Blog WHS Visits

WHS #552: The Two Faces of Corvey

It's always annoying when a new WHS just "pops up" in an area that you thought covered already long ago. Corvey lies quite close to the WHS of Hildesheim, Fagus Factory and Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe. Sites that I not need to return to. And the description of Corvey isn't that appealing either - I was surprised that it made the List earlier this year. However the warmest November day ever got me into action, and I drove out there for a day trip. The site has a large (free) parking lot, where some 20 cars were already parked when I arrived. From there you enter the main gate of the baroque monastery complex. While reading the nomination dossier, I found the distinction between the (inscribed) medieval remains and the "modern" monastery puzzling at times. The difference is easy to see in their architectural style however, and I was attracted to the massive Westwerk immediately. It has a separate entrance: the church behind it is still in use as a parish church, and you pay only 0,80 EUR to get inside this way.

But I hadn't driven for hours just for a 10-minute visit: I wanted to join a guided tour to come to grips with what this WHS is all about. There are 3 tours a day (at 11, 12 and 15h), leaving from the museum shop at the monastery. The 12 o'clock tour is labelled as "World Heritage Tour", so I opted for that one. It focuses on the Westwork and the medieval Abbey, and skips the baroque monastery. Entrance now costs 6 EUR to the monastery, 1 EUR to take photos and 3 EUR for the tour.

As I had to kill an hour before the tour started, I looked around the interior of the monastery by myself. It's not an active monastery anymore (the region became Protestant long ago): it's privately owned by a Duke and serves as a palace museum. Its corridors and rooms are pretty barren. The museum exhibitions show a few original stones from the medieval Abbey, and further alight the role of St. Vitus as patron saint. Due to his relics being brought here, the Abbey became a major pilgrimage center in the Middle Ages. The display of relics was a way to popularize Christianity in this region inhabited by barbaric Saxons. The image of St. Vitus is a common sight at Corvey, whether he is being cooked in a pot or with lions licking his feet. There's also a large statue of him in front of the Westwerk.

Finally it was time for the guided tour. If you can understand German well, I would heartily recommend taking this one hour Themenführung Welterbe. The female guide has a detailed story to tell. I learned a lot more than what I had gathered from my web research beforehand. Definitive clarification of the meaning of "Civitas" in the site's name for example: it refers to the Medieval Town of Corvey, which remains are now hidden under the baroque monastery complex.

The tour focuses especially on the role of the Emperor in relation to the Church and his People. The Carolingian Emperors visited Corvey frequently, and the Westwork was added to the existing church to give them a separate entrance. They entered via a wall (so they could be seen by all), using one of the two mid-level doors in the Westwork that are now covered. Only they were allowed to stay in this area: from a balcony they looked down on the monks in the church. The second floor hall was covered with frescoes and classical statues, of which now only the shadows remain. In its heyday, it would have looked like this:

At the end of the tour, the guide tells about what becoming a WHS has meant to Corvey. It has been a long and expensive process. Now it's a mixed blessing: they've seen a 30% increase in visitors since the designation, but find it difficult to keep up with the Management Plan. Corvey being split between two owners (the Duke and the Catholic Parish) doesn't make it easy. The site closes between November and April, both for financial and conservation reasons. You might be able to enter the parish church during services in the winter months, and I also saw a Christmas fair advertised.

Els - 2 November 2014

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