Traces of settlements in the Schmallenberg Sauerland go back to the pre-Christian millennium: on the Wilzenberg, weapon finds and remains of a rampart castle bear witness to settlement traces dating back more than 2000 years. In 1633 a pilgrimage chapel was built here, and in 1891 the 17-meter high iron Wilzenberg tower.
Kloster GrafschaftAt the foot of the Wilzenberg, the Archbishop of Cologne Anno II founded the Benedictine Abbey of St. Alexander in 1072, usually referred to as Kloster Graftschaft. The monastery belonged to the Cluniac reform monasteries and was an episcopal own monastery: it remained politically dependent on the archbishop and thus stabilized and secured the rule of the Cologne archbishops in the Sauerland. In the 12th century it prospered and housed up to 80 brothers. Several artistic and remarkable manuscripts from this period have been preserved. In the 13th and 14th centuries, a secular lifestyle increased among the monks and abbots, and the monastery farms were no longer farmed themselves but leased out. In 1304 the archbishop limited the number of monks to 24 to ensure the economic survival of the monastery. The monastery played an important role in the founding of the town of Schmallenberg, as it contributed to the costs of building the town wall. It subsequently maintained a feudal chamber and tithe barn in the town (today's Zehnthofweg). As the town grew, conflicts with the monastery arose again and again: Above all, the right to occupy the town's parish was disputed, but also the right to use the surrounding forests, the Weide, hunting and fishing rights. After 1507, the problem was aggravated when the monastery no longer employed secular priests in the town, but rather an increasing number of religious friars.
Boom in the early modern times
In 1507, the monastery contained only seven monks; the archbishop therefore initiated a reform in 1508: Monastic life and scientific study were to be encouraged. The monks now increasingly came from middle-class and peasant families, and no longer exclusively from the nobility. Around 1600 there were about 10 monks. As the monastery's agricultural income became scarce, at the end of the 16th century the monks began to devote themselves to iron fabric: they leased iron hammers to Sorpe and Lenne and kept their own supervision and accounts. This work provided considerable income, especially since the necessary raw material, coal, was available in the monastery's own forests. A renewed reform of the monastery administration from 1612 (by Abbot Gabel Schaffen) - financial reorganization, structuring of the daily routine, expansion of the library - led to an upswing, which was reflected in new building activity: new farm buildings, a hospital and, in 1626, a chapel were erected. In addition, the abbots were granted the right by Rome to wear a miter. In 1673 a dispute broke out between the abbot of the monastery and the citizens about the occupation of the parish and the pastorate estates outside the town, in which the monastery won in 1683 (it received the unrestricted patronage right). The monastery chronicle kept since the end of the 17th century shows that the monks held various offices, including teaching in village schools.The construction of the new monastery, which still exists today, took place from 1729 to 1742, and the new church was built in 1738-1743. The farm buildings were erected in 1765 and 1787. The newly built three-aisled hall church was considered the most beautiful church in the Sauerland region of Elector Cologne. To the south of the church a cloister adjoined, to the west of the church the abbot's apartment (attached an archive and in the cellar a brewery and distillery!). In the 18th century the monastery had between 30 and 50 monks.
Heavily damaged and plundered during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), as the Bishop of Cologne supported France in the fight against Hessen and Prussia, the monastery was secularized in 1804: The monks had to leave it. First in Hessian, then Prussian state ownership, it was bought in 1827 by the Barons of Fürstenberg, in whose possession it still is today (without the surrounding forests). The baroque church was demolished in 1832; the agricultural estates continued to be used. In 1948, the religious order of the Borromean nuns, who had fled from Silesia, leased the monastery. They still run it today; the complex also houses the Fachkrankenhaus Kloster Grafschaft, a specialist lung clinic that developed from a convalescent home for miners from the Ruhrgebiet that opened in 1950.
The Alte Mühle
About three kilometers from Grafschaft Monastery, on the Lenne River outside the city limits, is a mill belonging to the monastery that was first mentioned in the 11th century (Nieder- oder Klostermühle; upstream was the Obere- oder Stadtmühle). It supplied the surrounding residents with flour and oil. After a flood in 1961 had filled up the mill ditch, the mill operation was finally stopped in 1961. In 1974, the painter and artist Hermann Falke acquired the Alte Mühle, renovated the building, which partly dates back to the 15th century, and set up a workshop and gallery. Today, the "Freundeskreis Kunsthaus Alte Mühle" organizes exhibitions, vernissages and workshops in the listed building.