Archaeology and building research were and are needed to attain a pictural idea of the monastery lost since the 17th century. We are just slowly getting used to this unrealizable wish.
Apparently there is only one image of Lorsch's monastery – the famous engraving by Matthäus Merian Senior (1593-1650) which shows the complex from the 16th century and not the monastery of Karl the Great or the one from 1200. And even this one image included in Merian's enormous topography of the Electoral Palatinate does not bear a questioning point of view: The comparison alone of the preserved and the picture araises suspicion that one does not necessarily shows the truth more than the other one. This concerns not only architectural details but also their disposition so that two building at once could be the 'gate' or the 'king's hall'.
While travel reports from the 17th to the 19th century contain descriptions not preserved today, all the relicts, sarcophagi missused as troughs for cattle and a church's fragment as magazin represent myths of the past. Apparently, Joseph Victor of Scheffel (1826-1886) was the first one writing in his historical novel „Ekkehard“ about the monastery mainly using his reader's imagination without telling details, just to make an impression.
When art history and archaeology started to become autarkic during the 19th century, it was time to remind on this once so magnificent lauded complex. After pickax and sledgehammer barely left a stone standing by the middle of the 18th century, about one hundred years later people began digging for relics of this almost completely destroyed abbey.
Rudolf Adamy (1850-1898) was the first one reconstructing this complex based on his imagination whence a wooden model resulted delivered to posterity by Lorsch's volonteer fire department in 1926. Drawings by Friedrich Behns (1883-1970) and Heinrich Walbes (1865-1954) sometimes transformed into models as well as the very hypothetic model made of cardboard by Wolfgang Selzer (1926-2003) inspired their observers. The impressive wooden model of the complex and the gate hall built by Thomas Ludwig, Head of Bau- und Baudenkmalpflege bei der Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser und Gärten Hesse, were beyond the scope of earlier tries: The CAD model got enhanced to a suggestive movie starting to reinterpret old points of view – for example the atrium's arcades turned into guest-houses of this abbey.
Tests regarding a project about a 3D model of this preserved complex with digital endorsements were postponed by the World heritage site Lorsch in 2005 supported by the Institute for Computational Science of the University in Heidelberg.
Biggest help for reconstructions during the last 50 years was and is Wolfgang Selzer's isometry. Since its first publication in Laurissa Jubilans in 1964 it was used in countless other publications; located at the church on a big plate including an information board on the site, a favoured starting point for tour guides until its removal in 2012.
It is exactly this image of monastery Lorsch that many people remember without knowing how often hypothesis and speculation became indistinct.
Fifty years ago the building research of the church and the king's grave (ecclesia varia), of the atrium, enclave, wall and of another gate in the southeast seemed to be archaeologically clarified. The honorary citizen of Lorsch, Friedrich Behn, according to the broad consent by the 1990s, tried his best to identify and to date important parts for this monastery.
Based on an imagination about form and appearance a concept was developed for the entire complex by no less a figure than Dieter Hennebo (1923-2007). Different plans of the Carolingian monastery followed. According to St. Michael's monastery on the Heiligenberg, suggestions like walls, steel-glass constructions at the church's fragment, espalier fruit and arcades were made and added.
Behn published his results in a monography about the church, atrium and gate hall in 1934 before finishing his campaign two years later and giving conclusions about the wall, the south east gate and the enclave.
Unpublished material of Friedrich Behn's assets was lent to the Chair for medieval and modern Archaeology at the University in Bamberg by Wolfgang Selzer. All hope to get material for a second book frustrated: Most of the documents were published at other places by 1964, unfortunately not very detailed and without maps as in 1934.
Later analyses by Wolfgang Selzer on the site of the supposedly found 'Afra'-chapel in the midth of Behn's cemetery of monks (1945) and as well possibly southeast of the ecclesia varia are neither published nor fully documented. The location of this chapel is therefore still not identified and also remains interpreted by Selzer as palace.
Safety work at the monastery's wall in 1992 (State Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments, Dr. Holger Göldner) did not result in publications while excavations on the Benedictines' Square in 1982 and at the 'Altenmunster' in 1983 are shortly published but well documented by members of the Club devoted to the Maintenance of Local Traditions and Characteristics in Lorsch.
Looking at future excavations in front of the gate hall it will be skeletons west, south and east of the gate hall being most impressive and meaningful. Handed over lately from the Club's depot these mortal remains are better analysed today than thirty years ago and might help to clarify the meaning of the gate hall within the complex.
Further important chances for archaeological investigations of the complex are irrecoverably lost. Constructions at the 'Romerstrasse' at the beginning of the 1990s (Carstanjen in 1990/91, Market square 4 in 1991/92, today Piazzetta) were not supervised and destroyed not only parts of the wall statically at risk but probably also the remains of the hospital first mentioned in abbot Heinrich's of Lorsch (1167) asset of which only small parts of its cemetery were found during rescue work. This loss happened shortly before the UNESCO affiliated the monastery.
Affected as well is a big Carolingian storage area with settlement remains and fibulas removed and lost while building sports facilities in April 2004.
Systematic excavations still continuing took place from 1998 to 2009 under the aegis of the Chair for Medieval and Modern Archaeology at the University in Bamberg (Ingolf Ericsson; excavation leader were Stefan Kirchberger, Jakob Müller, Markus Sanke and Thomas Platz), since 2009 under the archaeologist, curator of monuments und art historian Matthias Untermann (Institute for European Art History, University of Heidelberg, excavation leader is Dieter Lammers since 2009).
Both campaigns started due to two different causes: During electrical work at the church's fragment in 1997 the opportunity was given to remove the depris from Behn's time in the east of the gothic gate of the western outer face and to compare the findings with the Behn's maps (1997/98: Schefers/Halbig). Besides it was necessary to find out if the profile lines were actually correct or if they got expanded in the meantime without being documented. Within this fragment so suggested could have been additional connected profiles situated. This got confirmed and started the most wide-ranging and long termed campaign in the monastery's history. These results in addition to an intensive research can be concluded as follows:
There are only two maps making conclusions possible about the old main gate of the abbey.
An exact watercolored drawing from 1744 already known by Rudolf Adamy: It shows this complex after most of the buildings have disappeared. Buildings dated by help by the determination of annual rings (dendrochronology) like 'Zehntscheune' (last decade of 16th century, in 1719/20 expanded) and Electoral House (1729/30) represent the post monastic time, letter for using this area as electoral domain and later as residence of an exalted forest officer.
The church is drawn with a gothic ending in its east and is described as sacral building like the gate hall. A little bit off the axis linking church and gate hall the gate appears connected to the wall on both sides which is called 'The Thurn or the Thorhouse'. Between this drawing and the first exact land register map from 1840 (revised 1842) is an undated picture of different streets. This exact, watercoloured drawing shows the gate hall with a street towards east to Bensheim. Compared to the modern land register map the gate hall was lying one width of the building to its west and with its northwestern edge exactly at the southeastern line east of the 'Cafeteria am Kloster'. The pizza place 'Am Kloster' appears as northern expansion of the old gate hall. Perhaps there are still remains of the wall integrated into the eastern, windowless side of this building as it happens across the square southeast on the street Nibelungenstraße 38.
Friedrich Behn reconstructed the atrium of the church from the 10th century and noted that the gate hall functioned as solitary monument suggesting that it must be older than the atrium. During excavations by Dieter Lammers in 2012 the southern hallway was verifiably recognised but not the northern one.
Dr. Hermann Schefers