  2. Cistercians were forbidden from eating meat, but consuming fish was allowable as they were classified as "river vegetables." Maulbronn's monks raised fish, most notably the mirror carp, in different bodies of water depending on their species, size, and age, then sold them to surrounding communities.[24]


  1. Maulbronn Monastery: Klosterroute Nordschwarzwald.
  2. City of Maulbronn: Stadtgeschichte Maulbronn.
  3. Maulbronn Monastery: Meilensteine.
  4. Klöster in Baden-Württemberg: Eckenweiher.
  5. Klunzinger 1854, p. 12.
  6. Gillich 2017, p. 275.
  7. Baden-Württemberg State Archive: WUB Band II, #355.
  8. Klöster in Baden-Württemberg: Maulbronn.
  9. Maulbronn Monastery: Gründungslegende.
  10. Maulbronn Monastery: Herren- und Laienrefektorium.
  11. Maulbronn Monastery: Gebäude.
  12. European Union Journal, 28 December 2013.
  13. Maulbronn Monastery: 2-Euro-Münze.
  14. Maulbronn Monastery: Stilgeschichte.
  15. Burton & Kerr 2011, pp. 77, 78-79.
  16. Maulbronn Monastery: Weltkulturerbe Maulbronn.
  17. Jeep 2001, p. 508.
  18. UNESCO: Maulbronn Monastery Complex.
  19. Maulbronn Monastery: Klausur und Kirche.
  20. Burton & Kerr 2011, p. 69.
  21. Baden-Württemberg: Kloster Maulbronn.
  22. Maulbronn Monastery: Wasserwirtschaft.
  23. Maulbronn Monastery: Umgebung des Klosters.
  24. Maulbronn Monastery: Fischzucht.
  25. Maulbronn Monastery: Kochbuch Bernhard Buchingers.
  26. Baden-Württemberg: UNESCO-Welterbestätte Kloster Maulbronn.
  27. Burton & Kerr 2011, p. 75.
  28. Maulbronn Monastery: Westlicher Eingangsbereich.
  29. Maulbronn Monastery: Küchenbereiche.
  30. Maulbronn Monastery: Klosterhof mit Wirtschaftsgebäuden.
  31. Maulbronn Monastery: Östlicher Hof.
  32. Maulbronn Monastery: Doktor Faustus.
  33. Maulbronn Monastery: Gärten.
  34. Maulbronn Monastery: Klosterkirche.
  35. Maulbronn Monastery: Kruzifix.
  36. Maulbronn Monastery: Grenzing-Orgel.
  37. Maulbronn Monastery: Madonna.
  38. Maulbronn Monastery: Choresgestühl.
  39. Burton & Kerr 2011, p. 81.
  40. Maulbronn Monastery: Reliefs am Hochaltar.
  41. Burton & Kerr 2011, p. 79.
  42. Maulbronn Monastery: Paradies.
  43. Maulbronn Monastery: Kreuzgang.
  44. Maulbronn Monastery: Brunnenhaus.
  45. Kinder 2002, p. 279.
  46. Maulbronn Monastery: Kapitelsaal.
  47. Maulbronn Monastery: Klostermuseum.
  48. Maulbronn Monastery: Stiftungstafel.
  49. Maulbronn Monastery: Ausstellungen.
  50. City of Maulbronn: Besuchen-Bilden-Schreiben.
  51. Maulbronn Monastery: Literaturmuseum.


  • Burton, Janet B.; Kerr, Julie (2011). The Cistercians in the Middle Ages. Monastic orders. Volume 4 (Illustrated ed.). Boydell Press. ISBN 9781843836674.
  • Gillich, Ante (2017). "Das Wassersystem des Klosters Maulbronn: Ein Projekt zur Bestandserfassung mit hochaufgelösten Laserscandaten". Journal for the Preservation of Monuments in Baden-Württemberg (in German).
  • Jeep, John M. (2001). Medieval Germany: An Encyclopedia. Psychology Press. ISBN 9780824076443.
  • Kinder, Terryl M. (2002). Cistercian Europe: Architecture of Contemplation. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 9780802838872.
  • Klunzinger, Karl (1854). Urkundliche Geschichte der vormaligen Cisterzienser-Abtei Maulbronn (in German). C.A. Sonnewald.
Baden-Württemberg State Archive (in German)

Online references

German Federal, state, and municipal governments (in German)
  • "Meilensteine". Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
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