FULDA, ABBEY OF: A famous German abbey, founded in 744 by Sturm, a disciple of Boniface, in the district of Grabfeld on the banks of the River Fulda, on land given by Duke Carloman. The modern town, which grew up about the abbey, is in the territory of Hesse-Nassau, 54 m. s.e. of Cassel. Three years after the foundation the church and other buildings were complete, and a large tract of land was under cultivation. Before the constitution was drawn up, the brothers visited older monasteries, Sturm himself traveling through Italy and studying especially the life at Monte Cassino (q.v.). On his return he established his monks under the rule of St. Benedict. Boniface bore a special love to the foundation, and for its greater security obtained from Pope Zacharias a bull placing it under the immediate jurisdiction of Rome. Pepin confirmed the exemption in 753 and promised the special protection of the monarchy as well. Boniface continued his relations with Fulda, and directed that his body should be buried there; it rests in a stone sarcophagus at the present main entrance to the church. Sturm died in 779. The number of the monks and the extent of their possessions steadily increased, and their wealth was admirably employed. The abbey was one of the earliest centers of German ecclesiastical art; numerous churches were built in the surrounding country and enriched with paintings, mosaics, and beautiful vessels and manuscripts. Learning was not less encouraged. The school which was founded, probably almost as soon as the abbey, was the earliest home of theological learning in Germany. It flourished especially under the rule of Rabanus Maurus (q.v.), himself educated at Fulda and abbot from 822 to 842. The education imparted, to boys looking forward to a secular career as well as to future ecclesiastics, included the “liberal arts," grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, physics, astronomy, theology, and the German tongue. Among those who profited by it were Walafried Strabo (q.v.), afterward abbot of Reichenau, Servatus Lupus, Otfried, author of the Krist, and Bernard the grandson of Charlemagne, afterward king of Italy. Charlemagne laid the foundation of a library very considerable for that age, and Rabanus largely increased it. A decline began after his time; later abbots still had a care for learning, but no more great scholars or important works are found issuing thence. The most important author of these later days was Williram (q.v.). After the restoration of the abbey church by Hadamar (installed 948), artistic activity seems also to have fallen off. Meantime discipline was decaying; the reform of 1013 made no lasting improvement. The vigorous rule of Abbot Markward (1150-65) effected a change for the better; but later abbots were largely interested in protecting the property of the community from spoliation by the nobility. In 1513 the neighboring abbey of Hersfeld, where Sturm had made his first settlement, was united with Fulda. The Reformation had no little influence within the jurisdiction of the abbey, and in 1542 a reforming ordinance was wrung from Abbot Philip Schenk which contained some distinctively Protestant elements and permitted the further extension of Evangelical teaching. The Counterreformation was begun in 1573 by Abbot Balthazar, and during the Thirty Years' War the Protestants in the territory came near getting the upper hand several times. The treaty concluded in 1631 between William V. of Hesse and Gustavus Adolphus gave the territory of Fulda to the former as a vassal of Sweden, and he did his best to forward the Protestant cause there; but after the defeat at Nördlingen he was forced to resign his claims to Fulda, and Roman Catholic abbots once more took possession. The settlement of 1803 gave the territory as a secular principality to the Prince of Orange. In 1809 it was incorporated by Napoleon with the grand duchy of Frankfort, occupied by Prussia in 1815 and assigned to the electorate of Hesse-Cassel, with which it became part of Prussia in 1866.
Fulda has a somewhat peculiar history as an episcopal see. In a sense it was a diocese as early as 751, when quasiepiscopal jurisdiction over his territory was granted to the abbot by Pope Zacharias and confirmed by Pepin. The claim was often contested and stoutly upheld during the next thousand years, until Benedict XIV. placed it beyond doubt by formally raising the abbot to the dignity of a prince-bishop in 1752. After the Revolution, the bishopric was restored in 1827, as a suffragan see of the province of the Upper Rhine, though with slightly altered boundaries in consequence of the political changes; and other changes were made by Pius IX. in 1857 and 1871, giving the diocese a Roman Catholic population of about 150,000.