Tegernsee Abbey or the Imperial Abbey of Tegernsee (German Kloster Tegernsee, Abtei or Reichsabtei Tegernsee) is a former Benedictine monastery in the town and district of Tegernsee in Bavaria. Both the abbey and the town that grew up around are named after the Tegernsee, the lake on the shores of which they are located. The name is from the Old High German tegarin seo, meaning great lake.
Tegernsee Abbey was first built in the 8th century. Until 1803 it was the most important Benedictine community in Bavaria.
Today the monastery buildings are known as Schloss Tegernsee (Tegernsee Castle) and are in the possession of the Wittelsbach family. The local Catholic parish church of Saint Quirinus is in the former abbey church. The former abbey premises also accommodate a well-known brewery, brew pub, restaurant and Tegernsee Grammar School (Gymnasium Tegernsee).
Foundation and early history
The monastic community at Tegernsee was founded in the mid 8th century (in either 746 or around 765). Settled by monks from St. Gall and dedicated to Saint Quirinus of Rome, whose relics were brought here from Rome in 804, the monastery soon spread the message of Christianity as far as the Tyrol and Lower Austria.
The founders were the brothers Otkar or Oatkar and Adalbert, members of one of the ancient noble clans of Bavaria, although it has not proved possible to say with certainty which. There is little definite information on the early days of the monastery, as a result of a fire in about 970, which destroyed earlier evidence.
There developed however a well-known and detailed (but nevertheless entirely unverifiable) tradition about the foundation:
According to this, Otkar and Adelbert were princes of the Huosi, kin of the Bavarian ruling house of the Agilolfinger, whose principal territory was the area now known as the Huosigau in south-west Bavaria, although they had many other lands elsewhere in Bavaria and in Burgundy. They and their families lived at the court of Pippin the Younger, King of the Franks (714-768), whose son fell into a rage during a game of chess and killed the son of Otkar with the chessboard. Pippin was afraid of the revenge of such a powerful family. He therefore summoned Otkar and Adalbert before they could hear of the killing, and asked them for their advice: "How would you deal with a terrible evil if there were no way to change it?" The brothers replied: "All one could do in such a case would be to accept the evil with humility and submission to the will of God." Only then did Pippin tell them of the death of Otkar's son. The brothers, bound by their own judgment, were unable to take up arms and found themselves forced to accept the murder. Instead, they decided to turn their backs on the world. They returned to their homeland in the south of Bavaria and founded a monastery on an unusually beautiful site by the shores of the Tegernsee, into which they withdrew. The scene of the princes playing chess was for many centuries to be seen depicted on a large panel in the nearby church of Egern.
After the fall of Tassilo III, Duke of Bavaria (748-788) Tegernsee became a Carolingian Empire royal monastery during the Carolingian Renaissance. The community was greatly weakened by Hungarian raids and by repeated attempts at secularisation during the reign of Arnulf I, Duke of Bavaria (907-937) and in the course of the 10th century suffered a sustained decline, culminating in the fire of around 970.
Restored and re-founded however under Emperor Otto II (973-983) as an Imperial Abbey in 978, and re-settled by monks from St. Maximin's Abbey, Trier, Tegernsee entered a new period of growth. With the activities of the monk Froumund (1006-1012) and Abbot Ellinger (1017-1026 and 1031-1041) the abbey became a centre of literature, manuscript production and learning, and was also active in the resettlement of other Benedictine houses in Bavaria, including the newly founded abbey of Saints Ulrich and Afra in Augsburg in c. 1012.
This golden age of the abbey lasted almost to the end of the 12th century. Among the literary and scientific works produced at that time were: "Ruodlieb" (considered the first German novel; last third of the 11th century); the Quirinals (12th century); "Game of the Antichrist" (1155?); and the Tegernsee Letter Collection (1178 to 1186). The well-known Tegernseespruch of Walther von der Vogelweide dates either from a little before 1206 or from c. 1212, and thus belongs, not to this period, but to the beginning of the period of decline that followed. Tegernsee was largely spared the political and ecclesiastical confusions arising from the conflict between Pope Alexander III (1159-1177) and Emperor Frederick II, and even managed to acquire substantial privileges from both pope and emperor.
The shape of the future however was made plain with the appointment to this Bavarian abbey in 1189 of Abbot Manegold of Berg, son of the Count of Berg, as the result of political intrigue by the Counts of Andechs, Vögte (lords protectors) of Tegernsee, and Bishop Otto of Freising. The political and economic interests of the noble families of Berg, Andechs and Hohenstaufen now came to dominate the abbey, and as a result it declined during the 13th and 14th centuries into little more than a private monastery dependent on a small number of noble families. To make matters worse, it burnt down in 1410.
Later history to dissolution
However, in 1426, Tegernsee received a Visitation from the Vicar-General Johannes Grünwalder which marked a new beginning. Over the next decades, with the support of the Papal Legate Cardinal Nikolaus von Kues, it became a focus of the Reforms of Melk Abbey, which opened Benedictine houses hitherto restricted to the nobility to a wider range of social classes. In 1455 monks of Tegernsee settled Andechs Abbey and were appointed abbots at Benediktbeuern, Oberalteich, Wessobrunn and others. In 1446 a Passion altar was dedicated. Johannes Keck (who was the Tegernsee delegate at the Council of Basle and died in 1450) wrote a work on music, and the Prior of Tegernsee, Bernhard von Waging (d. 1472), composed his mystical writings, including a defense of Cusanus' writings on "learned ignorance."
This second flowering continued into the Early Modern period. From 1573 the monastery had its own printing press, which thanks to Imperial privileges was allowed to print many books on theology, liturgy and the theory of music. The community survived the confusion of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), when the abbey was raided by Swedish soldiers. Tegernsee Abbey was also a prominent member of the Benedictine Bavarian Congregation, established in 1684.
The former Carolingian style abbey church built at the end of the 10th century had been converted in the 11th to a Romanesque basilica, which in its turn had been re-fashioned between 1455 and 1460 into a Gothic church. The monastic buildings and the church were refurbished in the Baroque style between 1684 and 1688.
During the abbacy of Abbot Benedikt Schwarz (to 1787) the first signs began to show of the secularisation which eventually took place on 17 March 1803, thus bringing the abbey to an end. Gregor Rottenkolber, the last Abbot of Tegernsee, died on 13 February 1810. The greater part of the site was bought by Baron Drechsel for his brewery, but he later sold a small part back to an unofficial monastic community, who remained until 1861.
The buildings of the monastery itself were acquired in 1817 by king Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria and later became a possession of the Dukes in Bavaria (a side branch of the ruling Wittelsbach family, the kings of Bavaria), attracted by the unusually beautiful location, and turned it into their summer residence. Known since then as Schloss Tegernsee, it is still the property of that family, the present owner is Prince Max, Duke in Bavaria.
Abbots of Tegernsee
- Quirinus of Rome
- Maximilian Joseph, Duke in Bavaria
- Princess Ludovika of Bavaria
- Duke Karl-Theodor in Bavaria
- Infanta Maria Josepha of Portugal
- Ludwig Wilhelm, Duke in Bavaria
- List of Carolingian monasteries
- Carolingian architecture
- Carolingian dynasty
- Regional characteristics of Romanesque architecture
- Hemmerle, Josef, 1970. Die Benediktinerklöster in Bayern (= Germania Benedictina, Bd.2), pp.297ff. Ottobeuren.
- Klöster in Bayern: Tegernsee (German)
- "Tegernsee". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.