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Masterpiece of German Romanesque architecture, the Maria Laach resembles fairy tale castle

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 29th, 2012
Catholic Online (

The Maria Laach Abbey, or as it is known in Germany, the Abtei Maria Laach or Kloster Maria Laach is located on the wooded shores of a crater lake. The church is considered an important example of German Romanesque architecture. With its short length and multitude of towers and turrets, the church resembles a fairy-tale fortress, accentuated by its scenic, lakeside setting.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Visitors to the church's east end, overlooking the lake will see that it has a round apse flanked by twin square towers. Over the transept crossing is a broad cupola with cone-shaped roof.

At the church's west end is a unique feature known as the Paradise. A single-story, colonnaded porch surrounding a small courtyard, the Paradise was added around 1225. This feature reflects the architecture of Early Christian basilicas. Its open arches rest on thin twin columns. The Paradise's portals and capitals are richly carved, many of them with fascinating mythical figures. These sculptural additions were the work of the imaginative mason is known as the Laacher Samson-Meister or "Master of the Laach Samson."

Entrance into the church is through two heavy doors, decorated with zodiac and heraldic symbols, into the south and north aisles. Visitors are greeted by the Monument of Heinrich II, built in 1270, topped with a larger-than-life effigy of the Count Palatine holding his church.

Far more modern additions are in the stained glass windows of the west apse, including a charming depiction of Adam and Eve, were designed in 1956 by Wilhelm Rupprecht.

The interior of the church is very dark, with sunlight admitted only through small Romanesque windows high in the nave and in the two side aisles. A small chapel on the south side houses a 15th-century Pieta statue and a multitude of candles lit by visitors.

Highly faded older murals adorn the east sides of the nave's middle piers. The one on the north side depicts a bearded saint holding a book and an open scroll with Latin lettering; the one on the south is badly damaged but shows a cloaked saint holding a book with his/her robes.

The Abbey of Maria Laach was founded in 1093 by the Count Palatine of the Rhine Heinrich II and his wife Adelheid. They were unable to have children and donated what would have been spent on a dowry on the foundation of a monastery across the lake from their castle.

Built on the west side of the lake now known as the Laacher See, the monastery became known as the Abbatia ad Lacum, "Lake Abbey."

Laach is the Old High German word for "lake" and has been preserved in the name of the lake and the abbey. But the modern German word for lake is See, so the lake is called the Laacher See. The addition of "Maria" to the abbey's name did not happen until the 19th century.


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