Tuesday, September 11, 2007
It is becoming obvious that even an apparent innocent like Alois has appreciated the deep political rifts that exist in his Abbey. He may even suspect that he was elected, sight unseen, for the very reason that he is a political innocent.
Of course, from the first, all of the respective factions wanted ‘their’ man in, and consequently could not agree on who it could be. Himmelstoss wanted an aggressive religious policy, Thengen an aggressive economic policy and von Lindburg an aggressive military policy all aimed at the Free City. Balanced against them were Krackenfart who, despite his old-womanish ways, wanted a more academic and less worldly institution and thought the goings on of the Free City an irrelevance and Durffaendel who automatically connects the words aggression with expense in his mind. Nobody really knows what Fassbinder thinks, as he is such a manoeuvrer anyway, so it was up to that snake Gumbolls to find a compromise.
He said that he remembered a student of his from the past, very committed to the scriptures and to art and music, and always was talking about our duty to God. He also said, apparently in private to Himmelstoss and Krackenfart, that he was also the dimmest student he could remember teaching. So, Alois was nominated Duke-Abbot, and in a week elected Duke-Abbot unopposed. The supposition was that he would neither rock the boat nor upset the balance of competing interests.
Having spent a lot of time with this man I am not sure they are right. Behind that other-worldly innocence lays a steely resolve to do his duty by God as he sees it. This is not the swivel-eyed lunacy of Himmelstoss, but rather a firm irreducible faith. This may yet lead to a conflict with most of the key people within the Abbey.
Personally I have no time for most of them: Gumbolls is a drunken lecher, Krackenfart an old woman, Thengen is corrupt, Fassbinder a pederast and Richardt a half wit. But I shudder to think about Himmelstoss and von Lindburg. The former has never forgiven me for being born and spending much of my life a Protestant and converting to get this job. It is true I have nothing but a vague belief in religion, but a strong belief in God – how can I not have, a survivor such as me? Von Lindburg, on the other hand, fancies himself a soldier. Thankfully it is a desire that is not shared or appreciated by anyone else, least of all me. I have seen many wars and met many good soldiers, and I am not convinced by Lindburg’s bluster. Luckily Alois is committed to ‘God’s Peace’, not a fact appreciated or understood by the likes of von Lindburg.
So, now, after 4 days in silent prayer (shock) the good Father-Abbot is ready to undertake a tour of the Patrimony. It should give him even more to think about.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Alois looked around the small audience chamber from his throne. He barely knew who any of these people were, he noted, and indeed they barely knew him.
Of the monks in the room the only one he had any real knowledge of was the stooped figure of Brother Gumbolls, who had formerly been his teacher of Greek and Latin and now, Alois understood, was his secretary. Gumbolls had a reputation when Alois was a novice to be a consumer of gargantuan amounts of alcohol, be it beer, wine, brandy or anything else he could lay his hands on. By his slight swaying and somewhat slurred speech it seemed that nothing much had changed, despite the fact that it was just after Matins.
Gumbolls introduced the rest of the throng. There was Brother Krackenfart, the Chief Librarian, Brother Himmelstoss who headed up the Seminary, Brother Fassbinder, who had responsibility for the schools throughout the patrimony, Brother Thengen who looked after the breweries and Brother Richardt who oversaw the workings of the churches and satellite monasteries in the patrimony.
There were some secular figures too. A rather red faced individual, whose face was almost totally obscured by an enormous wig, was introduced as the Graf von Lindenburg, whilst a smaller individual, whose darting movements made him look to Alois like an overly-nervous sparrow, was apparently Michael Durffaendel, the treasurer of the Abbey. Looming behind Alois' throne was the battle-scarred figure of Lachen.
“Greetings my Brothers and fellow good Catholics,” Alois began, “I thank you with all my heart for your greetings and hope that, with the help of God, you will be my support as I wrestle with this most challenging of jobs that The Lord has seen fit to elevate me to.”
Then it all started.
Gumbolls blankly stated that the Lord had nothing at all to do with it and he had been elected by his fellow Brothers and ought to “do his best to recognise that fact.”
Thengen then asked what he was going to do about the Free City, whose production of beer was increasing and was damaging revenues. On asked by Alois what he suggested Thengen replied that all hops entering the Free City should be subject to crippling tariffs.
“Nonsense!” bellowed von Lindburg, who declared that the best way to deal with these scoundrels was by the use of force and the Abbey should send in it’s troops.
“What, all sixty of them?” queried Lachen.
“They all should be burned as heretics, that what we should have done centuries ago…” the icy voice of the aesetic Himmelstoss cut through the general hubbub.
“But this Abbey has not been responsible for burning someone since 1579!” responded a genuinely shocked Krackenfart.
“One might say we stopped too soon” Himmelstoss responded.
The conversation overflowed then into many separate arguments.
“Brothers, brothers,” cried an anguished Alois, standing from his chair, “can we not put aside this language of conflict and respond with the Peace of God…?”
“To hell with the Peace of God,” replied Thengen, savagely, “this is Abbey revenue”
“And remember who put you in that Throne…” followed Gumbolls
“Just sit there, read some books and leave the governance of the patrimony to us, I think that would be the best for all concerned” finished von Lindburg.
Alois slumped, disbelieving, into his chair. The general yammer of voices washed over him as he realised the futility of his position: all his councillors and advisors were little more than Godless cynics, far removed from His Good Grace and clearly buried in the secular world. His mind raced, despair mounted upon agony, until a quiet voice in his ear said: “bring the audience to an end.” It was Lachen. Alois, appearing like a wounded man, could only wave at one of the Novices who announced it for him. The crowd shuffled, still arguing, out of the chamber.
“Not you,” Alois croaked, pointing at Gumbolls. “There are letters to reply to from friendly rulers on my accession…”
“Indeed Father-Abbot. And?” Gumbolls replied.
Alois looked at him uncertainly and then gave in and waved him away.
Clearly, of all the many duties that Gumbolls had, writing letters was not one of them.
Alois-Friedrich von Dietmann, Duke-Abbot of Kempten
God’s Mysterious Way
It had, reflected Alois ruefully, been a very confusing three months.
There had been no sign that God was about to pluck him from obscurity and make him His instrument, but this was exactly what had happened. Alois did not know what to make of the turn of events, truly, but realised that he was merely an instrument in God’s design and he must accept His will.
It had begun in Pavia. Alois had been teaching in Pavia for over twenty years, preserved by the university’s rareified atmosphere of hot air and alcohol, and he had more-or-less resigned himself to be there for the rest of his life. This did not trouble Alois one bit, he was doing his part for God and the Benedictine order and was happy with his modest lot.
This peace was shattered by the arrival of a letter from the deputy Abbot at Kempten, his old Monastery. The letter informed him that he had been nominated for the election of the next Duke-Abbot, Abbot Ernst having recently been taken up to the bosom of God. Alois did not quite know what to make of this: he had not been at Kempten since he was a novice and was a little baffled by the choice, having originally thought it a joke. So he pondered about this for a good deal, but while he was pondering another letter arrived informing him that he had been elected and that the messenger would bring him further news.
The messenger turned out to be a character called Georg Lachen. With him were twenty rather scruffy horsemen in bearskins that Lachen described as ‘Father-Abbot’s own loyal Lifeguard’ and two bewildered novices who were to be at his call for the journey. Lachen told him that he was to go directly to Rome, with Lachen and his men as escort, so that he could be installed by the Holy Father. Then the party were to return to Kempten where Alois would be installed.
So the party set off for Rome. Alois tried to talk to the two novices about things in Kempten, but they either seemed to know very little or were half-witted. Lachen said he was “…unable, in my humble position, to comment on the higher workings of the Abbey.” Hmm. Alois had more luck in getting to know Lachen generally. The man had an extraordinary appearance: the face was a mass of scar tissue and Lachen boasted to carry the marks of “22 great wounds” and had never once visited a surgeon, which he took to be the mainspring of his healthy constitution, although Alois suspected that the large quantities of alcohol he imbibed every night had proofed his body against all disease many years ago.
Lachen also claimed to have fought every war since Thermopylae, or so it seemed to Alois and it turned out that he was not a native of the Allgau district at all, but a soldier of fortune who saw his current little command as something of a retirement sinecure. The men, meanwhile, although they seemed polite enough on the surface were boorish and drank at night: Alois fancied he caught them laughing at him at times when they were drunk or off-guard, but dismissed it.
On reaching Rome Alois and his party had to wait a week for an audience with His Holiness. His growing nervousness had now reached fever pitch and as his audience day came he was wretchedly sick. The awe soon dissipated, however, when the audience took place. The shrunken and shrivelled figure mumbled some inaudible words in Latin whilst Alois strained to hear. Then he noticed that, under the Holy Father’s robes, his two feet were encased in two different coloured slippers and Alois drifted through the rest of the event pre-occupied with wondering who had got the Holy Father ready that morning.
For Alois the journey to Kempten was agony. The men were as boorish as ever, the novices as incompetent and Lachen continually regaled him with war stories and tales of his wounds. Things took an even stranger turn on reaching the patrimony of the Abbey. Instead of the expected crowds to wave and cheer he met a rather quizzical and vaguely disinterested reception on the road. One or two members of the older generation did greet him enthusiastically but other people were somewhat muted. It was not sullen, he reflected, but rather he was being treated as something of a curiosity.
The party spent the night at an Inn at Isny while the arrangements for his formal entry were made. The following day he dressed in his remaining clean robe and mounted his horse. Followed by Lachen and his men he made his entry through the streets of Kempten-in-Allgau to the gates of the Abbey. The townspeople here had turned out in greater numbers and showed a little more enthusiasm than their country bretheren, and dotted among the crowd he could see monks from his own order, plus the odd Franciscan, waving madly.
On reaching the Abbey he dismounted and with all due ceremony was installed as Duke-Prior of the Abbey and Patrimony of Kempten by his peers. Dazed by the ceremony, and dazzled by his new residence, he informed his novice-companions that he wished to see no-one for the rest of the day, but would hold an audience in the morning. In the meantime he prayed to God in his new Chapel for guidance and help so that His poor instrument, Alois, could do his will.
Whatever that turned out to be…
The Abbey of Kempten is part of the Benedictine order and was founded in 752 by Empress Hildegarde, wife of Charlemagne. Situated in the Allgau area of southern Germany it has grown over the years and is currently a principality in its own right. The Duke-Abbot owes no alliegance to any Bishop and instead is directly appointed by the Holy Father.
The Abbey is a large organisation with over 1000 brothers spread between the main buildings at Kempten and satellite Abbeys at Sonthofen, Oberstdorf and Lindau. Although the Abbey undertakes the usual functions of a religious house: healing of the sick and supporting travellers, its main function is that of a place of learning. Nowhere is this more marked than in its Library, which is a massive collection of books, manuscripts and folios used by scholars from across the Catholic world. Although illumination still takes place within the scriptorium, the Abbey now has several presses to produce expurgated copies of some of the books it maintains.
The Abbey is also a place of pilgrimage to see the resting places of several Saints, including Magus, Gordianus and Hildegarde herself.
The Abbey has recently completed a process of rebuilding, begun after the Thirty Year’s War and completed by Duke-Abbot Anselm von Reichlin-Meldegg (1732-1742) with much Baroque and Rococo decoration. There is also a very impressive Basilica and palace for the Duke-Abbot.
The Duke-Abbot rules, in his own right, a considerable patrimony. Stretching from Wiggensbach in the north and Oberstdorf and the Tyrol in the south, and the Oberallgau Forest in the east to Lindau on Lake Constance in the west, the territories of the Abbey provide much in the way of labour and money to supplement fees from scholars and pilgrims. The country is rolling hills to the north with much cultivated land giving way to increasing woodland and alpine pasture to the south.
The connection to the Bishoprics of Augsburg, Constance and Bregenz is strong, the latter in particular due to their bordering the lake leading to easy communications. These Bishoprics in particular send their Priests to study at the Library and seminary at Kempten.
Due to its geography the agricultural produce of the region is primarily dairy produce, logging and rougher cultivated crops such as rye. Some wheat and hops are also grown, but these are for the speciality of the region: beer. The major industry is brewing, over which the Abbey has a monopoly and beer from the Allgau region is justifiably famous. There is some weaving of locally produced wool and tanning of leather products.
The Free City
The major local source of tension is the Free City of Kempten. The city grew up in the valley of the river Iller overlooked by the Abbey and everything seemed fine until the city swung heavily in favour of Protestantism in the 16th Century. The Free City is governed by a city council, headed by a Burgomeister, and has clung on to its Protestant faith with great determination, the proximity of the Catholic Abbey and being surrounded by its patrimony just adding to the siege mentality. The Free City is a major competitor to the Abbey in the brewing of beer and relies on its Imperial Charter and Burgerwehr to defend its interests.
The new city
Chartered in 1713 the new city of Kempten (Kempten-in-Allgau) has grown up steadily around the Abbey and is devoted to servicing pilgrims and scholars who choose to visit. It does not have the commercial character of the Free City and instead is a settlement for Catholic servants and service industries.
The principality has one senior noble family, that of the Lindenburgs. This family has for many decades been the leading secular force within the principality and it, or its allies and servants, fill many of the government posts around the Duchy. Other families of note include the Dietmannsrieds, Schweckenfelds, Fraimerstorffs, Hammersteins and Molenarks.