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Himmerod Abbey and Church building

900-Year-Old German Monastery Forced to Shut Down Because of Monk Shortage

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Himmerod Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that's existed for almost 900 years in what is now western Germany is closing down for good, due to running expenses and also a shortage of monks. Notably, the monastery was used during the 1950’s in a distinctly non-monastic capacity, as a secret meeting point of former Wehrmacht high-ranking officers discussing West Germany's rearmament.

Closure After 883 Years of Operation

Himmerod Abbey is a Cistercian monastery in western Germany that was founded in 1134 by French Abbot Bernhard of Clairvaux. After coming back from the brink of bankruptcy six years ago, the monastery now has to shut its doors permanently as DW reports. There are only six monks currently living in the abbey compared to the thirty residing there almost forty years ago.

Himmerod Monastery Church

Himmerod Monastery Church (CC BY 2.0)

In 1922 the monastery was re-founded by the settlement of German Cistercian monks from the former monastery of Mariastern in modern-day Bosnia. The church building was reconstructed under Abbot Vitus Recke (Abbot from 1937 to 1959), and completed in 1962. The abbey today has a museum, a book - and art shop, a café, a guesthouse and retreat-house, as well as a fishery. Its highlight, however, is its own publishing house, the Himmerod Drucke, which has published over 50 works by a number of authors, especially Father Stephan Reimund Senge, a monk at Himmerod. The journal Unsere Liebe Frau von Himmerod ("Our Lady of Himmerod") appears three times a year, and the newsletter Himmeroder Rundbrief edited by Father Stephan, about ten times a year.

Himmerod Abbey by Fritz von Wille, pre-1941, church ruins before reconstruction

Himmerod Abbey by Fritz von Wille, pre-1941, church ruins before reconstruction (Public Domain)

The Infamous Himmerod Memorandum

The Himmerod memorandum was a 40-page document produced following a 1950 secret meeting of former Wehrmacht high-ranking officers invited by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to the Himmerod Abbey to discuss West Germany's rearmament. The resulting document laid foundation for the establishment of the new army – Bundeswehr – of the Federal Republic.

The memorandum, along with the public declaration of Wehrmacht's "honor" by the Allied military commanders and West Germany's politicians, contributed to the creation of the myth of the "clean Wehrmacht.”

From 5 to 9 October 1950, a group of former senior officers, at the behest of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, met in secret at the Himmerod Abbey, from where the memorandum took its name, to discuss West Germany's rearmament. The participants were divided in several subcommittees that focused on the political, ethical, operational and logistical aspects of the future armed forces.

The resulting memorandum included a summary of the discussions at the conference and bore the name "Memorandum on the Formation of a German Contingent for the Defense of Western Europe within the framework of an International Fighting Force". It was intended as both a planning document and as a basis of negotiations with the Western Allies. The participants of the conference were convinced that no future German army would be possible without the historical rehabilitation of the Wehrmacht.

Himmerod Church interior

Himmerod Church interior (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Uncertain Future

The monastery’s property, near the village of Grosslittgen, will be transferred to the Catholic diocese of Trier, while the six monks will move to other monasteries. The Catholic diocese of Trier has yet to announce what it plans to do with the site. Additionally, it is not yet clear what will happen to the monastery's other staff. "Himmerod will remain a spiritual site,” head of the monastery, Abbot Johannes, said as DW reports. “The walls have retained this history. I am telling you: There is no way to destroy this spiritual place, which has attracted people for centuries. I am certain people will continue to come here," he added.

The Cistercian order was founded in 1098 in response to a perceived abandonment of humility by the leading order of the time. Cistercian monasteries are divided into those that follow the Common Observance, the Middle Observance and the Strict Observance also known as Trappists. Despite the latest closure, there are still more than 160 Trappist monasteries in the world, with over 2,000 Trappist monks and roughly 1800 Trappist nuns.

Himmerod Abbey church

Himmerod Abbey church (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Top image: Himmerod Abbey and Church building (Public Domain)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Theodoros Karasavvas's picture


Theodoros Karasavvas, J.D.-M.A. has a cum laude degree in Law from the University of Athens, a Masters Degree in Legal History from the University of Pisa, and a First Certificate in English from Cambridge University. When called upon to do... Read More

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