Bassum
Community ID
 
1411
 
Alternate Names
 
Bircsinun (937), Birsina (937), Birchisinun (973), Birxinon (1074-1076), Byrsen (1158), Bersen, Brixina (1244)
 
Town
 
Syke
 
Diocese
 
Bremen
 
Medieval Location
 
Largau; in the dukedom of Saxony; in the archdiocese of Bremen.
 
Modern Location
 
near Dipeholz; in the diocese of Osnabrück
 
Corporate Status
 
Abbey
 
Dedication
 
S. Victor and Mauritius (first mentioned in 1289); Mary
 
Date Founded
 
849-865 (circa)
 
Date Terminated
 
still extant
 
Religious Order
 
Benedictine
 
Rule
 
Benedictine
 
Foundation Information
 

The community was founded by the archbishop of Hamburg, Anskar, a few years before his death in 865. The foundation initially consisted of canonesses. According to Adam of Bremen, this was the third new foundation of canons/canonnesses by the archbishop (Asch, 43). The foundation was made on property dedicated by the matron Luitgart for the support of a group of religious women under her direction. According to Heineken, this was the only case in ninth-century Saxony where a bishop established a nunnery within his diocese without his own property serving as the basis for the community (6). The documents suggest in other areas that the bishop was perhaps not directly involved in the establishment of the community (6). The means to found the community came likely in large part from the properties of a noble family (Liutgart's?), as well as from goods which Louis the Pious had given to the Bremen church for pious purposes. The convent was sited close to traffic and trade centers and served as a parish church as well. Although no parish church is mentioned prior to the foundation of this community of canonnesses, Asch finds it likely that one existed (Asch, 44). The original rule and lifestyle of this community is unknown; it is unclear whether this community lived according to the Aachen rule for canonnesses. It does appear that the community adopted the freer lifestyle of canonnesses, as a document from 1069 refers to a lady Gisla, dwelling in Bassum, as a "canonica." The first written mention of the community dates from a document of Otto I (in 937) which granted immunities to Bassum and other communities that belonged to the church in Hamburg. Bassum also appears among the other four communities founded by Ansgarin charters confirming priviledges issued by Otto II (967), Otto III (988), Henry II (1003, 1014), and Fredrick I (1158) (Asch, 44-45). A definite switch to the Benedictine rule occurred under the influence of the Cluniac reform movement and under the direction of Abbess Beatrix, countess of Oldenburg, who served as abbess from 1207-1224. (Her brother, Gerhard was Bishop of Osnabrück and Bishop of Bremen). At this time, strict enclosure was imposed on the women and private property was abolished. By 1290 a papal document of Nicholaus IV referred to the convent as belonging to the Benedictine Order. Nevertheless, F. Bestmann (in his two works on the convent of Bassum) denies that the community ever became a true Benedictine convent. Although he thinks that the community strived towards this goal, he believes it was never truly achieved. He contends that the community remained in practice a house of canonesses; Asch, however, is more inclined to view the conversion to the Benedictine lifestyle successful, citing the number of visitations the community received (Asch, 47). A document from 1417 further reveals that the nuns could not freely leave the convent except in cases where age and infirmity prevented them from performing their daily tasks (Asch, 49).

 
First Members
 

The noblewoman, Liutgart, provided the means for the foundation and became the community's first abbess.

 
Notable Heads
 

Known abbesses of the community are: Liutgart, circa 860; Aila; Richardis, countess of Stade, 1151, 1154; Beatrix, countess of Oldenburg, 1207, 1224; Elisabeth, 1231, 1239; Hethelent (Ethelindis), countess of Lippe, 1244; Salome, countess of Oldenburg, 1244, 1276; Beatrix, 1280, 1290; Sophia, countess of Oldenburg, 1294, 1300; Agnes, countess of Oldenburg, 1301, 1342; Mechthildis, countess of Oldenburg-Delmenhorst, 1343, 1361; Hedwig, coutness of Hoya, 1363, 1365; Gisela, countess of Bruchhausen, 1371, 1378; Sophia, countess of Hallermund, 1378, 1380; Mechthildis von Schlepegrell, 1397, 1403; Gertrud, 1407, 1418; margarete von Stendern, 1427; Margaarethe von Schlepegrell 1427, 1466; Engel Frese 1466-1482; Anna Frese, 1482-1541. Abbess Beatrix, countess of Oldenburg, (1207-1224) was responsible for imposing the Benedictine rule on the community. Under Abbess Anna Frese (d. 1541), a member of the noble Hoya family and the last Catholic abbess, the community experienced an intensive religious renewal. She established a spiritual confraternity with the female Cistercian convent of Gravenhorst in Tecklenburg (Asch, 47). She further sympathized with the movement of the Bursfeld Congregation. Abbess Margaretha von Hoya, the successor of Anna Frese, was instrumental in converting the community to Lutheranism. She was the oldest daughter of the ruling duke of Hoya, and in 1549 she left the community to marry.

 
Population Counts
 

In 1231 the number of women was limited to 50. F. Bestmann believes that this number was limited to an abbess, prioress, 10 canonesses, and 38 students. The limit of 50 sisters (sorores) may also refer to an attempt to convert this community into a regular Benedictine convent. In 1211 a document refers to 10 virgins by name as well as "aliores sorores." Asch believes that the convent could not maintain a number of 50 inhabitants in later periods due to competition from the emergence of numberous other female houses. In 1482 the prioress, 11 nuns, and 4 canonesses elected the new abbess, Anna Frese. In 1517 the names of 16 inhabitants of the convent (excluding the abbess and prioress) are known(Asch, 56).

 
Other Ecclesiastical Relations
 

The community maintained close ties with the archbishops of Bremen, particularly from the fourteenth century. In fact, the convent was subordinate to the archbishop of Bremen in spiritual matters. The archbishop had the right to bestow the advocacy for this community on neighboring noble families as a fief. In the fifteenth century, the convent had close ties to female Cistercian houses, such as Gravenhorst (Asch, 47). In 1410 the Provincial of the Friars Minor in Saxony accepted the convent into its spiritual fraternity (Asch, 49).

 
Visitations
 

The spiritual level of the community seemed to decline in the second half of the twelfth century, causing the archbishop of Bremen to make a visitation in 1185. In this year the provost, Thietmar von Neumünster and archbishop Adalbero, visited the convent and placed the canonesses under a stricter rule of enclosure; contrary canonesses were sent away. Under Archbishop Hartwich (1148-1168), whose sister was elected abbess of Bassum in 1151, the spirit of Cluny entered the community (Asch, 45-46). In 1211 the convent received another visitation from the reform-minded Gerhard, bishop of Bremen, in order to establish the Benedictine rule, with a common dormitory, strict enclosure and the abolishment of all private property, upon the community. Another visitation was made in 1321. In 1287 the Archbishop threatened Abbess Beatrix with the bann unless the community's faults were remedied.

 
Patrons/Benefactors
 

Bassum received most of its landed possessions through donations made by neighboring noble families, particularly the families of Oldenburg and Hoya. The counts von Hoya acted as advocates of the community in the late Middle Ages. In the twelfth century, the convent supposedly chose the Count of Rhoden as its advocate (Asch, 55).

 
Secular Political Affiliations
 

Lay advocates for the community were drawn from the families of the counts of Rhoden (Wunstorf), Oldenburg-Bruchhausen (since 1207), and von Hoya (since the fourteenth century). As advocates of the convent, the counts of Hoya took over the jurisdiction of the convent and its subjects. The convent employed local advocates for its outlying properties (Asch, 55). In 1417 Count Otto von Hoya renounced his protectorate over five farms of the convent in Hassel, Nienhaus, Nienstedt, Kollage, Borstel and took the convent into his protection (Asch, 52). A little is known of the social level of the convent's subjects, who appear as witnesses in the documents. Among the highest levels appear members of ministerial families and knights. They presumably held the position of lower nobility and their number was restricted to approximately five. They were responsible for overseeing the security and order of the convent (Asch, 52-3). Around the turn of the fifteenth century, these families appear to have transformed into ministerial families in Bremen and other cities, where the opportunities for advancement were greater. Another important position was the procurator curie, the administrator of the convent's properties.

 
Social Characteristics
 

Members of the community were presumably drawn from the nobility. Many abbesses of the community came from the relatives of the archbishop of Bremen and from the noble house of Oldenburg (during their period as lay advocates).

 
Relative Wealth
 

The convent appears to have been quite well endowed. From the thirteenth century, documents reflect numerous and generous gifts of landed property, rights of advocacy, tithes, tolls, hides, and houses from the neighboring high and low nobility, particularly the counts of Oldenburg. The convent relied on its agricultural holdings, worked by serfs, as well as tithes. From 1270 on documents refer to financial problems, gifts, and grants of indulgences, which likely stem from the costs of the construction of a new church in the thirteenth century.

 
Assets/Property
 

The basis for the foundation of the community came from the noblewoman, Liutgart and from the archbishops of Hamburg and Bremen, who granted the community properties that had been bestowed on their bishoprics by Charlemagene and Louis the Pious. Unfortunately, no early documents reveal the extent of the community's property. The first mention of the economic history of the convent stems from thirteenth-century documents. The principal holding of the community was a farm in Bassum with about 200 fields. A building inventory from 1583 described this property as an outlying estate with horsestalls and pig styes as well as a bake house and brew house (Asch, 51). The convent also had a water mill nearby. The convent also held other hides which were worked by serfs. In 1321 the serfs were burdened so greatly that they were unable to help with the restoration of the cloister and the abbess had to sell their additional properties in Bettingbühren. The properties were divided into main farms with dependent fields worked by serfs and outlying properties. Most of the properties appear to have been located within the parish of Bassum. One outlying complex lay in Apelstedt and included forest rights (Asch, 52). In 1211 Count Moritz of Oldenburg sold his farm in Nienstedt to the convent with hides and houses in various neighboring villages as part of the entrance of his daughter into the convent. In 1403 the convent alienated its property in Gadesbünden to the dukes of Klencke for life; the need for help from Duke Henry of Braunschweig and Lüneburg in 1503 ensured resulted in the convent's permanent loss of this holding (Asch, 52). In 1295 Count Hildebold of Oldenburg mortgaged to the convent several farms in Ochtum, Lowe, and Gr. Henstedt. The convent agreed to perform masses and vigils for his soul in return. This may also have served as remuneration for his daughter, who dwelt in the convent (Asch, 52). The community held the rights of patronage over the parish in Bassum, but this appears to have been the only one. After the Reformation, Bassum held lower jurisdictional rights in certain areas, although it is unclear whether its jurisdictional rights existed in the medieval period as well (Asch, 55). Quite early on, perhaps in the thirteenth century, the abbess's property was separated from the conventual property, although it is unclear when the abbess began to occupy her own house (Asch, 56-7).

 
Income
 

Despite visitations and attempts to impose the Benedictine rule, records from this community indicate that the canonesses retained private income and property definitely into the eleventh century. Later records (one from the fifteenth century) refer to the women being able to dispose of their private income by a last will and testament. A large portion of the convent's income came from tithes. In 1583 farmers from approximately 30 villages contributed oats and rye (Asch, 52).

 
Other Economic Activities
 

The primary activity of the women in Bassum was their liturgical duties, but they also undertook the education of daughters of the surrounding nobility. As in many other female houses, the women of Bassum engaged in handiwork, but none of the embroidered clothes remain. According to Asch, the women spun, wove, and dyed their own clothes. The convent also had an infirmary, which Asch believes was open to more than just the women of the community (Asch, 56).

 
Literary Works
 

No references to the library or works found in Bassum exists. Apart from one page of the fifteenth-century Missal, now located among the community's archives, none of the works owned by the community are extant.

 
Art & Artifacts
 

Little of the interior decoration of the church remains, although restoration work in the 1960s revealed an altar with a reliquary and shrine in wood, whose gold decoration had been previously robbed. The shrine dates to circa 1150 and is presumed to hold the relics of S. Victor. His altar is refered to in documents dating to 1380 as being in the women's choir. The convent used two seals. The earlier of the two depicts S. Victor in knightly armor with a helmut and lance, a shield with a cross before him, and left a banner, reading: Tenemus ecce [arma], i.e. "Behold we hold weapons in order to avoid fighting." The more recent seal is round and depicts both patrons under a baldachin with two steeples between three pillars. On the right stands S. Mauritius, on the left S. Victor with sword and a shield with a cross. Around the edge it says: Sigillum conventus in Bersen. In addition, a seal of Abbess Salome from 1244 and another from Abbess Gisela from 1373 are extant (Asch, 61).

 
Architecture & Archaeology
 

Nothing is known about the earliest church and conventual buildings; they were likely built of wood. No archaeological work has been undertaken on the site. It is assumed that the first stone basilica construction was begun under Abbess Beatrix before 1220, on the basis of stylistic comparisons to Marienfeld. The choir belongs to this earliest building period. A second building period occurred circa 1230, which apparently intended to create a three-nave, cruciform basilica structure with a "Westwerk" that included two towers. Circa 1260-1270 a third building phase ensued, changing the structure from a basilica to a hall structure with three naves (Asch, 58). The church was constructed in a style reflective of both Romaneque and Gothic styles. The roof was completed in the thirteenth century. These building projects apparently caused the community some financial difficulties. Little reference is made to the conventual buildings and outbuildings, which are no longer extant. In 1240 mention is made of the refectory. A document of 1321 records the rebuilding of the cloister walkway; another refers to lights needed in the infirmary (1207); another document of 1376 refers to the "Kemenade," a heated house of stone within the abbey (Asch, 58). A seventeenth-century plan appears to depict remains of the cloister to the south of the church. In 1327-28 a fire destroyed most of the conventual buildings and a good part of the church. The western towers of the church suffered so much damage that they were not rebuilt. The costly rebuilding continued until 1351. An inventory of 1583 mentions 7 small apartments under one roof (presumably the old dormitory divided into separate rooms)within the community's walls, where the women resided.

 
State Of Medieval Structure
 

The thirteenth-century church still exists, but the medieval conventual and out-buildings no longer remain. Renovation work undertaken in 1866 altered the church and remaining cloister buildings considerably. All the remaining conventual buildings are Post-Reformation.

 
Relics
 

According to the 1450 Chronicom Bremense by Heinrich Wolters, Bishop Adaldag (d. 988) gave the convent the bones of Saint Victor as a gift. It is questionable whether S. Victor and S. Mauritius were revered in the convent from its beginning. However, by 1275, S. Moritz and S. Victor's days were celebrated particularly by the convent. In 1161 the convent received relics of S. Benedict and his sister, Scholastica.

 
Manuscript Sources
 

A large number of unpublished documents reside in the Hauptstaatsarchiv in Hannover: Dep. 75, "Urkunden des Stiftes Bassum 1238-1534" (Documents of the chapter of Bassum); Celle Or. 13 "Urkunden der Grafschaft Hoya" (Documents of the county of Hoya); Celle Br. 72 XXXV: Bassum; Hann. 74 Freudenberg (late medieval); Kollektaneen des Stiftspredigers zu Bassum Hermann Lüllmann (d. 1716) (Collection of the Bassum chapter priest, Hermann Lüllmann).

 
Published Primary Sources
 

[1]Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hamb. pont., MGH, SS, VII, s. 296.
[2]Hoyer, Urkundenbuch 2.
[3]May, Bremen Urkundenbuch.

 
Secondary Sources
 

Die Anfänge der sächsischen Frauenklöster; Verzeichnis der Stifter und Klöster Niedersachsens vor der Reformation; Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands; Bassum
DELLA VALLE, H., Die Benediktinerinnenkloester des Bistums Osnabruck im Mittelalter (Mitteilungen des Ver. f. Gesch. u. Landeskunde von Osnabruc 39, 1916), 143-302.
HILPISCH; BESTMANN, F. Zur Rechts- und Verfassungsgeschichte des adelig-freiweltlichen Stiftes Bassum, Bassum 1955.
FANTINI, R. Die Stiftskirche in Bassum (Niederdeutsche Beitrage zur Kunstgeschichte 6, 1967), 49-102.
DROGEREIT, R. und BESTMANN, F. Bassum (Handbuch der historischen Staetten 2, Stuttgart 1969).
BESTMANN, F. Das Stift Bassum im Rahmen der niedersaechsischen Kirchengeschichte. ED. N. Heutger, Hildesheim, 1972.
BESTMANN, F. Bassum, Kirche und Stift im Wandel der Zeiten, Suhlingen, 1980.

 
Miscellaneous Information
 

The convent also had altars dedicated to Saints Alexius, Anne, Anscharius, Benedict, the holy cross, George, Hieronimus, John, Jodocus, Mary, Maritius, Mary Magdalene, Peter and Paul, and Victor. Despite the community's adoption of the Benedictine ruler, the four positions for canons in the community remained. In 1427 and 1517 differentiations were also made in documents between "sorores professae" (those who had taken vows under the Benedictine rule) and "sorores non professae" (those who had not). It seems likely that the convent continued to retain some elements of the freer lifestyle of canonesses (Asch, 47). In 1350 the county of Hoya was plundered by armies from Bremen in a dispute, leaving neither churches nor convents unharmed. In 1538 the Protestant Reformation was introduced into the community, although it was not firmly established until 1541 and the death of Abbess Anna Frese. Her successor, Margaretha von Hoya, was instrumental in the conversion of the community. The duke decided to permit the community to continue to function as a "free noble chapter" for daughters of the nobility. In the Post-Reformation period, the community continued to function much as it had. Women of the community were required to remain within the community, being permitted to leave for two eight-day periods within the year; they were forbidden from singing "worldly" songs, and the prioress was required to close the community's door by nine at night. The women were to have prayer books and orderly clothing, and they should remain chaste. They were permitted to live in their own homes within the conventual wall (Asch, 50). In 1582 with the death of the count of Hoya, the community came under the influence of the Welf (Guelph) house. As of 1908 the convent continued to function as a noble women's chapter.

 
Clients/Tenants/Other
 

In 1376 Abbess Gisela asked for clarification over the rights of her subjects, which she placed in three social categories: serfs, additional subjects, and those belonging to the convent (Dienstleuten (denstlude), Sonderleuten (sunderlude), and Gotteshausleuten (godeshuseslude)). The judgement returned was that the additional subjectes (Sonderleuten) were less free than those belonging to the convent (Gotteshausleuten). After their death, they must give half of their goods to their overlord (the convent) versus the "Gotteshausleuten," who were required only to turn over their best piece of clothing or best cow. Serfs (Dienstleuten) were responsible for performing certain services to the convent. (Asch, 54).

 
Conversi/ae and servants
 

The convent employed three priests and a subdeacon, who were primarily responsible for performing the mass. In 1317 the Bremen cathedral chapter permitted the abbess to bestow the four with their benefices, provided they were presented to the provost of Bücken, who instructed them in their care for souls. In 1244 the archbishop of Bremen referred to them as secular canons. In 1520 Abbess Anna Frese differentiated between priest who resided in the church and those who did not (Asch, 57).

 
Admin. Notes
 

In 1376 Abbess Gisela asked for clarification over the rights of her subjects, which she placed in three social categories: serfs, additional subjects, and those belonging to the convent (Dienstleuten (denstlude), Sonderleuten (sunderlude), and Gotteshausleuten (godeshuseslude)). The judgement returned was that the additional subjectes (Sonderleuten) were less free than those belonging to the convent (Gotteshausleuten). After their death, they must give half of their goods to their overlord (the convent) versus the "Gotteshausleuten," who were required only to turn over their best piece of clothing or best cow. Serfs (Dienstleuten) were responsible for performing certain services to the convent. (Asch, 54).
Secondary Literature: DELLA VALLE, H., Die Benediktinerinnenkloester des Bistums Osnabruck im Mittelalter (Mitteilungen des Ver. f. Gesch. u. Landeskunde von Osnabruc 39, 1916), 143-302. HILPISCH; BESTMANN, F. Zur Rechts- und Verfassungsgeschichte des adelig-freiweltlichen Stiftes Bassum, Bassum 1955. FANTINI, R. Die Stiftskirche in Bassum (NIederdeutsche Beitrage zur Kunstgeschichte 6, 1967), 49-102. DROGEREIT, R. und BESTMANN, F. Bassum (Handbuch der historischen Staetten 2, Stuttgart 1969). BESTMANN, F. DAs Stift Bassum im Rahmen der niedersaechsischen Kirchengeschichte. ED. N. Heutger, Hildesheim, 1972. BESTMANN, F. Bassu, Kirche und Stift im Wandel der Zeiten, Suhlingen, 1980.

 
Contributors
 
June Mecham
 
Contributors Notes
 

In the documents the women of this houses are variously refered to as: dominae, sorores, moniales, sanctimoniales, conclaustrales, sorores professae and non professae. As in many other female houses, the women of Bassum engaged in handy-work, but none of the embroidered clothes remain. In 1276 there is a reference to a chamberlain, who supervised the clothing and important possessions of the convent. In 1337 mention is made of a sexton, who cared for the altar and liturgy (Asch, 57).

 
Date Started
 
849
 
Length
 
14517