UNESCO World Heritage Site #218: Monastic Island of Reichenau

UNESCO World Heritage Site #218: Monastic Island of Reichenau
UNESCO World Heritage Site #218: Monastic Island of Reichenau

From the World Heritage inscription:

The remains of the Reichenau foundation bear outstanding witness to the religious and cultural role of a great Benedictine monastery in the early Middle Ages. The Monastery of Reichenau was a highly significant artistic centre of great significance to the history of art in Europe in the 10th and 11th centuries, as is superbly illustrated by its monumental wall paintings and its illuminations. The churches retain remarkable elements of several stages of construction and thus offer outstanding examples of monastic architecture in Central Europe from the 9th to the 11th centuries.

For over 1,000 years the history of the island of Reichenau, which lies in the northern reaches of Lake Constance, was closely intertwined with that of the monastery. The first Abbot, Pirmin, was given the task of building a monastery in honour of the Virgin Mary and Saints Peter and Paul. He oversaw the building of the first abbey, a wooden building, at Mittelzell on the northern shore of the island, as well as a three-winged cloister against the north side of the church. The whole building was gradually rebuilt in stone by 746. The monastery received generous endowments of land, and the island, an integral part of the abbey lands, was given over to agriculture. The monastery became a famous centre for teaching and creativity in literature, science, and the arts. The church was consecrated in 1048, in the presence of Emperor Henry III.

At the western end of the island of Reichenau, Egino, a former Bishop of Verona, built the first church of St Peter at Niederzell, consecrated in 799. The church was twice rebuilt and slightly altered in the 9th-10th centuries. The monastery buildings lay to the north, near the lake. In the late 11th and early 12th centuries the church was rebuilt and its two east towers were completed in the 15th century. Now dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, it became a parish church and was decorated in Rococo style in the 18th century. Abbot Heito III built the church of St George at Oberzell in the eastern part of the island in honour of the relic of the saint’s head, which he brought back from a voyage to Rome in 896, the year of the church’s consecration

If there was no history on the island of Reichenau and if it was never list as a world heritage site, it would still probably be worth visiting.

Reichenau is a charming island located in Lake Constance in Southern Germany, near the border of Switzerland. The island was formerly home to over 30 churches, but only 3 remain today: St. Mary’s, St. Peter and Paul’s, and St. George’s. Each church is of romanesque design and dates back to the 9th and 11th centuries.

Because of its location on an island bordering Switzerland the churches survived WWII without any damage. Perhaps the finest piece of artwork is in the church of St. George where the original 10th century wall paintings can still be seen.

I’d like to return to Reichenau again, not to visit the churches necessarily (although that is a high point of the island) but just to spend more time on the island and to experience Lake Constance.