Old abbey with Baroque garden


A hawthorn branch in bloom on the abbey’s crest and the name of Marienstatt Abbey in the Westerwald in the north of Rhineland‑Palatinate both point to the story of how this Cistercian monastery was founded. The Marienstatt Tablets, dating back to 1324, which are housed in the Rheinische Landesmuseum in Cologne, tell of a dream of Abbot Hermann from Heisterbach Abbey in the Sieben mountains, which had fallen on hard times. He dreamt that the Virgin Mary guided him as to where he could find a better location for a new monastery, telling him to look for a hawthorn branch in bloom in the middle of winter. He found it on the banks of the Nister in the wildly romantic Kroppach Switzerland, which is not as one might suspect in Switzerland, but in the Westerwald.

A hawthorn branch in front of the monastery keeps the dream that inspired the building of the monastery in 1220 alive to this day. Cistercian monks have been living and working in the monastery since the 13th century. As a subsidiary monastery to that in Heisterbach in the Sieben mountains, Marienstatt Abbey extends from Himmerod in the Eifel and Clairvaux in the French diocese of Troyes, and is a direct successor to the original Cistercian monastery, Cîteaux Abby in the Burgundy region. There are currently 16 monks living in fellowship in the abbey, in a constant pattern of work and prayer based on the rules of St Benedict.

The monk’s divine office rings out in the monastery church of Marienstatt Abbey four times a day, normally 6:10 a.m. (lauds), 12:15 p.m. (sext), 5:30 p.m. (vespers) and 7:00 p.m. (compline). They still chant in Latin in the Gregorian style, as they have done for centuries. The monks take their places in the original choir stalls from 1290 and there is nearly always an audience who have come to be fascinated by the wonderful sounds of the Middle Ages.

The magnificent abbey church is the oldest Gothic church on the right side of the Rhine in Germany. Pope Pius XI awarded it the honorary title of ‘Basilica Minor’ (papal basilica). The reredos in the choir is seen as one of the most significant winged altarpieces in the Rhine region, alongside the golden altar in Oberwesel and the altar of the Poor Clares in Cologne Cathedral.

Interior view of Marienstatt Abbey in the Nistertal valley near Streithausen, Westerwald

Interior view of the monastery church of Marienstatt Abbey in the Nistertal valley near Streithausen, Westerwald

There are many old gravestones dating back to the time when it was traditional to bury members of the founder families and abbots near the altar. The oldest gravestone dates back to the first half of the 13th century and commemorates the abbey’s first benefactress, Countess Aleydis of Molsberg. The gravestone of Canon Johann Pithan is one of the oldest cast iron gravestones in Germany.

The three altars made of black and red Lahn marble on the southern wall of the church were built at the beginning of the 18th century. The monastery library, a Baroque library hall containing 97000 volumes, is a real treat. It is open for guided tours at specific times. The in-house brewery including restaurant and beer garden serves the dark-brown Marienstatt Abbey ale on tap, which goes wonderfully with the hearty Westerwald food.

Marienstatt brewery in the Nistertal valley near Streithausen, Westerwald

The Marienstatt brewery in the Nistertal valley near Streithausen, Westerwald

Marienstatt Abbey with monastery gardens in the Nistertal valley near Streithausen, Westerwald

Marienstatt Abbey with monastery gardens in the Nistertal valley near Streithausen, Westerwald

The area, previously the monks’ orchard, is surrounded by old, partially restored natural stone walls. The Baroque monastery gardens have been restored based on old drawings. Straight paths, reserved planting and the central fountain are all evidence of the quest for simplicity. Near the abbey church are roses and lilies, which are a symbol of the Virgin Mary.

The complex is perfect for a relaxed walk, with plenty of benches to stop for a rest. Part of the Baroque garden has been laid out in the style of a typical monastery herb garden with some 300 herbs and medicinal plants. In the centre is an Irish cross that previously adorned the west gable of the church roof.

Bridge in the valley of the Nister, Westerwald

Bridge in the valley of the Nister, Westerwald

You can take a little bit of time out in the monastery to enjoy its particular quiet and unspoilt charm, and find peace. Guests are also welcome to stay in the simple guest rooms. Directly in front of the monastery walls, the surrounding nature conservation area of Kroppach Switzerland is perfect for long walks amid the beautiful nature along the Nister.

More leisure tips for culture lovers in the Westerwald:


More information about holidays in the Westerwald

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