The Benedictines in Mönchengladbach

A city in the Benedictine tradition

Signposts sometimes show the way, even though they are wrong. The name of our city then appears shortened: M’gladbach. Yet it is precisely the shortened part that is important, because it points to the history: Moenchengladbach!

For almost a millennium, the Benedictine monks of St. Vitus Abbey determined the fate of Moenchengladbach. Anyone walking through our town will find a stone here and there decorated with the crook of an abbot’s staff. Such boundary stones were used to mark the sphere of influence of the Gladbach monastery. Up to this point, the abbot had his say. There was more at stake here than spiritual rule; tangible economic interests were involved. Many farms belonged to the abbey and were managed on its behalf and for its profit. With their economic operations, the monks determined life in the small town. Its inhabitants depended on the abbot’s art of governing. Although life was good under the crook, as the saying goes, the abbot’s power was still great. He was reluctant to share it with the Duke of Juelich. The subjects had to swear obedience to both.

In 974, Benedictine monks with their abbot Sandrad had moved to the Gladbach to found a monastery there on behalf of the Ottonian imperial house. Political considerations were behind this. The emperor’s power had to be secured in the west. Benedictines were particularly well suited for this, as they had skilfully linked spirituality, politics and culture since their foundation. The Rule of St. Benedict is considered the foundation of Christian culture in Europe. “Pray and work” are the keywords that entered into an unmistakable symbiosis. What is usually forgotten is the Rule’s call to read the holy scriptures. Those who prayed had to work. But those who worked also had to read. For this reason, Gladbach Abbey housed a valuable library and a Latin school, which at least provided an opportunity for education. After the abbey was dissolved under Napoleon in 1802, the Minster Church, the abbot’s prelature, the shrine and an outstanding treasure of relics remained testimonies to the Benedictine past. In former times, the chain of office of the Lord Mayor of Mönchengladbach rightly described the development of the city in four letters: A.M.A.I.: A Monachis Ad Industriam. Or from the monks to industry, the history of the city of Mönchengladbach can hardly be summed up more succinctly.