Pilgrimage Church Birnau

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The pilgrimage church Birnau is a Baroque church consecrated to Maria on the north shore of Lake Constance between the places Nussdorf and Uhldingen-Mühlhofen in Baden-Württemberg . The church is located in Birnau on the western route of the Oberschwäbische Barockstraße directly on the B31 . It was built from 1746 to 1749 by the Vorarlberg master builder Peter Thumb for the Salem Imperial Abbey . The church received a rich baroque interior with frescoes by Gottfried Bernhard Göz as well as stucco work , altars and sculptures by Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer , the most famous of which is the honey sucker , a putto with a beehive. The order building in front of the church with the striking bell tower now houses a priory of the Cistercian abbey Wettingen-Mehrerau . Since 1946 it has also been the parish church of Deisendorf and Nussdorf.

Birnau priory with an attached pilgrimage church


The location of the pilgrimage church on the banks of the Überlinger See

Today's Birnau monastery church was built to replace a pilgrimage church that stood on a hill east of Nussdorf, a few kilometers from the location of the current church. It is possible that there was a pilgrimage church here as early as the end of the 9th century: An exchange document between the Reichenau monastery and Karl the Dicken from 883 speaks of a chapel "ad pirningas" ( for pilgrims ), which may be to Altbirnau. A document from 1227 mentions a nunnery at this location, which may have been associated with the Salem monastery .

Since 1241 at the latest, part of the area there belonged to the Salem Abbey. At that time there was already a Lady Chapel on this small property. It must have been a popular place of pilgrimage by 1317 , as evidenced by two indulgences that have been preserved . The spiritual office was not exercised by Salem monks, but by world priests . However, the Salem Cistercians tried to get the right to work there themselves and were successful: on March 27, 1384, Pope Urban VI incorporated. the chapel of the Salem monastery. Under canon law, the diocese of Constance remained responsible for Altbirnau .

A larger church was built around the Marienkapelle by the 14th century at the latest. There were practical reasons for this: the numerous pilgrims should find space in the larger church without having to demolish the chapel, which was itself a miraculous place. Around 1420 the "miraculous image" was erected, a statue of the Virgin Mary that quickly gained the reputation of being miraculous. (Today it is in the middle of the Neu-Birnau picture program). It attracted more pilgrims so that the church had to be expanded several times in the course of the 16th and 17th centuries. In the Thirty Years War the outer church was destroyed; the little Lady Chapel inside is said to have been spared. According to the chronicle Apiarium Salemitanum (1708), the miraculous image was saved by a Salem servant. After the end of the war, the church was rebuilt and the pilgrimage flourished again.

Altbirnau pilgrimage church (colored pen drawing, probably before 1614)

The Altbirnauer church was a simple long building with gabled roof and had, as usual with the Cistercians, a place of the bell tower only a ridge turret for the ringtone. The front gable was decorated with Gothic tracery . The interior was painted by the painter Hans Winterlin , the high altar from 1656 by Melchior Binder , who regularly took orders from the Salem monastery; the corresponding altarpiece was painted by Johann Christoph Storer . Today it is located in the church of the former Cistercian convent Rottenmünster . In addition to the main altar, which was consecrated to the Virgin Mary, the church had two side altars, which were consecrated to St. Erasmus and St. Joseph ; the corresponding altarpieces were made by Franz Carl Stauder . Over time, farm buildings and accommodation were added. A rectory for the pilgrimage priest (Father Prefect) was also added.

The area surrounding the small property, however, belonged to the imperial city of Überlingen , which offered considerable resistance to the constant expansion of the monastery buildings. The smoldering power struggle between town and monastery occasionally even escalated into physical violence: angry citizens of Überlingen destroyed the shell of an economic building in 1742. Directly opposite the church there was an inn on Überlinger Grund since 1685, which in turn was a thorn in the side of the monks. At times the Salem monks could not hold masses in Altbirnau and had to move the pilgrimage to the Salem monastery church.

The flow of pilgrims grew steadily, so that Abbot Konstantin Miller had plans drawn up for a new extension of the church in 1741. They never came to fruition, because the abbot died on February 22nd, 1745. The new abbot, Stephan Enroth , made the decision in the same year to have the old, dilapidated buildings demolished without further ado and elsewhere on the monastery’s own territory to build a new church.

Building history

Abbot Stephan II. Enroth, initiator of the new building, with a facade design for the pilgrimage church

The construction of a new pilgrimage church and the relocation of the miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary had to be approved by Pope Benedict XIV . The necessary permits were secretly obtained because they feared the anger of the population. A papal bull of March 12, 1746 allowed the Salem monastery to build the church and to move the statue of the Virgin Mary there. A short time later, on May 2, 1746, Abbot Stephan died at the age of only 45. The population saw it as a punishment for the “kidnapping” of the miraculous image, but the monastery management was not confused: under the new Abbot Anselm II. Schwab , the work that had begun was continued with great energy.

The Vorarlberg master builder Peter Thumb was appointed to the planning commission of the monastery. At the time when he designed the Birnau, Thumb was the leading architect in southern Germany and at the height of his creativity. After several drafts, a compromise that was accepted by both sides was found. The excavation of the foundations began within a year. On June 11, 1747 the foundation stone for the new church was laid.

The pilgrimage church rises as a striking landmark on a hill promontory on the shore of the Überlinger See

The chosen location was on a hill on the bank of the Überlinger See , above the monastery vineyards and the existing farm buildings ( Maurach Castle ). The front facade should be parallel to the lakeshore and thus enthroned over the lake, visible from afar, like a link between God's creation and heaven. The area around the church was (and still is) almost undeveloped, so that no other buildings impair the visibility. In favor of the long-range effect, it was even accepted that the altar could not be oriented towards the east, as is usual in churches.

The building devoured 150,000 guilders within a few years. The financial means could be raised without any problems, so that the construction was not delayed due to a lack of money, as in many other church projects. The church was built and decorated in less than four years. The solemn church consecration took place from September 19 to 24, 1750. The inauguration sermon that Abbot Anselm gave mainly dealt with the elaborate iconography of the frescoes that put the monastery and the monks in relation to Mary and divine grace. The second preacher was the "Swabian Cicero", the well-known Premonstratensian Sebastian Sailer . His sermon also interpreted the picturesque motifs of the Birnau.

The new building was not least a demonstration of power against the imperial city of Überlingen, which tried constantly to put the imperial abbey in its place. The demonstration succeeded, but the relationship between town and monastery was disturbed for decades. Official reconciliation did not take place until 1790.

Artistic design


Church floor plan
View from the north; in the foreground the apse

The building consists of a long nave without side aisles and a transom in front, which houses the living and administration rooms of the order (as well as a souvenir shop today). Spatially and symbolically, it acts as a mediator between the surroundings and the pilgrimage church. The order building forms the front side of the church and with its two side risalits is reminiscent of the Salem monastery complex. Originally it was even planned to be more than twice the width and would then have looked more like a feudal residence than a church. Sketches for a flight of stairs that would have led from the lakeshore to the church forecourt have also been preserved from Thumb. However, the monks, who were concerned about external effects, knew how to prevent the unambiguous reference to courtly splendor. Nevertheless, in favor of the good visibility of the facade from the lake, the otherwise usual east-west orientation of the nave was dispensed with.

The facade on the lake side extends over eleven window axes, which are optically divided by three pairs of Ionic colossal pilasters . The middle pair surrounds the entrance portal and is - instead of a central risalit - crowned by the three-tiered bell tower. The tower, which makes the Birnau recognizable from afar like a finger pointing, is actually not intended in the architectural style of the Cistercians. Because it was outsourced from the church building, however, it could be brought into line with the rules of the order. The optical structure by pilasters continues on the outer walls of the nave. The exterior paintwork is white and old pink. The current look is the original color scheme. The spire is marked with the abbot's double cross.

If you step through the main portal, you first have to cross the anteroom in order to then enter the church. The sacred space of the Birnau is designed as a hall church without side aisles. Thumb and his colleague Johann Georg Specht thus avoided the so-called Vorarlberg scheme Munster from that on the Roman model Gesù built and side chapels and a mounted about gallery the impression of a gallery basilica should awaken. Thumb's father Michael Thumb was still a prominent representative of this construction method, which was very popular north of the Alps throughout the 17th century. For the Birnau, Peter Thumb chose a simpler spatial solution that left the painterly and sculptural design more free. The nave is divided into three sections that taper towards the altar. The ceiling above the lay room is designed as a hollow vault . The central nave opens into the narrower, square choir, which is vaulted by a flat dome. The pulpit is to the right of the choir . Behind it is the apse , the floor plan of which describes a three-quarter circle and tightly encloses the canopy altar by Feuchtmayer. Broad basket arches cover the yokes to the choir and apse.

The magnificent organ is located directly above the main entrance to the church. A gallery, which is designed as a simple walkway with a balustrade , runs around the room from the organ to the apse and divides the room halfway up. The parapet is only interrupted by the two flat cones of the side chapels with the towering side altars. Two rows of five windows on each side illuminate the interior. The choir has two window bays on each side.

inner space

Interior with a view of the main altar
Main altar with miraculous image

The artistic design of the interior in the ornamental style of the Rococo has a rousing effect on today's observer. The overwhelming effect is a planned effect: the splendor of the church should convince the believer of the greatness of God. Heaven and the hereafter are literally brought to earth so that the believer can not only suspect them, but can also see them vividly. The Catholic Counter-Reformation tried to use rhetorical means to bring believers back to the right faith, especially in the Jesuit architecture . Abbot Anselm II emphasized in his church consecration sermon that it was not the monastery but Mary who built the church. On the other hand, thanks to the lavish devotion to Mary in the sculptures, the monastery could be certain of their support.

The aesthetic model for the interior was the Roman baroque churches . Catholic baroque art developed architectural stylistic devices that aimed at splendor and refined optics, for example in the illusionistic ceiling frescoes by Andrea Pozzo , which had become style-defining all over Europe. Architecture, stucco and painting should form an artistic unit. In contrast to many baroque churches, the architecture, the trompe l'œil painting and the rocaille stucco in the Birnau were actually created at the same time and in close artistic cooperation.

As is often the case in the Rococo style, the architectural forms merge directly into decorative forms, which in turn are transferred into the pseudo-architecture of the ceiling paintings via the plastic stucco. On the other hand, the round ceiling fresco in the chancel is clearly separated from the surrounding architecture, as was customary a little later in classicism . The optical diversity cleverly belies the simple floor plan. The lavishly used marble is also largely simulated - for reasons of cost it was imitated using stucco marble . This creates a “total work of art” that is intended to mix real architecture and illusion for the viewer.

With its wide basket arches, the choir and chancel appear like a proscenium . The stage-like structure is intentional because the Catholic liturgy of the Baroque period used the church space for theatrical productions that were based on the performance practice of the Jesuit theater. In the center of the chancel and the performance stood the high altar with the statue of the Virgin Mary. The use of the choir room as a venue for at least one sacred piece is attested: the church was consecrated on September 21, 1750

"A well-worked- Melo-drama in churches before the oracle Altar exhibirt (...), on a specially verfertigem this Theatro which would aufzuschlüssen of hindenher perfect, so that the miraculous Bildnus on the altar, and own throne sitting to represent her person even to those present, tender Hertzens movements. "

The play was about the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant to Mount Zion by David and to the Jerusalem Temple by Solomon , alluding to the transfer of the Marian shrine in Birnau and the establishment of a new religious center.

Image program

The painter Gottfried Bernhard Göz (1708–1760) created a mariological pictorial program for the church , which is planned around the miraculous figure of Mary. Göz was awarded the contract for the painting through a competition organized by the monastery. The content was given by the Salem Abbey. A large part of the representations were not aimed at the pilgrim lay people, but at a theologically educated audience. The theological relationships between the pictorial elements are correspondingly complex. Many elements of demand by ambiguity in addition to exegesis out.

The center of the picture program is the Virgin Mary , to whom the church is consecrated. The iconography of the Virgin Mary begins (or ends) with the image of grace on the altar and continues in a series of depictions of Mary through to the ceiling fresco in the nave. Due to the bright blue color, the individual representations of Mary are also visually related to one another.

Behind the statue of the Virgin Mary, this series began with an oil painting of the Assumption that has been missing since 1790 . Further representations on the ceiling of the choir and the nave take up the Marian motif. The result is a series of images that direct the entering pilgrim's gaze to the altar or encourage him to interpret the correspondence between the individual representations.

The second focus of the picture program is on the tradition and the self-image of the order. Mary is associated with the founders of the order and the patron saint of the Cistercians. A large part of the ceiling fresco is also dedicated to the builders of the Birnau, who celebrate their building as a gift to the Virgin Mary. The mighty Salem monastery proved to itself and the world its direct relationship with the Mother of God.

Ceiling fresco of the apse

Above the altar, in the vaulted ceiling of the apse, a scene from the Book of Esther is depicted: Esther asks King Ahasver for mercy for her people. The scene is shown from a dramatic view from below, so that the canopy over Ahasver's head looks like a second altar canopy framed by a mock entablature.

A little above is the depiction of a Christ about to hurl arrows of punishment at humanity. The latter is represented by a half-naked female figure, which is presumably a representation of Luxuria . Maria kneels to the left below the angry Son of God and intercedes for humanity. The scene relates to a vision by the monk Wilhelm von Clairvaux in which Mary asks Christ to spare humanity, if not for its own sake, then because of the Cistercians. Esther must therefore be understood as a typological prefiguration of Maria: while Esther saves the Jewish people. Mary asks grace for all humanity. Maria and Esther take the same position in both representations, so that they are also formally related to one another.

Ceiling fresco of the choir

Draft of the fresco in the choir room

The architecturally rather flat arch above the choir creates the impression of a deep, coffered dome with opaion through the illusionistic fresco , through which Mary floats into the church with a group of angels. This optical effect is modeled on Andrea Pozzo's dome painting for the church of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio in Rome (1685); If the painting there was still a stopgap solution for a botched dome, the dome of the Birnau was deliberately laid flat so that the illusionistic painting could develop its effect better.

Mary is shown here iconographically as the “Woman of the Apocalypse”, who crushes the snake, the author of the original sin , with her right foot . At the same time she is a Maria gravida ("pregnant Maria"): In front of her belly the Christ child appears in a halo. From him a ray of light, which represents the grace of God ( Gratia ), is directed onto the symbol of the Sacred Heart .

The heart is held by a female figure who allegorically represents divine love or neighborly love (Caritas) and love for God (Dilectio) . It breaks the ray of grace and directs it onto a mirror held by a putto. In the iconography of Mary, the mirror is a symbol of wisdom and immaculate conception . Here he conspicuously conveys the idea that divine grace is distributed through charity and to the believers. Instead of a painted mirror, however, a real glass mirror was installed, which reflects the light entering the church through the window. This apparent “painter's joke” has a deeper meaning: The illusionistic space is thereby mixed with the real church space, so that the church visitor can relate the ray of light of Christ's love directly to himself.

The Caritas is one of the Christian virtues . Further virtues are represented by three female figures: hope (Spes) with an anchor and a green branch, fear of God (Timor Dei) with a rabbit and a fearful child and the knowledge of God or faith (Agnitio) with crucifix , chalice and Host . The iconography corresponds to Cesare Ripa's Iconologia (German edition 1704). Text fragments are assigned to Mary and the four virtues, which together form a quotation from the Bible: "(ego) MATER PULCHRAE DILECTIONIS / ET TIMORIS / ET AGNITIONIS / ET SANCTAE SPEI" ( Sir. 24, 24). Sebastian Sailer put this line at the beginning of his church consecration sermon and translated it for the laity: "I am a mother of beautiful love, and of research, and of knowledge and holy hope."

Ceiling fresco of the nave

The partly ornamental, partly motif-painted stitch caps above the windows flow into the pseudo-architecture of the ceiling fresco. It begins on the outside with a painted cornice , over which columns are piled. At the top there is an opening in the sky, in front of which various sacred figures are arranged.

The huge fresco of the nave is divided in two by a bright stucco band. The western half above the organ shows a concert of angels who seem to join the organ music on various musical instruments. In the eastern half of the fresco, in the direction of the altar and clearly visible from the entrance, there is another image of Mary in the center. Its posture and attributes are based on the wooden statue of the Virgin Mary ("miraculous image") on the altar. An eight-pointed star hovers over her head, which can be interpreted as an announcement of the Messiah as well as Mary ( stella matutina = morning star, a title of Mary from the Lauretanian litany ).

Numerous secular figures stand and sit on the painted cornice. In the direction of the center of the church, some pilgrims camped and stood in poor clothing, including the cripples and the sick. The painter Gottfried Bernhard Göz portrayed himself in a recumbent figure with a bandaged shin: he actually fell from the scaffolding while painting and broke his leg. The standing woman with child was partly interpreted in art historical terms as Anna herself third . The group of pilgrims is the only concession of the ceiling painting to the function of the church as a place of pilgrimage.

However, Mary does not address the pilgrims, but the donors and planners. At their feet on the left are Guntram von Adelsreuthe and his daughter Mathilde, who made it possible to found the Salem Monastery by donating a piece of land in 1134. Between them stands Bernhard von Clairvaux , to whom the Cistercian order owes its Europe-wide expansion. The initiators of the new church can be seen on the right-hand side: Stephan II. Enroth, Anselm Schwab and Konstantin Miller hold up a drawing of the new church together and show it to Our Lady as well as to the viewer among them in the nave.

Other Cistercian abbots present a bird's eye view of the Salem monastery. On the other side of the fresco, the mirror image of the monastery view, is a representation of the heavenly Jerusalem. The aim was to create a typological correspondence that was confirmed in the word similarity “Salem” / “Jerusalem”. Three banners held by angels make up the biblical words: “(tu) GLORIA IERUSALEM / (tu) LAETITIA ISRAEL / (tu) HONORIFICENTIA POPULI NOSTRI” (“You are the glory of Jerusalem, (you are) the great joy of Israel and the pride of ours People ”; Jdt. 15, 9). The sentence applies to Judith in the Old Testament ; Mary is interpreted in the fresco as the completion of this Old Testament heroine. The reference to Jerusalem applies once again to the typological correspondence between the monastery and the heavenly city.


Sample draft of a baroque high altar from the Feuchtmayer workshop with the Birnau statue of Mary in festive garb

The Birnau has seven altars . The unusual number was chosen to commemorate the seven great altars of St. Peter's Basilica that had to be visited in order to attain absolution . They are all designed by Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer and executed in multi-colored stucco marble by his workshop . Five of the altars have altarpieces, three of which were taken from Altbirnau. Two altars each form a pair that are symmetrically opposite each other in the church and visually lead to the high altar.

The two outermost altars are in the flat side chapels and are dedicated to Erasmus of Antioch (south) and St. Joseph (north). The usual patron saints of the side altars and the associated altarpieces were adopted as a concession to the tradition from Altbirnau. The Erasmus altar is flanked by stucco figures depicting St. Leonhard and St. Magnus von Füssen . Joseph were assigned to Stephanus and Laurentius . The towering aedicules crown figures of St. Blaise and St. Wendelin . All these saints address the worries and needs of pilgrims: They are considered to be the patron saints of cattle and shepherds or as helpers in need against diseases and vermin plagues. In the church, they are furthest away from the main altar in order to offer more space for the rush of pilgrims, but also so as not to disturb the sophisticated picture program. The Joseph Altar was also used by the local Joseph Brotherhood as an independent sacred space.

Design for the altarpiece: Bernhard von Clairvaux

Two more altars stand on the walls that swing into the choir. The right one is consecrated to Bernhard von Clairvaux , one of the most important monks of the Cistercian order, who contributed significantly to its spread across Europe in the 12th century. The altarpiece by Göz shows Bernhard receiving a stream of milk from the breast from Our Lady after he did not want to stop praying despite thirst and hunger. The miracle is said to have occurred in 1146 in Speyer Cathedral . In the veneration of Bernhard and the Cistercian tradition, the miracle of Lactatio played an important role, because Bernhard, in the words of the Jesuit preacher Matthäus Pecher,

“By accepting the Marian milk entered into closest blood friendship with Jesus and Mary, with her as a son, with her as a brother and co-infant. A perfect motherhood is not only accomplished through conception and birth, but also through the administration of breast milk, with which white nutritional juice the newborn infants are given all the good qualities. "

The statue of Mary, in front of which Bernhard prays in the background of the painting, corresponds to traditional representations of the real Speyer image.

The left altar is dedicated to the founder of Western European monasticism, Benedict of Nursia . The sheet also shows a scene from the saint's life, namely the death of the saint on the steps of an altar where mass is celebrated. Both altars are framed by elaborate rocaille , which, however, is asymmetrical. Only when they complement each other visually do the two form a whole and together frame the sanctuary.

Small putti complete the framework. The putto of the Benedict Altar holds an open book with the letters "AUSCULTA O FILI" ( Listen, my son ), the opening words of the Rule of St. Benedict . The putto of the amber altar is far more famous: as a "honey treat" it can be bought in numerous forms as a kitsch figure . The putto is holding a beehive, which is shown again in the painting itself. He alludes to a metaphorical nickname of St. Bernard, who was called Doctor mellifluus ("honey-flowing teacher") because of his sermons . In terms of art history, this figure has no special significance; However, through its marketing it has in a certain sense overtaken the statue of the Virgin as a cult image.

The two altars in the choir are consecrated to John the Baptist (on the Gospel side, i.e. on the right as seen from the high altar) and the Evangelist John . They are kept in black and gray and have no altarpieces, but small stucco sculptures that show the saints with their attributes.

Finally, the high altar is vaulted by a magnificent built canopy . It is one of the first canopy altars realized by Feuchtmayer. The miraculous image is enthroned in the center, framed by three yokes made of marbled columns. The canopy opens up into a dome that is lined with mirrors. The eye of God in the middle was originally in front of a window, the light of which was diffused by cleverly placed mirrors and thrown into the church. The central Altbirnau altarpiece, which showed the Assumption of Mary, was originally attached behind the miraculous image . In 1790 the altar was rebuilt by Johann Georg Wieland ; the altarpiece was moved to the Rottenmünster Abbey Church and replaced by a rear wall made of light alabaster . The image of grace has been moved up to make it more visible for church visitors.

Two pairs of stucco sculptures frame the high altar: Joachim and Anna , the parents of Mary, and Zacharias and Elisabeth , the parents of John the Baptist. Together with the two figures of St. John on the choir altars, they form the “Holy Kinship”. These figures will have given pilgrims a familiar reference point, as the Alt-Birnau Mary's altar was also dedicated to these saints.

Miraculous image

Depiction of the miraculous image over Altbirnau from the Apiarium Salemitanum , 1708

The approximately 80 cm high wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, which is the focus of the Birnau image program today, was made in the Salzkammergut around 1420 by an unknown master. It is a late Gothic seated Madonna who wears a crown and sits on a padded pedestal. The Christ Child is sitting on her lap, holding a crucifix in her hand. The foot of her throne shows a crescent moon, a symbol from the Apocalypse of John . The apple in her right hand indicates the original sin that the Christian must overcome in order to come to God. The sculpture has been restored and repainted several times. The crown has had its present shape only since 1733.

The Birnau "miraculous image" was considered miraculous and was very popular with the local population. Many believed that it was only effective in its location and that any relocation was blasphemy . In addition, the Überlinger hosts made some profit from the nearby pilgrimage site. When the monastery management planned the new church in 1745, they therefore expected that Überlingen citizens would prevent the “translocation” of the “Marianische Wallfart zu Bürnau”. A secretly obtained permission from the Constance prince-bishop Kasimir Anton von Sickingen and the secularly responsible county of Heiligenberg should therefore create legal security. A procession of 2,000 people, protected by 350 dragoons from Heiligenberg, transferred the statue of Mary from Altbirnau to its temporary new home, the parish church of St. Leonhard in Salem, on March 4, 1746. There were only a few disturbances. On the one hand, the reason for the procession had been concealed from the Überlingers; on the other hand, the bishop had announced that every troublemaker would be punished with excommunication . The council of the city of Überlingen could only protest when the facts had already been created.

The figure was only brought to Neubirnau for the consecration of the church. Previously, it had been checked for authenticity in front of high-ranking witnesses because there had been doubts among the population as to whether the "image of the Divine Mother to be translated was no longer the ancient image of grace, but a different and newly made image". The statements of the painters working in restoration and the wood worm holes were proof enough. On September 20, 1750, a festive procession brought the seated figure to its new church. Today the miraculous image stands above the high altar.



The first organ in the Birnau was made by Johann Georg Aichgasser from Überlingen. It was only one manual and had twelve registers . In 1808 it was sold to the Reformed Church in Altnau ( Canton Thurgau ). The organ work is no longer there, but the carved prospectus has been preserved.

In 1950 a new organ was purchased for the Birnau, which was built by an organ building company from Überlingen. Today's third organ was built in 1991 with a purely mechanical action by the organ building company Mönch (Überlingen). The instrument has 39 registers and 2644 pipes. They are divided into three manuals and pedal . The disposition is:

I Echowerk C – g 3
1. Cane-covered 8th'
2. viola 8th'
3. flute 4 ′
4th Nazard 2 23
5. Flageolet 2 ′
6th third 1 35
7th Larigot 1 13
8th. Sifflet 1'
9. Vox humana 8th'
II Hauptwerk C – g 3
10. Covered pommer 16 ′
11. Principal 8th'
12. Hollow flute 8th'
13. Salicional 8th'
14th Octave 4 ′
15th Coupling flute 4 ′
16. Fifth 2 23
17th Super octave 2 ′
18th Mixture IV 1 13
19th Cornet V 8th'
20th Trumpet 8th'
III Oberwerk C – g 3
21st Coppel 8th'
22nd Harp pipe 8th'
23. Beat 8th'
24. Principal 4 ′
25th Flute 4 ′
26th Gemshorn 4 ′
27. Forest flute 2 ′
28. Noise Mixture V 2 ′
29 Cymbel III 12
30th Dulcian 16 ′
31. shawm 8th'
Pedals C – f 1
32. Praestant 16 ′
33. Sub-bass 16 ′
34. Octave bass 8th'
35. Covered 8th'
36. Octave 4 ′
37. Back set IV 2 23
38. bassoon 16 ′
39. prong 8th'
  • Pair : III / II, I / II, I / P, II / P, III / P.

Other items of equipment

Detail of a carved confessional by Feuchtmayer; today in St. Martin, Seefelden

The furnishings include a way of the cross in fourteen stations made of painted wood carving, eight of which are still preserved. (Möhrle 1920 assumes that the other six never existed.) The individual stations come from Feuchtmayer and his colleague Johann Georg Dirr . Fourteen putti once complemented the Stations of the Cross; twelve of them have been preserved. Each station consists of a custom gilded rocaille - cartridge that is complemented by an angel head and tendrils. The frame includes a backdrop in front of which small, fully sculptural groups of figures act as if on a small theater scene.

A total of ten clocks can be found on and in the church. On the one hand, the clients demonstrated the increased awareness of their age for precise timekeeping . On the other hand, the clock was also a metaphor for the finiteness of existence ( vanitas ). Three sundials decorate the north-west and south-east side of the order building and the tower. The remaining seven are driven by a three-ton wrought-iron clockwork , which was probably created around 1750 in the workshops of the Salem monastery by Brother Maurus Undersee (1708–1773). It was dismantled in the course of the restoration of the church in 1963 and only put back into operation in 1979 after many delays.

Today there are four dials visible from afar on the four sides of the tower; the largest facing the lake has a diameter of 3.10 meters. Inside the church, under the ceiling of the nave to the left and right of the chancel, there is a sundial clock whose hands are designed as a Salem abbot's rod (with an "S" looped around the rod) or as an arrow, as well as a moon clock attached to a rotating moon ball The day of the moon and the moon phase . Both are decorated with elaborate gold ornaments and allegorical figures. They refer to the course of the stars as a sign of the divine order of the cosmos , but can also be understood as symbols of Mary. The so-called "Marienuhr" is located on the ceiling of the nave. Its dial shows the monogram of Mary (the intertwined letters of the word “Maria” that form a star) and a wreath of twelve stars.

The original five tower bells were cast by Gebhard Andreas Aporta in Bregenz . They were each consecrated to a saint and bore inscriptions that encoded the year of their manufacture with chronograms . The largest bell was dedicated to the Virgin Mary; the others Saints Anselmus, Benedikt and Bernhard and the smallest the pilgrimage saints Blasius, Magnus and the holy clan. After the secularization of the church, four of the bells were sold to Wollerau ( Canton Schwyz ). The remaining bell was melted down in 1940. Four new bells were purchased in 1961 and five in 1990.

History from the completion of construction to today

The construction of the new church meant a serious turning point for the pilgrimage to Mary. The stream of pilgrims was nowhere near as strong as in the times of Altbirnau. The spirit of the Enlightenment may have contributed to this; However, the relationship of the pious population to Birnau was also permanently disturbed by the relocation of the sanctuary, against which even the council of the imperial city of Überlingen had protested. In addition, the state and the official church increasingly tried to stop the pilgrimage.

Closing of the church in 1804

View of the Birnau around 1850. Steel engraving by Johann Poppel

Only a few decades after the new church was built, the Salem monastery faced its closure. The vicar general of the diocese of Constance responsible for Salem , Ignaz von Wessenberg , was a supporter of Josephinism . The young Wessenberg, in office since 1801, was determined, like many enlightened clerics, to close the pilgrimage and monastery churches in his diocese or to convert them into parish churches . One was aware within the church that the sometimes very powerful orders represented a theological and power-political competition with the constituted church. The practice of worshiping images on pilgrimages was also a sign of superstition for the Josephinists ; The whole world of images of the baroque churches was suddenly seen as the epitome of misunderstood piety.

The incipient secularization of the monasteries on the part of the state welcomed Wessenberg: As early as October 1, 1802, a commission from Margrave Karl Friedrich appeared in the Monastery of Salem , which announced the confiscation of the entire property by the Margraviate of Baden . The Reichsdeputationshauptschluss of February 25, 1803 made the Reich-wide closure of monasteries legally binding. On November 23, 1804, the Salem Imperial Abbey was completely dissolved. From this point in time until 1918, no more male orders were allowed under state control.

The last service in Neubirnau took place on April 30, 1804. In 1808 the church was also closed to the Cistercians who still lived there and closed without public protest. The miraculous image was brought to the Salem Minster , which had been converted into a parish church. The inventory of the church was distributed to surrounding churches. Bells and organs were sold to Switzerland. From 1808 until after the end of the First World War , the church stood empty and fell into disrepair. The ridge above the choir was demolished in 1810 and the sacristy in 1832. In contrast to some other secularized monastery churches, the rest of the structure was retained.

In addition, the rococo style suddenly became obsolete in art taste. The simpler classicism , based on ancient models, was considered to be the more contemporary design from around 1775; Salem Monastery was even one of the regional pioneers of this change of style with its furnishings for the Salem Minster in the Louis-Seize style. After 1810 the Romanesque and Gothic were the models for church building. The baroque pathos with its sophisticated image programs designed to have a dramatic effect suddenly became unpopular. Even clerics argued with aesthetic concerns against the “degenerate”, “pathological” and “disgusting” Baroque style and its final “outgrowth” in the Rococo. Baroque art was not generally accepted again until around 1890, thanks in part to contemporary art historians such as Heinrich Wölfflin . Initially, however, the Birnau marked the end of an era in church construction, "the swan song of the Rococo on Lake Constance" ( Lit .: Möhrle 1920, p. 92).

The bourgeois landscape painting of the 19th century discovered the Birnau as a structure that harmonized painterly with nature. The church, which was once conceived as the middle link between earthly creation and heavenly splendor, became a visually attractive element in the idyll of Lake Constance, a counterweight to the beginning industrialization .

From the reopening in 1919 until today

The “honey licker” at the Bernhard Altar

It was only after the turn of the century that serious efforts were made to reopen the church to the faithful. Both the evaluation of the Rococo style and the church's acceptance of pilgrimages had changed fundamentally in the meantime. The Cistercian Abbey Wettingen-Mehrerau ( Bregenz ) finally managed to buy the Birnau from the state of Baden for 70,000 marks . In addition, the monastery also acquired Maurach Castle , which is located directly below the church on the lake shore. The utility rooms in the front of the church were converted into residential and administrative rooms and converted into a branch of the convent. Bells and organs were recovered. The church reopened on November 20, 1919. The Birnau soon became a religious and art-historical pilgrimage site on Lake Constance.

Under National Socialism , the church and the priory were closed from 1941 to 1945. The monks were chased away and some were even temporarily detained by the Gestapo . They could only return to Birnau after the end of the Second World War .

National Socialism also left deeper marks: not far from the church there is a cemetery for 97 concentration camp prisoners from the Aufkirch concentration camp . They belonged to a group of around 800 prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp who drove an underground tunnel system in the Molasse rock west of Überlingen , in which the Friedrichshafen armaments factories Dornier , Zeppelin , ZF and Maybach were supposed to be protected from bombs ( Goldbacher tunnel ). The work lasted from October 1944 to April 1945. At least 168 prisoners died and were burned or buried in a mass grave. After the end of the war, on the orders of the French military government, the bodies were exhumed from the Degenhardt forest near Überlingen and buried on April 9, 1946 in the newly created Birnau concentration camp cemetery.

With the purchase in 1919, the monastery also took on responsibility for the preservation of monuments to the church. From 1964 to 1969 the building was completely renovated, financed by funds from the Catholic Church and the state preservation of monuments as well as a sponsorship association founded in 1966. In 1996, the most complex renovation work to date began. The foundations were drained, damage caused by dry rot was repaired and the frescoes in the interior were protected from damage. The renovation of the exterior facade was also completed in 2004. The research for traces of the original coloring led to the revision of the restoration from 1966. At that time the church was given a white facade with pink pilasters and the tower was optically highlighted by a pink paint. The current facade is uniformly designed in pink with white decorative elements, which means that the tower also fits into the overall picture.

In 1946, Birnau became the parish church of Deisendorf and Nussdorf , which together form the Birnau Catholic Parish Curate.

1971 was the Birnau by Pope Paul VI. raised to the minor basilica . Today it is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the Lake Constance area. Annually recurring pilgrimages to the Virgin Mary sometimes attract tens of thousands of pilgrims. There are 18 official pilgrimages per year, the most popular of which are the Fatima pilgrimages (on the 13th of each month). The patronage festival is celebrated on the Sunday after July 2nd ( Visitation of the Virgin Mary ). Concerts also take place regularly. Due to its picturesque location, the church is a very popular place for weddings and also one of the most visited sights on the lake.


  • Matthias Bisemberger: Maria in Neu-Bürnau, or continuation of the thorough and true report of the translation of the Marianische Wallfart zu Bürnau (...) Constance 1751.
  • Hermann Brommer : Basilica of Our Lady, Birnau am Bodensee , 43., arr. Ed., Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner, 2010, series: (Kunstführer 435), ISBN 978-3-7954-4005-3 .
  • Hans Jensen: Schach dem Abt. Herder, Freiburg 1953, ISBN 3-451-17739-0 . Novel about the origins of the pilgrimage church.
  • Hans Möhrle: The Cistercian Probstei Birnau near Überlingen on Lake Constance. Überlingen: Feyel 1920.
  • Ulrich Knapp: The Birnau pilgrimage church, planning and construction history. Friedrichshafen: Gessler 1989, ISBN 3-922137-58-X . Collection of sources with construction plans and design drawings.
  • Bernd Mathias Kremer (Ed.): Baroque jewel on Lake Constance. 250 years of the Birnau pilgrimage church. Fink: Lindenberg 2000, ISBN 3-933784-71-9 . Representations on aspects of building, art and monastery history.

Web links

Commons : Pilgrimage Church Birnau  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Church consecration sermon by Abbot Anselm II. ( Memento from January 15, 2004 in the Internet Archive )
  2. Hermann Brommer: Basilica of Our Lady, Birnau am Bodensee , 43., arr. Ed., Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner, 2010, series: (Kunstführer 435), ISBN 978-3-7954-4005-3 , p. 10.
  3. Bisemberger 1751, p. 24
  4. a b Birnau. In: sueddeutscher-barock.ch. May 30, 2019, accessed May 30, 2019 .
  5. Matthäus Pecher: Sermon for St. Bernard Day. 1710, archived from the original on March 25, 2004 ; Retrieved March 3, 2013 .
  6. Bisemberger 1751, p. 13
  7. Disposition of the organ
  8. ^ Birnau concentration camp cemetery
  9. Oswald Burger : The tunnel. 6th edition Überlingen 2005, ISBN 3-86142-087-2 . Documentation on the Aufkirch concentration camp, section on the Birnau concentration camp cemetery
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on July 15, 2005 in this version .

Coordinates: 47 ° 44 ′ 46 ″  N , 9 ° 13 ′ 9 ″  E