Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Lorsch Abbey

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(Laureshamense Monasterium, called also Laurissa and Lauresham).

One of the most renowned monasteries of the old Franco-German Empire, is situated aboutr ten miles east of Worms in the Grand Duch of Hesse, Germany. This abbey was founded in 764 by Count Cancor and his widowed mother Williswinda. Having built a church and monastery on their estate, Laurissa, they entrusted its government to the care of Chrodegang, Archbishop of Metz. This well-known and saintly prelate dedicated the church and monastery in honor of St. Peter the Apostle, and became its first abbot. The pious founders enriched the new abbey by further donations. In 766 Chrodegang resigned the office of abbot owing to his other important duties as Archbishop of Metz. He then sent his brother Gundeland to Lorsch as his successor, with fourteen Benedictine monks. To make the abbey popular as a shrine and a place of pilgrimage, Chrodegang obtained from Pope Paul I the body of St. Nazarius, who with three other Roman soldiers had won the crown of martyrdom under Diocletian. On 11 July, 765, the sacred relics arrived, and were with great solemnity deposited in the basilica of the monastery. The abbey and basilica were then named in honour of St. Nazarius, instead of St. Peter as heretofore. Many miracles were wrought through the intercession of St. Nazarius, and from all parts of Europe pilgrims in large numbers came to visit the shrine. Having grown into prominence as a nursery of learning and culture, the monastery became no less celebrated as a centre of virtue and piety. Popes and emperors repeatedly favoured the abbey with special privileges. The transfer of many estates and the addition of small towns to its possessions soon raised the abbey to the position of a principality, so that in a short time it became not only immensely rich, but also a seat of political influence.

It was, however, this very influence of its wealth and political ascendancy that caused its decline and final ruin. The abbey, enjoying state rights, became implicated in several local feuds and in a number of wars. After forty-six abbots of the Order of St. Benedict had governed the abbey more or less successfully, Conrad, the last of the abbots, was deposed by Pope Gregory IX in 1226, and through the influence of the German Emperor Frederick II, Lorsch came into the possession of Archbishop Siegfried III of Mainz. In 1248 Premonstratensian monks were given charge of the monastery with the sanction of Pope Celestine IV, and they remained there till 1556, when, after a glorious existence of 800 years, Lorsch and the surrounding country passed into the hands of Lutheran and Calvinistic princes. The princes allowed the religious a pension for life, and then sent them adrift in the world. In Lorsch itself, first the Lutheran, and later the Calvinistic religion was introduced. During the Thirty Years War Lorsch and its neighbourhood suffered greatly, but, having again come into the possession of Mainz, it returned to the Catholic Faith. The most dreary period for Lorsch was during the war between France and Germany from 1679 and 1697. Whole villages were laid in ruins, the homes of the peasantry were destroyed by fire, and the French soldiers burned the old buildings whose associations had made them sacred to the inhabitants. One portion, which was left intact, now serves as a tobacco warehouse. The ancient entrance hall, built in the ninth century by Emperor Ludwig III, is the oldest and probably the most beautiful monument of Franconian architecture. This hall, though the property of the Grand Duchy of Hesse, is now used as a chapel where Mass is occasionally celebrated.

LEANDER M. ROTH