The abbey, together with its monumental entrance, the famous 'Torhall', are rare architectural vestiges of the Carolingian era. The sculptures and paintings from this period are still in remarkably good condition.
Carolingian gatehouse from the west
© Dr. Reinhard Dietrich
The religious complex represented by the former Lorsch Abbey with its 1,200-year-old gatehouse, which is unique and in excellent condition, comprises a rare architectural document of the Carolingian era with impressively preserved sculpture and painting of that period. It gives architectural evidence of the awakening of the West to the spirit of the early and high Middle Ages under the first king and emperor, Charlemagne.
In the small town of Lorsch, between Worms and Darmstadt, is the renowned Torhalle, one of the rare Carolingian buildings that has retained its original appearance. It is a reminder of the past grandeur of an abbey founded around 760-64. The first Abbot was the Bishop of Metz, Chrodegang (died 766). Sometime before 764 he brought monks from Gorze to live there and in 765 he donated the relics of St Nazarius, which he had acquired in Rome.
In 767, Thurincbert, one of the founder's brothers, donated new land in sand dunes safe from floods about 500 m from the original site. The monastery was placed under the Emperor's protection in 772. In 774, with Charlemagne in attendance, the Archbishop of Mainz consecrated the new church, dedicated to Saints Peter, Paul and Nazarius.
The Codex Laureshamensis, a chronicle of the abbey, lists the improvements made by three of the most important abbots, Helmerich, Richbod and Adelog, between 778 and 837. The monastery's zenith was probably in 876 when, on the death of Louis II the German (876) it became the burial place for the Carolingian kings of Germany. To be a worthy resting place for the remains of his father, Louis III the Young (876-82) had a crypt built, an ecclesia varia, where he was also buried, as were his son Hugo and Cunegonde, wife of Conrad I (the Duke of Franconia elected King of Germany at the death of the last of the German Carolingians, Louis IV the Child).
The monastery flourished throughout the 10th century, but in 1090 was ravaged by fire. In the 12th century a first reconstruction was carried out. In the 13th century, after Lorsch had been incorporated in the Electorate of Mainz (1232), it lost a large part of its privileges.
The Benedictines were replaced first by Cistercians and later by Premonstratensians. Moreover, the church had to be restored and reconstructed after yet another fire. The glorious Carolingian establishment slowly deteriorated under the impact of the vagaries of politics and war: Lorsch was attached to the Palatinate in 1461, returned to the Electorate of Mainz in 1623, and incorporated in the Electorate of Hesse in 1803. During the Thirty Years' War in 1620-21, the Spanish armies pillaged the monastic buildings, which had been in a state of abandon since the Reformation.
Only the Torhalle, part of the Romanesque church, insignificant vestiges of the medieval monastery, and classical buildings dating from the period when the Electors of Mainz administered the town still survive within its boundaries. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC