Königsfelden convent church was once the centrepiece of a large, substantial double monastery resided in by the mendicant orders of the Franciscans and the Clarists. Not only did the lives of the monks and nuns revolve around it, it was also planned as a place of commemoration for the murdered King Albrecht and the Habsburg dynasty.
The convent church
The Habsburg Queen Elisabeth of Carinthia, Gorizia and Tyrol founded Königsfelden Abbey more than 700 years ago. She did so in response to the murder of her husband, King Albrecht I of Habsburg, in the year 1308. The Abbey was built as a place of commemoration in order to attain the salvation of King Albrecht and other deceased family members. This can still be seen today in the cenotaph with the vault beneath it, though the latter no longer contains any tombs. Ten other Habsburgs were buried here after Queen Elisabeth.
The church is a basilica. This type of building comprises a nave that is divided into three sections: the raised central aisle, illuminated with its own windows, and two smaller aisles. The nave leads into the chancel, in front of which there is a barrier or rood screen.
The chancel is the central climax of the church structure - not only due to the stained glass windows but also in architectural terms. The keystone at the centre of the ceiling shows Jesus Christ with the inscription "Rex Albertus" (King Albrecht) on the side. The high altar of the monastery church once stood below this. The murdered king is therefore present at the very sanctum of the church.
A basin - the so-called piscina - is mounted on the right in the south wall: this was used for liturgical hand washing. Alongside this, the seats of the priests are hewn in stone. Some parts of the chancel floor are original and date back to the 14th century. Missing sections have been replaced in the same style.
A very rare object is to be seen immediately next to the cenotaph. It is a mobile wooden pulpit which was analysed in 2011. It dates back to the foundation period of the Abbey 1314–1330). There are very few pulpits of this kind that are still preserved today.
The nave contains numerous tomb slabs. Most of these date back to the period of Bernese rule, some of them to the Middle Ages. A painted panel dating back to the 17th century can be seen on the wall of the northern side aisle. At the centre it shows Duke Leopold III of Habsburg. He is flanked by 27 knights, all of whom fell with him at the Battle of Sempach in 1386. Leopold III was the last to be buried in the Habsburgs' Königsfelden vault.
On the opposite wall here is another panel with the coat of arms of the Bernese administrators or Hofmeister who were in charge of the monastery when Habsburg rule came to an end.
If you look from the chancel down the nave, you will see a walled up door on the left under the window near the entrance. It used to link the women's convent to the church, leading to a nun's gallery which no longer exists. The gallery enabled the nuns to take part in mass in the church.
The Abbey complex
A walk around the convent church leads through the monastery estate where Franciscan monks and Clarist nuns once lived.
Originally the church had a convent on each side: to the north was the Franciscan convent, of which only the so-called archive vault was spared demolition in 1870, though the actual purpose of this room is still not known. It contains wall paintings showing the knights who fell at the Battle of Sempach in 1386. These paintings provided the basis for the wooden panels made in the 17th century that can now be seen in the nave of the convent church. The remaining sections of the Franciscan convent are marked by means of stone slabs inserted in the floor.
Parts of the nuns' convent are still standing to the south of the church, such as the cloister. The extent of the surrounding buildings as they stand today only gives an approximate impression of the monastery buildings that once stood on this side. Returning back to the church, the walk leads through a former inn which consists of various structures. These were newly built in the Bernese period or else entirely overhauled: they are the Administrator's Residence (Hofmeisterei) with its striking stair tower and the Renaissance gateway.
In the Middle Ages, the entire area west of the church facade was surrounded by ancillary buildings belonging to the grand Königsfelden Abbey.