The History of the Monastery of Waldsassen
The Monastery was founded in 1133 by Earl Diepold III. He gave land and property to the newly founded Monastery and invited monks of the Cistercian Order to leave Volkenrode for Waldsassen. King Konrad III guaranteed his support and the Monastery quickly gained influence and power. The presence of the Monastery encouraged the colonisation and development of the Region. However the radical changes of the Reformation did much harm and the Monastery closed when the Palatine took control (1560-1571)
After the upper Palatine became part of Bavaria in 1628, Prince Ferdinand Maria asked Cistercian monks to leave Furstenfeldbruck and return to Waldasassen (1661-1669). In 1690 the Monastery became an independent Abbey. The old monastic buildings were replaced by a splendid new Monastery constructed by leading Architects and artists. Monastic activities ended in 1803 due to secularisation and it was not until 1864 that the Cistercian order was finally able to purchase parts of the former property. However the order was unable to regain the Church as it had already been taken over by the Catholic Parish of Waldsassen.
The arrival of the cloth-makers in 1614 and the construction of houses on sites next to the former Abbey was the beginning on the Municipality of Waldsassen which Frederic V, Prince of the Palatine, officially recognised in 1617.
Although Waldsassen suffered during the Thirty Years War, the reconstruction of the Monastery and the Church and the rebuilding of the Monastery in 1669 led to economic growth. Many of the Architects and artists involved in the construction work settled in the area.
In 1693, Waldsassen achieved the legal status of a market town. It was given a further economic boost in 1865 with the arrival of the railway which encouraged the establishment of industry. In 1870/71 and in 1880 the centre of Waldsassen was destroyed by fire. However reconstruction took place using the old foundations thus the original shape of the Town Centre was preserved. In 1896, Waldsassen was granted the legal status of a City. It is also known by the name of Klosterstadt. This alternative name shows the distinctive link between the Monastery and the City.
The Abbey castle, built in the 15th century, is the only building in Waldsassen that still retains its Medieval shape and structure, though the roof was altered during reconstruction. In 1680 a Baroque style iron door was added and in the 1750’s impressive ornamental plaster work and skilfully formed wrought iron were put in place. Since 1803 the Castle has been owned by the Municipality of Waldsassen and was the home of the local court until 1970. It was extensively restored in 1976/77 after which the local Tax office occupied the premises.
Since 1945 many displaced people have settled in Waldsassen. In 1972 Kondrau, Münchenreuth and Querenbach were integrated into the City. In 1990 the border with the Czech Republic was re-opened making it easier to visit various places of interest in that country.
Waldsassen is famous for it’s religious festivals and great concerts which take place in the Basilica. Famous artists such as Yehudi Menuhin, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Colin Davies and Lorin Maazell have performed with great distinction here. There is also an annual concert of Chamber music in the Abbey Castle. The City offers many other cultural activities, for example the annual Burgerfest on the first Sunday of July. Past events have included celebrations for the 850th Anniversary of Waldsassen and the 900th Anniversary of the Cistercian Order and more recently the European Festival of Music.
The Library of the Monastery
The Library was completed in 1726 in late Baroque and early Rococo style. Ten life-sized statues, skilfully carved out of wood by Karl Stilp, carry the narrow gallery that encircles almost all of the Hall. The painting on the ceiling were created in 1724 by Karl Hofreiter (born in Bayreuth) and his assistants. The ornamental plaster work was created by Jacob Appiani and F P Marazzi.
The library once possessed a number of precious books which were taken to public Archives during secularisation in 1803. Nowadays the shelves hold tomes, quartars and octans from the 17th and 18th centuries which are on public loan. The Library Hall is maintained by nuns of the Cistercian Sisterhood.
The Baroque Basilica of Waldsassen
The Basilica, one of the most impressive Baroque Churches in Bavaria was built between 1682 and 1704. It replaced the old Romanic Basilica that had been consecrated in 1179 when Frederic Barbarossa came to Waldsassen. Famous Architect such as Abraham Leuthner, Georg and Christoph Dientzenhofer and Bernhard Schießer were involved in the building of the Church. In the opinion of Dehio, an expert in the history of Arts, the festive plaster work that encircles the whole Nave with all its expressive statues, is the most sophisticated work since the revival of Church construction in Germany. The impressive High Altar includes Heraldic angels carved in white marble by Karl Stilp and the choir stalls, skilfully carved by Martin Hirsch, determine the position of the Chancel. There are impressive additional Altars in the two cross arms of the Transept as well as in the six side Chapels and under the 28 metres high domed Nave.
In 1803 the Basilica became the Parish Church of Waldsassen. In 1969, Pope Paul VI, elevated the Church the status of “Basilica Minor”. The Papal coat of Arms above the main entrance proves this honour.
Trinity Chapel, “Kappl”
This most important Baroque circular building was constructed by Georg Dientzenhofer. The secret of the Holy Trinity is architecturally expressed by the tri-partition that welds into an homogenous whole. In 1698 the Church was taken over by the monastery of Waldsassen. The “Kappel” has been cared for by the Priest of the nearby Parish of Münchenreuth since it was secularised in 1803.