(Prince-)Provostry of Berchtesgaden
(Fürst-)Propstei Berchtesgaden (German)
|Common languages||Central Bavarian|
|Historical era||Middle Ages|
• Provostry founded
• Joined Bavarian Circle
• Joined Kingdom of Bavaria
Berchtesgaden Provostry or the Prince-Provostry of Berchtesgaden (German: Fürstpropstei Berchtesgaden) was an immediate (reichsunmittelbar) principality of the Holy Roman Empire, held by a canonry (a collegiate foundation of Canons Regular) led by a Prince-Provost.
The territory comprised the Alpine Berchtesgaden hollow, namely the modern communities of Berchtesgaden, Bischofswiesen, Marktschellenberg, Ramsau and Schönau am Königssee, located in the present-day German state of Bavaria, as well as a number of estates further afield.
The location of the monastery was strategically important. Firstly, it is in an area possessing immensely valuable salt deposits, and was situated in such a way that it was able to act as a buffer state between its much larger neighbours, the Duchy of Bavaria and the Archbishopric of Salzburg, and to make this situation work to its advantage. Secondly, the Berchtesgaden valley is almost entirely enclosed by high mountains, except for a single point of access to the north, and is thus virtually impregnable.
The Berchtesgaden monastery, dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint John the Baptist, was founded in 1102 within the Bavarian stem duchy as a community of Augustinian Canons by Count Berengar of Sulzbach under the directions of the will of his mother, the late Countess Irmgard.
In view of the favourable geopolitical circumstances, the provosts had little difficulty in establishing the territorial independence of the monastery, which became an Imperial abbey in 1194. In 1380 the provosts achieved the status of an ecclesiastical Reichsfürst and from 1559 held a direct vote in the Reichstag assembly as "Prince-Provosts", a rank almost equivalent to that of a Prince-Bishop. The title was one of only two within the Empire: the only other one was at the Swabian Imperial Ellwangen Abbey.
The position of Prince-Provost was frequently held in conjunction with other high ecclesiastical positions, and the provosts often lived elsewhere. From 1594 until 1723, the title and territories were held by the House of Wittelsbach, from 1612 in personal union by the Prince-Archbishops of Cologne, whose cousins ruled over the neighbouring Bavarian duchy. The constant avarice of the archbishops of Salzburg led to clashes of arms in 1611, when the troops of Wolf Dietrich Raitenau occupied Berchtesgaden but were repulsed by the forces of Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria.
In 1802/1803 the provostry and its territories were secularised and mediatised first to the short-lived Electorate of Salzburg, which according to the 1805 Peace of Pressburg fell to the Austrian Empire, and finally in 1810 to the newly established Kingdom of Bavaria. The monastic buildings were used for a while as a barracks, but in 1818 the monastery was designated as a royal residence of the Wittelsbachs, who used it as a summer palace.
Following the end of the Bavarian monarchy, the buildings have been administered since 1923 by the Wittelsbach Compensation Fund (Wittelsbacher Ausgleichsfonds). Some of the rooms are open to the public, while other parts of the building are still used by the Wittelsbachs. The monastic church now serves as the parish church of Berchtesgaden.