11.07.2015 - 23.07.2015 30 °C
The abbey was founded in 880 by Ste. Richarde, Empress and wife of Charles the Fat, grandson of Charlemagne. There are many stories about her life. Apparently the legend states that, despite being a virtuous wife, over a period of 10 years her husband accused her of misconduct. In a bid to assure him of her innocence, she finally assented to an ordeal by fire. Barefoot, and wearing a shirt covered in wax, the flames nevertheless refused to touch her. Disheartened by her husband's continued mistrust, Richarde left the imperial palace and wandered into the forest. There she was visited by an angel, who ordered her to establish a convent in a specific spot shown to her by a bear. On the banks of the river, she saw a bear scratching in the dirt. It was here that she built the abbey and the bear became its special symbol. She died here in about 895 and was buried in the abbey church. (Info obtained from Wikipedia, of course!!)
However, my further research shows that Richarde was born in Alsace into a noble family and built the abbey on her ancestral lands seven years before her divorce from Charles the Fat. Nonetheless, she was obviously a significant figure in the area, and the church continues to be influential, and to dominate its landscape.
In 1045 the church burned down but was rebuilt as it appears that it had the support of wealthy locals and received many privileges. It was subsequently consecrated by the Pope in 1049 and it was at this time that Richarde was canonized and the church became known as the Abbey Church of Saint Richarde.
There have been many restorations since the rebuilding of 1049. One part of the crypt church dates from around 1045, another 1080, with further additions to the building in the 12th and 18th centuries, and enhancements to the interior throughout. The abbey was disbanded during the French Revolution in the 18thC, and the church rededicated as a parish church dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul.
The church has been classified as an historical monument, as have many other buildings and structures in the area. The abbey is most famous for the Roman Frieze on its exterior, the earliest such sculpture in Alsace.
It is easy to see the part the legend of the bear still plays when looking at the pictures below .. St Richarde and the bear and almost always depicted together. The story is still very much a part of the folklore of the church. On the day we visited a lovely lady (obviously a member of the church) gave us an overview of the significant artworks and history of the church, even taking us down into the crypt church to explain the story of the bear and show us the trapdoor in the floor where the bear had scratched the earth. She stated that many people when visiting step down into the trapdoor, place their hand into the mouth of the stone bear, and make a wish !!!
My photos do not do justice to the artworks and architecture of this amazing church located in a little village in Alsace. Take a moment to visit this website to see the rest of the interior, and the beautiful Roman Frieze which I omitted to photograph. Professional images
Another aspect of the church which ensures its significance to the village is its bells which toll regularly throughout the day. While they may have been recording just the passing of time, it seemed to me they were often ringing. While it was quite enjoyable for the short time we were there, I imagine they could cause some angst if you lived permanently in the church surrounds.
The unique metal sculptures are the work of local artists Local artists