Quedlinburg Abbey

Quedlinburg Abbey (German: Stift Quedlinburg or Reichsstift Quedlinburg) was a house of secular canonesses in Quedlinburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It was founded in 936 on the initiative of Saint Mathilda, the widow of Henry the Fowler, as his memorial . For many centuries it enjoyed great prestige and influence.


History

Quedlinburg Abbey was founded on the castle hill of Quedlinburg in the present Saxony-Anhalt in 936 by Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, at the request of his mother Queen Matilda, later canonised as Saint Matilda, in honour of her late husband, Otto's father, King Henry the Fowler, and as his memorial . Henry was buried here, as was Matilda herself.


The "Kaiserlich freie weltliche Reichsstift Quedlinburg" ("Free secular Imperial abbey of Quedlinburg"), as its full style was until its dissolution in 1802, consisted of a proprietary church of the Imperial family to which was attached a college of secular canonesses (Stiftsdamen), a community of the unmarried daughters of the greater nobility and royalty leading a godly life. The greatest and most prominent foundations of this sort were Essen Abbey, Gandersheim Abbey, Gernrode Abbey, Cologne Abbey and Herford Abbey, in the last of which the young Queen Matilda had been brought up by her grandmother, the abbess.


Thanks to its Imperial connections the new foundation attracted rich endowments and was soon a wealthy and thriving community. Ecclesiastically, the abbess was exempt from the jurisdiction of her diocesan, the Bishop of Halberstadt, and subject to no superior except the Pope. The bishops of Halberstadt were constantly engaged in dispute with the abbesses, as they claimed to have spiritual jurisdiction over the abbey in virtue of subjection of women to men. In her political relations, the abbess was a princess of the Holy Roman Empire, entitled to seat in the College of Princes and a vote at the Diets.


During the Reformation the abbey became Protestant, under Abbess Anna II (Countess of Stolberg).


After the German Mediatisation of 1803 the abbey was taken over by the Kingdom of Prussia as the Principality of Quedlinburg. Between 1807 and 1813 it belonged to the short-lived Kingdom of Westphalia.


Church

The church of St. Servatius is dedicated to Saint Servatius of Tongeren and Saint Denis and is a significant Romanesque building. Construction of the three-naved basilica on the remains of three predecessor buildings began sometime before 997 and finished in 1021. A fire in 1070 caused severe damage. The building was rebuilt in its previous form, and was rededicated in 1129 in the presence of Lothar III. The church contains the architectural feature known as the niedersächsischer Stützenwechsel.


Endowments

Lands

In the first decades after the foundation the community was favoured by numerous gifts of land, particularly from the Imperial family. All later clearances (i.e., of previously uncultivated land) in the immediate vicinity were also theirs, but in addition they acquired far more distant possessions, such as Soltau, 170 kilometres away, given by Otto I in 936.


Among other property the abbey also received the following:


  • In 956 the church of Saint Michael next to the cell of Volkmarskeller (near Blankenburg am Harz) was granted them by Otto I (later refounded by abbess Beatrix II as Michaelstein Abbey)
  • In 974 the locality of Duderstadt in south-eastern Lower Saxony was acquired, which the abbey owned for 262 years. The village of Breitenfeld bei Duderstadt belonged to the abbey until its dissolution.
  • On 3 July 993 a deed of gift was executed by Emperor Otto III granting ownership of Potsdam, of which place this is the first documentary evidence. The deed marks a turning point in the struggle to win back territory east of the Elbe, from which the East Frankish lordship had been driven back by the Slav Uprising of 983.
  • In 999 the provincia of Gera came into the hands of the abbey. In 1209 the abbess appointed the Vögte of Weida as administrators of the territory.
  • The gifts of Emperor Otto I: 936, 25 estates; 937, two estates; 944, one estate; 946, two estates; 954, one estate; 956, 11 estates; 961, 7 estates.
  • The gifts of Emperor Otto II: 974, estates places; 979, one estate; 985, five estates.
  • The gifts of Emperor Otto III: 992, three estates; 993, two estates; 995, four estates; 999, one estate.
  • Later acquisitions totalled more than 150 estates.

Treasury

The abbey also received numerous gifts of precious books, manuscripts and liturgical items, which were stored in the treasury. At the end of World War II a number of the most valuable items were looted by an American soldier, Joe Tom Meador (born 30 June 1916, died 1 February 1980), including the reliquary of Saint Servatius, from the time of Charles the Bald; the 9th century Samuhel Evangeliary (Samuhel Evangeliar); the printed St. Wipert's Evangeliary (Evangelistar aus St Wiperti) of 1513; and a liturgical ivory comb. The stolen items reappeared in 1987 and after much litigation were returned to the abbey in 1993.


Annals

The abbey is also known as the home of the "Annals of Quedlinburg" (Latin: Saxonicae Annales Quedlinburgenses, German: Quedlinburger Annalen), begun in 1008 and finished in 1030 in the abbey, quite possibly by a female writer. Quedlinburg was well suited for gathering information on current political affairs, given its connections to the Imperial family and the proximity of Magdeburg, an Imperial centre. The "Annals" are mostly concerned with the history of the Holy Roman Empire.


Abbesses

Many of the abbesses were buried in the crypt, where their monumental images are preserved.


  • Queen Matilda, later Saint Matilda, founded and led the abbey (but was not abbess) 936-966

Roman Catholic abbesses

Protestant abbesses

Sources

  • Kremer, Marita, 1924. Die Personal- und Amtsdaten der Äbtissinen des Stifts Quedlinburg bis zum Jahre 1574. Leipzig (= Phil. Diss. Univ. Leipzig 1924).
  • Wilberg, Max, 1906, repr. 1987. Regententabellen: Eine Zusammenstellung der Herrscher von Ländern aller Erdteile bis zum Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts. Original edition Frankfurt/Oder, reproduced in facsimile by Transpress VEB Verlag für Vehrkehrswesen, Berlin. ISBN 3-344-00094-2

Building Activity

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