Mighty abbey church to praise God

It all started with St. Kilian. But even about this one, a heavyweight in the mainfrnk consciousness, one does not know more than that one knows something exact. In any case, he died, probably with two companions, around 689 in Wrzburg, however and for whatever reason (one companion was left alive).

Mainfranken was about as Christian back then as it is today: some people were not at all, others only by name, and still others were completely convinced of the correctness of the teaching. In order to strengthen the group of the latter, Boniface established a diocese, whether that was 741 or 742 is controversial and ultimately irrelevant. Burkard becomes bishop, well known with Boniface and the house feasts of the Frankish kings, who (not least with the help of Burkard) usurped the throne in 751 and made a career as Carolingians.

At some point during his tenure, Burkard raised the bones of the not forgotten Irish itinerant preachers and began building a cathedral in Wrzburg, probably on the site of today’s Neumnster. Burkard went to heaven (as it is so beautifully said in his oldest biography), probably in 753 or 754. He is succeeded by Megingaud, offspring of a Franconian clan who had plenty of property. After 15 years in the episcopate, however (the reasons are unclear), he retires, moves to a place on the Main called Rorinlacha and builds a monastery there, which is later called Neustadt.

Wrzburg and Karlburg easy to reach

Why did Megingaud build the monastery on this spot? The place is said to have been given to him (probably by a relative), but that was not the main reason. Neustadt is located on the Main, the region’s main artery, people and freight are constantly passing by. Wrzburg and Karlburg, which was important at the time, can be easily reached on foot. The Franconian Plate is a densely populated and fertile area, and one can get income from its villages. The Spessart supplies an extremely important material: wood.

One can only ask why the monastery was not built on the opposite side of the Main in the more expandable Erlach. The reason will be that there was already a complex to the south of today’s monastery, which was later called the hunting lodge of Charlemagne. This is true insofar as there actually was a small weir system on a hill, the Michelsberg.

The empire itself in the person of Charlemagne probably supported the establishment and endowed the monastery with extensive property on the western side of the forest, deep into the Spessart. Founding monasteries was in fashion in the 8th century. The fact that Neustadt was deliberately founded in order to train clergymen for the missionary work of the Saxons is an invention of the 19th century.

Megingaud died, probably very old, in 794 and was buried in today’s Neumnster in Wrzburg near the graves of the Franconian apostles. His tombstone is still there, which of course still poses many riddles.

In the following two centuries, next to nothing can be learned about Neustadt. That it would have been affected by the Hungarian rivers is completely unproven. Only for the year 993 is there a document in which Emperor Otto III. the abbey is confirmed as the property of the Wrzburg Church (to put it simply). Much modern printer’s ink flowed into this process, which ultimately only codified what had been the case for a long time: the monastery was under the rule of the Wrzburg bishop, was no longer an aristocratic own monastery (than it had been founded) and also no imperial monastery, which was Neustadt would have liked to have been (and what would have played no role in everyday life).

But why a monastery after all, far away from larger settlements? This cannot be explained with today’s rationality. On the one hand, remote locations, as can be found in many monasteries, are intended to increase the possibility of contemplation. Above all, however, monasteries are cultural institutes, because education is also necessary in those times. It should not be underestimated that reading, arithmetic and writing were essential to many professions, and public schools were only available in the larger cities. Those who were self-conscious and wanted to give their offspring opportunities for advancement sent their children (only the boys, of course) to the monastery for training.

Although: of course there were also women’s convents, although you don’t always know how popular life was there. But that brings you back to a problem, namely that we don’t know a lot. Monasteries are also entertainment centers, for example through the pilgrimages that are often associated with them.

The mantle of St. Gertrude

What you can get yourself the necessary saints and miracles for: In Neustadt, Saint Gertrud von Nivelles, who is said to have founded a monastery in Karlburg in the 7th century, quickly becomes Franconian Saint Gertrude, sister of Charlemagne and benefactress Neustadts. That happens in the 10th century at the latest. They also get a cloak supposedly worn by her, which made an excellent relic, but according to recent research has absolutely nothing to do with Nivelles.

The monasteries are economic centers, serve the exchange of goods. Neustadt’s financial circumstances were good in the eleventh century; one wonders where all the money came from to build a new, second, or third large church. The church was (and is) actually oversized (comparable to the later Bronnbach monastery). But nothing is too big to praise God, and building a church is also a job creation scheme, which is followed by further investments.

Neustadt, however, seems to take over financially at times, especially since some of them seem to have put their own well-being at the center of their business. The greatest problem, however, is the Vgte, first the Lords of Grumbach, then the Counts of Rieneck as their heirs. Around 1150, the Grumbach family built Rothenfels Castle, clearly on the site of a monastery, perhaps on the basis of an older system. Neustadt wants to prevent this or is at least trying to assert itself against the governors.

Vgte make financial claims

Vgte are not very popular with ecclesiastical institutions everywhere: they promise protection, but make no small financial demands for it. The comparison with the Mafia cannot be completely dismissed. In connection with these disputes, the monastery then forges a certificate dated 794 and claims to have been founded by Emperor Karl.

In 1525 the Peasants’ War broke out and the monastery was only slightly affected. It is rather unlikely that the farmers had a factual reason for a few lootings and felt oppressed by the monastery. In 1554 the abbot Johannes Fries tried to reform Neustadt in line with the evangelical doctrine, but was deposed by Wrzburg. And Bishop Friedrich von Wirsberg made short work of 1558 and brought the entire archive to his episcopal city. Some things will be returned later, at least in copies, but some have been lost.

Overall, however, the source situation for Neustadt can be described as relatively good, at least from around 1300, but nobody has yet come and wrote an overall account of the history of the monastery. At least there are a number of attachments.

The 30-year war does not contribute to the financial situation either. The monastery tries again to free itself from its dependence on Wrzburg, again in vain. And then the big politics strikes: In the Scularization, the monastery is dissolved in 1803 and given to the Prince of Lwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg as compensation for the areas he lost left of the Rhine (wars between German states and Napoleon). Neustadt had 19 fathers at that time, more will have been rare in the time before.

Heaven doesn’t mean it well either: in 1857 lightning struck the church, but the Princely House was rebuilt halfway true to the original and also ensures that the Dominican Missionaries of St. Catherine of Siena of Oakford / Natal (South Africa) in 1909 were able to make Neustadt the seat of their Franconian Province, which today, however, faces an uncertain future.

Literature: The most precise, but not tenable representation in all points can be found in: Wendehorst, Alfred: Neustadt am Main. Germania Benedictina Volume II / 2: The male and female monasteries of the Benedictines in Bavaria. Edit v. Michael Kaufmann, Helmut Flachenecker, Wolfgang Wst and Manfred Heim. St. Ottilien 2014, pp. 1417-1432

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