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History of Comburg Castle

 

The name „Comburg“ is probably derived from a Celtic word meaning „rock“ or  „stone“. Count Burkhard von Comburg-Rothenburg, the eldest of four brothers, born around 1040/1050, converted the castle into a Benedictine monastry  in 1078 and became a monk in his own foundation.

After a period of construction lasting only ten years, the Romanesque pillared basilica was consecrated in 1088. In the 12 th century, the third abbot of the monastery, Hartwig, donated a valuable antependium (altar front) and a richly-decorated wheel-shaped chandelier. These works of art were presumably produced in the monastry workshops.

The antependium in the collegiate church St. Nikolaus consists of a wooden frame and it is adorned with copper plate that had been worked and gilded. The fillets dividing it into twelve panels are embellished with filigreed enamel. In the rectangular panels there is a representation of the apostles, while Christ can be seen in the central mandorla. This is a representation of the final judgment, which is also confirmed by the inscription surrounding the antependium.

In Germany there exist only three wheel-shaped chandeliers (Aix-la-Chapelle  (Aachen), Hildesheim, Comburg). The Comburg chandelier can be viewed in three different ways:

1)   Function: With its 48 candles it was presumably the only source of light in the otherwise dark Romanesque church.

2)   Symbolic level: It represents the city of Jerusalem with its constantly standing walls and towers as described in the Apocalypse. In the twelve towers there are the custodians (bishops, saints, angels, warriers a.s.o.), and in between the prophets are represented on twelve round medaillons.

3)   As a work of art: Its value was rediscovered only after 1848, when the chain bearing the chandelier came apart, and it lost its gold-bronze coat of paint which had been put on in 1570 for its protection. 144 plant motifs can be seen on the insets.

Those parts of the oldest builsings still standing are testiomony to the first golden age of the monastry: The gateway with its St. Michael’s chapel, the church towers and the cloister lying to the west , which includes Romanesque masonry up to its eaves. This is  where all the buildings stood close to each other and where the monks lived their lifs together: church, refectory (today the Adelmann Building) and dormitory (today the Vicarage). The abbot’s quarters were located in the Alte Abtei, the Old Abbey. In this part of the building we can see the abbot’s reception room with a recently restored beautiful miniature gallery. Today this room is used as both a lecture-room and as a concert hall (Kaisersaal, the Emperor’s Room).

In the 15 th century there was a gradual decline of morals. All external attempts for reform failed, and finally in 1488, the monastery was converted into a canons’ chapter.

This period is today reflected in the various buildings, as the canons were entitled to their own quarters and households.

Accordingly, more buildings were erected, e.g. the Neue Dekanei (the New Deanery), the Wambold Building, the Gebsattel Building and the Reischach Building, which even today still bear the names of their last occupants. Many of the canons were also members of the canons’ chapters in Ellwangen or Würzburg.

Consequently, canon vicars were also appointed. They were accommodated in the Vikarienbau (the Vicarage) and they officiated at services together with the canons.

Mention must be made of two eminent personalities from that time:

Dean Erasmus Neustetter (1551 - 1594) commissioned the construction, maintenance, alteration or redecoration of many buildings, his most important building being the circular wall with a circumference of 460 meters, which has been almost completely preserved. He had his own house built (Alte Dekanei, the Old Deanery) in the gap next to the Romanesque gateway and had an access built through the tower to St. Michael’s chapel. He thus created for himself a private oratory.

The building craze of the period generated great plans on the part of Dean Wilhelm Ulrich von Guttenberg (1707 - 1735). Comburg Castle was to be converted into a baroque monastery. After the construction of a new church (for which he donated 4,300 florins) and his residence (Neue Dekanei, the New Deanery), he ran out of money. The baroque church was constructed by Joseph Greissing with interior decoration done by Balthasar Esterbauer.

Comburg Castle passed over to the State of Württemberg in 1802/03 as part of the process of secularization, and it served for almost one hundred years as the seat of the Royal Württemberg Honorary Corps of Invalids, which gave a home to wounded elderly soldiers.

In 1926 the first residential Adult Education Centre was established in Comburg Castle.

In 1936 this establishment had to be abandoned as a result of pressure exerted by the National Socialists. In the ensuing years there were courses for artisans and stonemasons, and later Comburg Castle served as a Hitler youth hostel and finally as a prisoner-of-war camp.

On 16 May 1947, Theodor Bäuerle, the then Minister of Education and the initiator and co-founder of Comburg Academy, inaugurated the first course of further education for teachers. Included in the initial offer of training courses there was emphasis on re-education, political schooling and educating towards democracy, as well as a new structure for the content of subject-matter. At that time, courses were provided for both teachers and trainee lawyers. Also, doctors held conferences there, until Comburg Academy was used exclusively for further training of teachers. Since 1947 more than 180,000  teachers have attended courses at Comburg Castle.

Birgit Jaeger-Gollwitzer, Akademiereferentin (1998 - 2008)