The history of the museum

From monastery to museum

Imperial Founder

In 1258, the imperial kitchen master Lupold von Nordenberg donated the area of a former farmhouse to build a convent. With the inclusion of two older houses, the construction of the new convent soon began and as early as 1259 nuns moved to Rothenburg from St. Markus in Würzburg and from neighbouring Neusitz. The church, which at first was probably still free-standing, was consecrated around 1265, and the convent buildings were only added in the course of the 13th and 14th centuries. Around the middle of the 14th century, the foundations increased, and the initially straight chancel of the church received a 3/8 closure. The increasing prosperity of the convent was reflected in the size of the monastery area alone. Thus, the property extended almost as far as Klingengasse in the east and almost as far as Klostergasse on the south side.

Crisis in the 14th century

Especially in the 14th century, the nobility monastery was just a “stake in the flesh” of the city of Rothenburg. The enclosed area was located directly on the city wall, and it was suspected that this peripheral location contributed to the lively exchange of the surrounding lower nobility with the versed nuns. It was precisely these attempts at access, especially those of the Nordenbergers, that ultimately led the nuns to come under the protection of the town and give up their independence. Although a treaty to this effect was concluded as early as 1377, there were constant quarrels. This led to a scandal in 1399: Prioress Ursula von Seckendorf was arrested and imprisoned. Mayor Heinrich Toppler succeeded in appointing a monastery orderly and thus gained control of the monastery. A large building project of the Middle Ages was carried out by the then Prioress Magdalena vom Rein (1494 – 1510), one of the most enterprising and capable headmistresses of the monastery. The upper floor of the convent building (dormitory), the porter’s lodge in the entrance area, the windows of the east cloister and the church vault were the alterations that were the result of her initiative.

The end of the Reformation and decay

The last extension in the history of the monastery was the so-called “Priory Building” (1518/19) in the west. After the introduction of the Reformation (1544) in Rothenburg, the convent became increasingly run-down in terms of personnel, and only 10 years later the last nun, the prioress named Katharina Euler, had died. Thus the entire convent property passed into municipal hands. The city gladly incorporated the benefices and properties outside the city, but it did not know what to do with the monastery buildings themselves. In the following, the premises served as the apartment of the monastery caretakers, as a parish widow’s residence and as a grain store. Two gates were even broken through the sacristy and the cloister to create a passage to the western building. From 1724 onwards, building activity was once again brisk throughout the monastery: attics were redesigned, a hall in the north wing was stuccoed and converted into a banqueting hall and connected to the dormitory by a wide staircase.

Bavarian officials as destroyers

When in 1803 the Bavarian state ended the freedom of the empire, the entire monastery property was also confiscated. The most serious intervention in the building substance was the demolition of the monastery church ordered in 1812/13. This meant that not only the structural dominance of the complex disappeared, but also the entire church property including a documented Riemenschneider retable. In addition, the vault of the sacristy was torn out in order to be able to run a rent office on the 1st floor (today’s gallery). The façade was also redesigned and a new staircase was added. When the “confessor’s house” in the priory garden was torn down is unfortunately not known. Since the Bavarian officials usually did not attract the sympathy of the local population, the building also remained completely unnoticed in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Museum period (from 1936)

Only when it was bought back in 1933 and converted into the town museum did building activity resume. Although at that time many partition walls were built, window fronts were changed and doors and gates were renewed, there are no detailed records of this either. The condition lasted until 1977, when the building, which had become dilapidated again, was subjected to a more recent restoration campaign, the most decisive of which can be seen in the reconstruction of the southern cloister wing in 1980. The window shapes are similar to those of the adjacent convent building, so a historicising solution was chosen here. The restoration work was only completed in 2006.