How did one in the middle ages

Monastery time1

Because the view from the monastery St. The monks needed other points of orientation to determine the time before the monastery received a tower clock.

Image: Klaus Wankmiller

Because the view from the monastery St. Mang in Fussen to the south was obstructed by the Schwarzenberg, the monks needed other points of orientation to determine the time before the monastery received a tower clock.

Picture: Klaus Wankmiller

The daily life of a monk includes prayer and work. Seven times a day a Benedictine monk had to pray also in Fussen: at Matins (at midnight), Prim (at 6 o’clock, where the day began according to Greek calendar), Terce (at the third hour of the day at 9 o’clock), Sext (at the sixth hour of the day at 12 o’clock), Non (at the ninth hour of the day at 3 o’clock), Vespers (in the late afternoon) and Compline (before the night’s rest).

But how could one measure time in the Middle Ages, especially since the wheel clock is known at the earliest since the 13. century at the earliest? Moreover, it took quite a while for this technical achievement to become widespread. Candle clocks were often used, which were especially important for telling the time at night. One made candles, which went out after a certain period of time or were marked after hours. But there are also completely different research approaches.

Time measurement in monastic time

Peter Bletschacher has dealt with the question of monastic timekeeping some time ago and studied about 150 monasteries in the foothills of the Alps from the Lower Bavarian Benedictine monastery Metten near Deggendorf to St. Blasien in the Black Forest examined. His conclusion: "The places where monastery complexes were built were chosen quite deliberately. From there, you could always see a prominent point in the south in the Alps." (Read also: The Romantic Road to Fussen wants to become a World Heritage Site)

Bletschacher found lines to these points and drew them on maps. "The monks were able to tell time from this prominent mountain because the sun returns to this particular point every day," the researcher explains. "So the convent could start the prayer on time. With the help of the mountains it was possible to determine the time of day." From Ottobeuren, according to his stories, one has targeted the Madelegabel in the south. "Then one has marked points, in order to determine the time exactly."

The pilgrimage church on the Hohenpeißenberg. There, the Augustinian canons of Rottenbuch built the world's first known weather observation station in the 18th century

The problem with the curvature of the earth

Bletschacher wanted to see the church in Constance from Bregenz across Lake Constance, but this was not possible due to the curvature of the earth. But if you look to the south, you can find many distinctive points in the alpine ridge. "The globe was tricked by the monks," the researcher is pleased. Another remarkable ecclesiastical building is the Hohenpeibenberg, from where the Zugspitze in the south comes into view. Since 1604 the Augustinian Canons of Rottenbuch looked after this pilgrimage church here. The scientifically open-minded monks built there in the 18. In the nineteenth century even a weather observation station – the oldest in the world!

Why a young woman from western Allgau enters a convent

However, Bletschacher could not prove his theory with two monasteries: Ettal and Fussen. Both are too close to the mountains. For Fussen, however, he found a completely different solution, because the Schwarzenberg prevents the view from St. Mang to the mountains directly in the south. At the time of the summer solstice, it was the Muhlschartenkopf near Trauchgau that served as a marker for the monks of Fussen.

Did monks hide the time?

Bletschacher could not yet find the exact point of sunset. It should be near the mud. Bletschacher even goes one step further: "The monks hid the time from the people. It was an ecclesiastical prerogative. But then the secret of timekeeping was lost with the installation of tower clocks."

Now the researcher hopes for support from archaeologists. Maybe there are more clues in the monastery libraries, how the monks have laid out these "points in time. In any case, it is planned that Bletschacher publishes his findings. Perhaps he will discover other hidden secrets of the medieval monasteries during his investigations.

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