Our monastery, the Abbey of St Hildegard, is situated above Rüdesheim and the Rhine river. Some think it is a Romanesque building, but it was only built at the beginning of the 20th century. However, we think of our house as a foundation of St Hildegard, going back to the old convent of Eibingen.
In the year 1150 Hildegard of Bingen built her first monastic house at Rupertsberg at the mouth of the river Nahe near Bingen. When the number of vocations steadily increased and more and more young women gathered around her, Hildegard bought the former Augustinian double monastery of Eibingen near Rüdesheim. She took on the leadership of the new foundation at Eibingen as well and crossed the Rhine twice a week until her death to visit the daughter house. After St Hildegard’s death on September 17th, 1179 both houses at Rupertsberg and Eibingen moved along with the course of history, seeing times of monastic life flourish and decline.
During the turmoil of the Thirty Year War, Rupertsberg was destroyed by the Swedes in 1632. The nuns had to flee, but returned in 1636. The monastic buildings were, however, in such a bad state of repair that rebuilding was out of the question. So the nuns of Rupertsberg sought refuge at the convent of Eibingen. In 1642 the last Rupertsberg Abbess, Anna Lerch von Dürmstein, resigned from her office. The subsequent 150 years were shaped by many afflictions. Famine, the plague, wars and destruction overtook Eibingen. In 1803 the convent was dissolved in the course of the secularization and the estate was lost. With this, monastic life in Eibingen came to an end. The convent church was taken over by the parish. It is for this reason that the relics of St Hildegard are venerated at the Eibingen church to this day. In 2002 one of our own nuns of the Abbey of St Hildegard took on pastoral care of pilgrims coming to Eibingen. In this way, the old and the new convent of Eibingen have a definite bond again.
PLANS FOR A NEW FOUNDATION
NEW BEGINNINGS OF MONASTIC LIFE
After four years of work, the monumental building was essentially complete. On September 17th, 1904, twelve Benedictine nuns moved into the new foundation from the Abbey of St Gabriel in Prague, the Beuron Congregation’s first monastic house for women. In 1908 the priory was raised to an Abbey by two decrees of Pope Leo XIII, and vested with all the rights and privileges of the former Abbey of St Hildegard. As an „exempt“ abbey it does not come under the jurisdiction of the regional bishop, but directly under the Holy See. On September 7th, 1908 the wall painting of the interior of the church, by Fr Paulus Krebs of Beuron and his students, was so far advanced that the bishop of Limburg, Dominikus Willi, could consecrate the church.
The day after the consecration of the church, on September 8th, 1908, Regintrudis Sauter, who had been prioress, was solemnly blessed as the first abbess of the new monastic community. With this she became the 36th successor to St Hildegard, under whose patronage the Abbey and church had been placed. The number of nuns increased steadily in the years following. The community came through the First World War (1914-1918) and the post war inflationary period relatively well, thanks to the wise leadership of the house. During the time after the First World War (1918-1939) the east wing of the Abbey, which so far had been a shell, could also be completed. The novitiate wing and chapter hall were officially opened.
THE ABBEY OF ST HILDEGARD IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR
The time of the National Socialist regime and the Second World War brought many trials to the monastic community at the Abbey of St Hildegard. As early as May 1941, Abbess Regintrudis Sauter made part of the abbey buildings available as a military hospital and put twenty sisters at the disposal of the Wehrmacht as nurses, caring for the wounded, and for administrative work – in the hope of saving the abbey from being closed. This was not to be. On July 2nd, 1941, the 41st anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone, 115 nuns were expelled by the secret police force (Gestapo). The sisters had to leave the convent and the monastic estate was confiscated.
The majority of the community was received by various orders of charity, notably the congregations of Waldbreitenbach and Dernbach as well as the Borromaean sisters of Bingen. The Eibingen nuns worked in hospitals, nursing homes and other areas for the remaining years of the war. A small group of the Eibingen convent remained at St Hildegard to care for the wounded as Red Cross helpers or to take care of domestic matters at the military hospital with its 100-130 patients. Rüdesheim was largely destroyed in a bombing raid in November 1944, but the abbey buildings were spared. However, since the main military hospital and the operating theatre at Eibingen had been destroyed by bombs, the number of beds at the hospital’s branch in the abbey buildings was raised to 325. A few weeks before the end of the war, on March 19th, 1945 the military hospital at Eibingen was closed down. A few days later American troops moved into Rüdesheim. Soon the estate was returned to the convent. Parts of the monastic buildings were made available to senior citizens of Rüdesheim, who had been made homeless by the bombing raid, and also to accommodate refugees from the East of Germany for the next 10 years.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ABBEY AFTER 1945