Tuesday 7 May 2024

Irish Monasteries in Germany: Honau


Below is a paper by Father J.F. Hogan on the Irish monastery at Honau, one of a series on Irish Monasteries in Germany published by the Irish Ecclesiastical Record in the late nineteenth century.  The contribution made by the medieval Irish to continental European culture and Christian civilization was rediscovered during the Irish  cultural revival of the nineteenth century.  County Clare native Father John Francis Hogan (1858–1918), who had studied at the University of Freiburg, was well placed to bring the particular legacy of the Schottenklöster to the attention of an Irish audience. Honau is perhaps one of the lesser-known Irish monasteries in Germany which seems to have ended up a few centuries later under the Canons Regular of Old St. Peter's in Strasburg, where Father Hogan tells us its Irish abbots were venerated as saints. I note that the Irish abbot Beatus of Honau had become entangled with the 'Apostle of Switzerland' of the same name. We Irish can of course claim the honour of that title for Saint Gall, disciple of Saint Columbanus:



HONAU or Hohenaugia is an island in the Rhine, not far from Strasburg in which a monastery was established  in the year 724. The site of the monastery was granted  by the Ethicos, Dukes of Alsace. Adalbert, who is sometimes, though incorrectly, mentioned as its founder,  richly endowed it. It was further enriched by grants and  privileges from the sons of Adalbert, Luitfrid and Eberhard. The importance of the establishment can be judged from the  charters granted to it at various times which are happily preserved by Mabillon. One of these charters, drawn up by the Abbot Beatus, is signed by eight Irish bishops. It makes over and bequeaths to the monastery and to the  'pauperes et peregrinos gentis Scottorum' not only the  buildings, lands, chattels, and appurtenances of Honau itself, but also the right and title to eight churches that had been  erected in different parts of the German Empire by the zeal  of those 'Pilgrim fathers.' 

The first abbot of the monastery was Benedict, also  called Tubanus. He dedicated his establishment to St.  Michael the Archangel. Unfortunately, we know nothing  about his personal history beyond the fact that he was a  Scot, and the first abbot of this 'Schottenklöster.' He  was succeeded as abbot by Dubanus, Dubanus by Thomas, Thomas by Stephen, Stephen by Beatus. Beatus was the most remarkable of the Abbots of Honau. According to  the learned German historian, Friederich, he is the same who evangelized a good part of Switzerland, founded the monastery of Beromünster, near Lucerne, of Yberg in the  Canton of Schweitz, and built up several other establishments in Unterwalden and over the Brünig in the Bernese Oberland, where his name is still commemorated in the famous Beatenhohle, and in the town of St. Beatenberg, over the Lake of Thun.

Most valuable privileges were granted to Honau by various princes; but the most remarkable of them was the charter of Charlemagne, which confirmed to the monastery all donations previously made 'by kings or queens or other servants of God’ and exempted it from tolls and several other imposts then in force amongst the people. It furthermore declares that these pilgrim monks are not to be molested or interfered with in any way, and that all these lands and possessions are to belong to them and to their countrymen, to the exclusion of all others: 'an interesting record' as Dr. Todd remarks, 'of the high esteem and favour in which  the Irish of the Continent were held at that time by the greatest monarch of the west.

But the most important document that has come down to us in connection with the history of this institution, is the charter, or, rather, the will of the Abbot Beatus. This document, besides the intrinsic value of its contents, is attested and authenticated by the signatures of the abbot (in the first place), and of eight bishops whose names, as Zeuss has shown clearly indicate their nationality. The signatures are: —

Signum Beati Abbatis, qui hanc chartam fieri rogavit.

Signum Comgani Episcopi. 

Signum Echoch Episcopi.

Signum Suathar Episcopi.

Signum Mancunigib Episcopi.

Signum Caincomrihc Episcopi.

 Signum Doilgusso Episcopi.

 Signum Erdomnach Episcopi.

 Signum Hemeni Episcopi. 

Dr. Todd endeavoured to make capital out of these signatures, in favour of his contention that there was no such thing as diocesan jurisdiction in Ireland before the twelfth century, and no canonical restriction whatever to the consecration of bishops. According to him the abbot who was not a bishop at all, simply consecrated whomsoever he pleased; and the bishops thus consecrated looked up to the abbot, as the head of a sept, according to the Brehon code, looked up to a chieftain. This theory was developed and formally put forward by Dr. Todd in his Life of St. Patrick. No doubt the early organization of the Celtic Church outside the monasteries is involved in great obscurity. This arises evidently from the fact that the records have perished. Those of the monasteries alone have come down to us, and they deal naturally with the organization of monastic rather than of secular life. The great, and indeed, predominating, part which the monasteries played in the religious life of Ireland may be readily conceded; yet Mgr. Gargan, now happily ruling as President of Maynooth College, had little difficulty in showing that the bishops who lived and laboured in the monasteries, under the rule of the abbot, were merely 'Chorepiscoi ' subject to the external jurisdiction of the  ordinaries who ruled and governed then as they do now. There is no proof worth the least consideration that such bishops were consecrated by one who was merely an abbot, but not a bishop. The case mentioned by Wasserschleben of Gregory of Utrecht, is by no means clearly established.

This learned German shows, moreover, in his own work, that the privilege of having resident bishops in the monasteries, ready at any moment to administer the Sacraments of Confirmation and Orders, was derived directly from the Holy See, and was much availed of in countries far distant from the seat of authority, at a time when direct communication with Rome was difficult and uncertain. As an instance he quotes the privilege granted by Pope Adrian I. to the monastery of St. Denis in France, in the year 771.

The fact that eight different churches are mentioned as having been erected by the monks in different localities in Germany would, on this principle, readily account for the eight bishops who signed the charter. One of these churches was in the city of Mayence, one at Hawenback, one at Bubenheim, one at Bodesheim, one at Bochenn, one at Lognau, one at Hurmusa, and one at what is called Sylvia in Marchlichio.

Grandidier, and after him Rettberg, mention a monastery of Luttenbach to which Abbot Beatus sent eighteen Irish monks, and which subsequently became a flourishing establishment. In some of the Codices of the Charter of Beatus, Luttenbach is mentioned as merely another name for ‘Silvia in Marchlichio’.  All these churches founded from Honau were situated according to some in the Palatinate of the Rhine. Others identify Beronia with Beromünster, in the diocese of Constance and find traces of a monastery of Lautenbach in the ancient diocese of Basle. This has led them to the conclusion that Abbot Beatus of Hohenau is the same who is venerated as the Apostle of Switzerland. The dates, however, will scarcely admit such an inference. The question is discussed at great length by Lutolf, the Swiss historian, who regards the Swiss Beatus as an Irishman, no doubt, but advances solid evidence to show that he could not have been the same as Beatus of Honau.

The successor of Beatus as abbot was Egidanus. He was probably the last of the abbots of Honau; in the reign of Charles the Gross the whole establishment was transferred to Rheinau, and afterwards to the Canons Regular of Old St. Peter's in Strasburg, where the Irish abbots of Honau were venerated as saints. It was a canon of this establishment, named Jean le Labourer,  who communicated to Mabillon the important documents relating to the history of Honau, which have been preserved in the Annals of the Benedictine Order.


The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume IV, (1898), 265-269.

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