One of Europe's best-preserved medieval monasteries lies in the Rheingau Region in Germany: Eberbach Abbey. The film version of "The Name of the Rose" brought it to world attention.
In the basilica, you're alone with the echo of your footsteps. The impressive 12th century building is the centerpiece of what was the Cistercian monastery in Eberbach in the Rheingau region. Now in the winter people rarely stroll through the cold medieval vault. In contrast, in the summer, there's no lack of tourists and day-trippers taking pictures of themselves in front of the white and red half-timbered walls of the old library or admiring the cloister garden in bloom and the historical wine presses. Eberbach Abbey attracts about 300,000 visitors a year.
From monastery to prison
It's been a long time since monks have lived behind the protective wall that surrounds the monastery. It was founded by Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), one of the most important monks of the Cistercian order. After its secularization in the early 19th century, the building served, among other things, as the first lunatic asylum in the duchy of Nassau and as a prison.
In 1998 the state of Hessen separated the organization of the actual monastery area with its buildings from the "Eberbach Monastery Hessian State Wineries." Since then a non-profit foundation has been responsible for the upkeep of the historical complex.
"We need about 7,000 euros ($7,824) a day, which we have to earn to ensure operation and maintenance without using tax money," foundation chairman Martin Blach calculates. Blach, who qualified as a Catholic theologian, sees himself as carrying on the tradition of the former residents: "The Cistercians didn't just pray. They also ran a business empire."
Eberbach became world famous as a film backdrop
Eberbach Abbey actually did once own broad expanses of land and vineyards. In the 15th century, the monks had a now-lost 70,000 liter wine barrel made, which Vincentius Opsopoeus, the Bavarian humanist and contemporary of the cooper who made it, placed on a level with the pyramids: "Is not Eberbach's barrel also comparable to the wonders of the ancients? Our planet will nevermore possess a larger one."
But it wasn't the barrel that brought the abbey world fame. Instead it was the French director Jean-Jacques Annaud and Scottish actor Sean Connery. In 1985 and 1986, for the film version of Umberto Eco's dark medieval murder mystery "The Name of the Rose," Eberbach Abbey was the location for almost all the interior scenes. Annaud had visited about 300 monasteries in several countries before he made his choice.
For shooting, a complete set of medieval-style choir stalls was constructed in the usually empty basilica. Some of what the film crew left behind can still be seen today. The abbey is still reaping the benefits of the huge popularity of the film version of "The Name of the Rose."
A venue for great music and romantic weddings
In the present day, Eberbach Abbey has established itself as a hotel and conference center. The compound can be rented for evening events, and Eberbach has long been a main venue for the Rheingau Music Festival. What used to be the chambers of the monastery's abbots serves as a branch of the local registry office. In 2015 alone, about 80 couples tied the knot there.
When the foundation was established, the state of Hessen agreed to fund a last comprehensive renovation of the entire compound and all its buildings from public coffers. The work has now been going on for 30 years and isn't expected to be finished until 2024. Among other things, restoration of the basilica's interior, renovation of the cloister wall and the east wing of the enclosure still have to be carried out.
When finished, the complete refurbishment will have cost 129 million euros ($144.19 millions). "What began in 1986 we're already again renovating in our work now," says Martin Blach, "like Cologne Cathedral. When you've finished work on the front, you start all over again at the back."
Between dignity and fame
Despite all the activities, the monastery's administration says it tries to maintain the dignity of the place. "Film murders have taken place here. That was borderline, but we tolerated it," the foundation chairman reports. "With nude photos, for instance, we did intervene."
Early this year, there were again heated debates about a rental contract. The popular reality talent show "Deutschland sucht den Superstar, " the German version of "Pop Idol," was given permission to shoot one of its finals of its competition in the Cistercian monastery. The friends of Eberbach Abbey promptly expressed "ethical and moral reservations."
The monastery's business manager defended the move, saying, "We didn't take the decision to allow staging a final here lightly or hastily, but instead considered it carefully and sensitively." He added that the broadcast was a chance to kindle young people's enthusiasm for this fascinating place. The show will be recorded on April 20.