BERLIN (AP) — Bavarian Catholic church authorities said Thursday they have closed Germany's last Bridgettine Order abbey at the request of the Vatican — renewing concerns about what will happen to the property, including a precious library, which now goes to the local diocese.
Altomuenster Abbey, near Munich, holds a collection of some 500 books, including illuminated manuscripts from the 16th century, chants used by the uniquely women-led Bridgettine Order and processionals.
Since the Vatican ordered the dissolution of the abbey at the end of 2015, the library and the order's collection of 2,300 statues, paintings and other works of art have been kept under lock and key.
The Franciscan nun the Vatican put in charge of the abbey's closure, Sister Gabriele Konrad, has said they're simply being kept secure. But top Bridgettine scholars have worried that the library — estimated to hold some 80 percent of all known Bridgettine books — might be split up or damaged. They have collected nearly 2,000 signatures urging the Munich-Freising diocese to preserve it for research.
In announcing the closure of Altomuenster, Munich Vicar General Msgr. Peter Beer sought to allay those fears. He said that all books dating from before 1803, the year of secularization in Germany when principalities took most church properties, would be digitized and made publicly available.
"In consultation with the Bavarian State Library, they will be made fully available online over the course of 2017," he said.
He says the abbey itself will remain "a spiritual place" but specific plans haven't been made.
Volker Schier, a Bridgettine scholar who teaches at Arizona State University and was one of the instigators of the petition, said it remains unclear whether the collection of books will be kept together, if researchers will get access to the physical books, and whether the conservation and preservation will meet established standards.
"The answers are very vague ... and it is unclear how scholars will get access and when," he said in an email to The Associated Press.
Since 1496, the former Benedictine abbey in Altomuenster has housed a female religious order founded by Saint Bridget in Sweden in the 14th century. It was one of three monasteries of the original branch of the scholarly, monastic order operating today.
The Vatican in 2015 ordered Altomuenster closed after the number of nuns fell to two, too few to train novices. One of them lives in a nearby retirement home.
The last Bridgettine nun living in the abbey, Sister Apollonia Buchinger, has fought over the last year to keep the abbey open, and it was not immediately clear whether she would try to appeal the decision to close it.
The Vatican's representative, Sister Gabriele, said she was trying to find a solution for the last Altomuenster nun to "continue her spiritual life" elsewhere.