Located in the sleepy southern German state of Saarland is the Benedictine abbey that recently reached out to the world and created a juxtaposition of monastic life with the trappings of a 21st Century world. Tholey is located at the junction of two ancient Roman roads, Metz-Mainz and Trier-Strasbourg, and as such played an important role in the operations of the Roman Empire. Founded in 634 AD, Tholey was influenced by Benedictine monks during its early days, as were a number of other villages in Germany, and between 720 and 850 AD the oldest cloister in Germany was built. The Abbey church was built in the 13th century.
By the end of the 15th century the Benedictine monks of Tholey had joined a union of German Benedictine monasteries, but by 1794 much of that group and the abbey in Tholey itself were destroyed during the French Revolution. It wasn‘t until 1949 that the Benedictines began the task of restoring the abbey and the grounds it stood on. Repopulated by monks from nearby St. Matthias’ Abbey in Trier, the abbey in Tholey continued its reclusive monastic life until 2007, when facing a severe cash shortage, some progressive people from the church and some folks from the village set out the beginning of bringing the modern world and the old world church together and maximizing their mutual interests
A local couple, Edmund and Ursula Meiser, well heeled and devoutly Catholic, offered to fund the renovation and also pay for the construction of a Baroque-style pavilion. The renovated property became home for 12 to 13 monks, currently from five different nations, ranging in ages from 25-75 years of age. But the best was to come in 2018 when the current Abbot Mauritius Choriol, O.S.B., and his confrère Brother Wendelinus Naumann, O.S.B., hatched the idea of further bringing the abbey into the mainstream of international culture and to make Tholey the journey end of a modern age pilgrimage while raising additional funds for the church. The 34 stained glass windows on the north and south sides of the church were in an advanced stage of deterioration with the paint wearing away and actually flaking off. The monks decided to throw out to bid the reconstruction of the windows and announced a competition where the victor would create new windows. The winner was Mahbuba Maqsoodi, an Afghan-born artist who now lives and works in Munich. Mahbuba Maqsoodi has a long pedigree of artistic accomplishments, foremost among them the study and practice of painting on glass, as well as a long history of active woman socialism. An ideal and worthy choice to execute the painting of the 34 windows and a huge nod to the emerging diversity that was happening in Tholey.
Still left to be replaced were the three immense choir windows on the east side of the church. Stained glass windows are a staple in European churches dating back to the Gothic era, and the churches near to Tholey such as the Cathedrals in Trier, Speyer, Metz and Strasbourg all have unbelievable examples of stained glass windows in their buildings. Once again the abbots dared to dream and turned to Gerhard Richter, a world famous artist of stained glass, who said he was too old but that he would nevertheless undertake the project and do it at no charge.
Above is one of the 34 stained glass windows in the church, all of which are based on major christian events from the Old and New Testaments, the lives of saints and scenes from the history of the monastery interpretated and designed by a Muslim woman. The windows are amazing and as one moves about the church, the play of light on the windows changes with every minute that passes.
Maqsoodi‘s homage to two of the earliest influences in Tholey. On the left is Adalgisel Grimo, the scion of a wealthy Austrian family, remembered primarily for his comprehensive will written in the 7th century detailing information about the laws, settlement and history of the area where the abbey is now located. Raised and educated at the Episcopal Church of Verdun, he served as a deacon to Bishop Paulus of Verdun (on the right) with whom he founded the Abbey in Tholey.
“For me, the paintings are on the medium of glass. The perception of space changes as a result of the continuous effect of light. Everything is in motion, just like in life itself.”
The inspiration for the trio of windows over the main altar came from the stained glass windows found in the nearby cathedral in Metz deigned by Marc Chagall. The abbots‘ faith in Gerhard Richter producing a similar body of work were not misplaced. His finished work, three panels of mesmerizing light, each 30‘ tall, frame a rather simple altar and two opposing choir stalls. The focus is on the stained glass and as with the windows of Maqsoodi, the light changes in kaleidoscopic symphony with the moving daylight.
“Gerhard Richter dazzles us with beauty that intimates what is beyond all human imagining. And then we are not far from the image of the invisible God.“ The irony of a Muslim woman being chosen to interpret the intricacies and history of Christianity is doubled down in the selection of Richter, an avowed agnostic. His body of work has been in the world of stained glass engineered for the elegant churches in his part of the world, and while still adhering to his agnostic beliefs, he has come to understand what the church can offer, how it helps, and how much hope and security it can convey to its followers. Abbot Choriol has said that he “rejoices that the mystery of God is recognized and celebrated through the abstraction of the windows“.
Brief audio of noon prayers at the Abbey, also known as Sext, the sixth hour after the dawn. It is when the “Divine light is in its fullness“ and most importantly when Christ was nailed to the cross. Monks in the choir stalls intoning the sacred verses. They do this seven times a day.
I pour through hosts of sources every week in search for that unique and unusual recipe or recipes. We’re about at the end of summer and outdoor grilling season, but if you can still manage to enjoy an afternoon in the garden by the BBQ, try this recipe from Nigeria called Nigerian Beef Suya developed by OzOz Okoh, a Nigerian native now living in Canada. Ozoz is a food explorer and exploration geologist focused on celebrating and documenting West African culinary heritage. In this recipe she writes “Suya is Nigerian street food at its finest—think nutty, spicy beef threaded onto skewers then grilled, the finished sticks cradled in paper or foil with a side of fresh tomatoes, sliced red onions, and a sprinkling of yajin kuli. Yajin kuli is made from yaji—a blend of chiles, ginger, garlic, onions, salt and other spices—and ground kuli kuli, which is essentially dehydrated and defatted groundnut (peanut) paste. Suya originated in the north of Nigeria, where the knowledge and mastery of meat is second to none.“ Oh yeah. This one does not disappoint. Enjoy.