S. Maria im Kapitol
Community ID
Alternate Names
Marienstift auf dem Kapitol; sancta Maria in Capitolio; monasterio sanctae Mariae; ecclesia sanctae Mariae; monasterium novum; Neumünster; Maria alta; Maria Malzbüchel; sent Mergen
Medieval Location
Modern Location
Corporate Status
canons and canonesses
S. Maria
Date Founded
circa 689; before 965
Date Terminated
Foundation Information

This chapter of canons and canonesses is first mentioned in the testament of Archbishop Bruno I of 965. The chapter had already been founded at this date, and the archbishop conveyed 100 pounds of silver and other donations to the community in his testament. According to the legend of the community's foundation, it was founded by Plectrudis, the wife of Pipin of Heristal, on the foundations of an earlier Roman fort (capitolium) and royal palace. S. Maria im Kapitol, Romanesque plaque of S. PlectrudisS. Maria im Kapitol, Gothic plaque of S. PlectrudisS. Maria im Kapitol, Gothic plaque of S. Plectrudis (detail) Reputedly, Plectrudis founded the community when she retired to Cologne while Pipin was involved with Alpais. Accordingly, the community would have first been established around the year 689. The Chronica regia also recorded that Plectrudis retired to Cologne in this year and built a church with nuns near her residence. Although the necrology listed Plectrudis as the chapter's foundress, her involvement in the foundation still remains disputed. In order to differentiate the community from the community of S. Caecilia, which was also dedicated to Mary originally, it was referred to as the new monastery (monasterium novum or Neumünster). Alternately, the community was described as Maria alta, on account of its elevated location, or Maria Malzbüchel, after a street of this name located nearby. In the local dialect, the community was often referred to as "sent Mergen." The church was consecrated in 1049 by Pope Leo IX.

First Members

The women of the community were originally referred to as dominae, which seems to indicate their status as canonesses. By 1300 they were also being referred to as sisters (sorores). They were required to bring a dowry.

Notable Heads

An abbess by the name of Wolfereda from Saint Maria im Kapitol was mentioned in 966 by the discovery of relics of Saint Maurinus in the community of Saint Pantaleon. Wolfereda was followed as abbess by Bertrada, the third daughter of the count Megingoz, whose youngest sister Adelheid was the abbess of Vilich. After the death of Bertrada, Adelheid was the leader of both communities. In 1270 a dispute arose between the parish and Abbess Hadewig over the appointment of the parish priest. The appointee of the abbess was later confirmed in the position. In 1299 Abbess Hadewig faced a second dispute with the parish, whose resolution she did not live to see. Abbess Hadewig was followed in office by Abbesses Kunigunde and Imagina. In 1357 Abbess Elisabeth from Katzenelnbogen became involved in a dispute with the knight, Simon of Kempenich, who demanded entrance for his daughter into the community. Reputedly, his son abused the canonesses during this time. The abbess finally turned the matter over to the archbishop.

Notable Members/Residents/Guests

A sister of Pope Leo IX was a nun of this community. In 1330 Petrarch visited the chapter while in Cologne.

Population Counts

The number of canonesses hovered around 24, while only 12 canons were attached to the community. By the eighteenth century, these numbers were reduced to 18 canonesses, 11 canons, and 22 vicars.

Other Ecclesiastical Relations

When the archbishop of Cologne resided within the city, he celebrated the first of three Christmas masses at S. Maria im Kapitol and gave communion to the women of this chapter. This remained the tradition up until 1269. In exchange, the abbess provided the archbishop with a mule, and the prioress gave him a silk purse with three gold pieces. The deaconess provided him with a pair of gloves, and the nun in charge of the treasury gave him a candle. He then travelled to S. Caecilia, where he performed the second Christmas mass, before returning to the cathedral, where the third and final mass was performed. The chapter possessed spiritualities in several chapels, including the chapel of Martin, the Notburgis chapel, the Eulogius chapel, and chapels dedicated to Saint Stephan, Saint Nicolaus, and Saint Benedict. In 1230 Abbess Gerberga decided that the chapel of Saint Martin would no longer be served by a canon of the community, but rather by a secular canon. A document from 1293 recorded that the Abbess Elisabeth was also the abbess of Essen.

Social Characteristics

The canons appear to have been drawn from a lower social status than the canonesses. A reference from 1216 by Abbess Gerbirgis noted the debts of the deceased canons.

Relative Wealth

According to a reference from Archbishop Friedrich II from 1158, the community "flowered abundantly in possessions" (amplissimis quondam floreret possessionibus), but suffered from the unfavorable situation of his day. According to the archbishop, the community's farms in Effern and Fischenich were fallen into ruin and the workers there were no longer able to pay the small fee of 10 denarii. Abbess Adelheid therefore reduced the payment to 2 denarii. The abbess also provided 1 mark from her own income for the establishment of their buildings. Likewise, a reference from 1360 indicated that the community's financial condition was still not very favorable. In this year the nuns from Stoppenberg complained that income owed to them by the chapter of S. Maria im Kapitol had not been paid for 3 years.


The chapter possessed several immunities, and in the thirteenth century it held no less than 6 free farms. Since the community's foundation, it appears to have held possessions near the city of Bonn. Other possessions of the chapter lay around the areas of Godesberg, Kirspenich, Hangelar near Kalkar, Winterswick near Rheinberg, and Sotzheim. The chapter had the right to obtain wood in the location of Kottenforst, in return for which it was obliged to give each of the two foresters a candle of a pound of wax at Candlemas. The chapter's possession were not small, yet its financial situation seems to have never been terribly good (see above).


The community appears to have run a type of home for elderly women, over which the abbess had oversight and was responsible for appointing priests.

Other Economic Activities

In the thirteenth century, the community was active in leasing out houses within the city of Cologne. A document from 1227 arranged the lease of a house near the dormitory for 3 shillings and 6 denarii; another from 1233 leased a house for 2 shillings; and a third documented the lease of a house near the fishmarket for 3 marks yearly in 1248.

Art & Artifacts

Hermann Joseph, a monk in Steinfeld (d. 1236), mentioned an image of the Virgin handing an apple to the Christ child, which belonged to the community. On December 3, 1304 Bishop Heinrich Jonghen consecrated a crucifix with the figure of Christ in the church. A heavily damaged Romanesque statue of the Virgin with the Christ child is preserved within the church. S. Maria im Kapitol, Virgin Mary with Christ child Likewise, two plaques for the burial of S. Plectrudis survive, one in the Romanesque style and another in the Gothic style. S. Maria im Kapitol, Romanesque plaque of S. PlectrudisS. Maria im Kapitol, Gothic plaque of S. PlectrudisS. Maria im Kapitol, Gothic plaque of S. Plectrudis (detail)

Architecture & Archaeology

The romanesque church was consecrated in 1049 by Pope Leo IX. S. Maria im Kapitol, architectural plan In 1434 the church suffered damage during a storm, in which reportedly the lead tiles of the tower were carried across the Rhine river towards the town of Deutz. The tower fell down from age in 1637. The chapter church, and particularly its bells, was frequently used by the city council of Cologne for disseminating information. For example, after the election of a new mayor, a mass was held in the chapter church.

State Of Medieval Structure

The Romanesque structure of the medieval church and a portion of the cloister are still extant, although the structure experienced significant damage during the bombing campaigns of World War II. S. Maria im Kapitol, interior

Miscellaneous Information

The chapter shared its church with the local parish. In 1270 a dispute arose between the parish and Abbess Hadewig over the appointment of the parish priest. The appointee of the abbess was later confirmed in the position. In 1299 Abbess Hadewig faced a second dispute with the parish, whose resolution she did not live to see. In 1275 Pope Gregory X confirmed the ability of the chapter to freely elect its abbesses. The canonesses originally wore no specific habit, but by 1482 the pope prescribed a white cloak for them. The abbess was permitted to wear ermine on her cloak. Towards the end of the fourteenth century, one of the canonesses, Swenholdis von Harff, left the community to marry Gumprecht von Alpen. The community was dissolved in 1803 under the direction of Napoleon.

June Mecham