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A historically significant abbey in scenic surroundings
Hirsau Monastery
South conclave and the Owl Tower at Hirsau Monastery. Image: Calw Tourist Information


The Investiture Controversy broke out in the 11th century: Monasteries attempted to find independence from their rulers, while simultaneously seeking a return to the original rules of their order. Hirsau was a center of these monastic reforms in Germany and shaped the architecture of reform monasteries.

Portrait of Abbot Wilhelm von Hirsau in the Reichenbach gift registry, circa 1150. Image: Wikipedia, in the public domain

Reform was his life's work.


In 1079, Abbot Wilhelm drafted a new Hirsau Constitution, in Latin: "Constitutiones Hirsaugienses." In it, he stipulated how the Rules of St. Benedict were to be revived. Following the example of the French abbey at Cluny, poverty, chastity and obedience should once again form the basis of the order. The abbot brought in lay brothers to perform the physical tasks so that the monks could focus on their spiritual duties. In this way, Hirsau incorporated people from every social class.

Collegiate church at Großcomburg Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Arnim Weischer

Großcomburg Monastery followed Hirsau's example.


Hirsau's influence was great. The monastery's reach extended far beyond the borders of Southwest Germany. Monks carried the Hirsau lifestyle into the world and new monasteries were even founded in the Hirsau model. Its influence can still be found today in Hesse, Thuringia and North Rhine-Westphalia. Overall, more than 120 monasteries followed the Hirsau Reform, including Alpirsbach, Comburg, Paulinzella, Reichenbach and Zwiefalten.

Perspective view of the layout of the convent buildings, the Chapel of St. Mary and the Owl Tower at Hirsau Monastery from 1933. Image: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, Lutz Hecker

Monastic reforms are reflected in the architecture.


External signs of Hirsau Monastery's influence can be found in the austere Hirsau architectural style, which influenced many religious buildings of the time. Churches designed as columned basilicas with flat roofs and without a lower church or crypt were a typical example. The division of the choir into sections for monks and lay brothers is also indicative. The west facade's two towers are a powerful beacon. The cushion capitals with their Hirsau cusps can still be seen today on Hirsau's Owl Tower.


Hirsau Monastery's simple and monumental architectural style influenced many Romanesque churches and monasteries. Traveling oblates helped spread the Hirsau style across Germany, which is why Hirsau's motifs and influence can be seen in so many religious structures, for example the cathedral in Schaffhausen or the monastery church in Alpirsbach.

Exterior of Alpirsbach Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Achim Mende

Alpirsbach Monastery, near Hirsau, followed the Hirsau monks' reform movement as well as their architectural style.

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