The little chapel at Schoenstatt has had a long history. It is first mentioned on 28 September 1319 in a document which stated that Guda von Castorf, the prior’s servant, had given three vineyards to the Chapel of St Michael for the better support of a chaplain, and that Holy Mass may be celebrated in the chapel every day. The Chapel of St Michael is the cemetery chapel of the ancient Schoenstatt convent, so its first foundations date from the middle of the 12th century.
The Founding Document of Old Schoenstatt bears the date 24 October 1143. Augustinian Sisters from Lunnich on the River Mosel were sent to the convent in Vallendar, which was being built, by the Bishop of Trier. The religious life was flourishing at the time, not least because of the Crusades.
The convent grew rapidly. A Basilica was built next to the convent buildings, and in 1226 the Archbishop of Trier even had to admonish the convent at Schoenstatt not to accept more than 100 nuns, because the buildings were becoming overcrowded. Even though the convent had been endowed with many properties to secure the support of the nuns, yet it had reached the limit of its possibilities.
A document of 1143 gave the nuns the right to have their own cemetery. This opened up a new source of income. Whoever could afford it could be buried near the convent for a corresponding fee. In return the Sisters promised their prayers for the departed. It was for this purpose that the cemetery chapel was built and dedicated to Michael the Archangel.
The convent as such was dedicated to “Our Lady”. The second patron was St Barbara. The nuns possessed one of her relics. So the convent was also known as “St Barbara”. Besides the relic of St Barbara, there were a number of other relics, but they are not reflected in the name of the convent. It was “modern” to honour relics and the Crusaders brought many from Palestine.
However, the changing times did not spare the convent at Schoenstatt. The wars and confusion of the 15th and 16th centuries led to a decrease in the number of the nuns even in this flourishing convent. Besides this, the nuns lost their outward protection, because the Westerwald nobility became Protestants. The outward decline went hand in hand with a decline in the spiritual life. The last nuns left the convent in 1567. They went to Koblenz, where they took up residence in a recently vacated convent.
In 1567, as the result of a letter of 30 September from the Archbishop and Elector Jacob III von Eltz, all the property of the Schoenstatt convent was sold by Trier, and the last Sisters moved from Schoenstatt to Koblenz. The whole property, which was then called the “Schoenstatt Cloister Farm”, was endangered for the next centuries and led a chequered existence.
During the Thirty Years’ War the convent buildings were occupied by the French and Swedish troops (as was Vallendar), and completely destroyed in 1636 as they withdrew. Only two towers of the Basilica, some foundation walls of the convent buildings and the chapel survived this destruction. After this the owners and use of the cloisters changed repeatedly in the course of time until the arrival of the Pallottine Fathers in 1901.
In 1681, the Chapel of St Michael was rebuilt by the current owner and industrialist, Bertrand von Marioth. He did so in memory of his parents. Thy had come from Belgium, his mother having been born into the de Tornaco family. The carved Baroque altar, which was brought into the chapel after it had been re-built, and parts of which have been preserved until today, shows the Marioth and de Tornaco family coat of arms. The Chapel of St Michael again became a cemetery chapel. Holy Mass was celebrated there on Sundays and holydays. The only condition was that the parish priest of Vallendar might not be burdened with this task.
Various sources state that the chapel was again destroyed during the Wars of Liberation. Father Shulte contests this:
“During the Wars of Liberation in 1813/14 a section of Bluecher’s army found itself nar Vallendar before it crossed the Rhine. The soldiers probably used the Chapel of St Michael as a storage place, so also destroyed it inside. However, it is probable that it was not destroyed, as is reported here and there, because if this had happened, an important part of the former wooden altar would not have remained.”
Summing up the events of the 19th century, Fr Schulte has this to say:
“From 1823-1825 a community of heirs divided the whole property into a number of plots that ended in various hands.
A family built his simple dwelling and a few modest farm buildings on the former church square near the ancient towers.
In the Hillscheid Valley a number of smaller factories were built along the brook. These existed until into the 20th century.
The rest of the ancient convent buildings, along with the Chapel of St Michael und the surrounding land reaching up to the Wambach Valley were bought by Peter Demond from Hoehr. He leased the “Old Convent Mill” on the Wambach to a distant relation, Johann Georg Flesch, who ran an oil mill there for a number of years. It is here that margareta Flesch was born on 24 February 1826. She later became Sr Rosa, the founder of the Waldbreitbach Franciscan Sisters.
A pipe factory made use of the main buildings for 40 years. Then the Grey Sisters tried to make a foundation there, but were driven away during the Prussian “Kulturkampf”.
A Miss Wolter built a boarding school for young ladies on the grounds of the old convent pond. She called it the “Marienau”, and it existed until 1919.“
The Grey Sisters (1869-1889) mentioned above used the chapel of St Michael to store wood and coal. This clearly presupposes that the room was intact and protected against the weather.
When they left, the Grey Sisters offered to sell their house to Mr Dorsemagen from Wesel. He took up residence there with his family and seven children.
Fr Schulte reports:
“Finally Mr Karl Dorsemagen bought the old manor house; he furnished it again as a dwelling and in the final decade of the 19th century spent a lot of money on laying out the area around the Chapel of St Michael as a beautiful garden and park. In 1900 he was forced to sell the property again. The Pallottine Fathers in Limburg were happy to buy it from him.”
In a letter dated 1940 to the Sisters of Mary, Mrs Karola Huisgen, nee Doresemagen, wrote about the time her family spent there. Her father had found the beautiful property in a rather desolate state and tirelessly set to work to create ‘a little Paradise’ for his family. The chapel was also renovated and used as a private oratory, particularly in May and October. Mr Dorsemagen furnished it accordingly. According to his instructions Mr Gelhard, a joiner from Vallendar, made an altar in the Gothic style and pews. Three narrow pews with room for three people were put up on each side of the aisle.
The family placed a Lourdes statue on the altar, but they took it with them when they moved to Bonn in 1900. This move took place because of the children. The boys were to go to University and the girls, in keeping with Mrs Dorsemagen’s special wish, were to be given a better introduction to society.
The windows were given simple leaded windows. Two old photos show that there was no bell in the bell tower. It is uncertain when one was installed. Once it had been installed, it was rung by means of a wire, which was replaced in 1921 by a rope.
A special feature given to the chapel by Mr Dorsemagen was a unique priedieu that could serve as a communion rail.