Community ID
Medieval Location
on the Ruhr River;
S. Cosmas, S. Damian, S. Mary, holy Trinity
Date Founded
850-860 (circa)
Date Terminated
Religious Order
Benedictine (see foundation field)
Foundation Information

This convent was co-founded by Altfrid (Bishop of Hildesheim) and the abbess Gersuit. Altfrid used his own property. He retained a voice in the administration of the convent property; the convent's use of this property was confirmed by the bishops and archbishops assembled in Cologne (Heineken, 36-37). Altfrid had been a monk, so it is possible that the convent was founded as a Benedictine community (Heineken, 37). Although the authenticity of the foundation document is disputed, the following facts can be ascertained: Bishop Altfrid founded a church within his own property dedicated to the saints Cosmas, Damian, and Mary. He gathered together a congregation of religious women, for whom he provided sustenance and provided a "mother." The convent appears to have followed regulations for a common life (Heineken, 43). The synod of Cologne may have been called upon to confirm the foundation, but the community had no tie to the church in Cologne. According to Kramer, the community operated as a noble women's chapter from circa 845/852 until 947. In 947 it became a free imperial foundation and existed until 1803.
The monastery was on the Ripuarian border in the diocese of Cologne, but remained, according to Essen in Ottonian Times: A Women's Convent as Symbol of Power and Proximity to the Royal Court, Saxon in orientation in the Early Middle Ages. See also map">">map, from Angus Mackay, Atlas of Medieval Europe, p.36).

After a short period during which it was owned by the bishop of Hildesheim as an "Eigenkloster", Essen held the position of an Ottonian family convent and was one of the leading Saxon communities of females religious next to Gandersheim and Quedlinburg. [In the year 987 ( MGH DOIII, Nr.32) the emperor Otto III. granted the women community Vilich, near Bonn, the status: ad legem et ad regularem ordinem ceterorum monasteriorum in nostro regno degentium, scilicet Quidlingeburg, Ganderesheim, Asnithe. Over and over again these three communities were mentioned at the time as a unity in connection with the Ottonian family.]

How this monastery in Essen got in contact with the Liudolfingian family, is still unclear. But at the latest by the middle of the 10th century Essen was governed by members of the Ottonian family."

Notable Heads

1. Mathilde of Essen ( ca. 973 b- 1011)
Mathilde, daughter of duke Liudolf and Ida of Swabia, was born in 949 and given to the convent of Essen at an early age. In 966 her grandfather Otto I. granted a farm to Essen, and it seems possible that this was the date of her official taking the veil. When Mathilde became abbess is not known, but in 973, when Otto II. was crowned, she was already leading the community of Essen and was able to get a certification of the rights of Essen in a few weeks. Mathilde died in 1011, her death is announced in the Annales of Quedlinburg (MGH SS III, S.80).

2. Sophia of Gandersheim (1012-1029)
After the death of Mathilda her cousin Sophia, daughter of Otto II. and already abbess of Gandersheim, took over the community of Essen too. She may have reside primarily in Gandersheim, at least she is not known as a donator to Essen. But she made every effort to clarify the rights of Essen to the tenth. Sophie died in the year 1039.

3. Theophanu of Essen (1029 - ca. 1058)
Sophia was followed by her niece Theophanu, daughter of earl Ezzo and princess Mathilda. One of her brothers was archbishop Herimann of Cologne. Theophanu saw herself first of all as granddaughter of the Byzantine princess and roman empress of the same name: she was an "Ottonian abbess in Salian times".
See Essen in Ottonian Times: A Women's Convent as Symbol of Power and Proximity to the Royal Court

Literary Works

A scriptorium existed at this house. A commentary on the Psalms, created in the tenth century at the community of Essen, later came into the possession of the canonesses at Gernrode. The manuscript indicates that the canonesses were active in teaching and manuscript production.

Early Documents

The authenticity and date of the document recording Altfrid's foundation is disputed by scholars. The existing document was likely not written prior to the eleventh century. It is not a uniform work; the document records the foundation of the community and the grant of privileges to the community, but these two items have no internal connection. The existing document may be based on an earlier document (Heineken, 37-41). See also Die Gründungsurkunde der Frauenkommunität Essen - eine Fälschung aus der Zeit um 1090

Art & Artifacts

The lectionary (Evangeliar) held in the John Rylands University Library contains an image (folio 17r) that depicts Abbess Svenhild, who donated the Evangeliar and Brigita. Both wear a white and green veil, but it is unknown whether this image accurately depicts the habit of the women of Essen or is merely poetic licence.

Manuscript Sources

Numerous manuscripts survive from the community's library.

The Library of the Art Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio contains a fragmentary Missale pro defunctis (Missal for the deceased) from the twelfth century from the convent, # 1 (1914.47).

The University library in Düsseldorf has numerous holdings, including: a Bible from the ninth century, #A 6;
a manuscript of the Epistles of Paul, (8-9th c.), #A 14;
Augustine's De trinitas (15th c.), #A 15;
Alcuin's In Genes. (8-9th c.), #B 3;
Alcuin's Super Joh. (10th c.), #B 4;
Augustine's Excerpta (10th c.), #B 8;
Bernard of Clairveaux's Sermons (15th c.), #B 36;
Regestrum Gregorii M. (9th c.), #B 79;
Gregorius M, Homelies (10-11th c.), #B 80;
Hrabanus Maurus' De instit. cler. (10th c.), #B 113;
Hugo de S. Victore, De claustro animae (13-14th c.), #B 140;
Joh. de Grüningen's Sermons (15th c.), #B 165;
Jacques de Voragine's Legenda aurea (14th c.), #C 6;
Greg. Turon (15th c.), #C 11;
Lud. de Saxonia (1432), #C 14;
a Liber ordinarius (15th c.), #C 47;
Sacram. (868/72), # D 1;
Sacramentar. (10th c.) #s D 2-3;
Missale des Johannesaltars (12th c.), #D 4;
Dion. Exiguus, Collectio canon, (9th c.), #E 1;
Goffrey de Trano (14th c.), #E 6;
and a manuscript of Prudentius (10th c.), #F 1.

The Hauptstaatsarchiv in Düsseldorf contains a fragmentary ninth-century manuscript from the community, # abgel. Perg. Nr. 6.

The Münsterarchiv in Essen also contains several manuscripts from the community, including:
a liber fraternit. BMV (1326), # 488;
a Liber ordinarius (14th c.), #489;
statuta (c.1400), #490;
Consuetud. (14-15th c.), #491;
a Liber memorialis (13-14th c.), #511;
another Liber memorialis, (1488-89), # 512;
Consuetud (14th c.), #518;
a Vita frater OP (1450), written by Katharina van Wesel, #598;
an Antiphonal (15th c.), #599.

This archive also contains:
five Missals from the community, #s Miss. Assind. 1, 4,and 6-8 respectively, dating approximately from 1480-1506.

An Evangeliar from the ninth century in this archive is no longer extant and presumably lost.

The Münsterschatzkammer in Essen contains the following works:
Evv. (8-9th c.);
an Evangeliar (11th c.);
Evv. (10th c.);
and a psalt. quadruplex (9-10th c.), all sine numero.

The Ruhrland-und Heimatmuseum in Essen contains:
a fragment of a Gradual (14-15th c.), sine numero,
and a Missale de Georgsaltars (14th c.), #Inv. Nr. 384.

A Fundatio from the 15-16th c. is held in the British Library in London, #Add. 30996.

The John Rylands University Library in Manchester contains an Evangeliar from the 11th c. from this community, #Lat. 110.

The Staatsbibliothek in Munich possesses a manuscript from this community, #Clm 10077.

A Canon missale from the 13th c. is held in the Free Library in Philadelphia in the J. F. Lewis Collection, #30.

A commentary on the Psalms, created in the tenth century at the community of Essen, later came into the possession of the canonesses at Gernrode. The manuscript indicates that the canonesses were teaching the psalms.

Miscellaneous Information

A tenth century letter from a female student in Essen reveals that she was instructed in grammar, reading and singing by two canonesses. The letter reads: "Domina magistra felhin date mihi licenciam in hac nocte vigilare cum magistra adalu et ego vobis ambabus manibus confirmo atque iuro ut per totam noctem declinare volo aut legere aut pro seniore nostro cantare Valete et ut peto facite" The manuscript is held in the university and regional library in Düsseldorf, Ms. B 3, fol. 305v.

Manuscripts Produced

This community evidently had an extensive library and the extant works from the house date back to the ninth century. The existing manuscripts include several Missals and sacraments, two memorial books, the statutes and constitutions of the community, as well as works by Augustine, Alcuin, Hrabanus Maurus, Bernard of Clairveaux, Gregory M., Hugo de S. Victore, Jacques de Voragine, Dionysius Exiguus, Prudentius, and Goffr. de Trano. (see manuscript sources)

Admin. Notes

Obtain image of lectionary page with abbess Svenhild.
Add Bodwaré information - CF

June Mecham
Date Started
Date Finished