Upper German Cistercian Congregation

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The Upper German Cistercian Congregation was founded as a federation of southern German, Swiss and Alsatian Cistercian abbeys in 1624 and dissolved in 1803 with the secularization of most of the monasteries. The term Upper German referred mainly the south of the Main Line located area of the German-speaking countries, where most of the monasteries of the Congregation were.



With the Reformation in the German Empire, which also affected many Cistercian abbeys, membership of the order was questioned. The chain of filiation as the connecting element of the monasteries of the order was interrupted in many cases. In their place, in connection with the implementation of the reforms of the Tridentine Council, regional associations, the vicariates general or provinces presided over by vicars general appointed by the general chapter of the order. The abbots of the primary abbeys were thus curtailed in their control rights and the monasteries were geared towards uniform goals. The aim of Abbot General Edmond de la Croix (1584–1604) was also to create a vicariate general for Upper Germany across the individual territories to ensure reform in the individual monasteries and to preserve the independence of the monasteries.

At his invitation and under his leadership, 17 abbots from Upper Germany gathered in the Fürstenfeld Monastery from September 14 to 20, 1595. With the Fürstenfeld statutes, they decided the foundations of a joint reform and constituted a joint Upper German General Vicariate. This consisted of the four provinces Switzerland-Swabia-Alsace, Franconia, Baiern and the monasteries subordinate to Kaisheim, as well as Tyrol, each of which was headed by vicars general and provincial vicars. For Vicar General Abbot Peter Mueller was appointed by Salem (1593-1615). With Stams and Hauterive finally 19 monasteries were the under their convents to this Vicariate.


Congregations in the Cistercian order had already arisen in the 15th and 16th centuries in Castile, Italy and Portugal and took the place of filiation as regional associations (see Filiation). With the formation of congregations, which were under elected superiors and developed independent traditions, the unity of the order was threatened. Therefore, such congregations in the Order were judged very cautiously.

The initiative to develop the Upper German General Vicariate into a congregation came from different sides. As early as 1602, Abbot General Edmund de la Croix of Cîteaux tried to found such a congregation. Between 1606 and 1609 the papal legate of Lucerne took up the project of a congregation for the southwestern German and for the Swiss area, which was also supported by Abbot Petrus II. Schmid von Wettingen (1594-1633). These ventures failed because of the resistance of the monasteries themselves or the leadership of the order. Since the visitation of Abbot General Nicholas II. Boucherat (1604–1625) in 1615/16 in Germany, Bohemia and Austria, the top of the order was again behind the project of forming a congregation. Abbot Thomas I. Wunn von Salem (1615–1647), the vicar general of the Upper German monasteries, successfully implemented the project over several intermediate stages. At a first “secret” meeting of the abbots of Wettingen, St. Urban, Tennenbach and Neuburg (Alsace) and representatives of the monasteries Hauterive, Kaisheim and Stams in Salem in November 1617, the first steps were taken and the first statutes for the congregation were drafted; a provincial chapter in November 1618 confirmed the plans for a congregation and appointed Abbot Thomas as president of the congregation. Thereupon Abbot General Nicholas II instructed his secretary Baldwin Moreau to promote the establishment of the congregation. At a meeting of abbots at the end of December 1618, to which Baldwin invited Moreau, the statutes were revised and approved by the representative of the abbot general. On January 22, 1619, they were confirmed by the Abbot of Cîteaux. The statutes were revised again at a provincial chapter in June 1621, in which Baldwin Moreau took part as an authorized representative of the Abbot General. The General Chapter of the Order, which met on May 15, 1623, recognized the Congregation and the statutes despite reservations. The very small congregation within the Upper German Vicariate General (6 monasteries), which was also confirmed by the Pope on July 10, 1624, was designed to expand. The general chapter also suggested this and commissioned the abbots of Salem, Kaisheim and Aldersbach to hold a corresponding abbots' meeting. This took place on September 2nd and 3rd, 1624 in Salem and was the hour of birth of the Upper German Congregation, because from then on all the monasteries of the Upper German Vicariate General were members of the community. On October 2, 1624, this congregation was recognized by the Abbot of Cîteaux and on October 17, 1624 by the Pope.

Significance and development of the Upper German Congregation

With the establishment of the Upper German Congregation, the Upper German Cistercian monasteries were combined in an independent administrative unit, which, however, remained closely linked to the General Chapter, which now met quite irregularly, and above all to the Abbot General, as changes to the statutes and important personnel decisions were dependent on the consent of the Abbot General . The monasteries were obliged to obey the general chapter and the abbot general, but were exempt from visiting the general chapter because the congregation was represented there. The monasteries were also obliged to remain in the congregation. The previous filiation rights, the supervisory and visitation rights of the mother abbeys, have been revoked or converted into honorary rights. From the ranks of the abbots of the member monasteries, the head of the congregation was elected, who was initially designated as praeses and later as vicar general. The duty of the visitation lay with the head of the congregation or with the heads of the individual provinces, because with the enlargement of the congregation, the division into four provinces was taken over from the previous Upper German General Vicariate.

Abbot Thomas I Wunn of Salem was appointed as the first head of the congregation. At the time of its existence, the abbot of Salem was usually the head of the congregation. There were interruptions and related problems whenever the abbot of Salem died in office and an abbots' meeting could only determine the successor in Salem as head of the congregation with the inevitable delay. This was the case, for example, when Abbot Thomas I died in 1647 and he was succeeded by Abbot Bernhard II of Stams (1638-1660), who was elected as coadjutor, until 1654, or after the death of Abbot Thomas II of Salem in 1664 Regulation of the statutes the vicar general of the Franconian province Abbot Alberich Degen von Ebrach (1658-1686) succeeded him as vicar general of the entire congregation.

With its statutes and the visitations carried out on this basis, the Upper German Congregation ensured the unity of the Cistercians and the uniformity of customs in the associated monasteries. With its close ties to the General Chapter and the Abbot General, the Congregation was at the same time their most important pillar in the internal confrontation, especially in France, with the strict observance and with the primary abbeys , which insisted on participation in the Order and the position of the Abbot of Cîteaux as Abbot General in question.

The provinces of the Congregation varied in strength and the number of member monasteries fluctuated with the events of the Thirty Years War and the temporary restoration of some monasteries. Some monasteries, such as Waldsassen and Walderbach , were not restored until the second half of the 17th century. In terms of the number of associated monasteries, the Swiss-Alsatian Congregation took a special position, which repeatedly led to efforts to break away from the Upper German Congregation and to form its own congregation. The unity of the entire congregation could always be maintained.

Congregational Chapter

The main organ of the congregation was the assembly of abbots and their deputies, the chapter of the congregation. These chapters, which took place in Salem and elsewhere, were called provincial chapters from 1624 and national chapters from 1654. The provincial and national chapters of the Upper German Congregation: 1624 Salem, 1626 Kaisheim, 1627 Salem, 1642 Schöntal, 1645 Wettingen, 1652 Donauwörth, 1654 Rottweil, 1659 Überlingen, 1668 Salem, 1670 Kaisheim, 1683 Salem, 1688 Kaisheim, 1715 Salem and 1733 Kaisheim. The chapters were usually presided over by the Abbots of Salem as vicars general. Exceptions are the chapters of 1642 (Abbot Heinrich von Ebrach), 1654 (Abbot General Claude Vaussin ) and 1733 (Abbot Roger II of Kaisheim).

In the chapters of the Congregation, the statutes were further developed and adapted to the respective situations. A first fundamental revision of the statutes was made in the chapters of 1626/27. A major revision of the statutes then took place again in 1654 at the national chapter in Rottweil under the chairmanship of Abbot General Claudius Vaussin (1643 / 45–1658) (statuta Rottweilana). These statutes, revised slightly in 1733 on the chapter in Kaisheim, were the basis for the congregation until its dissolution.

In addition to the assemblies of the entire congregation, there were also assemblies of the abbots of a province on various occasions, but mainly to prepare for the general or congregational chapters.


In 1623 the congregation comprised a total of 26 male and 36 female monasteries. In 1720 there were still 22 male monasteries with a total of 595 priests , 123 clergy and 79 lay brothers and 30 women's monasteries with 723 choir women and 243 lay sisters; a total of 1772 religious.

The congregation was divided into four provinces: Indented the respective subordinate women's convents

Swabian Province

Franconian Province

Bavarian Province

Alsatian-Swiss province


The Upper German Congregation survived the dissolution of the French monasteries on February 13, 1790 by the National Convention and the associated destruction of the previous organization of the Cistercian order. Abbot General Francois Trouvé, the last abbot of Cîteaux († 1797), handed over his authority over the monasteries of the Upper German Congregation to the vicar general and abbot of Salem Robert Schlecht (1778-1802), which was also done by Pope Pius VI. has been confirmed. In 1797/98, after the death of the Abbot General of Rome, this was ordered for all heads of Cistercian congregations. Caspar Oechsle (1802–1804), the last abbot of Salem, took over this task in 1802. 1802–1804, however, the German monasteries were secularized; The continued existence or establishment of new monasteries was prevented. After the last Salem abbot had renounced all rights over the Swiss monasteries in 1806, the Swiss Cistercian Congregation was created at the end of 1806 on the basis of the statutes of the Upper German Congregation, from which today's Mehrerau Congregation of the Cistercian Order with the center of the Wettingen Abbey near Bregenz is based. Mehrerau derives.


in chronological order

  • Idea chrono-topographica Congregationis Cisterciensis S. Bernardi per Superiorem Germaniam. o. O. 1720
  • Dominikus Willi : The Upper German and Swiss Cistercian Congregation. Bregenz 1879
  • Idesbald Eicheler: The congregations of the Cistercian order. In: Studies and communications on the history of the Benedictine order and its branches 49 (1931) 55-91, 188-227, 308-340
  • Karl Becker, Salem under Abbot Thomas I. Wunn and the establishment of the Upper German Cistercian Congregation 1615-1647. In: Cistercienser Chronik 48 (1936), 137-145; 161-179; 205-218; 230-239; 261-270; 294-306; 328-337
  • Wilhelm Wostri: The Swiss Cistercian Congregation. In: Analecta Cisterciensia 24 (1968) 161-301
  • Gabriel K. Lobendanz: The statutes of the Salem provincial chapter 1624 and its history. In: Analecta Cisterciensia 34 (1978) 148-173
  • Gabriel K. Lobendanz: The origin of the Upper German Cistercian Congregation (1593-1625). In: Analecta Cisterciensia 37 (1981) 66-342
  • Hans Bruno Schneider: The Fürstenfeld reform statutes 1595. In: Analecta Cisterciensia 39 (1983) 63-180
  • Leonhard Scherg: The meeting of the Franconian Cistercian abbots in Sulzheim in 1667 - a contribution to the history of the Upper German Congregation and the Cistercian Order in the 17th century. In: Publications of the Ebrach Research Circle. Ebrach 1995 5-35
  • Polikárp Zakar : Abbot General of the Cistercians at the Council of Trent. On the prehistory of the Fürstenfeld abbot assembly of 1595. In: Analecta Cisterciensia 52 (1996) 49-75
  • Hans Bruno Schneider: On the editing of the Fürstenfeld reform statutes from 1595. In: Analecta Cisterciensia 52 (1996) 76-96
  • Leonhard Scherg: The general chapter of 1601 and the project of a congregation in Upper Germany. In: Analecta Cisterciensia 52 (1996) 97-135
  • Leonhard Scherg: The Germanicists and the reform of the Cistercian order. In: Analecta Cisterciensia 53 (1997) 130-207
  • Ferenc Polikárp Zakar: Momenti essenziali della storia costituzionale dell'Ordine Cisterciense. In: Analecta Cisterciensia 53 (1997) 208-365
  • Hermann Nehlsen and Klaus Wollenberg (eds.): Cistercians between centralization and regionalization. 2 parts. Frankfurt 1998, therein a. a.
  • Gabriel Lobendanz: The Fürstenfeld reform statutes, 517-586
  • Gabriel Lobendanz, The Origin of the Upper German Cistercian Congregation (1593-1625), 587-670
  • Werner Rösener: The role of the Salem Abbey in the formation of the Upper German Congregation of the Cistercian Order, 689-711
  • Kassian Lauterer : On the history of the impact of the Fürstenfeld reform statutes from 1595 to the Cistercians of the 20th century, 713-727
  • Stephan Alexander Yen: The history of the origin of the Upper German Cistercian Congregation. In: Mehrerauer Grüße 78 (2001) 3-8; 79 (2002) 2-10
  • Leonhard Scherg / Hans Schneider: On the history of the statute of the Upper German Cistercian Congregation. In: Analecta Cisterciensia 55 (2005) 3-15
  • Leonhard Scherg: The statutes of the Upper German Congregation of the Cistercian Order (1) 1624-1628. In: Analecta Cisterciensia 55 (2005) 17-178
  • Leonhard Scherg: The statutes of the Upper German Congregation of the Cistercian Order (2) On the prehistory of the National Chapter in Rottweil 1650-1654. In: Analecta Cisterciensia 57 (2007) 3-98
  • Leonhard Scherg: The statutes of the Upper German Congregation of the Cistercian Order (3) The Rottweiler statutes 1654/55. In: Analecta Cisterciensia 58 (2008) 3-157
  • Georg Schrott and Leonhard Scherg (eds.): Capitulum Nationale Congregationis Cisterciensis per Superiorem Germaniam (Sources and Studies on Cistercian Literature 12, Mariawald 2010)