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Bible Encyclopedias

The Catholic Encyclopedia

Abbey of Hirschau

A celebrated Benedictine monastery in Würtemberg, Diocese of Spires, about twenty-two miles west of Stuttgart. It was founded in 830 by Erlafried, Count of Calw, at the suggestion of his son, Noting, Bishop of Vercelli, who wished to enrich his native country with the relics of St. Aurelius, an Armenian bishop, and for that purpose brought them from Italy to Calw. They were first placed in the oratory of St. Nazarius at Calw, while the monastery of Hirschau was being built. When it was ready sixteen monks came from Fulda to form the new community, one of them, named Lutpert, being made first abbot. Count Erlafried endowed the monastery with lands and other gifts, and made a solemn donation of the whole into the hands of Lutpert, on condition that the Benedictine Rule should be observed there. The abbey church, dedicated to St. Peter, was not completed until 838, in which year it was consecrated by Othgar, Archbishop of Mains, who at the same time solemnly translated the body of St. Aurelius from its temporary resting-place to the new church. Abbot Lutpert died in 853, having brought about a substantial increase both in the possessions of the abbey and in the number of the monks under his rule. Regular observance flourished under him and his successors and a successful monastic school was established. In 988 a severe plague devastated the neighbourhood and carried off sixty of the monks including the abbot, Hartfried. Only a dozen were left to elect a successor, and they divided into two parties. The more fervent chose one Conrad, whose election was confirmed by the Bishop of Spires, but some of the others, who favoured a more relaxed rule, elected an opposition abbot in the person of Eberhard, the cellarer. For some time the dispute ran high between the rival superiors and their respective followers. The Count of Calw supported the claims of Eberhard, but neither party would give way to the other and in the end the count brought in an armed force to settle the quarrel. The result was that the abbey was pillaged, the monks dispersed, and the valuable library destroyed. The count became master of the property and the abbey remained empty for over sixty years, during which time the buildings fell into a ruinous state. In 1049 Leo IX, brother (or, as some say, uncle) of Count Adalbert, and grandson of the spoliator, came to Calw, and required Adalbert to restore the abbey. This he did, but so slowly that it was not ready for occupation until 1065, when it was peopled anew by a dozen monks who came from the celebrated Swiss Abbey of Einsiedeln, with Abbot Frederick at their head. It was, however, his successor who revived and even surpassed the former renown and prosperity of the abbey. This was the famous William of Hirschau, a monk of St. Emmeram's at Ratisbon, who was called to the abbacy in 1069. When he came the condition of the monastery was far from satisfactory. The buildings were still incomplete, Count Adalbert still retained possession of some of the monastic property, together with a certain amount of harmful influence over the community, and regular discipline was very much relaxed. Abbot William's zeal and prudence by degrees remedied this evil state of affairs and inaugurated a period of great prosperity, both spiritual and temporal. He secured the independence of the abbey and placed its finances in a satisfactory condition; he completed the buildings already begun and afterwards greatly added to them, as the needs of the increasing community required; and he refounded the monastic school for which the abbey had formerly been famous throughout Germany. But his greatest work, perhaps, and that for which his name is best remembered, was the reformation that he effected within the community itself. Cluny was then at the height of its renown and thither Abbot William sent some of his monks to learn the customs and rule of that celebrated house, and on their return the Cluniac discipline was introduced at Hirschau.

The abbot then wrote his well-known "Consuetudines Hirsaugienses" (P.L., CL, and Herrgott, "Vetus Disciplina Monastica"), which for several centuries remained the standard of monastic observance. From Hirschau monks were sent out to reform other German monasteries on the same lines, and from it seven new monasteries were founded by Abbot William. The numbers of the community increased to 150 under his rule, manual labour and the copying of manuscripts forming an important part of their occupations. Numerous exemptions and other privileges were obtained from time to time from emperors and popes. In the twelfth century the autocratic rule of Abbot Manegold caused for a time some internal dissensions, loss of fraternal charity, and consequent decline of strict discipline, but the vigorous efforts of several worthy abbots checked the decadence, and temporarily re-established the stricter observance. In the fifteenth century, however, the famous "Customs" had gradually become almost a dead letter, and Wolfram, the thirty-eighth abbot (1428-1460), introduced a reform modelled upon that of the Austrian Abbey of Melk. This lasted only for a few years for, soon after, Hirschau adopted the Constitutions of Bursfeld and was united to that congregation. Abbot Wolfram's successor, Bernhard, carried on the good work, freed the abbey from its debts, restored the monastic buildings, and also reformed several other monasteries. In the days of Abbot John III (1514-56) Hirschau fell on evil times; the Protestant Reformation began to make its influence felt, and after a brief period of struggle, the abbey, through the connivance of Duke Ulrich of Würtemberg, passed into Lutheran hands, though still maintaining its monastic character. In 1630 it became Catholic again for a short time, but after the Peace of Westphalia (1648) it once more came under the control of the Dukes of Würtemberg and another series of Lutheran abbots presided over it. The community eventually came to an end and the once famous Abbey of Hirschau was finally destroyed by the French under Melac in 1692. Only a few ruins now remain to mark its site. The history of Hirschau up to the year 1503 is fully related by Trithemius, the celebrated Abbot of Spanheim, who had access to its archives before they were dispersed. Besides the "Customs" already referred to, William of Hirschau left a treatise "De Musica et Tonis" (printed by Gerbert, "Script. Eccles.", and also by Migne, P.L., CL).


TRITHEMIUS, Chronicon Hirsaugiense (St. Gall, 1690); MABILLON, Annales O.S.B. (Paris, 1703-39), III, IV; IDEM, Acta SS. O.S.B. (Venice, 1733); STE-MARTHE, Gallia Christiana (Paris, 1731), V; MIGNE, Dict. des Abbayes (Paris, 1854); HÉLTOT, Dict. des Ordres Religieux (Paris, 1863); BRAUNMÜLLER in Kirchenlexicon, s.v.; GRUTZMACHER in Realencyklopädie (Leipzig, 1900); HAFNER in Studien Mitt-Ben-Cist. (Raigern, 1891-5).

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Bibliography Information
Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'Abbey of Hirschau'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.

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