Beuerberg Abbey | 180 years in conclave
Recently I had the great pleasure of visiting Beuerberg Abbey; a 12th century monastery originally consecrated to the Austine Canons, now converted into a temporary exhibition centre on monastic life. Let me share some of the many magical impressions with you that lie in wait in this very special place. In particular, allow me to take you with me into a very curious monastic workshop - run by devoted nuns for almost two centuries.
WARNING: If you are an old-school grimoire ritualist - or simply fancy things that are shiny and beautiful - please be warned. You might blush or even loose sleep over the quantity of mystical paraphernalia displayed in this post.
I. The Abbey
In 1835, after Beuerberg had endured the painful experience of secularisation, it was taken over again by a catholic order; this time by the originally French Salesians. The female order maintained the large complex, living in almost complete seclusion from the world until the year 2000.
In December 2013 the last local matron, sister M.Innocentia Donius died. As the care for the building complex was too intense for the 14 elderly remaining nuns they decided to move out into a shared elderly home run by Franciscan and Salesian nuns nearby.
Renovation of the buildings had already started in 2010. Since 2016 and for the first time in 181 years the abbey opened its doors to the public with a dedicated exhibition, focussed on helping outsiders better understand female monastic life in conclave.
It's hard to tell if the exhibition itself is so breathtaking - or if it is simply the space that these nuns maintained and shaped for so many decades?
In large parts the plain, yet powerful rooms of the abbey were restored to their original splendour - and then simply left like that. Thus the visitor gets to see the many facets of monastic life first-hand, with the particular tools of craft arranged in wonderful window showcases. From cooking as an exercise in mindfulness, to devoted embroidery and needlework, to running the spiritual house-pharmacy, distilling their own local dandelion liqueur, maintaining the large herb-gardens and of course the regular chants in the oratory and personal prayers - everything shines a light of pureness, focus and devoted abstinence on the rhythmically rolling schedule of tasks, day after day, year after year.
The following pictures provide are a rather opaque reflection of the spiritual power of this humble place. However, read on to find out about the most unusual 'spiritual craft' these nuns maintained over decades...
Stretched out on a long glass showcase in the middle of the oratory we find the material of the most curious craft the Salesian nuns maintained. Stepping closer, we discover neatly ordered boxes and cartons full of spiritual paraphernalia. Let me call out just a few; there are...
- artfully decorated circular discs for prayers following the 24 stations of the ordeal of Christ,
- family altars crafted from coloured cardboard,
- old cassettes for dedicated prayers to be recorded on,
- short metal chains and strings with knots to be used as tools of repentance and
- hollow silver crosses to be implemented with blessed relics mass stored in a dedicated old trunk.
This was the place where folk-belief was not only upheld, but constantly replenished. It seems incredibly rare to be allowed to look so undisguised and untarnished into the armoury of mystic Catholic practice.
A similar unique glance is offered into the spiritual pharmacy of the abbey which is now open to visitors just a few rooms apart from the oratory.
Two pillars with praying angels oversee the solemn space, guarded themselves by the all-seeing eye of God. Despite from the many academic medicine drugs stored in the wide, wooden cupboards we still see stranger artefacts on display as well.
As called out in the accompanying texts of the exhibition, the goal of this pharmacy was not only to provide herbal or modern remedies - but spiritual ones as well. That's why we see flasks with the oil of saints, blessed medallions to be worn in case of illness, or cups to be drunken from, but also - right next to the 'KaWe Ear-Glasses' and the infamous 'Nose-Shower' - a plastic emergency rosary, always kept in reach by the caring sisters.
Finally, there is one more aspect of life in conclave to explore. Death. So please be quiet, or talk in hushed voices only, and follow me into the last area of this magical exhibition.
We find it right at the end of the large, restored section of the entire complex. The one that is closest to the 13th century church which will still remain under construction until 2021.
So. Should you get the chance to visit Bavaria before October 2017 - I recommend you do not miss out on Beuerberg Abbey. This winter its gates will close again and the exhibits will be stored away in the vast archives of the diocese of Freising.
Of course I apologise should these impressions of Beuerberg have filled your coal-black göêtian heart with cardboard-house-altar-envy. But should you be able to pay the abbey a visit in person, I am sure the excellent food they serve will make up for it. So will the freshly baked bread and the dandelion wine. And maybe, while strolling in the large herb-gardens in bright sunshine you'll even stumble across the powerful patterns these nuns have worked into this place in vision.
I won't call it the new Céfalu. But boy, did these nuns keep Beuerberg magically alive.