Community ID
Alternate Names
Nuremberg; later the community moved to Engelschalksdorf near Swinach
Niedersachsen (lower Saxony), district Gandersheim
Modern Location
Engelthal; in the governmental district of Mittelfranken; in the administrative district of Nürnberg.
Corporate Status
S. John the Baptist
Date Founded
1240 (circa)
Date Terminated
Religious Order
Dominican by 1248
Rule of S. Augustine by 1248
Foundation Information

The Dominican monastery of Engelthal was based on a beguine community that formed around Adelheid Rotter in Nuremberg. The first community may alternately have belonged to the penitential order of S. Mary Magdalene. It was built on a site donated by Ulrich von Königstein auf Reicheneck in 1240 According to Hindsley, the convent's association with the Dominican order began soon after the election of Diemut of Gailenhausen as prioress; (she was elected on June 9, 1244) (Hindsley, xvii). The original group of women left Nuremberg when Emperor Frederick II was placed under interdict and excommunicated in April of 1240. They found protection from Ulrich II of Königstein, who allowed them to stay on his dairy farm at Engelschalksdorf near Swinach. The initial settlement was hard pressed to survive here, according to its Sister-book. The community followed the rule of S. Augustine and the statutes of the sisters of San Sisto in Rome.

First Members

Adelheid Rotter formed the first community of religious women; she had originally been in royal services and had accompanied princess Elizabeth from hungary to Thuringia in 1211 (Hindsley, xvii). She later gave up this 'sinful' life and began a life as a beguine in Nuremberg.

Notable Heads

The Schenk family had at least seven family members who became nuns of Engelthal- Ursula Schenk of Geyern, Elsbet Schenk of Klingenburg, Anna, Elsbet, another Elsbet, Katharina, and Mari Schenk of Reicheneck, three of whom held the office of prioress a total of six times. In fact, the last Schenk of Reicheneck died in 1458, a nun of Engelthal (Hindsley, xx).

Notable Members/Residents/Guests

The two most reknown personalities are the writers Christina Ebner and Adelheid Langmann. Other known inhabitants are: Adelheid von Trokkau, Diemut Ebnerin von Nürnberg, Anna von Weitersdorf, and Elsbeth Meieerin von Nürnberg. On May 28, 1350 King (later Emperor) Charles IV visited Engelthal and Christina Ebner. That same year, Johann II, the burgrave of Nuremberg, also came to vist her. Henry of Nördlingen, the spiritual father and friend of Margaret Ebner also visited Christina Ebner in 1351 and introduced her to the teachings of Suso and Tauler.

Population Counts

There may have been over 100 women, both choir nuns and lay sisters, in Engelthal. Their number became so great, it was necessary to found a daughter house. Despite the onslaught of the Protestant Reformation, in 1530 there were still 24 choir nuns in the convent.

Priveleges & Papal Exemptions

The community was confirmed by Pope Innocent IV on 20 September 1248 as a Dominican foundation following the rule of S. Augustine. A further papal letter was procured by the prioress, Diemut, on October 10, 1248, which guaranteed the nuns the properties they owned and freed them from interfernce by the noble families who had supported them (Hindsley, xix). The benefactors could thereby make no further claims on the rents or revenues from the lands they had previously donated.

Dependent Communities

In 1269, nuns from the community led by Mechthild Krumpsit began a new monastery at Frauenaurach, Frauenaurach. Frauenaurach in turn prospered and founded the monastery of S. Katharinenkloster in 1295.

Other Ecclesiastical Relations

The nuns originally came under the care of the Dominicans of Regensburg. However, in the inner life and administration of the convent the friars, chaplains and bishop played no role (Hindsley, xix). The sisters had the right to elect their own prioress and the bishop only served to confirm her election. The prioress, who had to be at least thirty years old, then chose her own subprioress and counselors (Hindsely, xix). Mechthild of Magdeburg's The Flowing Light of the Godhead influenced the writers of Engelthal through the connection between Mechthild and Christina Ebner through Henry of Nördlingen, Ulrich of Kaisheim, the nuns of Maria Medingen in Dillingen, and the Freinds of God in Basel (Hindsley, 138).


The site of the monastic community was donated by Ulrich von Königsteim auf Reicheneck. The Schenk family served as patrons of the community and had numerous female relatives as nuns.

Secular Political Affiliations

In 1339 Ludwig der Bayern placed the community under the protection of the Nürnberg magistrate. Kaiser Karl IV consulted with the visionary Christine Ebner in 1350. Christine Ebner's friendship with the priest Heinrich von Nördlingen resulted in documented correspondence between the two from 1338 until circa 1356.

Social Characteristics

The Sister-Book appears to indicate that this was a noble community; they drew from the landed nobility and gentry as well as patrician families from the city and families of the imperial or royal ministerial classes (Hindsley, xxi). The powerful Schenk family had at least seven female family members who entered Engelthal as nuns, three of whom became prioresses of the community. The community also drew several members from the city of Nuremberg. Christine Ebner, the author of the Sister-Book, was the daughter of a Nürnberg city aristocrat. She entered the convent at twelve and became a respected visionary. The Revelations of Adelheid Langman provide detailed information about the social composition of the convent. Adelheid, another famous nun of the community, was the widow of Gottfried Teufel. She received an estate at Happurg from her mother, Mechthild, a citizen of Nuremberg and the widow of Otto Langmann. On June 20, 1339 she purchased an estate at Traunfeld from Henry II Steinlinger from Lauterhofen. In 1350 Adelheid received revenues from a house in Offenhausen, from estates at Ittelshofen, Schmiede, Traunfeld, Happurg, Speikern, and a share in the revenues from another estate in Traunfeld. After Adelheid's death, revenues from Offenhausen were to be donated to the monastery to observe tha anniversary of the death of Sister Kunigunde of Forcheim. Also after her death the rents from Happurg and Speikern would fall to her neices, Gerhaus and Margarete Sachsen, both nuns of Engelthal (Hindsley, 51). Adelheid also states that her aunt dwelled in the convent and had received an office in the community. Her sister Sophia lived as a nun at Engelthal as well. She may also have been related to Elsbet mayer (her goddaughter) and to Gerhaus Mayer, with whom she shared revenues from an estate in Traunfeld. Kunigunde of Forchheim and Elisabeth of Eyb may also have been relatives. There also exists a possible relationship with Christina Ebner (Hindsley, 51). Adelheid lived uninterruptedly within the monastic enclosure from circa 1330 to her death on November 22, 1375.

Relative Wealth

According to the community's sister-book, the initial community performed the agricultural labor themselves. They cut the corn, washed, baked, and performed all the daily chores. The beguines also cared for the sick and poor in the surrounding area (Hindsley, xviii).


After Easter 1243, Ulrich II of Königstein decided to bequeath his entire estate at Swinach to the beguines, while granting them the revenues from the property during his lifetime. His wife, Adelheid, and his daughter, Elizabeth, agreed to this arrangement, and the document was witnessed by Walter of Klingenburg, his son-in-law (Hindsley, xviii). In exchange the nuns prayed in perpetuum for the soul of the founder, his ancestors, and his descendants. Ulrich also expected the nuns to accept unmarriageable daughters and to establish a working scriptorium (Hindsley, xviii). Over the years the convent received gifts of land and dowries from the nuns who entered. The first account book of the monastery, dating from 1312, mentions 175 properties in 54 locations. By 1350 the nuns had added 70 more farms and estates. By the end of the thirteenth century, the monastery possessed almost the entire valley of Hammerbach (Hindsley, xx). The convent also benefitted from bequeaths of land made by the nuns of the convent (for example Adelheid Langmann, see above in social composition).


The community of beguines cared for the sick and the poor of the surrounding area. Sometime between October 1241 and Easter of 1243 the beguines nursed Ulrich III, the grandson of their patron, Ulrich II.


The papal expemtion the nuns procurred on October 10, 1248 guaranteed the nuns the properties they owned and freed them from interfernce by the noble families who had supported them (Hindsley, xix). The benefactors could thereby make no further claims on the rents or revenues from the lands they had previously donated. This led to numerous disputes between the monastery and those benefactors whose daughters had been admitted as nuns. The powerful Schenk family made numerous claims on the revenues of the monastic holdings (Hindsley, xx). Despite the papal bull the Schenk family continued to exact revenues from lands donated to the monastery.

Literary Works

The community produced a Sister-Book.

Architecture & Archaeology

The monastery buildings date from the second half of the thirteenth century. They are located across from the former chapel of S. Willibald, which was consecrated between 1057 and 1060. The monastic church was dedicated in 1265 to S. John the Baptist. The Sister-book mentions an earlier chapel dedicated to S. Lawrence. The monastery consisted of two cloisters, one connected to the chapel for the nuns and another for all the work buildings. The convent had a wall surrounding it with three towered gates, of which two remain (Hindsley, xx). The cloister church originally had a nuns choir, which was replaced with a balcony when the church was redecorated in the baroque style.

State Of Medieval Structure

The monastery buildings are still visible today, although they were rebuilt and redecorated in the baroque style during the sixteenth century. They presently serve as residences, garages, and storage facilities for farm equipment (Hindsley, xxii).

Manuscript Sources

[1] [N2] cod. 1338, 66 fol., the Engeltal Sister-Book, in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuernberg
[2] [W] cod. scot. 308, fol 84r-119v, Benedictine Schottenstift in Vienna
[3] #Cgm 99, in the Staatsbibliothek in Munich
[4] The German National Museum in Nürnberg has a copy of Christine Ebner's Von der Gnaden Überlast, #1338.
[5] The Herzog-August-Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel also possesses a sister-book, written circa 1518, #22. Aug. 4o (3254).
[6] The University library in Erlangen contains a manuscript of Henr. de Hassia's De poententia (15th c.) from the convent, #547.

Published Primary Sources

Der Nonne von Engeltal Büchlein von der Genaden Überlast. Litterarischer Verein in Stuttgart. Ed. Karl Schroeder. Tübingen.

Miscellaneous Information

The nuns built a chapel dedicated to S. Lawrence. During the early fourteenth century Engeltal developed into a much renowned center of spirituality and learning. According to Hindsley, it was probably the foremost center of mystical life in Germany, if not all of Europe (Hindsley, xxi). In the late Middle Ages the community became lax and the nuns were known to ride for sport, and the clister garden was transformed into a stable. Several nuns even bore children. However, in the sixteenth century the nuns from S. Katharinenkloster led a Dominican reform movement and reformed the house, along with several others (Hindsley, xxi). After this reform, the nuns strongly resisted the Protestant Reformation. However, in 1565 the community converted to the Protestant Reformation, after a reform attempt by the Dominican women of Nürnberg S. Katharinenkloster in 1513 failed. In 1565 the last two nuns of the convent transferred the cloister into the possession of the Nürnburg city council. In 1565 the last prioress, Anna Tucher, and the last nun, Ursula Zeissen, had to surrender the monastery and its extensive possessions to the city council. The revenues from the monastery enabled the city to establish a university at Altdorf (Hindsley, xxii).

Manuscripts Produced

Engeltal produced a Sister-Book written after 1328 and generally dated circa 1340, generally referred to as Der Nonne von Engeltal Büchlein von der Gnaden Uberlast. The book gives accounts of individual sisters of the community, listing fifty women, lay brothers and chaplains by name. The convent produced at least six distinct works: a Sister-book of Engelthal, the Vita of Sister Gertrud of Engelthal, the Revelations and Prayer of Adelheid Langmann, the Revelations and Biography of Christina Ebner, and the Gnaden-vita of Friedrich Sunder, chaplain at Engelthal. These text reveal the spiritual and visionary life of the nuns of Engelthal and also reveal their literacy. The nuns appear to have been familiar with the Bible, drawing imagery especially from the psalms and from Revelations. In addition, they reveal a familiarity with the sermons of Bernard of Clairvaux on the Song of Songs, the St. Trutperter Song of Songs, various versions of the Song of the Daughter of Zion, and The Flowing Light of the Godhead by Mechthild of Magdeburg. The convent may have originally had a significant library. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the nuns of Engelthal exercised a strong literary and spiritual influence. They particularly influenced the convents of Pillenreuth and Inzigkoven. The Engelthal catalogue includes a manuscript on the sisters of Weiler, the sister-Book of Kirchberg, and a Sister-Book of a Dominican monastery near Ulm, all of which appear in Manuscript W (Hindsley, 188).

Conversi/ae and servants

lay brothers and chaplains are mentioned

June Mecham
Date Started
Date Finished