Basilica and Parishchurch
The church belongs to the building complex of the Benedictine Monastery which was founded in 731 (or 741, depending on which version of history one uses) by the Bavarian Duke, Odilo, here on the Danube River. At that point in time, the river was one of the most important means of transportation. The Monastery is also situated at the foot of the Bavarian Forest which, in the 8th c. was still unsettled.
In 1803, all areas in Germany that had been under Church jurisdiction (including those areas which had belonged to Bishops or monasteries) were forcibly annexed by secular Principalities. The Monastery was dissolved by the Bavarian government during this period which led to the selling-off and destruction of a large part of the building complex.
The Monastery Church was given to the Parish congregation in place of the old Parish Church whic had been torn down. Since then, the Parish celebrates Mass in the Basilica and is responsible for maintenance. The Basilica was completely restored in 1989.
The Monastery was reinstated in 1918 and the Monks were entrusted with the spiritual care of the Parish. Some of their own Masses were also celebrated in this church. As a sign of the newly-won significance of this time-honoured Sanctuary, it was given the title of Papal „Basilica minor“ in the year 1932.
The outer walls of the church show clearly that this was originally constructed as an early-gothic, hall-shaped, Sanctuary – this was completed in 1270, the nave in 1306: particularly interesting is the tympan entrance on the left outer side of the North Tower which joined the church to what had been a cloister. The construction of 72 m in the high towers was started in the Renaissance. On the south side (cemetery side) of the South Tower is a cosmic horoscope on top of a commemorative stone which was laid when construction began.
The inner area of the church was redone in Baroque-style in 1720. The old and new styles of architecture were harmoniously combined during this period. Behind the High Altar, a half-circle was added for the vestry on the main floor and for the monks above in the „Upper Church“. This was the first sacral construction of the great Baroque architect, Johann Michael Fischer.
Upon entering the interior of the 60 m long Sanctuary, visitors first notice the central painting above the High Altar by Franz Geiger, Landshut (1675). It illustrates the Patron Saint of the Church:
- St. Mauritius (whose figure also stands above the pulpit), and his companions,
- soldiers of the so-called Thebaic Legion of the Holy Roman Empire.
Mauritius rises in the painting out of the lower part of the picture which shows in dark colors the massacre of these soldiers; from above, he is being met in the other direction by the bright light of Christ, the Risen, and a group of saints.
The dramatic use of light and dark in this painting can be found throughout the entire church. The Passion of Christ is portrayed in the lower ceiling frescos in the relatively dark side naves next to the altar area; the altar paintings in the central nave show the „darkness“ which tests human faith:
- On the right side of the first Altar is the death of St. Benedict,
- over the second Altar is the fire ordeal of the Empress, St. Kunigunde;
- over the fourth Altar is the martydom of St. Sebastian,
- On the left side above the first Altar is the appearance of St. John the Baptist, the Preacher of Penance,
- above the second altar is the death of St. Joseph, and
- above the fourth Altar is St. Martin, monk and Bishop.
Glass shrines can be seen above the paintings. They contain bones which have been decorated with shining stones from Christians, dated from the early period of the Roman Catacombs. These bones were brought here in the early Baroque. At certain times during the Church Year, the Relict Shrines, which are covered with beautiful Baroque plates showing the Saints, are brought out for display. The arches in the unusual opening above the altars allows one to see the frescos in the upper church which, in contract to the lower paintings, show each holy figure bathed in heavenly light.
In the middle of the right side nave crossing over to the third altar, there is a Pieta (a sandstone figure from about 1480). This Meditation of the Christ being taken down from the Cross and laid in the lap of his Mother, is still the sanctum of a group which was founded in 1503 called the Brotherhood of the Archdeacons of the „Sieben Schmerzen Mariens“.
The fresco above this in the upper cloister shows a rare picture of St. Mary, Mother of the Child: like milk, her Faith flows as a Blessing to the people below. On the opposite side, over the third Altar the veneration of St. Gotthard (Godehard) is illustrated. He was a Niederalteich monk and Abbot of the Monastery, who was named Bishop of Hildesheim in 1022. The wax figure below shows St. Augustine, religious scholar and teacher.
All frescos (more than 200) were created by Wolfgang Andreas Heindl from Wels, Upper Austria. The ceiling frescos in the 21 m high middle nave symbolize the history of the monastery of Niederalteich. The name Nieder-Alteich is sometimes traced to the German word for oak, i.e. „Eiche“, but it is more correct to assume that the name goes back to the Old High German word „Ache“, or water. This root can be found in many place and river names (for example, „Ohe“, a common name for a river in this region). Along with the official spelling „Niederalteich“, the name of the Monastery is also written as „Niederaltaich“.
Special attention should be given to the carvings on the confessionals and pews which were made by the Niederalteich monk, Pirmin Tobiaschu. Georg Jann from Allkofen near Abendsberg built a new Baroque organ in 1985.
It is a...
- mechanical organ,
- with 48 register stops,
- 4 manuals and
- 3555 pipes.
The sonorous ringing in the South Tower comes from four bronze bells which were all made in modern times:
- the largest one (St. Michael) weighs 2074 kg and has a diameter of 153 cm. It rings the tone of c’3 (Johann Graßmayr, Innsbruck, 1938);
- the second-largest (St. Antonius) weighs 1300 kg and is 125 cm wide and rings in e flat’4 (Georg Sammassa, Passau, 1814);
- the third-largest (Annunication Day) has 971 kg and is 118 cm wide and rings f’ (Rudolf Perner, Passau, 1961);
- the smallest one (St. Brother Conrad) weighs 500 kg and is 98 cm wide and rings a flat`6 (Karl Hamm, Regensburg, 1931).
In the year 2003, exactly 200 years after Secularisation when the Anniversary Bell of 1731 was brought to Vilshofen, the bell- ringing was amplified by a generous gift:
- in what had been the empty North Tower there now hangs the Mauritius Bell with a weight of 4,820 kg and a diameter of 200 cm. With the tone of a flat’ 0, this mighty bell built by Rudolf Perner, Passau, expands the resonance of the other church bells.
On Sundays and religious holidays the following Masses are celebrated in Niederalteich:
Eurcharist Parish Mass in the Basilica:
- 7.00 pm: Saturday Evening Service
- 7.00 am and 9:00 am
Convent Mass of the Monks, normally with Gregorian Chants:
- 9.30 am: in St. Nikolaus Church
- 5.15 pm in St. Nikolaus Church
In the Chapel in the North Tower (towards the Exit Doors on the right side), you have the possibility to light a candle for your own personal situation. In doing so, you can contribute to the maintenance of this unusually beautiful church. The relatively small parish congregation of Niederalteich appreciates donations for the upkeep of their church. You can put your donations in the offertory box next to the lattice at the exit.
God Bless You and Your Relatives!