In the early 18th century, the Abbey’s reputation was returned to
its former stature by the efforts of Abbot Rupert Ness. He initiated the plans
to build the present Abbey structure and later the church that was to become a
Baroque masterpiece and eventually a Papal Basilica.
During its re-ascension to importance, the Abbey regained its status as an Imperial
Abbey, which made it a property of the emperor. This action relieved it of the duty
to pay taxes, while allowing it to impose taxes. The degree to which
the Abbey prospered during this period is obvious when you tour the
Abbey’s delightful museum.
Unfortunately, success had its price and the Abbey and its properties were
annexed (secularized) by the Bavarian government at the start of the 19th
century. Although its independence was later restored by the king of
Bavaria, the Abbey never recovered its former importance or standing. Today
the Abbey is a priory and has gained fame for its
internationally respected music program.
From a distance, one might make several suppositions about the basilica.
First, it appears to be quite large. Its two, semi-flattened, onion-domed towers reach
for the heavens and from a distance, the body of the church appears to merge
with its abbey. Next, it appears that the lower course of the cathedral is
blocks and greenish colored block at that. As once comes closer, the green
block seems to form the backdrop for the churches external columns.
further inspection, you will notice that all of these misperceptions are a case of Trompe l’oeil
(“trick the eye”) as the building’s exterior surface is smooth and the
and their dark channels are painted onto the building’s surface.
The use of the technique of Trompe l’oeil in the interior of churches
of Baroque design, like the Ottobeuren Basilica, is relatively common.
Exterior use of this technique is
slightly unusual but a mark of the Benedictine Order.
The Basilica, especially its interior, is regarded as the apex of the
Baroque movement in southern Germany and it appears a crowning achievement.
interior appears as a choreographed work of art. The entrance merges
seamlessly with the body of the church and the compelling design immediately
steals the eye. Everywhere you look, there is decoration, blending with the
white walls of the interior. The main altar is a delightful combination of
marble, frescos and the putti (small winged, babies) and cherubs can be seen
dancing everywhere in the basilica. There are a number of side altars that
contend with the main, in terms of beauty, if not size. In addition,
surrounding the central crossing are four reliquaries, each with its own
clothed skeleton behind glass and topped with a mini-altar.
The ceiling with its domes, frescos and stuccowork is amazingly complex and
yet the scenes flow together as if a unified tapestry.
A large, Steinmeyer organ occupies the choir at the back of the church,
but the real treasure lies in two organs by the famous organ maker Karl
Joseph Riepp in 1766. The Holy Trinity organ is to the right of the main
altar, while his second (the Holy Spirit organ) is in the Monastery. Organ
concerts in the basilica are offered late Saturday afternoon.
It is hard to imagine that anything in Ottobeuren could trump the Basilica,
but, in our opinion, the masterful Abbey Museum (Museum der Benediktinerabtei
Ottobeuren) is even more stunning, and perhaps of greater importance. Initially, we were doubtful about taking
the time for a look, but the entrance fee was at bargain basement levels and
we could not resist.
The Museum occupies the portion of the abbey that housed the Abbot’s
Palace and it is clear that it was good to be the head abbot, as his rooms
were sumptuous, comfortable and numerous. Today they are filled with a
number of interesting treasures.
Although photos and movies cannot be taken of the interior, the Museum offers a unique
collection art and artifacts demonstrating the history of the Abbey. The
furniture collection (especially the cabinets used for apothecaries and
document storage) is outstanding and the wood crafting that is displayed in a wide
variety of everyday objects, is of excellent quality. Other rooms of
the Museum are focused on art, though
a considerable portion of it is not focused on religious themes. Most rooms
feature ceiling murals and the details of the room design are incredible, as
are the objects on display.
The library on the second floor is a dazzler. Although you can only
view the room from the entrance doorway, it is a small, bright space that
looms large. Its space is accentuated by rows of double marble columns with
gilded Corinthian capitals that support a bookcase-laden balcony that
extends around the
edges of the first floor. The ornate frescos are bright, complex
and beautiful, while the stuccowork in the room is masterful. The
overall presentation of the room is one of splendor and wealth. A statue of
Minerva (or what appears to be Minerva - it can only be seen from the back) graces the center floor
of the room.
After touring a number of halls with interesting, religious art, we unexpectedly stumbled onto a misplaced room that contained an odd, but
interesting collection of miniatures. Several featured the Nativity, while
other featured soldiers, battles and scenes from everyday life. In the center of the
room was a small but interesting display of children’s clothes from the
1800s, principally dress collars and sequined slippers.
Near the end of the Tour you will enter the Kaiserhall (room 19) which touts
some gorgeous frescos, sixteen detailed statues positioned along the room's
edge and other works to numerous to mention. Faux marble pillars are
featured throughout the room and along the sides of its fireplace. The
Kaiserhall is colorful and visually stunning. Its highly ornate ceiling replete with
cavorting putti present an incredibly impressive room. Along with the
Basilica, the Kaiserhall is the used for concerts.
Your tour of the Museum will take slightly over an hour. Allow more if you
really want to dig into the details of each of the rooms. The Museum closes
between 12 and 2 and is not available on holy days and other holidays.
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