The hermitage in the palace garden, Rastatt Favorite Palace

The hermitage and the Magdalena ChapelThe hermitage

The hermitage, from the French “ermitage,” and the Magdalena Chapel are set off from the main axis of the Rastatt Favorite Palace garden. The pious margravine, Sibylla Augusta, used it as a retreat for prayer and penance. Buildings like this rarely survive.

Aerial view of the hermitage in the garden, Rastatt Favorite Palace

The hermitage.

A religious refuge

The hermitage is a simple structure, austere and unadorned, and therewith quite the opposite of the palace. The small octagonal structure was built between 1717 and 1718 by royal architect Michael Ludwig Rohrer. Parts of the outer wall are decorated with tree bark; on the interior, fake bark is painted on the walls. Hermitages of this sort are a rare example of Baroque piety, of the kind practiced by Sibylla Augusta. She sometimes withdrew here for several days, to pray and do penance.

Wax figures of the Holy Family in the hermitage, Rastatt Favorite Palace

Wax figures of the Holy Family.

The Holy Family

Inside, seven small rooms encircle the central chapel. The atmosphere is mystical. Large wax figures, clothed and with real hair, are on display. The Holy Family sits at a table: Mary, Joseph and Jesus as a young boy. Reports indicate that Sibylla Augusta sometime sat down at their table for a meager meal.

The hermitage architectural style in a drawing by Christian Hirschfeld, 1779
The hermitage in the garden, Rastatt Favorite Palace

The hermitage architecture, drawing by Christian Hirschfeld, 1779, and the modern version in the Favorite Palace garden.

The Magdalena Chapel

The chapel is dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Yellow light from a cupola illuminates the room. Several groups of wax figures depict biblical scenes of Magdalene and Jesus, from the anointing in Bethany to Jesus appearing to Magdalene as a gardener. Her features liken those of Sibylla Augusta! The reclining figure of the deceased Christ, under a simple altar, symbolizes the Holy Sepulcher. Soon thereafter, Sibylla Augusta had a whole series of holy sites based on the life of Jesus erected near her residence in Rastatt.

Portrait of Margravine Sibylla Augusta
Wax likeness of Sibylla Augusta as one of the Maria Magdalena figures.

Wax likeness of Sibylla Augusta as one of the Mary Magdalene figures.

The hermitage in the 19th century

Today, the hermitage is an example of several different periods. Some pieces, such as the flagellation tools and a plain rush, were only added in the 19th century. Ludicrous rumors and myths circulated about Sibylla Augusta at the time; a misunderstanding of her piety. Even the famous author, Mark Twain, found the hermitage eerie!

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