Premonstratensian monastery from 1131, family monastery of the counts of Henneberg, monastery complex with three-span, cruciform pillar basilica and Henneberg chapel, buildings of the enclosure and farm buildings
The former Premonstratensian monastery of Vessra is situated where the river Schleuse flows into the Werra and between the towns of Themar in the south and Schleusingen in the east. It is considered one of the most important monastic foundations of the early Middle Ages in Germany and – from the architectural point of view – ranks among the most significant Romanesque monuments in Thuringia. Already from afar visitors approaching the monastery see the imposing westwork of the church with its two steeples. Although the church’s interior was totally destroyed by fire, the ruin nonetheless still dominates the six hectares of grounds completely surrounded by the former monastery wall.
Count Gotebold II and his wife Luitgard of the then most powerful noble family of the region, the Hennebergers, founded the monastery in 1131, originally only for canons, shortly afterwards and until 1175 also for nuns. Throughout the following centuries the complex was completed, enlarged and altered. Alterations inside the church, which was built around 1140, and in the monastery continued until the 16th century. For instance in the 14th century a rood screen was installed of which remains have been preserved.
When Count Georg Ernst von Henneberg converted to the Lutheran faith in 1544, the monks of this monastery did the same so that the monastery was only closed down in 1573 to become the count’s demesne. In 1677 a stud farm was established here which supplied the military in Saxony and Prussia with horses.
When in 1939 a fire broke out during threshing work destroying the church to a large extent, the cruciform three-span pillar basilica had already been converted into an agricultural storage room with intermediate boarding and strawlofts. Not even Friedrich Schinkel’s visit to Vessra a century earlier resulted in the church’s restoration. Until 1990 the monastery property served agricultural as well as museum purposes; since then it has exclusively been used as the Hennebergisches Museum. Half-timbered houses transferred from the region have enlarged the open-air museum.
Since 1994 Vessra Monastery has been looked after by the Palace, Castle and Gardens Trust of Thuringia. Extensive stone conservation work has been carried out on the church ruin, which is being used for open-air concerts. Other buildings, such as the remains of the former enclosure, the south wing with refectory, the gatehouse together with gate church and two chapels, also bear witness to former monastic life in Vessra. The larger chapel served the Hennebergers as a burial chapel.