12th century abbey testament to local history, culture

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Time has taken its toll on many historical sites in the Eifel region. However, one such place has managed to survive the elements in part, thanks to the efforts of a few concerned men.

Himmerod Abbey lies in a valley only a few kilometers north of the base and offers tourists a glimpse into the past.

The abbey, devised by the Archbishop Albero of Trier, was built in 1178. The archbishop, anxious to have a Cistercian originating from the type monastery founded in Citeaux, France-foundation in diocese, begged Saint Bernard of Clairvaux to send monks to the Eifel area where to could work and pray.

Bernard, a vital force behind monastic life during that period, sent monks to a site not far from the town of Kordel. But later, when Bernard arrived, he decided the site was too restricted and found Himmerod, a small clearing well, located away from towns and main roads. In 1138, Bernard and the monks built a Romanesque-style church in Himmerod.

By the 17th century, much of the church was rebuilt in a conservative late- gothic style. Today, all that remains from the original structure is a small pillar and a few gravestones.

The church was rebuilt again in the 18th century in the current baroque style and won the hearts of countless visitors. A noble west façade was created and serves a dual purpose it gives a desired vertical look to the building and adds stability to the structure.

When Himmerod was founded, the immediate vicinity was uncultivated. The monks planted woods and gardens and established a fishery. Cistercian monks also developed the technique of building vineyards on the steep slopes of the Mosel valley. New grape vines were introduced and wine became an important source of income for the abbey.

To care for the sick and help their neighbors, the monks later established a hospital. They prepared medicine and drugs, which are known today to effectively treat certain illnesses.

Copying books became another important monastic duty. Himmerod boasted its own library that is fairly large by medieval standards.

During the Thirty Years War from 1618-1648, the monks were forced to seek refuge in a castle in Manderscheid, and the abbey suffered some plundering.

In 1800, the French government confiscated all monastic property in this region. Churches and their treasures were sold to obtain money for government use. The monks once again were forced to flee the abbey, leaving their possessions behind. Land and buildings were sold, and the buyer of the abbey began removing the copper roof to sell the metal. Once the roof was gone, moisture and frost wreaked havoc, and soon the abbey was virtually in ruins. It wasn't until the late 19th century that the monks were permitted to return to Himmerod Abbey.

World War II didn't leave Himmerod unscathed either. After bomb damage occurred, the abbey was turned into a hospital, but the abbot was able to prevent the abbey from being converted to a headquarters by American soldiers.

Today Himmerod is no longer a ruin, but a living abbey that attracts people from far and near.

Visitors come to the monastery for special services, to meet friends and loved ones, and to hear the history of the abbey. Others seek advice and help. They come from far and near to reflect on the history and beauty that the abbey provides and the church is seldom empty. Church services are held every Sunday.

Many people have lunch at the abbey's restaurant after church services. Tourists and volksmarchers stop by the abbey for coffee and cake after a walk. The abbey also has two stores, one where people can by souvenirs and the other, where people can purchase local food products. Furthermore, the abbey also sponsors occasional art exhibitions, concerts and other events.

In honor of Saint Bernhard, Himmerod Abbey will host a festival and art exhibition Aug. 21-22. The theme for activities is "Himmerod's tracks in space and time." The art exhibition will officially open 6 p.m. Aug. 21 with a small ceremony. The "Heeresmusikkorps II" German Army military Chamber Orchester from Kassel will perform a concert 8 p.m. Aug. 21 as part of the abbey's Cistercians' Night.

To get to Himmerod, turn right outside the main gate onto L46, drive through Schwarzenborn and Eichelhuette and look for the sign to Himmerod. The abbey is located on the right. A large parking lot can be found across the street from the abbey.