Maulbronn Monastery II: Cistercian Abbey

Cistercian Abbey Maulbronn

The beautiful church building, built 1146-1178 and sacred to Mary, is currently being restored and cannot be entered until 2013. So we check the rest of the abbey, including the cloistered courtyard, chapter house, parlatory and friar’s refectory. The evening sun sheds a warm golden light on the walls and corridors. Inside the building I am particularly fascinated by the delicate floral paintings adorning the ceilings and partly colored ribbed vaults giving the architecture a very organic feel. Finally we also get a glimpse of the legendary Faustturm (South-Eastern Tower) and now snow-covered  cloister garden. Besides, did I mention yet that temperatures dropped already as low as -16°Celsius? But lets continue our tour….

Western Entrance and Laic Refectory

Sundial over the Entrance in the West

Cross Vault next to the Storeroom

Evening Light and Gothic Window, Western Entrance

Western Entrance, Ceiling Paintings


Behind the the Storeroom we enter the Western cloister hall. The hall, built around 1300, features five Gothic twin lancet windows with beautiful flower rosettes opening towards the courtyard. The ceilings are supported by vaulting ribs mounted on corbel depicting figures:

Depicted are the constructor of the hall, Prior Walther, and below his assistant, Rosen Schöphelin. The inscription on Prior Walther’s portrait read: “Hie sol mit rehter Andaht des Prioles Walther werden gedaht wan er hat disen bu vollerbaht. Valete in Domino“.

Below the view from the Eastern cloister hall towards the Western hall with the five Gothic twin lancet windows:

View from North-Western corner into the courtyard: the church and Southern hall are currently being restored. To the left you see the exterior of the fountain chapel. We turn right and walk through the Southern hall, where ecclesiastic readings and lectures were held every evening and the friars foot-washings took place every Saturday. On the ground are a number of grave slabs, amongst others the one of abbot Entenfuss. From the Southern hall we enter the Eastern hall and chapter house with the beautiful chapel of St. Johan:


Eastern Hall with huge Gothic windows and Chapter House: In the chapter house important congregations took place. Here the friars would meet to discuss and hold abbot-ship elections, vows were taken and the newly elected abbots were dressed. Once a week were also held commemorations for dead brothers of the order. Note the star-shaped vault mounted on three pillars, featuring beautiful ceiling paintings.

In the South-Eastern corner sticks out the chapel of St. Johan, with five Gothic stained glass windows and a painted royal blue ribbed vault. Below is a crypt where the newly deceased may have been lying in state.

We continue and turn right, entering a corridor leading to the parlatory, the only room where friars were allowed to converse freely with each other or strangers. The parlatory is located in the North-East, preceding the manor house. It was built in 1493 and features a stunning reticulated vaulting with delicate floral and herbal ceiling paintings and a painting on the Eastern wall showing the Mother Mary and Christ child with an abbot kneeling before them and the Württembergian crest underneath. Opposite on the Western wall a lamb mounts the pointed arch of the entrance. Next to it, in the South-Western corner, is built a small heptagonal tower with a spiral stone staircase leading upwards to the oratory.

Parlatory with Reticulated Vaulting and Heptagonal Stairway Tower


Parlatory, Reticulated Vaulting with Floral Paintings and Painted Eastern Wall

Gate to the Cloister Garden; from here we catch a glimpse of the South-Eastern Tower, where according to legend the historical Dr. Faust resided. The story goes that in 1516 abbot Entenfuss had invited the magicus, who was born in the nearby Knittlingen and had just finished his studies of the magia naturalis in the city of Krakow, to live at the monastery and pursue the high goal of transforming sandstone into gold. When Faust did not succeed at this impossible task he sold his soul to the devil, who would eventually come and take him through a hole in the tower wall. Of Faust was nothing left but a bloodstain on the wall located above said hole, which is said to be visible until today, and Abbot Entenfuss was dismissed two years later.

We return to the cloister and upon passing the Northern hall and stairs to the calefactory (warm room) we come to the fountain chapel and friar’s refectory. The fountain chapel, leaping into the central courtyard, was built in 1350. It has a nonagonal shape and features seven spiky tracery windows. The fountain itself is 3 meters wide. Here the monks would wash their hands before dinner.


Opposed to the ridged entrance of the fountain chapel lies a prominent Romanic portal leading to the friar’s refectory. Here the monks would have their meals, whilst being read bible passages etc. The hall was built between 1200 and 1220 and its architecture features Roman as well as Gothic elements. I am particularly impressed by the red vaulting ribs spanning over the ceiling, which remind me of blood vessels. Similar as the parlatory’s ceiling this room is again adorned with delicate paintings that radiate from each intersection between the vaulting ribs. (Quite a beautiful connotation concerning intersections/crossroads and floral elements springing from them and I cannot help feeling reminded of voodoo vevés.)



Note also the massive pillars upon which the vaulting ribs are mounted: three strong round pillars carry the main weight and are supported by four smaller accessory pillars. The long round stained glass windows, featuring different symbolical ornaments, allow for plenty of light to enter the tall room, even now when the sun is slowly setting.

With the setting sun the light vanishes and temperatures drop further. We decide to finish our visit, having a short look into the now dark room of the former liac refectory and leave through the Western hall from where can now be seen the moon rising over the cloister roof.

Facing the last sunbeams we then pass the so-called Fruchtkasten (the huge wine press house) and before exiting stop at the former guard house, where now healing herbs and spices are sold. We buy sweet woodruff and marshmallow candy and then exit the complex through the main gate in the South-West.

Former Wine Press House (so-called Fruchtkasten)

Buckthorn in front of the Apothecary and Hazel Pentagram in front of the herb store

Sunset… but our stay is not over yet…