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In Siessen, Germany, the works of Franciscan nuns

In the monastery
of the artist nuns

 Nel monastero delle suore artiste  DCM-001
05 January 2024

At the Siessen Monastery, located in Bad Saulgau, Germany, Franciscan nuns have taken up residence. The building was originally the residence of the Dominicans until secularization commenced in 1860.  For me, the spaces of the monastery have become a school of seeing. The works of the Franciscan nuns are carefully displayed to invite stimulation and explore new perspectives for a process of inner transformation. Their chapel, dominated by the 1190 Romanesque cross, which survived the war and dates back to the Dominican era, has been harmoniously integrated into the modern renovation of the building by Sister Maria Sigmunda May. Liturgical elements such as the altar, ambo, stelae and tabernacle, all made by Sister Sigmunda from materials such as wood, stone or concrete, combine solidity to lightness. Even the monstrance, made by Sister M. Pietra Löbl, is characterized by fragility and strength. The Blessed Sacrament is surrounded by a large round disk of glass fragments, an expression of the multifaceted.

Is there a Franciscan art? A women’s art movement? Walking around the convent, one discovers works that, despite their diversity, share a common trait, which is a profound humility. The cloister niches are embellished with small artifacts made from simple materials. Like Duchamps, elements such as a nail, sand from the monastery garden or a feather become symbols that speak of Christ. On the walls of the corridors of the monastery, one encounters the drawn flowers that are similar to a breath that emerges from their budding in their perfect unfolding, in a perfection that already naturally carries birth and death within itself. This is not an ideal or perfection, but a gaze that penetrates into the depths of things and glimpses creation there in humility.

In the Canticle of the Sun by Christine Hecht Del Bianco, an Assisi painter and friend of the sisters, this vision permeates the whole of Creation. In the small chapel, another work by the artist abandons classical Franciscan iconography for an expression of color and light. The image of St Francis listening attentively to a young man eager to follow him evokes a tension between the interiority of the master and the exteriority of the young man who is at the beginning of his journey, transforming the work into an accompaniment of visual perception. This is also evident in the works of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel, exhibited in the room dedicated to her. One of the best students of the Academy of Art, she expressed herself mainly through her figures of the children she met as a teacher in the school, which have become world famous. Sister Maria Innocentia found in the Stations of the Cross her way to following Christ, a mysticism of suffering reflected in her works, which are a continuous source of inspiration even today.

The works of the Franciscan sisters are guides to those on their spiritual journey. They have also brought to Siessen works from Brazil, where other sisters of the order reside. A homeless man, inspired by Franciscan catechesis on the figure of their founder, created sculptures from salvaged materials, revealing an almost unconscious ability to communicate through art. The nuns discovered and valued this artist, revealing in his works his “being created in love”.

The monastery’s park, which was designed by Sister Anja and other sisters, invites meditation on the texts of the Song of the Sun through a walk that, between lake and labyrinth, imaginatively guides from nature to the intimate to return to the Creator. This path is not only instructive, but a true inner journey accompanied by artistic creation. The Siessen community turns out to be a creative community, where the artistic nuns have left a visible and tangible imprint. Here, they have transformed the place into a work of art in its own right. The monastery itself is becoming more and more a work of art.

by Yvonne Dohna Schlobitten