Kloster Maulbronn

Maulbronn, February 4 2012

Maulbronn Monastery is the best-preserved medieval Cistercian monastery complex in Europe. It is situated on the outskirts of Maulbronn, Baden-Württemberg, Germany and is separated from the town by fortifications. Since 1993 the monastery is part of the Unesco World Heritage.

Following now are impressions with some info about the different buildings and interior of the monastery complex. I split this post into three parts, starting with what could be called the outer complex. We are at the entrance gate in the South-West and walk by the Western fortification wall and then turn right behind the so-called Hexenturm (witch-tower) in the North-Western Corner.

Klostertor (South-Western Gate): monastics were allowed to pass freely and instantly, sick and poor men were to be welcomed as if Jesus himself was asking entry, women in turn were not allowed to enter the monastery complex. If females wanted to attend mass they were however allowed to do so at the small chapel nearby the entrance.

Hexenturm (North-Western Tower)

Western Fortification Wall and Old Forge

The winter sun sheds a warm golden light on the monastery walls and red roof tiles… We walk behind the monastery complex along the Northern fortification wall and trench. Above is situated the wine yard and below are the former milk stables and mill. We cross the bridge at the back entrance at the round path, from which wooden stairs are leading into the administrative complex with the old mill, bakery, food office, servant’s quarters and former fiscal office building.

View towards Maulbronn

Friar greeting the visitor with filled vine cup

Trench, Northern Wall

Back Entrance, Bridge – view from the Round Path, Northern Wall

Stairs, Back Entrance with Old Mill Building to the Right

Old Mill and Former Servant’s Quarters

Former Servant’s Quarters: today housing a little store…

Fancy little gargoyle figurine in front of the cloister store

The Administrative Complex consisting of Fiscal Office, Servant’s Quarters and Food Department

Old Fiscal Office, Servant’s Quarters, Food Department, Mill and Bakery

Former Royal Stables (Now Maulbronn Town Hall), Haberkasten (Warehouse), Bakery and Mill

Entrance Gate with former Trinity Chapel and Guard House (left), Apothecary (red building to the right) and Early Mass House (right)

Former Cooperage and Early Mass Building with Old Lime Tree, today housing the cloister museum

So ends a quick look round the buildings situated in the West of the monastery complex. This part occurs actually like a small town of its own. Everything that was needed to organize life was right there within the protecting walls of the monastery. Left to add is the former Wine Press House next to the cooperage, now housing the reception. Here we get our tickets for the actual Cistercian abbey, located in the East, with its partly Romanic and partly Gothic architecture, which I will delve into next.

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 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:

Shown 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: At 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…

In search for a meal we learn Maulbronn restaurants have odd opening times with cafes closing at 5pm and restaurants opening not before 6pm. The ones we check out are either still closed or booked out. So we end up returning to the cloister forge and dine at its historical tavern. Upon entering I am all the more surprised when facing the inscription above the entrance of a small room that reads Faust=Stube with numerous magical triangles surrounding the entrance and the planetary square of Saturn cemented into the wall. In a corner are enamel signs reminding of poets that lived and feasted here. The room itself is adorned with framed documents and photos as well as illustrated ceramic plates and a magical iron cemented directly into the wall. Upon a dark timber sqarebeam is inscribed with red paint a simplified version of the Pentaculum Salomonis. In the dining room itself we come to sit next to an old anvil, the symbol of the tavern along with the croiser.

Saturn Square and Enamel Signs with names of poets and thinkers who resided here

Solomon Pentacle and Sigil Ceramic Plates

Magic Iron Rod cemented into the wall

Crosier and Anvil

Faust document with Portrait and Faustturm Illustration

The document contains the A.V. K.L. W.H. formula used by the monks and which inspired a song, the Maulbronner Fuge by Viktor Scheffel:

Im Winterrefektorium
Zu Maulbronn in dem Kloster
Da geht ‘was um den Tisch herum,
Klingt nicht wie Paternoster:
Die Martinsgans hat wohlgetan,
Eilfinger blinkt im Kruge,
Nun hebt die nasse Andacht an
Und alles singt die Fuge:
A.V. K.L. W.H.
complete pocula!

Der Abt Johannes Entenfuß
Kam unwirsch hergewatschelt:
“Was wird so spät als Festtagsschluß
Bei Geigenschall gefratschelt?
Laßt ab, ihr stört den Doktor Faust
Im Gartenturm dahinten:
Wenn solch ein Singsang zu ihm braust,
kann er kein Gold nicht finden:
A.V. K.L. W.H.
Cavete scandala!

Derweilen bracht’ der Zellerar,
Herr Godefrit von Niefern,
Den Sankt Martinusspitz dar
Vom Keller mit den Küfern.
Der rief: Herr Abbas, was ihr sagt
Soll man in Züchten ehren,
Doch, wenn kein andrer Schmerz euch plagt,
so mögt ihr uns nicht wehren:
A.V. K.L. W.H.
Der Faust sitzt selbst schon da!

Der Faust saß rückwärts an der Wand
Und trank vergnügt im Dunkeln,
Nun ließ der blasse Nekromant
Sein Glas am Licht karfunkeln
Und sprach: “Ich brüt’ schon Tag und Jahr
Am schwarzen Zauberbuche
Und merk erst heut ich bin ein Narr,
daß ich das Gold dort suche:
A.V. K.L. W.H.
Das echte Gold ist da!”

“Mit Hermes Trismegistos List
Wird keins elaborieret,
Die Sonne ist der Alchymist,
der’s flüssig destillieret:
Wenn’s durch die Adern glüht und rollt
Mit Elfingers Wonnen,
Dann habt ihr Gold, habt echtes Gold
Und ehrlich selbst gewonnen.
A.V. K.L. W.H.
Haec vera practica!”

Da lacht der Abt: “Mit solcher Lehr
Zwingt ihr auch mich zum Kruge,
den All Voll, Keiner Leer, Wein Her
ist eine feuchte Fuge.
Als Fausti Goldspruch laß ich sie
Jetzt in den Kreuzgang malen,
man kennt die ganze Melodie
Schon an den Initialen:
A.V. K.L. W.H.
Sit vino gloria!”