Oberhaus and Niederhaus Castle - Passau

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    Pen and Ink Sketch with Watercolor - Erwin Weber - 1973

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Since the Danube River becomes navigable in Regensburg 75 miles east of Passau, there are numerous large and small ships from various nations that pass through or dock in Passau. The first steamship arrived in Passau in 1837 and the first Russian passenger ship on German inland water arrived in Passau in 1870. Now there is regular passenger service from Passau to the Black Sea. Along the way are ancient castles, monasteries, picturesque villages, dense forests, green meadows, vineyards, and great cities.

One such monastery along the Danube River which is still in operation today is Engelhartszell located about 20 miles from Passau. It is operated by the Trappists monks who have not only taken the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but also the vow of silence. Manual labor is compulsory and they are strict vegetarians. They are completely self-sufficient, grow their own food, have their own workshops and even make their own liquor which they sell to tourists visiting the Baroque styled monastery church erected in the 18th century.

Another monastery 50 miles east of Passau perched high on a cliff overlooking the Danube River is Melk, a Benedictine monastery in Austria. It was founded by Leopold Babenberger in 1098 and erected in Baroque style between 1702 and 1738. The monastery is equipped with a famous library with 1,200 manuscripts from the Middle Ages, a Gymnasium or preparatory school, and a seminary for boys. The monastery church has frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr and Paul Troger and sculptures by Lorenzo Mattielli.

The Benedictines carry on a tradition that stems from the origins of the Christian monastic movement in the late third century. They regard St. Benedict as their founder and guide even though he did not establish the order as such. Benedict wrote a Rule for his monastery at Monte Cassino, Italy, and he foresaw that it could be used elsewhere. Monte Cassino was destroyed by the Lombards about 577 AD and was not reestablished until the middle of the eighth century. At first, it was accepted by one of a number of monasteries, but later, especially through the efforts of Charlemagne and his son, Louis, it became the rule of choice for monasteries of Europe.

The Benedictine monasteries waned at the end of the twelfth century, about the time the Church witnessed the rise of "modern" orders of Franciscans and Dominicans. Many Benedictine monasteries were closed during the time of the Protestant Reformation both because the reformers preached against the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as unevangelical and because the secular rulers sought to seize the abundant properties owned by the monasteries. After Napoleon closed most of the monasteries in Europe and expropriated their property, there were very few at the beginning of the 19th century.

Today, Benedictines, both men and women, are still characterized as people who take root in a particular place and who are related to the culture and needs of a specific location. Most are associated together in congregations for purpose of mutual assistance and common discipline. At the same time, they vary widely in the type of monastic life they lead. Some pursue an enclosed life with little involvement in the local Church and society; others insist on various degrees of participation such as education, parochial ministry, evangelization, publications, health care and related activities. The followers of St. Benedict vary much in the way they carry out the thrust of the sixth-century Rule, but in general, they retain essential features of their origins - local gatherings of monasteries who endeavor to seek God in a common life of prayer, reading, and service.