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The Gräfrath church treasure

Medieval relics

"... all goods from the closed down seminaries, abbeys and monasteries are put to the free and full disposition of the gentry."

This governmental decision in September 1803 meant the end for the abbey and later Augustine ladies’ seminary in Gräfrath which was founded in 1185. The closure was a result of the war following the French Revolution, which finally led to the dispossession of all theological monasteries and seminaries. Napoleon as the winner of these wars annexed those areas of Germany on the left to the river Rhine, and the German lords – as a compensation for their loss of land – were given the former treasures of the churches in the area on the right of the Rhine.
The seminary in Gräfrath made no exception. The grounds were sold in favour of the local lord, all other possessions and the archive were given to Max August prince of Bavaria, who was also duke of Berg, and brought to Düsseldorf. The last inhabiting ladies were given a governmental pension and moved out one by one. The church was given to the parish of Gräfrath and the other buildings were used otherwise.
During the long years of its existence the seminary had a huge income from pensions and property bestowed on it by the local gentry of the "Bergisches Land". The Gräfrath church treasure bears witness of these riches, which luckily have survived through the ages and can now be seen at the Deutsches Klingenmuseum. The church treasure contains reliquaries and sacrament monstrances, precious gold smith’s works from the gothic and baroque periods. Eventhough prince Max August very clearly ordered that "... all money, gold, silver and other valuables are to be brought here (to Munich)", the treasure remained at its historic origin. It still cannot be explained why it was not confiscated.
Throughout the Middle Ages relics were thought of as indispensable constituents of religious life. According to ecclesiastical doctrine bones, hair or clothing of a dead saint were imbued with his or her spirit and therefor had mystic and healing characteristics. The relics were kept in precious containers and shown to the faithful. For several hundred years relics have been donated to the church and thus came to Gräfrath. A special occasion was the donation of a relic of St. Catherine to the nun Katharina von Hückeswagen who was living in Gräfrath in 1309. This donation marks the heyday in the history of the Gräfrath abbey. Legend has it that a knight of St. John of Jerusalem from the family of Lord of Hückeswagen wanted to give a piece of bone of St. Catherine of Alexandria from the Holy Land to his sister as a present. But returning to Europe his ship got into a bad storm and was about to sink. The knight could only just save himself by sacrificing the piece of bone to the sea. Back with his sister Katharina he recounted his sad loss. But she already had received the sliver of bone, which was delivered to her by an unknown person, dressed in white from head to toe.
Contemporaries of Katharina put down written testimonies of the miracles effected by the relic she was donated. They said that often some liquid drained out of the sliver of bone which was saved in glass bottles. Miracle certificates from the years 1312 to 1325 mention oil, honey, water, claret (wine) or blood. These miracles made Gräfrath quite famous and a popular place of pilgrimage at this time. After the death of Katharina von Hückeswagen the miracles came to an end, but the worship of the relic of St. Catherine was common until the 15th century. Today the church treasure is owned by the Gräfrath parish of St. Mariä Himmelfahrt and is on permanent display at the Deutsches Klingenmuseum and therefor open to the public. The southern wing of the cloister of the former seminary building serves as a treasure chamber.