When you think of Bavaria’s finest tourist attractions, castles, palaces and fortress are the first ones that come to one’s mind. But if you’re looking for something not so much in the spotlight, turn for the small village of Ettal. There you’ll find the beautiful Benedictine Ettal Abbey, one of the most important monasteries in the German Alpine region and an important pilgrimage centre.
The heart of the abbey is its beautifully decorated basilica. I was impressed by the outstanding frescoes (especially the ones in the cupola), the superb stucco decorations, the splendid dome and the exquisite 18th century Baroque organ.
The church is surrounded by a castle-like domain, which houses all the edifices necessary to the monks’ community. The abbey is similar to a small self-sufficient village and inside its 3 walled courtyards you can find the monks’ quarters, a school, a library, a boarding school and a playground for the students, a cheese factory, a brewery, a distillery, a bookstore, an art publishing house, a hotel and several small crafts stores.
History of Ettal Abbey
The founding of the monastery is based on a legend. In exchange for his safe return to Bavaria after his coronation in Rome, Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria made a vow to build a church on the trade route between Italy and Augsburg (Germany’s third oldest city). Near the area of today’s monastery, Ludwig’s horse kneeled three times. Now a marble statuette of the Madonna and Child (“Frau Stifterin” or the “Ettal Madonna”) stands there. The statuette, brought by the Emperor from Pisa as a gift for his new foundation, soon became an object of pilgrimage.
Ettal Abbey was founded on April 28th 1330. After 40 years of construction, in 1370, the original Gothic church – modest in size – was completed. Apparently, the abbey was originally designed to be a Benedictine monastery for both men and women, as well as a house for the Teutonic Knights.
The 18th century was the golden age of Ettal, as it saw the establishment of a highly successful school (first an academy for knights). In 1744, a fire destroyed the abbey and the church, which were then rebuilt in the spectacular Baroque style that we admire today.
In 1803, during the secularization of church property in Bavaria, the abbey was dissolved. It was re-founded in 1900. Twenty years later, the abbey church was declared a basilica minor in 1920.
I left Ettal Abbey with a sense of peace, but also with a small souvenir: the delicious Ettaler Kloster Liqueur, a herbal liqueur manufactured at the abbey. 😀
If you’re looking for accommodation in the area, I recommend the wonderful » Alphotel Ettal!
Also, check out other articles from the Beautiful Churches Around the World series.