Photo: Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz – Schloßbergmuseum
Photo: Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz – Schloßbergmuseum, PUNCTUM / Bertram Kober
The history of the city of Chemnitz began here on this spot well over eight hundred years ago.
Starting in the 12th century, the foothills of the Ore Mountains, previously only sparsely populated, entered a period of systematic development and expansion at the bidding of the German kings and emperors. In 1136, Emperor Lothar von Süpplingenburg founded an abbey, under the Benedictine order, to serve as a base of power. A few years later, this opened the door to a market for long-distance trading. This was to be an important driver in the construction of the city to come.
From humble beginnings, the Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary became one of the most important abbeys in Saxony, and a centre of art, culture and science. Substantial revenues from the surrounding villages and from mining in the Ore Mountains paid for lavish building works. In the late 13th century, the east wing of the cloister, complete with magnificent architectural sculptures, was built in cooperation with the Meissen “Dombauhütte” (a cathedral workshop for building and repair work). The large fi sh pond below the abbey, today known as the Schlossteich (castle pond), was built in 1483. The economic and cultural development of the complex peaked in the late 15th and early 16th century: under the abbots Heinrich von Schleinitz and Hilarius von Rehburg, it underwent an extensive series of conversions and new constructions, rivalling even the most significant castles and churches in the land.
The current Schloßkirche (church), completed in 1527, is one of a number of large late-Gothic hall churches in Saxony. Leading artists of the day, such as the Cranach workshop at Wittenberg and the sculptors Hans Witten and Franz Maidburg, were brought in to work on the interiors. One particular artwork, unique in Europe, is known as the “Geisselsäule” (Christ at the Column, or Flagellation of Christ). Abbey life came to an end in 1541 as a result of the Reformation. The territorial lord profited greatly from the huge property, which also included Rabenstein Castle, turning it into a ducal office. The buildings stood empty for many years, before being rediscovered by the Dresden Court as a summer retreat and hunting spot; it was then renovated on an impressive scale. The splendidly designed Renaissance room in today‘s Schloßbergmuseum still gives us a sense of the courtly splendour of yesteryear. However, interest in the site soon faded. In 1632, during the Thirty Years’ War, it was heavily looted and vandalised.
After this, the spacious complex was seldom used and gradually fell into disrepair. In the 18th and 19th centuries, large sections were torn down, leaving only the church and two wings of the adjoining building. These were variously used as a theatre, a restaurant, a weather station, stables and dwellings. Part of the church was also used to store salt. The dilapidated church was restored between 1866 and 1897, and an 87-metre high, neo-Gothic steeple was added. Until it was damaged in 1945 and consequently shortened to its current height of 48 metres, this was a striking emblem of the city.
The remaining buildings were converted into the Museum of City History (today the “Schlossbergmuseum“) between 1929 and 1931. Between 1985 and 1994, the missing west and north wings were replaced and upgraded during large-scale reconstruction works. The valuable collections put together by the Association for the History of Chemnitz since 1872 are still housed here today: Gothic sculptures, artefacts bearing witness to the history of craft trades and production, textiles, furniture and much more, in permanent and temporary exhibitions, vividly illustrate the everyday life of bygone times. As a historical and architectural ensemble, the Schloßkirche and Schlossbergmuseum together form not only the oldest, but also the most precious architectural monument in the City of Chemnitz today.