Early Tuesday (well, for this group 8:30 a.m. is early!) we boarded the bus for a 2.5-hour ride into Magdeburg, Germany. Rosemary Sands kindly provided the following historical summary as we approached Magdeburg, a city of about 230,000, on the Elbe River.
St. Norbert was named archbishop of Magdeburg in 1126. He brought a small group of Norbertines with him from Prémontré, and they formed a community in the Church of Our Lady. Today it is a museum and concert hall.
The Norbertines were forced to leave Magdeburg after the Protestant Reformation but returned in 1991 as a dependent house of Hamborn Abbey. The Norbertines of Magdeburg are very involved in social justice issues.
Some readers in the SNC community may recall that Fr. Clemens Dölken was our Heritage Week speaker in 2016. Since 1991, he has been the managing director of a Catholic NGO (i.e. non-profit organization) founded by the Norbertines of Magdeburg to assist the unemployed after the reunification of Germany. There is also a St. Norbert Foundation in Magdeburg that has worked to make business leaders and politicians aware of the ideas of Christian social justice and the social teachings of Pope John Paul II.
First, we had a guided tour in what is now an art museum at Monastery of Our Lady, but what was once the place where Norbert’s remains were buried. It’s been over 100 years since the church has served as an actual church. There was a lot of construction and renovation going on, but our guide gave us special access.
Founded in 1017-18 as a monastery, the original ruins lay somewhere beneath and outside the building. You can see in the photo gallery some old stone walls from the medieval structures. It’s impossible to say exactly what the original structure(s) looked like.
A 45-meter long room now housing contemporary art used to be a large refectory (dining area) for the monastery. And before that, it was likely a dormitory. We were able to walk another level beneath that where it was likely the kitchen and/or storage area. Any records have been destroyed over the years, so it’s only a guess as to what actual purpose those rooms served.
A line of church bells along the garden area is a collection from throughout the city. During the 30-years war, most of Magdeburg was destroyed. Since then, as these old bells have been recovered from various sites, they’re collected here for an art installation in the making. Other small rooms we visited — a side room full of columns (maybe a chapter room?) and what is called a “well house” but was never linked to a well (maybe for vestition ceremonies?) — were places where historians have hypothesized about their use, but cannot be sure.
We rounded out the tour with a visit to what was the main church (under construction to become a performing arts enter), and down into the crypt area beneath the stage. Here is the tomb where Norbert was buried until his remains moved to Strahov. They say touching it is good luck, so we took turns placing our hands where Norbert’s head once laid.
For lunch, we met fellow Norbertine fathers and brothers at St. Andreas Church for a lovely picnic lunch. Radical hospitality runs deep here, as they greeted us in a gorgeous garden setting with fantastic, homemade food. Many of us felt this was one of the best meals we’ve had on the tour. The (hot, hot, hot) sun was shining and they treated us to homegrown strawberries with ice cream sundaes. It was nearly perfect.
We took a quick tour of St. Andreas Church. In European terms, it’s a relatively new church built in 1950. Thousands of refugees came from German parts of Poland after World War II. The church was built in less than 6 months. These days, 85% of Magdeburg citizens do not belong to any specific church. But the fathers seemed pleased with the 90 parishioners who do show up here on Sundays for mass.
We made our way to St. Peter’s Cathedral for a private mass. Father Jay presided in yet another gorgeous church. It was a special time for us to reflect on our experiences together as a group and get prepared for the end of our tour.
The bus brought us back to Berlin for dinner on our own. Several of us gathered at an authentic Italian restaurant near the iconic Konzerthaus square. We rounded out the evening with a scoop of ice cream and a stop at a wine bar on a beautiful, warm spring evening.
Quote of the Day: “A bottle is meant to be opened.” – Father Clemens