Ruins of the Collegiate Church of Bad Hersfeld

Anyone standing within the high walls of the ruins of the Bad Hersfeld collegiate church can appreciate how fascinating the church building, which reaches for the heavens, must have been to the pilgrims of the Middle Ages. Today, the largest Romanesque church ruin north of the Alps is particularly well known as the venue for the Bad Hersfeld Festival.

At a glance

Im Stift 6
36251 Bad Hersfeld

Opening Hours

A map of Hessen HESSEN


Every year between July and September, theatre enthusiasts make a pilgrimage to the Abbey Ruins in Bad Hersfeld, where a unique cultural experience awaits them between the venerable walls of the former monastery church. Since 1951, the Bad Hersfeld Festival has attracted actors and guests of distinction. But the mighty building was already a popular destination almost 1000 years ago: At that time, pilgrims came to Hersfeld to pray at the - now lost - relics of Wigbert and Lullus. Both names are closely connected with the beginnings of Bad Hersfeld: Lullus, Archbishop of Mainz, founded a Benedictine abbey here in 769, where the Irish missionary Boniface had already established a hermitage. He entrusted this to the direct protection of the Frankish king and later emperor Charlemagne and made it a high-ranking mission centre through the relics of the supposedly miracle-working Wigbert, a friend of Boniface.

The Cross in the Language of Architecture

The first church building was followed by three more, each surpassing the previous one in size. The last of them, in its time one of the largest churches north of the Alps, was built from 1038 under Abbot Meginher. At that time, the Romanesque architectural style was just developing, characterised by simple yet articulated façades with semicircular arches for windows, doors and masonry openings. The ground plan of the nave, transept and choir transferred the Christian cross into the language of architecture. The nave had the shape of a three-nave columned basilica - a form of construction in which the side aisles are lower than the central nave. The building was dominated by the south tower, but a north tower was never completed. Even though only some of the column bases remain of the central nave today, the mighty architecture of the 11th century, reaching for the sky, can still be experienced authentically.

Ruins of the Collegiate Church of Bad Hersfeld, east choir and crypt

View of the east choir and the crypt, whose vault was penetrated by the falling roof during the fire of 1761.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Ruins of the Collegiate Church of Bad Hersfeld, view of the east choir

The view of the east choir, with two small apses on the right and left, shows the typical characteristics of the early Romanesque architectural style with the round arches of the windows and the simple wall structures.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Ruins of the Collegiate Church of Bad Hersfeld, view into the west choir

From the east choir, the view goes into the west choir and onto the south tower of the collegiate church. The north tower was intended to be just as mighty, but was never completed.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Ruins of the Collegiate Church of Bad Hersfeld, bases

Of the former central nave, only bases and some capitals of the columns have been preserved.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Fire during the Seven Years’ War

After the collegiate church was abandoned as a Catholic church building in 1525, it continued to exist without significant changes until the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). The conflict between Prussia and Great Britain/the Electorate of Hanover on the one side and the Habsburg monarchy, France and Russia on the other also took place in Hesse. In Hersfeld, French troops set fire to their supplies stored in the collegiate church as the Prussian-Hessian opponents advanced. The fire spread to the building and severely damaged it. For decades, the ruins served as a quarry and were not maintained as a listed building until the 19th century.

Ruins of the Collegiate Church of Bad Hersfeld, Catherine Tower

The Catherine Tower at the north-east corner of the monastery cemetery was probably built in the middle of the 12th century. In it hangs the Lullus Bell from the year 1038, which today is only rung on special occasions.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Catherine Tower and Lullus Bell

The only remnant of the former monastery on the site of the abbey ruins is the Catharine Tower. In it hangs the famous Lullus Bell, cast in 1038, which commemorates the above-mentioned archbishop of Mainz. It is the oldest dated bell in Germany, which is also in continuous use and rings today on high church festivals, at the turn of the year and on the anniversary of Lullus’ death, 16 October.