Andlau Abbey

Around 880, Richarde, Count Erchanger's daughter, repudiated by her husband Charles le Gros, founded the abbey. Legend has it that the entrance to Val d'Eléon was chosen by Richarde for the abbey's location when she saw a she-bear scratching at the soil there. Traces of the scratches are still visible in the crypt!

When Pope Leon IX travelled through the Andlau region somewhere between 1049 and 1054, he canonized Richarde.

The most ancient parts of the church are the crypts. The west (occidental) hall below the crosspiece has three vaulted naves. In this hall, the flattened aspect of the cubical capitals decorated with astragels indicate that these date from about 1050. The east (oriental) hall is also vaulted but is narrower and higher than the other and the conical form of the capitals indicate construction took place around 1080 - 1100.

In 1160, a fire destroyed part of the edifice. This was subsequently partially reconstructed under the direction of Abbess Hadzigue. The transept and the upper parts of the chancel date from the 12th century; the intersection was most certainly raised after the fire. Likewise, the lower east foundations dating from the first third of the 12th century were rebuilt after 1160.

In and around 1440 - 1446, the Abbess Sophie of Andlau transformed the lower parts of the chancel and the north transept.

The nave, which was entirely destroyed, was re-consructed at the end of the XVIIth century by the Abbess Cunégonde de Béroldingen. It was rebuilt in the Gothic style with a Louis X1V flavour; semi circular arches, Tuscan inspired pillars and a large rostrum over the side aisles.

The north transept from the XVth century was refurbished and the south transept was reconstructed, In 1708, the reconstruction ends with the corona of the west towers. But the church in Andlau is most noteworthy for its sculpted decor; the quality and fullness of which rank it one of the nicest in the Alsace. The sculptors may have been from the 'atelier' in Eschau. They have concentrated on the west wall where a frieze contours the wall under the cornice. From the north face to the middle of the west face are the illustrated hunting and combat scenes form the Bible. There are the three reliefs on the arch over the porch; the right one represents Samson and the lion, the left one, David and Goliath and in the centre, Christ crushing the dragon while Ste. Richarde offers him the deed of the abbey. The most significant part of this decor is the portal below this porch. It appears quite archaic with its engaged pier and its lintels decorated with flattened sculptures but it is quite innovative by the style of its sculptures. The figures on the tympanum represent a scene which takes place in heaven: 2 angels, Christ giving the keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter and St. Paul. The lintel retraces the story of Adam and Eve from the creation of woman to the expulsion from paradise. On the engaged piers, the interlaced strapwork and arcature that shelters the donors are supported by bearded Atlas-like figures.

The church also has within its walls, some XVth century articles, the stalls of the chancel as well as the repudiation of Ste. Richarde cast in stone (circa 1400), a pieta and a Virgin. In the crypt, the stone bear evoking the legend of the establishment of the church may be from the X1Xth century. The pulpit is a beautiful piece of work from the beginning of the XVlllth century.


The Sculptures on the Western side
These are the best examples of Roman sculptures in Alsace. Outside is the enormous well known frieze comprising 40-odd scenes. Amongst them are the Roman legend of virginal in which Theoderic the King of the Goths saves a knight from the dragon's mouth, hunting scenes, animal fighting, the devil tempting the winemaker and a tradesman, scenes of a meal being prepared, scenes from mythology full of symbolism. The scenes in thee frieze depict the tribulations of this life as opposed to the peace of the Kingdom of God which is symbolized on the portal. The sculptures aim to teach about God. The proof of this can be seen in the magnificent ram's head on the facade. Abraham's ram represents man approaching God.

The Tympanum
Immediately over the portal you can see Christ in all His glory with Peter and Paul. This is the proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God. The tree of life and the tree of death are shown on either side of the group in the forms of a vine and a bare tree respectively. This is the attitude of man to God (faith and refusal.) The devil with bow and arrow and slingshot tries to stop the Kingdom of God from coming.

The Lintel
Paradise in 5 scenes: The Creation, Entry into Paradise, The Fall, Expulsion from Paradise, Lamentation and Waiting for Redemption.

The Doorposts
They depict couples, probably benefactors of the church. The popular symbolism at the time leads us to believe they were 'living rocks' of the church.

Above the entrance is St. Michael's Chapel. It is his responsibility to defend the church and to prevent evil from entering. The chapel was also where the Emperor sat when attending church. The contemporary stained glass window was designed by Léon Zack and depicts contemplation.

The Right-Hand Side of the Nave
There is a painting here by Bubois of the founding of the abbey. in it you can see Richarde, Chancellor Luitward and the bear. It was donated by the M.P. Halez-Claparède on behalf of the Ministry of Fine Arts.

The Chapel of Sainte Richarde
This baroque chapel was restored in 1707. The first sarcophagus is kept here. The shrine contains part of the skull. The statue shows St. Richarde in the ermine of a Canoness. The stained glass window (19th C) designed in the style of the 12th C, by Baptiste Petit-Gérard, shows Ste. Richarde on her deathbed, with Baldram, Bishop of Strasbourg. There is also a small monument in honour of the abbess Rebstock (1570-1609) who managed to keep Andlau in the Catholic faith during the Reformation.

The Right Hand Transept
Here are the St. Sebastian and the St. Anthony altars. The statue of St. Anthony (1967) is by Ledermann of Maisongoutte. Opposite, the picture of the Virgin Mary comes from the former headquarters of the order of the German knights which is today the Mertian Centre. At the foot of the stairs are the St. Joseph and Sacred Heart altars, with statues made by Martin Feuerstein of Barr, the father of the well-known painter.

The Pulpit
The pulpit is carried by Samson wearing a lionskin. Matthews, Mark, Luke, John, Peter and Paul are there. On the top of the pulpit you can see St. Jerome, St. Ambroise, St. Augustin and St. Gregory the Great, encircling the Virgin Mary. At the bottom of the steps there is a statuette of Rebstock, the abbess.

The Left Hand Transept
Here are the altars of the brotherhood (end of the 17th C) and St. John Nepomucene.

The Crypt
This is the side of the oldest pilgrimage in the Lower Alsace - along with those of Sewen and Theirenbach.

It was first built in 880.The present crypt dates from 1045 (western part) and 1085 (eastern part). The style is pure Roman. The cubic capitals decorated with filaments are typical of Rhenish Roman architecture. The stones at the base of the columns imbedded in the wall are part of the first church of 880. In the crypt there is also the hole made by the legendary bear to show Richarde where to build the church.

The stained glass window of Christ and the twelve prophets is a copy of 'Hortus Deliciarum' by Herrade von Landsberg, abbess of Mont St.Odile.

The head of Lazarus found in the crypt is that of the first Bishop of Cyprus. Legend has it that we was the Lazarus Christ brought back to life. Bishop Lazarius of Autun is often mistaken for Lazarus.