The Island of Reichenau is located in southern Germany. It lies almost due west of the city of Konstanz, between the Gnadensee and the Untersee, two parts of Lake Constance. With a total land surface of 4.3 sq. km and a circumference of 11 km, the island is 4.5 km long and 1.5 km wide at its greatest extent. The highest point, the Hochwart, stands some 43 m above the lake surface and 438.7 m above mean sea level.
The island was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 because of its monastery, the Abbey of Reichenau. The abbey’s Münster (minster church) is dedicated to the Virgin and Saint Mark. Two further churches were built on the island consecrated to Saint George and to Saints Peter and Paul. The famous artworks of Reichenau include (in the church of St George) the Ottonian murals of miracles of Christ, unique survivals from the 10th century. The abbey’s bailiff was housed in a two-storey stone building to which two more storeys of timber framing were added in the 14th century, one of the oldest timber-frame buildings in south Germany.
Reichenau is connected to the mainland by a causeway, completed in 1838, which is intersected between the ruins of Schopflen Castle and the eastern end of Reichenau Island by a 10-m wide and 95-m long waterway, the Bruckgraben. A low road bridge allows the passage of ordinary boats but not of sailing-boats.
The Benedictine Abbey of Reichenau was founded in 724 by the itinerant Saint Pirmin, who is said to have fled Spain ahead of the Moorish invaders, with patronage that included Charles Martel, and, more locally, Count Berthold of the Ahalolfinger and the Alemannian Duke Santfrid I (Nebi). Pirmin’s conflict with Santfrid resulted in his leaving Reichenau in 727. Under his successor Haito the monastery began to flourish. It gained influence in the Carolingian dynasty, under Abbot Waldo of Reichenau (740–814), by educating the clerks who staffed Imperial and ducal chanceries. Abbot Reginbert of Reichenau (-846) built up the important book collection. Abbot Walahfrid Strabo (842–849), who was educated at Reichenau, was renowned as a poet and Latin scholar.
The Abbey stood along a main north–south highway between Germany and Italy, where the lake passage eased the arduous route. The Abbey of Reichenau housed a school, and a scriptorium and artists’ workshop, that has a claim to having been the largest and artistically most influential centre for producing lavishly illuminated manuscripts in Europe during the late 10th and early 11th centuries, often known as the Reichenau School. An example of the scriptorium’s production is the Pericopes of Henry II, made for the Emperor, now in Munich. Reichenau has preserved its precious relics, which include the pitcher from the wedding at Cana.