Waldsassen - Cistercian Monastery and Basilica of the Assumption

Baroque reconstruction of the Cistercian monastery and the construction of the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Waldsassen in 1681-1704, in 1681-1690 according to the designs of Abraham Leuthner from Prague, Georg and Christoph Dientzenhofer, Leonhard and Johann Dientzenhofer also worked on the construction, the design and construction work was taken over by the builder Bernard Schießer from 1691, the rough construction was completed in 1700, the basilica was consecrated in 1704

The monastery, under the patronage of the Virgin Mary, was founded as a Cistercian monastery around 1133 by the Margrave of Nordgau, Diepold III von Vohburg, who brought monks from the monastery of Volkenroda to the country. The monastery developed a lively colonisation and prosperous economic activity. In 1179, Bishop Conrad II of Regensburg consecrated a newly built three-nave basilica in Romanesque style in the presence of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

After the recatholicization of the country after the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), the Cistercian monastery Fürstenfeld reoccupied the ruined Waldsassen monastery from 1661. In 1690, the monastery was again elevated to the status of abbey and regained its former property and considerable income. A second period of prosperity began for the monastery and the town of Waldsassen.

In 1681, the Baroque reconstruction of the monastery was started according to the plans of Abraham Leuthner from Prague by the builder Caspar Feichtmayer. In 1681, he lost the contract for the construction and Abraham Leuthner and his cop Georg Dientzenhofer took over the construction. Leonhard, Christopher and later Johann Dientzenhofer were successively involved in the reconstruction of the monastery complex.

In 1685, the foundation stone of the new collegiate church was laid according to Georg Dientzenhofer's plan.

From 1686 Georg Dientzenhofer was referred to in church records as "aedilis monasterii", i.e. as the person responsible for the supervision and business management of the building in Abraham Leuthner's absence.

After the sudden death of Georg Dientzenhofer in 1689, Christopher Dientzenhofer took over the construction as an independent builder. Abraham Leuthner and Christopher Dientzenhofer left the building in 1690 after the election of the new abbot of the monastery, Albert Hausner. In 1691 the builder Bernard Schießer took over the construction and completed the rough construction in 1700.

The consecration ceremony of the Waldsassen Collegiate Basilica took place in 1704. The monastery library was completed in 1727.

The monastery was secularized in 1803. In 1864 a branch monastery of the Cistercian women's monastery in Seligenthal was established here. In 1925 the monastery was upgraded to an abbey.

In 1969, the collegiate church received the papal title of Basilica Minor.

Detailed information


The monastery, under the patronage of the Virgin Mary, was founded as a Cistercian monastery around 1133 by the Margrave of Nordgau Diepold III von Vohburg, who brought monks from the monastery of Volkenroda in Thuringia to the country. The newly founded Cistercian order in the diocese of Regensburg was granted unlimited immunity, which was confirmed by the emperor and the pope later that century. With its foundation, the margrave pursued not only spiritual salvation for himself and his family, but also territorial and political goals. The monastery developed a lively colonization and economic activity. In the sparsely built-up border region with the Kingdom of Bohemia and the neighbouring region of Cheb (Eger), it was interested in planned clearance and settlement activities.

Already in 1143, the Waldsassen monastery, with the consent of the Bohemian Prince Vladislav II and Bishop Otto of Prague and Bishop Heinrich Zdik of Olmütz, founded a Cistercian monastery in Sedlec in Bohemia. In the same year he founded the Walderbach monastery, which was later replaced by the Bronnbach monastery in Baden and in 1194 the monastery in Osek in Bohemia.

The prosperity of the monastery was soon demonstrated by its vigorous building activity, so that in 1179 the Bishop of Regensburg, Conrad II, in the presence of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, was able to consecrate a three-nave basilica built in the Romanesque style.

After the abbey's status as an imperial immediacy had been threatened several times by various princes, the monastery came under the protection of the Bohemian crown after the death of the last Emperor Conrad of Stauff in 1269.

From 1411 the abbey was no longer under the protection of the Bohemian kings, but chose the Counts of Palatinate as its secular protector. The Waldsassen abbots continued to systematically increase their holdings, especially under Johannes VI. Vendel of Weiden, until they created a closed estate in the northern Upper Palatinate, still known today as "Stiftland".

In 1556 Waldsassen was secularized under the rule of the Palatinate Elector Ottheinrich (Otto Heinrich, 1502-1559), who converted to Lutheranism and was administered by secular administrators. The last monks were expelled in 1560.

In 1571, the monastery lands fell to the Elector Palatinate. The former monastery itself served as the Elector's estate and occasional residence of the monarchs. For example, the "Winter King", Elector Frederick V of Palatinate, received the honours of the Bohemian Estates at the monastery castle.

In 1620, Elector Maximilian I of Bavaria defeated the Elector of the Palatinate and the "Winter King" Frederick V in the Battle of White Mountain in Prague. During the Thirty Years' War (1618-1641), the monastery was plundered several times, and since its sacking by Swedish Protestant troops in 1647 it has been in a state of ruin.

With the Peace of Westphalia, the Upper Palatinate was confirmed as part of Bavaria and the Bavarian Elector Maximilian I demanded an unconditional return to the Catholic faith from all inhabitants. In the summer of 1651, the Elector reportedly promised the abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Fürstenfeld, Martin Dallmayer, the return of the monastery in Waldsassen at his request.

On his deathbed in Ingolstadt on 27 September 1651, Elector Maximilian of Bavaria commissioned his son and successor Ferdinand Maria to restore, among other things, the Cistercian monastery in Waldsassen. However, the restoration of the Upper Palatinate monasteries was still delayed.

In the autumn of 1661, several negotiations took place between the government chancellery, the bishop of Regensburg and the abbot of Fürstenfeld, as his monastery was to be entrusted with the resettlement of Waldsassen and Seligenporten. Of course, the means of restitution also had to be determined. In the end, an agreement was reached. The Fürstenfeld monastery was thus able to send three monks to Waldsassen.

On 3 December 1661, the three monks left Fürstenfeld and arrived in Waldsassen six days later. They were the Cistercian Fathers Nivard Christoph, Gerhard Eggenhauser and Eugen Dallmayr. Their arrival in Waldsassen thus marked an event of great significance for the later development of the region and was tantamount to the second foundation of the monastery.

Initially, each of the fathers received an annual salary of 200 guilders from the Electoral Treasury, and the accompanying servants were to receive the same amount. The new beginnings of the monks at Waldsassen must have been quite difficult and laborious. However, they immediately took up the choir prayers and devoted themselves to monastic life.

The first monastic church, rededicated in 1517 and cleansed of "idolatrous images and paintings" in 1565, was old but usable. The then priest Georg Miller had to live in one of the monastery buildings. The monks probably also took up residence there. However, most of the old monastery buildings were largely abandoned and in ruins. Several cells in the old monastery were laboriously repaired only from 1675 and the abbey residence from 1676.

At that time, about 400 inhabitants lived in Waldsassen with about 50 houses. The inhabitants were mostly craftsmen or farmers. From 1663 onwards, two annual markets were held here, the Walburgi (early May) and the Martini (November). At that time, the so-called Walburgiskirche (Walburg Church) at the corner of Egerer Straße and Johannisplatz served as the parish church, but it was demolished in 1804.

In 1669 the eight old monastic estates, including Waldsassen, were returned to their respective orders. However, they are denied their former independence. For the time being they are priories of Bavarian abbeys. Waldsassen became a priory in Fürstenfeld.

Waldsassen Abbey was officially restored on 1 August 1669 and the administration was transferred to Abbot Martin Dallmayr (1612-1690) of Fürstenfeld Abbey. He now appointed Father Nivard Christoph as the abbot of Waldsassen. He held this position until 1690 and then went back to Fürstenfeld. Father Eggenhauser died in March 1672 and was buried in the old church next to the altar of Our Lady. Father Eugen Dallmayr was the only one to experience the rise of Waldsassen with the new construction of the monastery and the collegiate church. He died in May 1702 and found his final resting place in the crypt of the new church. In 1681 there were already 12 Conventuals from Fürstenfeld Abbey in Waldsassen.

The Superior of the monastery, Father Nivard Christoph, had the old buildings gradually demolished from 1681 onwards in order to replace them with the planned new monastery building designed by the Prague architect Abraham Leuthner (1640-1701).

On 25 April 1681, on the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone, the mason and plasterer Caspar Feichtmayr of Wessobrunn was appointed as the executing master. His polisher was Benedikt Schaidhauf. Apparently, only the foundations of the eastern wing of the monastery were excavated in this year.

Already in 1681 Feichtmayr lost the execution contract, perhaps due to his absence in Waldsassen, and it was transferred to Abraham Leuthner. Georg Dientzenhofer and his brothers Christoph, Leonhard and Johann, who gradually moved to the construction in Waldsassen, worked for Leuthner at that time in Prague as a field engineer. The Dientzenhofer brothers were related to Abraham Leuthner through the marriage of their sister Anna to Wolfgang Leuthner, a relative of Abraham Leuthner, in 1678.

A few months after moving to Waldsassen, Georg Dientzenhofer also got married on 25 August 1682 to Maria Elisabeth Hager, the daughter of a butcher from Waldsassen. Important witnesses to the marriage were Martin Dallmayr, then superior of the monastery, and the physician Johann Michael Prem, who is also later mentioned as the pastor of the church in Kappl.

In 1685, the foundation stone of the new collegiate church was laid according to the plan of Georg Dientzenhofer, who in the meantime had also undertaken several new churches and monastery buildings in the Upper Palatinate and especially the Jesuit church of St. Martin in Bamberg, where he had been recommended by Father Nivard Christoph in Franconia.

His design for the church in Waldsassen in 1685 is the basis for the surviving interior designs by the Jesuit Brother Johannes Hörmann. These show that Georg Dientzenhofer originally planned the church as a pilaster hall similar to his Jesuit church of St. Martin in Bamberg.

Georg Dientzenhofer died suddenly on 2 February 1689 at the age of 46.

In the year of Georg Dientzenhofer's death, four wings of the new monastery building in Waldsassen were completed. The other three wings around the second courtyard were designed as a three- or five-bay continuation. This project, perhaps begun for the planned continuation of the building after the new church was built, was not later realized. In 1688, the internal construction of the rooms needed for the convent was underway. In this year Bernardo Quadri stuccoed the four-winged cloister. The addition of the sacristy and library was postponed.

After the death of Georg Dientzenhofer in 1689, his brother Christopher, who was living in Prague at the time, took over the commission in Waldsassen. He became the independent master builder in Waldsassen, although Abraham Leuthner was still involved in the work.

In 1689, work began on the continuous demolition of the medieval collegiate church from east to west and the simultaneous excavation of the foundations for the new church.

In 1690, the monastery was again elevated to an abbey and regained its former property and considerable income.

When Albert Hausner, the first abbot of Waldsassen, took office in 1690, the responsibility for planning and implementation changed decisively. Father Nivard Christoph relinquished his post to the new abbot and returned to the monastery in Fürstenfeld.

Around this time, the construction of the choir was already at an advanced stage. The choir and transept were built according to the plans of Georg Dientzenhofer. However, there was a change in the nave. Instead of the pilaster hall designed by Georg Dientzenhofer, the nave was built as a pilaster basilica, probably designed by his brother Christopher.

In the spring of 1690, the two master builders Christopher Dientzenhofer and Abraham Leuthner resigned, and their long-time polisher Bernhard Schießer took their place in 1691. The latter had been married to Georg Dientzenhofer's widow since 1690, suggesting that the resignations of Dientzenhofer and Leuthner were by mutual agreement.

Schießer changed the design for the façade in 1692 on behalf of Abbot Albert Hausner, who now wanted a representative two-tower façade instead of the tower already begun at the angle between the north transept and the choir. These were rather rare among the Cistercians, even in the Baroque period, although the medieval ban on towers had long since expired. In the areas of the Counter-Reformation, however, abbots did not want to appear modest and thus wanted to show the power of the Catholic Church to the outside world.

The vaulting of the choir was probably completed by 1694 at the latest, as the first negotiations with the plasterer took place in that year. In 1693-1694 the nave was roofed and in 1695 the vaults of the nave were built. At the last moment they were changed from vaulted arches, as in the choir, to suspended ones. The last vault built by the master builder Schiesser was the cross vault in 1696. The following year he built the tower front. In 1700 the towers were roofed.

In the meantime, a two-storey inn wing and a connecting wing with the abbey castle were also built. The cost of the building work from 1690 onwards, excluding board, materials and carriage fees, was 30,000 guilders.

From 1695, plasterers also worked on the choir and nave. On 24 January 1695, Abbot Albert concluded a contract with Giovanni Battista Carlon for 6,500 guilders, which covered the plaster work and the extensive figural sculpture in the interior of the church. The work was to be completed within three years. Carlone worked here again with his equally talented younger nephew Paolo d'Allio and now also with his son Diego Francesco. In 1696 Giovanni Battista Carlone concluded another contract for the construction of the high altar and a third contract for the sacristy. In 1696 Carlone concluded another contract for the construction of the altar. He completed his work in Waldsassen in 1698.

At the same time as Carlone, the Prague painter Johann Jakob Stevens von Steinfels worked on the ceiling and wall frescoes. He signed his first contract on 6 April 1695 and completed his last work in 1698.

In addition to Stevens von Steinfels, Jean-Claude Monnot was already active as a painter in 1695. He painted four paintings of the evangelists in the choir vault and a mural behind the high altar. At the same time, the abbot commissioned him to paint the main altarpiece. In 1701 Monnet also supplied the upper paintings for the choir stalls.

The choir stalls and organ prospectus were commissioned from Martin Hirsch of Waldsassen in 1696. The organ is the work of Joseph Christoph Egedacher of Salzburg. Karl Stilp from Cheb created the figural sculpture of the altar of the Virgin Mary in the north transept and the marble tabernacle of the high altar as early as 1699.

The collegiate basilica was consecrated in 1704 by the auxiliary bishop Franz Ferdinand von Rummel.

In 1704 the church thus gave the impression of completion, although the altarpieces of the transepts, the pulpit and all the altars of the side aisles were still missing.

In 1708 the painter Andreas Maisthuber of Braunau added the main picture and the picture of the Bernhard altarpiece, the painter of the two Marian altarpieces is better known. Johann Andreas Wolff from Munich painted them in 1708.
Under Abbot Albert Schnaus, a silver-plated pulpit was built in 1715. Like the silvered antiphons, it is the work of Johann Georg Göhringer from Cheb. The wings of the first two altars of the six side chapels, the apostolic and Benedictine altar in the third bay, were ordered by Abbot Albert in 1717, but the altars were not realized until 1751 without these wings being installed.

It was only under Abbot Eugen Schmid that the remaining altars in the side aisles were ordered. The altarpieces of the middle bay, the altars of St. John and St. Michael, as well as the altars of St. Catherine and St. Magdalene in the first bay, are marble stucco works by Jacopo Appiani of Porto Ceresio, who also worked in the library in 1724.

In 1748, the organ underwent its last alterations. After this date, no further changes were made to the church in the 18th century.

The former tomb of the Cistercian monks beneath the basilica is considered one of the largest monastic tombs in Germany, and the walls of the tombs and hall passages can be seen here.

The monastery library

The library occupies the top two floors in the west wing of the monastery. It was built in 1688 by Georg Dientzenhofer according to plans by Abraham Leuthner. The interior designs by Brother Johannes Hörmann were not subsequently realised. Only Abbot Eugen Schmid, who was elected in February 1724, promptly put the furnishings into operation immediately after his election. In the same year, the stucco and frescoes in the library room were completed. The colourful stuccoes of the Régence are the work of Jacopo Appiani, who subsequently worked in the church. The collaborator is Paolo Marazzi. In addition, a certain Francesco Chiusa is mentioned as a helper.

The monastery library was completed in 1727. Even more than the magnificent ceiling paintings and stuccoes, the library at Waldsassen is famous for its life-size carved wooden figures by Karl Stilp, a native of Waldsassen. The fresco painter Karl Hofreiter and the carver Andreas Witt were also active here.


In 1803, as part of the secularisation process, Waldsassen Abbey was formally abolished for the second time by the Elector of Bavaria. In contrast to many monasteries in Bavaria, the abbey was debt-free with a property of 200,000 gold coins and owned a large amount of real estate. The Electoral Commission for taking possession immediately auctioned off the movable property, only the works of art and the more valuable parts of the library were taken to Amberg or Munich. Of the library's holdings of some 19,000 volumes, all but 3,520 volumes were taken to Munich after secularization in Bavaria, and some were sold. The properties were sold or leased.

In addition to Abbot Athanasius, 56 fathers and five lay brothers were directly affected by the dissolution. Many found employment as parish priests. The abbot died in 1803 in the monastery, where 23 conventuals lived according to the religious order until 1805. Some former Conventuals remained in the monastery in 1816. The dissolution of the monastery had serious consequences for the population. The sudden loss of the monastery as an employer plunged the region into a deep economic crisis, which was also the cause of a large wave of emigration between 1830 and 1850.

The collegiate church became a parish church with a state building obligation and was thus saved from demolition.

Some of the monastery buildings remained empty for a long time. Only the east wing of the monastery was used as a boys' school and teachers' apartments from 1812. In 1804 the south-west corner wing was sold.

The authorities considered using the three-storey south and west wings with the library as a "spa establishment", i.e. as a spa hotel, but eventually sold them. In 1828, the merchant Wilhelm Rother acquired the site to set up a textile factory. The library was used as a prayer room for the Protestant employees. After the textile factory closed in 1863, the town of Waldsassen and the Diocese of Regensburg became involved in the restoration of the monastery.

In 1864, the Cistercian Abbey of Seligenthal near Landshut acquired a large part of the site and established a branch monastery there in 1865. At the request of the Bavarian state, they built a girls' school with a boarding school. In 1894 Waldsassen became an independent priory and in 1925 it was upgraded to an abbey.

The Cistercian nuns established a daughter school, a teaching school and a boarding school in the old monastery buildings, and in 1924 they built their own, smaller monastery church, which is hidden in one of the courtyards of the monastery. In 1893, the convent had 93 sisters; in 2002, there were ten.

In 1969 the collegiate church received the papal title of Basilica Minor.


The elongated church with transept, crucifixion and unusually long monastic choir has the form of a medieval gallery basilica in the nave, but the side aisles are divided into individual side chapels. These are connected in an original way to the corresponding gallery room by an oval apex opening.

The nave thus described corresponds to the rebuilding of 1690, the chancel and transept having been carried out by then according to the plans of Georg Dientzenhofer. After his death, the planned, more architecturally advanced pilaster hall of the nave is converted into a basilica, probably by his brother Christopher. The nave structure consists of a two-storey arcaded wall and a submitted order with double pilasters. The pilasters end at the level of the gallery parapet, the gallery floor forms a frieze and only above the gallery arches does the entablature end in a cornice. The arches are a complement of suspended domes resting on wide banded arches. The subsequent highlighting of the inner oval of the dome with a distinctive stucco frame, which frames the frescoes, creates the illusion of a pendentive dome, similar to that of the Passau Cathedral (1674).

This similarity of the vault to the Passau Dome is not accidental, since the vaults of the nave were probably not completed until 1695, at the time Giovanni Battista Carlone was called in. Carlone is probably also the originator of the pendentives with transverse oval openings of the galleries of the side aisles, which were walled at the same time.

The two-tower façade at the basilica was created by the master builder Bernhard Schießer. Its central bay rises from the three-storey towers. It is two-storeyed with three axes. Distinctive cornice bands divide the façade horizontally. Above the lower risalit floor of the Doric order Schießer arches a segmental gable, the upper floor of the Ionic order is topped with a triangular gable.

Schießer had been planning the façade since 1692 at the behest of Abbot Albert Hausner, who now wanted a representative two-tower façade instead of the already begun tower at an angle between the north transept and the choir.

The church remained intact until 1870. In this year, at a time unfavourable for Baroque churches, the first extensive renovation began under the auspices of the Royal Building Authorities in Amberg and Tirschenreuth. Despite the still insufficient understanding of Baroque colour, the interior was spared reinterpretation and merely switched to richer colours.

The first extensive renovation of the church's interior in 1954-1957 resulted in a white interior.

With sufficient original finds, the most recent restoration in 2013-2017 was able to reverse these two interventions. Today, the interior is largely in its original state. The same is true only to a limited extent for the facades.

Renovations carried out in 1869-1870, 1949, and 1984-1987, almost always with new plaster and new paint, suggest that today's colour tones do not match those of 1704

A larger intervention, but not documented, was made around 1900, the addition of the north wing of the monastery, which was left unfinished in 1690.

The five-axial spire, which had been enclosed by a gable, was extended to seven axes and given a hipped roof. The new façade design follows the late Mannerist colossal pilasters on the north side adjacent to the church.

In 2002, the total restoration of the monastery wings was completed with the restoration of the remaining original mass.


The frescoes on the vault were painted by the Prague painter Johann Jakob Stevens von Steinfels. In five frescoes in the rectangular choir, the painter depicts the history of the monastery. He painted them in 1695 in an outdated form as "quadri riportati". In 1696 he painted the Rosary Mysteries in the oval paintings in the nave of the monastery.

The frescoes in the nave at Waldsassen are among the best works of the Prague painter. His main work is the large dome fresco of All Saints, painted subsequently. The saints are depicted in the middle of a circle on clouds around a luminous centre with the symbol of the Trinity. Conspicuous is the large group of Cistercians under the protective mantle of the Virgin Mary in the eastern half of the dome, which is the first visible to the visitor. The dome fresco by Johann Jakob Stevens von Steinfels is not only an early dome painting by a German painter with this subject, but also probably the first "All Saints' Heaven" in a Cistercian church.

Interior decoration

The interior of the Waldsassen Basilica is the work of the stucco artist Giovanni Battista Carlone. He is not a decorator but a sculptor-architect. Carlone interspersed a rich programme of stucco with a large number of figures, which he executed himself. In addition to the numerous putti, there are four larger-than-life church fathers in crucifixion, twelve prophets standing on the cornice, two seated female figures on each arcade, and many other figures, such as the sixteen standing angels on the chancel cornice.

The stuccoes framing and filling the festoons, leaf lattices and cartouches are the work of Paolo d'Allio's most important collaborator and assistants. The "Stucco Baroque", as the preference of Italian High Baroque stucco over frescoes is also called, was at its height in Waldsassen.

The high altar was created by Giovanni Battista Carlon in 1696. The altar structure of the tabernacle, created a little later by Karl Stilp, is an impressive piece of sculpture. Stilp surrounds the golden spherical tabernacle with a dense group of figures, with Mary and the Angel of the Annunciation on the outside, and putti and angels above the tabernacle, carrying and worshipping the silver altar cross.


The Cistercian Women's Order, headed by Abbess M. Laetitia Fech OCist, is currently active in the Waldsassen Monastery. In addition to the religious life, it also runs a girls' high school and its own boarding house, St. Joseph's.

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20. Juni 2023