Exploring Bavaria’s Oldest Abbey

Overlooking the waters of the Danube sits Weltenburg Abbey, the oldest monastery in Bavaria. Originally founded around 620 CE, the monastery offers today’s visitors a chance to experience quiet serenity while admiring the baroque splendor of the abbey church, as well as a chance to catch up with fellow passengers over a pint of the abbey’s own beer in the bustling beer garden. Experience Weltenburg on an optional tour as part of the Majestic Rivers of Europe: Castles, Cathedrals & Fairytales river cruise.

History and Art

Construction of the abbey church, dedicated to St. George — the monastery’s patron saint — began in 1716 when Abbot Maurus Bächl commissioned architect brothers Cosmas Damian Asam and Egid Quirin Asam. After 35 years of labor, this glowing testament to the brilliance of a devoted group of men was complete. Although Weltenburg Abbey has undergone several phases of renovation over the centuries, the original splendor of its church is still fully intact.

From the moment you enter, you will be amazed at the craftsmanship and artistry that is discernible in every detail of the church. Notable works of art, including an oil painting of the Last Judgment and solemn reliefs of St. Peter and Mary Magdalen, are featured in the entrance hall. As you wander farther into the main body of the church, you are greeted by even more remarkable grandeur.

In the heart of the church lies the nave, which has four niches — one on each side with its own unique pieces of art, including a painting of Christopher Columbus reaching America, a statue of St. Benedict, and another of figures taking in the word of the Gospel. Angels are depicted throughout the church, reflecting the monastery’s past as a member of the Bavarian Benedictine Congregation of the Holy Guardian Angels.

Perhaps the grandest spectacle in the church is the magnificent oil painting on the ceiling of the nave that depicts the crowning of the Virgin Mary and the procession of the faithful into the light of God. When the architects conceptualized this room, they designed it in a way that would create an illusion. Despite appearing to be domed, the painting is actually flat. This illusory dimension is created when sunlight pours in through the windows and strikes the ceiling in a certain way.

The Brewery

Weltenburg Abbey beer is brewed from a centuries-old recipe

Not only is the abbey the oldest in Bavaria, but it also claims to house the world’s oldest brewery. The Weltenburg Abbey brewery (Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei) has been brewing traditional German beers since 1050. All offerings from the Weltenburg Abbey brewery are brewed in accordance with Reinheitsgebot, or Germany Beer Purity Law — written by a Bavarian nobleman in 1516 — which dictates that beer may only be brewed using water, barley malt, hops, and yeast. Even after centuries of operation, beers from the Weltenburg brewery receive worldwide recognition. One of the brewery’s dark ales, the Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel, was awarded the best Dunkel beer at the World Beer Cup in 2004, 2008, and 2012.

Even in Bavaria, where rich history and savory food and drink abound, the Weltenburg Abbey stands out as a gem that is not to be missed as you sail along the Danube.