Beneath the Wheel : The Maulbronn Monastery Complex

This 12th century monastery is in southern Germany. It was built by the Cistercian Order of monks. The Maulbronn Monastery complex is the setting for Beneath the Wheel, an autobiographical novel by Hermann Hesse.

The chapel at the centre of the monastery took over 30 years to build. The chapel is divided inside into two sections, the front part and the back. The front part is a place of prayer for monks engaged in hard labour. The back part beyond the wall has an altar for the priests.

Under strict discipline, summer masses used to start from two oclock in the morning. The monastery, after 400 years of its history, was closed in the 16th century following the German Reformation. It was later converted into a Protestant seminary. Hermann Hesse, who went on to become a leading German writer, entered the seminary in 1890.

He was expelled from school after just a few months despite the high hopes of his missionary father. Hesse, as a young man, dreamt of being a poet and did not fit into a world bound by the schools strict rules and harsh discipline. He drew this picture a sign that he was in rebellion.

There is a collection of teacher portraits. In this one, a teacher is pointing a knife at a student. In Beneath the Wheel, Hesse wonders why he has to spend his time studying until midnight, and why they took his rabbit away from him. Later in his life though he recalled the days spent at the seminary with nostalgia. A carefully preserved cloister, he wrote, is a beautiful monument itself, but the chapel with an exquisite fountain attached to it is a wonderful masterpiece. It is said that the praying monks walking through the cloister used to stop here and clean themselves in this fountain. This chapel is known as the Fountain Chapel. The schooling here today values freedom and individuality, quite different from Hesses time. In Hesses novel, the schoolmaster says to the main character: Dont exhaust yourself or you will find yourself beneath the wheel.

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine