Convent of Rupertsberg at the time of the Thirty Years' War
from: Rheinhessen in seiner Vergangenheit (Herausgeber G. Behrens),
Bd. 5: Alt-Bingen, Teil 2 von
J. Como, Schneider, Mainz 1926
People following the tracks of St. Hildegard of Bingen will only find the last authentic rests of her first monastery on the Rupertsberg in tearing the veil of a double alienation. The place of the former convent has been called "Bingerbrück" since the 19th century. The only remainder of the Rupertsberg convent are five arcades of the monastery church. They can be seen today in an exhibition hall of the Würth firm, leading the visitor back into the 12th century.
Between 1147 and 1151, Hildegard left the Disibodenberg and founded her first monastery above the tomb of St. Rupertus. Her biography recounts: "Hildegard was shown by the Holy Spirit that place where the Nahe flows into the Rhine, namely the hill which received its name by the confessor St. Rupertus." Little is known about the building history of the convent of Rupertsberg. From scattered comments and pictorial representations, the site of the convent can be roughly reconstructed. Its centre was the convent church which had been consecrated by Archbishop Heinrich of Mainz in 1152. It had a nave and two aisles. The measures of the nave and the aisles were as follows: length 30 m, width of the nave 7 m and of the aisles 4,35 m each. The side-wall with view to the Nahe, the eastern choir, had a semi-circular apse which was crowned by a gable. The nave was flanked by two big towers. The church had no transepts; the apses of the aisles were fitted into the towers.
Documents mention a vault-like crypt, the place where the relics of St. Rupertus and his mother Berta were kept. This crypt should also become the burial place for St. Hildegard. It was located - as was usual in all churches underneath - the chancel. An engraving by Meissner created around 1620, twelve years before the destruction of the monastery by the Swedes, shows the church surrounded by numerous high and low residential and farm buildings. The whole area of the convent was enclosed by a ring-wall. About the arrangement of the various buildings the following can be traced: from the southern aisle one could reach, taking a few steps down, the cloister below. Around the cloister the prelate's house, the buildings of the convent, the dormitory, the Chapter house and the convent school were located. Southwest of the cloister, there was the churchyard with the chapel of St. Michael. A few additional buildings in the convent area are mentioned in some documents, as were the Summer house, the house of the provost with the 'garden for the Father', the guest house. In the same area there was also the convent garden, of which two acres were layed out as vineyard. There were also a house for the servants and farm buildings. From the latter ones inside the convent walls a gate was leading to Weiler, where the dairy-farm of the convent was situated. Built into the convent wall, thus accessible from both sides, there was the chapel of St. Nikolaus; and near this chapel the convent gate with the portress's lodge.
St. Hildegard's convent on the Rupertsberg was not quite a representative construction, based on a complete architectonic idea. Wibert of Gembloux's description from the year 11 77 is likely to come close to reality: "This convent has not been founded by an emperor or bishop, a mighty or a rich man of this world, but by a poor and weak woman, a newcomer in this region. Within a short time, only 27 years, the monastic spirit and the outside construction have developed to such high standards, that not by magnificent but well-built and spacious buildings it is in an excellent condition."
The spiritual radiation of the Rupertsberg ceased when Hildegard died in 1179. The sources, though, are reporting interesting details about conflicts between the Bingen population and the convent, about times of decay and reform. But the convent never regained the same spiritual importance of former times. Until the destruction by the Swedes in 1632, the Rupertsberg monastery was, like many other convents, a "home for ladies of rank" with Benedictine elements maintained. The destroyed Rupertsberg was never rebuilt. It remained in the possession of Eibingen, Hildegard's second foundation, where, after the chaos of the Thirty-Years'War, a new beginning of monastic life was initiated. Henceforth, the ruins of the convent served as a quarry for the convent's farm buildings, whereas the ruin of the church with its apse, gable, tower stumps and outside walls impressed romantic generations until the end of the 18th century. After the secularization, the convent site went into private hands and the destruction of the ruins continued.
When in 1857 the rock on which the remainders of the towers and choir were to be found, was blown up for the construction of the Nahe-Valley-Railway, the last visible traces of the convent buildings disappeared. The grave-crypt underneath the choir as far as still existing - fell also victim to this blowing up. Only parts of the Romanesque architecture of the church were preserved by including them into the residential buildings like the five arcades, still to be seen today in the Würth-house. Again and again, the sources report of the new or re-construction of the cellars. Which parts of them still existed in the 12th century can only be found - if possible at all - by thorough investigation. The underground vaults, well cared for and made accessible to the public by Mr. Würth, are breathing the spirit of the long and eventful history of this authentic place of the life of St. Hildegard of Bingen.
P. Dr. Josef Krasenbrink