Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Imperial Abbeys. The Imperial Abbey of Zwiefalten.

Text and Illustrations from Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.

English: The former Imperial Abbey of Zwiefalten,
Most Imperial Abbeys belonged to the Benedictine Order.
Deutsch: Zwiefalten, Ort und Kloster, 1890, Sammlung Schwäbischer Baudenkmale und Kunstarbeiten, 14, Die Klosterkirchen zu Zwiefalten und Obermarchtal, 164*222mm.
Date: 1890.
Source: eingescannt aus: Wolfgang Hesse: Ansichten aus Schwaben; Kunst, Land
und Leute in Aufnahmen der ersten Tübinger Lichtbildner und des Fotografen
Paul Sinner (1838 - 1925); Verlag Gebr. Metz, Tübingen, 1989.
Author: Paul Sinner (1838–1925).
(Wikimedia Commons)

The High Altar,
Zwiefalten Münster (Zwiefalten Abbey),
combining a Gothic statue of Mary (1430)
with Baroque additions by Joseph Christian (circa 1750).
Photo: 3 June 1990.
Source: Own work.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Imperial Abbeys (German: Reichsabteien, also Reichsklöster and Reichsstifte) were Religious Houses within the Holy Roman Empire, which had been granted the status of Imperial Immediacy (Reichsunmittelbarkeit), and therefore were answerable directly to the Emperor.

The possession of Imperial Immediacy came with a unique form of territorial authority known as Landeshoheit, which carried with it nearly all the attributes of Sovereignty. Particularly after the Peace of Westphalia (1648), all entities of the Empire, possessing Immediacy, enjoyed and exercised de facto Sovereign Power.

Any Abbot or Abbess, no matter how Lilliputian his or her domain, governed with basically the same political powers as those of any Secular Prince, such as levying taxes, rendering low- and high-justice, maintaining a Standing Army, and, if they were so inclined, despatching Embassies, declaring war, signing Treaties, etc. About forty-five Imperial Abbeys (including Priories) survived up to the mass secularisation of 1802 - 1803.

Deutsch: Zwiefalten, Germany: Abtei.
English: Zwiefalten Münster (Zwiefalten Abbey),
Photo: March 2003.
Source: Own work.
Author: Andreas Praefcke.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Head of an Imperial Abbey was generally an Imperial Abbot (Reichsabt) or Imperial Abbess (Reichsäbtissin). (The Head of a Reichspropstei — an Imperial Provostry or Priory — was generally a Reichspropst). Collectively, Imperial Abbots, Provosts and Priors were formally known as Reichsprälaten (Imperial Prelates).

A small number of the larger and most prestigious establishments had the rank of Princely Abbeys (Fürstsabtei), and were Headed by a Prince-Abbot or a Prince-Provost (Fürstabt, Fürstpropst), with status comparable to that of Prince-Bishops. Most, however, were Imperial Prelates and, as such, participated in a single collective vote in the Imperial Diet as Members of the Bench of Prelates, later (1575) divided into the Swabian College of Imperial Prelates and the Rhenish College of Imperial Prelates. Despite their difference of status within the Imperial Diet, both the Imperial Prelates and the Prince-Abbots exercised the same degree of authority over their Principality.

Deutsch: Zwiefalten: Ehemalige Benedektinerabtei, Das Innere des Münsters
Fresken von Franz Joseph Spiegler, Stuck von Johann Michael Feuchtmayer d. J.
English: Interior of Zwiefalten Abbey, Germany.
Photo: March 2003.
Source: Own work.
Author: AndreasPraefcke.
(Wikimedia Commons)

It was not uncommon for Heads of Religious Houses, other than the Imperial Abbeys, to have similar titles, even though their establishments did not have Imperial Immediacy. To take three examples: The Prince-Bishop of St. Gall retained his title until the Abbey was secularised in 1798, even though it had ceased to be an Imperial Abbey in 1648; the Abbot of Muri (which had a strong Habsburg connection) was created an Imperial Prince in 1710, although, by that time, Muri was in Switzerland; and the Prince-Abbot of St. Blaise's Abbey, in Baden-Württemberg, held that title, not on account of the status of the Abbey, which was not Immediate, but because it was conferred on him by the Abbey's ownership of the County of Bonndorf.

Many of the Religious Houses, listed on Wikipedia, under Imperial Abbeys, are those named in the Matrikel, or lists of those eligible to vote in the Imperial Diet, including those whose votes were collective rather than individual. Three of these lists survive and are accessible, from 1521, 1755 (or thereabouts) and 1792.

English: The South Nave of the Monastery Church of Zwiefalten, Germany.
Deutsch: Klosterkirche Zwiefalten: Südliches Langhaus.
Photo: 23 June 2006.
Source: Own work.
Author: Effi Schweizer.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The list mentioned in Wikipedia (List "A") includes the Principalities, Imperial Abbeys (Reichsabteien and Reichsklöster), Imperial Colleges (Reichsstifte), Imperial Provostries or Priories (Reichspropsteien) and the single Imperial Charterhouse (Reichskartause).

The word "Stift", meaning a Collegiate Foundation or Canonry, possibly belonging to a variety of different Orders, or to none at all, and either with or without Rules and Vows, for either men ("Herrenstift") or for women ("Frauenstift"), has been left untranslated, except when it specifically refers to the Chapter of a Church.

English: North Transept of the Monastery Church of Zwiefalten, Germany.
Deutsch: Klosterkirche Zwiefalten: Nördlicher Querarm.
Photo: 23 June 2006.
Source: Own work.
Author: Effi Schweizer.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Some of the Imperial Abbeys were dissolved during the Reformation; others were absorbed into other territories at various times in the general course of political life. Those in Alsace and Switzerland passed out of the Empire in 1648, when Alsace was ceded to France and Switzerland became independent. The great majority of these Religious Bodies, however, were secularised during the brief period that included the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and their aftermath, especially as a result of the German Mediatisation (Reichsdeputationshauptschluss) of February 1803. Any that survived, lost their Imperial Status when the Holy Roman Empire was wound up in 1806.

Deutsch: Innenansicht des Zwiefalter Münsters.
English: Interior of Zwiefalten Münster (Zwiefalten Abbey),
Photo: 2 April 2011.
Source: Own work.
Author: Enzyklofant.
(Wikimedia Commons)

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