Its beginning as monastic settlement seems to look humble at first: Here the most important representatives of one of the most famous Frankish families, the Rupertiner Williswinda and their son, district count Cancor, found a small monastery about 764, perhaps at the site of a roman manor surrounded insulary by the river Weschnitz. Dedicated to Petrus and Paulus the apostles by dint of the ecclesiastical law in 764, it was given to a family`s relative, the archbishop Chrodegang of Metz, at that time the only archbishop north of the Alps. Latest with the conveyance of this little convent to Chrodegang Lorsch suddenly in the public eye of the „big“ history becomes part of Chrodegang`s program – and especially: It gets relics Chrodegang was given from Rome, namely relics of the martyr Nazarius. Being in the possession of a Saint`s relics was a guarantee for the economic advancement of a monastery.
Only a few decades after its foundation Lorsch became one of the richest properties east of the Rhine, including such from today ́s Dutch North Sea coast down to Switzerland, and characteristic for the Early Middle Ages in scattered sites. In 766 a legal dispute sparked off between Gundeland and count Cancor's son due to the question of the ownership situation, which, however, did not interfere a relocation of this rapidly expanding monastery to the posterior location (767-774) in fact on a glacial sand dune a couple of hundred meters far from the island Weschnitz. Gundeland drew this dispute in 772 in front of the last possible legal authority, the monarch Charles the Great. He decided for Gundeland's benefit so that Gundeland gave the king the entire monastery of Saint Nazarius, including all properties, who became the new owner of the abbey.
That way Lorsch has developed from a noble convent to a royal monastery – besides provided with the privileges of immunity and with the open election of an abbot under sovereign protection. Of course Lorsch as well had undertaken duties through its status of a royal monastery: Prayers had to be performed for the monarch and the dynasty, dona annualia were expected, annual tributes and militia had to be paid, military efforts that of course were not guaranteed by the monchs but by the monastery's liberal socmen. Furthermore, more duties were probably added: the monarch ́s accommodation and his officials, if they were closeby, diplomatic ministries by the abbots. It is also get ting obvious that a royal monastery during the Early Middle Ages is all but placid, not only a place dedicated to praying and contemplating at the Saint ́s grave. Monasteries are important stages for penetrating the Frankish Empire by ruling. Their abbots are eminently respectable, powerful officials of the court and therefore belonging to the closests of the monarch.
Again and again in the history of Saint Nazarius abbey there were very outstanding incidents that underlined its character: On September 1st in 774, for example, when Charles the Great with many followers on his way from Italy to Fritzlar attended the sanctification of the Nazarius basilica in Lorsch. This event emphasizes the monastery's fast achieved status.
About one hundred years later, shortly after King Ludwig the German's death (in 876), grandson of Charles the Great, the monastery experienced another, for its history important 'act of state': It becomes the grave of the first 'german' monarch and his dynasty. Ludwig the German, his son Ludwig the Younger (died in 882) and his grandson Hugo (died in 879) are buried here. And even later the church, established between 876 and 882 and entered the monastery's history under the old name ecclesia varia, still functioned as burial site of highly important personages, namely the wife of Konrad Ist, first non-Carolingian king on a German throne, Kundigunde (died after 915). Around twenty visits of monarchs are known in Lorsch until 1090, in 1052 even the visit of a pope, Leos IXth who dedicated an altar to the Nazarius basilica in fact to the adjoining tomb chapel of the East Frankish Carolingians.
The monarch's interest at the inner circumstances of the abbey are understood, the reform proposals of the center that at times caused an abrogation of the abbots' open election (895 - 956), and that could claim abbots enthroned by the king, among them important personages like the abbot - bishop Adalbero of Augsburg or archbishop Brun of Cologne, the brother of Otto the Great. Especially Brun was it who created the base for a blossom time of the monastery: In 951 he introduced the 'ordo Gorziensis' in Lorsch und established the monastery even to a center of this reform movement: Corvey, Fulda, St. Gallen, St. Martin (Collogne), and Amorbach have been reformed for the purpose of the Gorzian movement.
Otto Ist has appointed Lorsch in its old rights again in 956, and by the use of privileges has strengthened economically; between 956 and 1067 Bensheim (956), Stein (995), Weinheim (1000), the Alsation Brumath (1000), Oppenheim at the Rhine (1008), and at the end Lorsch (1067), location at which the abbey possesses privileged markets and mints.
Abbot Udalrich of Lorsch resisted strongly against a try to rescind the immunity: Within sight of the monastery the castle Starkenburg was built and in 1066 Udalrich appeared with a huge posse of 1,200 armed knights in Trebur to allure the young king from his plans. Lorsch seems to have experienced a third peak under the just called abbot shown by the activity of the scriptorium as well as the energetically impelling development of new settlement areas and economic zones in the Forest of Odes. Between 863 and 875, the roots were set for the subsidiary monastery on the mountain Heiligenberg near Heidelberg of which the activation had started just in 1023, in 1071 the so called Altenmunster, the founding monastery of Lorsch was established as priory, about 1130 already the monastery Neuburg at the Neckar also near Heidelberg might be formed, which represents the only Benedectine abbey today. Still the status of immunity was hurt – and this means in this time not only the ruler made use of his rights but also the clerical and profane aristocracy, which already was part of the governmental power, could be a threat for the immunity of a monastery like in Lorsch. Another phenomenon is the permanently decreasing availability of land by the monastery. This is caused by the developing feudalism and the opportunities for powerful lieges at the abbey to 'elienate' monastic property, and to do their own 'politics' more and more, which sometimes could cross the interests of the monastery.
Both phenomena represent the causes for losing the monastery' immunity in 1229. The implementation of the new legal status can be equated with the end of the Benedictine era, which according to tradition happened forcefully. From 1232 to 1248 the Cistercians lived at the abbey, in 1248 Premonstratensians from Allerheiligen in the Black Forest settled here. During this time the monastery lost its former meaning und developed to a more regional center. Still the idea of losing its meaning completely is not justified: Especially during the 14th century the priory must have been able to conduct expensive constructions that the monastery's appearance delivered by Matthaeus Merian influenced. The community of the Premonstratensians in Lorsch experienced the pledging of the monastery to the Electoral Palatinate in 1461, which continued until 1556 when Elector Palatine Ottheinrich implemented the reformation in his territory and closed monasteries. Just in 1623 Lorsch became part of the archbishopric Mainz again. Back then yet the blossoming site of monastic living had become a scene of devastation: In 1621 Spanish troops destroyed the monastery complex functioning since as quarry for many decades.
Dr. Hermann Schefers