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Barefoot Monks in the Valley of the Blessed

 

After my move to Siegburg, it took me several years before I realized how close to a jewel of Mendicant architecture I live, namely in Seligenthal, at the foot of the Wahnbach Dam.

Around 1230, shortly after the death of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), Mendicants came to the Rhineland and found charitable patrons in count Heinrich III of Sayn and his wife Mechthild.

During the late twelfth century, the Sayns, an important Rhenish noble family, lived on a rocky spur along the river Sieg, on which they had founded the castle and town of Blankenberg. Their relations with the Benedictine Abbey in Siegburg and the Archbishop of Cologne were not always harmonious.

Around 1231, the count and countess allowed the Mendicants to build a small monastery on their land in the Wahn Valley - likely the first Franciscan monastery north of the Alps.

How the Franciscans must have felt in this solitude of the forest along the stream, a place which would have delighted the Cistercians. The rules of the Friars Minor stipulated the duties of preaching and nursing, and they had to beg in order to fulfill their vow of poverty. Yet, benefactors and an audience they could find not far from their hermitage on the old road from Cologne to Frankfurt.

In 1255, they consecrated the Church of St. Anthony, the oldest Franciscan church in Germany.

IMG 6913  6903Seligental modAP

 

It only has two naves. The southern nave was part of the cloister, which, together with other monastic buildings, was constructed later.

Art historically, the building represents a transitional phase between Rhenish Late Romanesque and Gothic. The fan windows, arched friezes, as well as niches in the gable of the western facade are late Romanesque. The ribbed vaults and pointed arches in the interior are Gothic.

Despite repeated restorations, the building nowadays radiates a characteristic impression of the original church. Noteworthy are the beautiful color schemes, based on the original plaster- and paint residues.

 

Translation: Erik Eising (MA)