Station: [2] Early History and Discoveries

When was the monastery founded? And by whom? Who actually lived here?

We have very few written records from the early centuries, when the monks built their monastery in the marshy valley of the River Schutter, possibly re-using the site of a Roman manor house.

The earliest identifiable figure in its history is Saint Pirmin. He’s regarded as the missionary who brought Christianity to the local tribe, the Alemanni. In the early 8th century, acting on behalf of the Carolingian rulers, he established or reformed several monasteries in the Upper Rhine region and instituted the Benedictine rule throughout. In Schuttern, he’s seen as a reformer.

Rather less certain are the efforts of a man called Offo, who’s said to have given the monastery its first name: Offonis cella, and later Offoniswilare. In some records, he’s seen as an Anglo-Saxon king; others identify him as a local nobleman.

Since historical sources are lacking, and later chronicles aren’t necessarily reliable, the work of one man has been all the more significant. In the 1970s, the graphic artist, architect and archaeologist Karl List from the town of Lahr carried out extensive excavations beneath the present church. He managed to reconstruct the architectural history of the church – the centrepiece of the former monastery complex. Between 1972 and 1975, the dig led by him brought remarkable results to light: the foundations of three earlier churches as well as the spectacular mosaic beneath the altar. The mosaic is still in place and can be viewed as part of a guided tour. Some of the smaller finds are now on display in the museum. You’ll get a chance to see them shortly.

All depictions: © Historischer Verein Schuttern 603 e.V. / Gemeinde Friesenheim