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HERSFELD, a town of Germany, in the Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau, is pleasantly situated at the confluence of the Geis and Haun with the Fulda, on the railway from Frankforton-Main to Bebra, 24 m. N.N.E. of Fulda. Pop. (1905) 8688. Some of the old fortifications of the town remain, but the ramparts and ditches have been laid out as promenades. The principal buildings are the Stadt Kirche, a beautiful Gothic building, erected about 1320 and restored in 1899, with a fine tower and a large bell; the old and interesting town hall (Rathaus) and the ruins of the abbey church. This church was erected on the site of the cathedral in the beginning of the 12th century; it was built in the Byzantine style and was burnt down by the French in 1761. Outside the town are the Frauenberg and the Johannesberg, on both of which are monastic ruins. Among the public institutions are a gymnasium and a military school. The town has important manufactures of cloth, leather and machinery; it has also dyeworks, worsted mills and soap-boiling works.

Hersfeld owes its existence to the Benedictine abbey (see below). It became a town in the 12th century and in 1370 the burghers, having meanwhile shaken off the authority of the abbots, placed themselves under the protection of the landgraves of Hesse. It was taken and retaken during the Thirty Years' War and later it suffered from the attacks of the French.

The Benedictine abbey of Hersfeld was founded by Lullus, afterwards archbishop of Mainz, about 769. It was richly endowed by Charlemagne and became an ecclesiastical principality in the 12th century, passing under the protection of the landgraves of Hesse in 1423. It was secularized in 1648, having been previously administered for some years by a member of the ruling family of Hesse. As a secular principality Hersfeld passed to Hesse, and with electoral Hesse was united with Prussia in 1866. In the middle ages the abbey was famous for its library.

See Vigelius, Denkwurdigkeiten von Hersfeld (Hersfeld, 1888); Demme, Nachrichten und Urkunden zur Chronik von Hersfeld (Hersfeld, 1891-1901), and P. Hafner, Die Reichsabtei Hersfeld bis zur Mitte des I3ten Jahrhunderts (Hersfeld, 1889).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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