Starting in 1079, Kartause Ittingen looks back on more than 900 years of history.
Around 1150 – A Monastery for Ittingen
Around the middle of the 12th century, the Truchsessen (stewards) of Ittingen turned their castle into a monastery. A founding legend has it that one of the Truchsessen’s two young boys, imitating the activities of the visiting local butcher, stabbed his brother by accident. Although committed unintentionally, the family is said to have atoned for this terrible deed by founding a monastery, which was run by Augustinian canons until 1461.
1461 – The Carthusians Acquire Ittingen
In 1461 the impoverished Augustinian canons sold their monastery to the Carthusian order. The building was in a state of disrepair and underwent substantial renovation. Furthermore, a large cloister with hermit monks’ cells had to be added. The people of Ittingen did not take to the Carthusians. They were foreigners living a solitary life of meditation and, adding insult to injury, closed their church to the locals, sending them to the church at Uesslingen about one hour’s journey from Ittingen. Furious, the women of Warth, who under the Augustinians were allowed to attend service in the monastery’s church, fought their way into the church and only left when promised their own chapel in Warth. Under obligation by the federal diet, the monastery’s prior agreed to build the chapel.
1524 – The Ransacking of Ittingen (‘Ittinger Sturm’)
In summer 1524 there was an uprising in the Thurgau-Zurich border region caused by the Catholic bailiffs’s decision to arrest a reformed pastor in Stein am Rhein. The clergyman was taken to Frauenfeld where the bailiff resided, and several thousand people gathered to free him. The angry crowd was stopped by the river Thur and could not get to Frauenfeld. Spending the night outdoors, the mob got out of control, ransacked the charterhouse, looted the wine cellar and set fire to the building, causing immense damage. The federal diet in Baden sentenced the three ringleaders to death. It took the monastery several decades to recover from this devastation.
1620 – Donation by Ludwig Pfyffer of Altishofen
In 1620 Ludwig Pfyffer of Altishofen donated a substantial sum to the charterhouse in order to build six new cells. This donation and the new buildings marked the beginning of a new period of economic and intellectual prosperity.
1743 – A New Urbarium
The Kartause Ittingen urbarium dates back to 1743, although it must have taken procurator Josephus Wech years if not decades to compile this index detailing the possessions of the monastery. Josephus Wech (1702–1761) was an outstanding custodian. He systematically collected all the information he could gather not only about the monastery’s history but also its possessions, rights and duties, writing it all down into 39 books. These books, the so-called urbariums, describe the monastery’s development between 1525 and 1760.
Josephus Wech is also responsible for the remarkable map detailing the monastery’s possessions. Created in 1745 and measuring almost 3×5 metres, it complements the books, recording all the monastery’s property in a legally binding way. Josephus Wech’s new urbarium closed the sensitive gap torn in the monastery’s archive by the ransacking of Ittingen. This new administrative tool helped him introduce a management style that was very modern at the time. His records are the founding blocks for the monastery’s professional management, contributing to its prosperity in the 18th century.
1848 – Dissolution of the Monastery
In the 19th century the social conditions for monasteries changed dramatically. The French Revolution had overthrown the feudal system and the Napoleonic wars finally introduced a fundamentally new political organisation of the state also to Switzerland. 1803 saw the foundation of the Canton of Thurgau. This young and liberal state put the Charterhouse under state administration only to dissolve it in 1848, as it did most of the monasteries on its territory, and the monastery buildings were sold.
1867 – Viktor Fehr Buys Kartause Ittingen
In 1867 Kartause Ittingen was bought by Victor Fehr. Only twenty-one at the time, he was the descendant of a rich patrician family from St. Gallen. His father, a banker, financed the purchase. Viktor Fehr lived in the former monastery until his death and ran a large agricultural business with many staff.
Under Viktor Fehr the monastery was converted into a feudal manor house. The landlord’s family lived in the former prior’s rooms, the refectory was turned into a representative dining hall, the chapter house into an assembly room. The monk’s choir was used by the Protestant family for christenings, weddings, abdications and also served as their private church. Thus, the valuable furnishings of the former monastery became the backdrop for the life-style of an affluent bourgeois family.
The largest structural change was the demolition of the cloister’s north wing with the monks’ cells. In 1880 Viktor Fehr set a striking architectural note by adding a loggia and terrace to the south wing. Set in front of the entrance to the landlord’s residence, this construction made use of several elements to refer to the building’s function as a manor house. Inside, the most remarkable change undertaken by Viktor Fehr was the conversion of the former monastery kitchen into a Neo-Renaissance style panelled room.
1977 – Kartause Ittingen Foundation Is Born
After World War II upkeep and maintenance of Kartause Ittingen’s extensive grounds started to exceed the possibilities of a private family, who eventually sold the estate to Kartause Ittingen Foundation, created in 1977. Located in the inner enclosure of the former monastery, Ittingen Museum was inaugurated in 1983.
A Short History of Kartause Ittingen
Ittingen castle is rebuilt after its destruction.
Three knights of the castle, so called ‘Truchsessen’ (stewards), found an Augustinian monastery and join the order. They dedicate the church to St. Lawrence, who is still Kartause Ittingen’s patron saint. His attribute, a gridiron, becomes the emblem of Ittingen.
The monastery is purchased by the Carthusians. They modify it at great expense, adding the characteristic monks’ cells.
In accordance with their rules, the Carthusians exclude the public from church service, whereupon the women break into the church for a sit-in protest. They are finally granted their own church in Warth.
The Ransacking of Ittingen: In the Reformation the charterhouse is attacked, plundered and destroyed. The monks who managed to flee are hesitant to return so that rebuilding takes considerable time. The new church is not consecrated until 1553.
Spiritual and architectural heyday. Heinrich Murer writes ‘Helvetia Sancta’, a book on Swiss saints.
The church acquires the unique choir stalls by Chrisostomus Fröhli.
1763 - 1767
Renowned artists decorate the church with stucco works, paintings and altars.
The dissolution of monasteries in the Canton of Thurgau signals the end of Carthusian rule at Ittingen.
The monastery is bought by the Fehr family and run as a model agricultural business for more than a hundred years.
After many years of uncertainty regarding the monastery’s fate, Foundation Kartause Ittingen (a foundation under private law) is established. The Canton of Thurgau, many businesses and the public pull together to provide around CHF40 million for the purchase and restoration of the monastery.
1979 - 1983
Overall restoration and renovation works, expansion and modifications.
Relocation of the farm to new premises outside the monastery’s walls.
Opening of the restaurant and of the residential home for people suffering from a psychological or mental impairment.
Opening of Ittingen Museum and Thurgau Art Museum.
Purchase of Lake Nussbaum.
Reintegration of the vineyards previously leased out to third parties, launch of the new pressing plant, building of workshops and opening of enlarged monastery shop.
"Rose Year" - completion of the rose gardens. 230 different species, 730 wild, shrub and climbing roses have been planted. Gift of the rose friends of Winterthur.
Purchase of the forest above the monastery and its partial transformation into the Canton of Thurgau’s first forest reserve.
The thyme labyrinth is opened in the monastery garden.
Extension of cattle stables.
Conversion of inn into a hotel, the lower guest house.
Conversion and extension of restaurant, renovation of upper guest house, seminar building and residential home, redesign of the museum entrances.
Redesign of monastery shop.
Opening of Ochsenstall.
ICOMOS Switzerland - Special Award 2019 "The Historic Hotel of the Year
for Kartause Ittingen
Kitchen renovation from November 2021 to April 2022.
Monasticism is a medieval development that were very successful. In the 6th century St. Benedict moulded the idea of a devout life spent in a community into a set of rules, after which it spread all over Europe. In the Early and High Middle Ages monasteries were important centres of administration and education, and played a vital role in the power structure of Europe. The forms of monastic organisation and life were subject to constant change. Time and again reforms were needed to counterbalance secular tendencies.
The 11th century saw the birth of an eremitic movement that postulated a solitary, contemplative life as a way of forgoing worldly power and activity. St. Bruno’s withdrawal into the solitude of the mountains near Grenoble can be regarded as part of this movement. In 1084 he founded a strictly organised community in the mountain valley Chartreuse near Grenoble, reconciling the advantages of an eremitic life with the ideal of communal life in the service of God.
St Bruno, who was born in Cologne in 1030, had already had a successful career when he founded the order. After his studies in theology and philosophy he had been appointed head of the cathedral school of Reims in 1056, making him part of the educated higher echelons of church hierarchy. When he got in conflict with secular-minded parts of the school, however, he left to join the monastery of Molesne in 1080. Four years later the abbot granted him permission to withdraw from the monastery in order to found a hermitage. Some of his colleagues followed him and the hermitage, with the support of Bishop Hugo, was moved to the isolated mountain valley of Chartreuse.
The foundation turned out to be very successful. In the course of time a small community of a few men developed into an order with branches all over Europe. Bruno, however, was not to stay in his monastery for long. In 1090 Pope Urban, one of his former students, called him to Rome to become an advisor, but he soon withdraw from his post to found another charterhouse in La Torre in Calabria. Bruno died on 6 October 1101 and was canonised by Pope Leo in 1514.
In the Middle Ages the order spread all over Europe, counting 195 monasteries in 1531 when it was at its peak. This number got considerably smaller first during the Reformation and later in the 18th century, due to Joseph II’s dissolution of monasteries in the Hapsburg Empire, the French Revolution and subsequent liberalism. Today there are still about two dozen charterhouses in Europe, the USA, South America and Korea.