Alpirsbach is unique in more ways than one. It is one of the few surviving monasteries in southwestern Germany built in the spirit of the Hirsau Reforms. In addition, it offers fascinating insights into everyday life at a 16th century boarding school.

Alpirsbach Monastery (Kloster Alpirsbach), in the northern Black Forest, was consecrated on 16 January 1095 by the Bishop of Constance, Gebhard III. Today, the former Benedictine abbey is an extraordinarily well-preserved example of the monastic architecture of followers of the Hirsau Reforms, which stressed discipline and asceticism.

The main door of the monastery church features the original Romanesque metalwork

Romanesque: the main door of the monastery church.

From Romanesque to Gothic

The monastery was constructed in Romanesque style. The building’s clear, simple lines were maintained into the late Gothic period – as can be seen in the Gothic-style cloister. The Romanesque Klosterkirche (monastery church), is a three-nave columned basilica with a crossshaped floorplan. The tympanum, or decoration between the arch and lintel, over the portal of the monastery church is an outstanding example of 12th century Romanesque sculpture. Two skilfully crafted bronze handles, in the shape of stylised lions’ heads, embellish the doors. The church’s double-storey chancel is a further unique feature.

Marienaltar in the monastery church

A late Gothic masterpiece in the monastery church.

From monastery to school

Following the introduction of Protestantism in Württemberg, Duke Christoph dissolved the monastery in 1556. Alpirsbach was one of 13 monasteries in Württemberg that were converted into Evangelical boarding schools. A spectacular find from 1958 helps modern-day visitors to imagine everyday life in the school: Alpirsbach Klostermuseum (Monastery Museum) displays shoes, items of clothing, letters and even 16th century schoolboys’ scribble on the wall – evidence that graffiti is nothing new. The collection includes a pair of breeches that looks exactly like the garments depicted in paintings and drawings from the time of Albrecht Dürer – the only such surviving example worldwide. Alpirsbach Monastery conveys a vivid impression of architecture, religion and school life over a period of almost a millennium.

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