Wednesday, September 5, 2007
The Abbey of Kempten
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.