By the end of the 12th century the first Cistercians monks had settled on the Petersberg. In those times, large parts of the area on the right bank of river Rhine were covered with dense forests, there were almost no safely made up roads and ways.
A tough life on Mount Petersberg
Life was tough, especially during the cold season, and so the monks from the Petersberg asked their superior, the Archbishop of Cologne, for permission to leave and search a new home for themselves, and he agreed.
But where should they go? There had been good reasons to settle on the Petersberg, yet now they planned to leave. They discussed it over and over, but didn’t reach a conclusion. Finally they decided to look for a sign: Brother Matthew, their donkey, had always found a cozy, warm place for himself, now they wanted to trust his instinct. They loaded the chapel’s valuables on the back of the donkey and asked him: “Matthew dear, now run and find a good place for us. At the spot where you lie down, we will settle and build a new monastery.”
Down into the valley
When they were all set to leave, it began to rain. Yet, praying and singing the monks followed their donkey. Leisurely Matthes strolled down the hill, looking here, looking there. Every now and then he stopped, smelled around .. and yet he always went on. Soon the monks were soaking wet and cold. Finally they arrived in a valley north east of the Petersberg.
There were beeches all around, lush grass and a stream ran between the beeches. Suddenly it stopped raining and the sun came out from behind the clouds. Matthew brayed happily, ran to the stream and drank, then he lay down and nibbled on the grass. “Halleluja,” the monks cheered, “thank you kindly!” And on this spot they built a new monastery and called it Heisterbach.
(Heister = Buche = beech, Bach = stream)
The image of the donkey is from the Open Clipart Project