Community ID
Alternate Names
Gernrode am Harz
Medieval Location
Gernrode; in the region of Quedlinburg
Modern Location
Gernrode; in the region of Quedlinburg
Blessed Virgin Mary; S. Cyriacus; S. Matronus; S. Peter
Date Founded
Date Terminated
Religious Order
Foundation Information

The community was founded circa 959-961 by Margrave Gero I on his property. After the death of his two sons, Gero founded this community of canonesses to pray for the salvation of his family. In the charter of foundation issued in 961, memorial purposes are listed as the primary motivation for the establishment of the house. He appointed his daughter-in-law Hathui as the first abbess.

First Members

The first abbess, Hathui, was born circa 936 into the Saxon noble family of Billung. She married Siegfried, the son of Margrave Gero, circa 954. When Siegfried died in 961, Gero appointed Hathui abbess of Gernrode. In 962 her appointment was confirmed by Bishop Bernhard of Halberstadt. Hathui was active in the care and education of the young women who entered this community. She led the community as abbess for 52 years. She successfully reestablished friendly relations between her family and emperors Otto I and II, resulting in her invitation to many imperial celebrations. In 999 Hathui was present at the elevation of Adelheid, the sister of Otto III, as abbess of Quedlinburg. Hathui also served as the head of Vreden since 994, which was founded by her family previously. When Hathui died on July 14, 1014, the canonesses buried her in the church before the altar dedicated to the Holy Cross next to her father-in-law, Gero. According to Thietmar's account, miracles began to occur at her tomb. She thus was honored as a holy woman in Gernrode.

Notable Heads

The first abbess was Margrave Gero's daughter-in-law, Hathui. After the death of Hathui, Heinrich II appointed Adelheid, the sister of Otto III, as her successor in 1014. After Adelheid (d. 1043) followed Hazecha, a decendent of Gero's brother, Siegfried. In this early period, the descendents of Gero's family and families associated with it, particularly the Askan and Wettin families, often assumed the position of abbess within Gernrode. The abbess of Quedlinburg was appointed by Henry I as abbess of Gernrode and its dependency of Frose (McNamara, 198).

Dependent Communities
Dependency Of
Other Ecclesiastical Relations

On a pilgrimage to Rome, Gero conveyed the foundation of Gernrode to the papacy. Pope John XII placed the community under papal authority and transferred control over the community to the bishops of Halberstadt. During the Ottonian period, Gernrode numbered among the most famous Ottonian female foundations, including Quedlinburg, Gandersheim, Essen and Vreden. Gernrode and Quedlinburg had a spiritual consorority, in which they commemorated each community's dead.


In 961 Gero arranged for Otto the Great to accept the community under his protection. Otto also provided the community with legal autonomy (immunity) and the right to freely elect its abbesses and advocates. The convent's extant book of vigils lists over 130 persons for whom the community held vigils.

Secular Political Affiliations

The abbesses of Gernrode had many ties to the imperial family during the Salian, Ottonian, and Staufer dynasties. (See in particular, Abbess Hathui-under First Members). These ties resulted in grants of imperial protection and legal rights, such as immunity and the free election of advocate and abbess. In return the convent provided hospitality to traveling emperors and their dependents. Since Otto I placed Gernrode under his imperial protection on June 17, 961, the canonesses were required to pray for his salvation and that of his sons as well as provide hospitality for the king and his retinue. Few records of imperial visits are recorded. Only records of Kunigunde, wife of King Henry II, as well as visits by King Henry V and Emperor Frederick I are recorded. Queen Kunigunde visited Gernrode on Palm Sunday of 1004 accompanied by Archbishop Taginos of Magdeburg and Thietmar, future bishop of Merseburg. She celebrated Mass with Abbess Hathui and then traveled on to Madgeburg. From the end of the twelfth century, the Saxon advocates from the house of the Askan, later the princes of Anhalt, assumed the position of protectors over the community in place of the king. From November 20-25, 1188 Emperor Frederick Barbarossa held court in Gernrode. In addition to issuing three manuscripts, he granted a bell to the church in Gernrode, presumably the bell still preserved at the church of St. Stephan. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the abbesses again tried to establish imperial privileges for their community. Sigmund, Frederick III, Karl V, Maximillian II, and Rudolf II all confirmed the rights of the community and the appointment of its abbesses.

Social Characteristics

The community served as a burial place for members of Gero's family. In Gernrode and Frose the canonesses' privelege of eating meat and cheese was recorded in a document issued by Emperor Otto II. Such a privilege indicates the canonesses' aristocratic origins. White habits (albis vestibus) are indicated for Frose and probably were also worn by the canonesses at Gernrode.

Relative Wealth

Gernrode and Frose were among the richest land holders in the Eastern Harz region.


Margrave Gero I endowed the community with the city of Geronisroth, the villages of Badeborn, Greater and lesser Alsleben, Osteregeln, Westeregeln, and Groningen at its foundation. After his death, Gernrode and Frose inherited all his possessions and holdings. Circa 1200 the community drew up a manuscript listing all its rights of ownership, dependencies, and holdings. According to this manuscript 24 entire villages, 21 churches, and nearly 400 hides of land belonged to the communities of Gernrode and Frose. Although the manuscript is a forgery (it purports to be a document issued by Margrave Gero in 964), it was accepted and strengthened by Pope Innocent III and was accepted as the truth thereafter. Although the manuscript does not record Gero's original bequest, it does reflect the communities' holdings circa 1200. At the height of their wealth, the communities of Frose and Gernrode held approximately 1,000 hides of land (11,000 hectares), comprising woodland, vineyards, fish ponds, and grazing. From the thirteenth century on, the community suffered from debts, poor management by its abbesses, divisions within the chapter, the poor economic conditions of the later Middle Ages, and the aggressive territorial politics of the archbishop of Magdeburg and the bishops of Halberstadt. The community gradually lost both goods and tenants. By 1544, its possessions encompassed only Gernrode itself, 5 villages, and some abandoned fields.


Since the eleventh century the property of Gernrode was divided between the abbess, the canonesses, and the other inhabitants of the chapter. The canonesses administered only a small portion of their land holdings directly. They leased the lands to dependent farmers in return for rent payments and services. The majority of the community's land was loaned in fief to vassals and members of ministerial families.


In 1325 a school mistress (scholastica) is mentioned.

Other Economic Activities

A document issued on August 5, 1352 recorded a donation of 30 Marks to the community by two of its canonesses, Agnes de Merwitz (referred to as a deaconess, decana) and Margareta de Warin (referred to as a concanonica) in order to rebuild a deserted home located close to the dormitory, which should serve as the summer dormitory.

Literary Works

No evidence of a scriptorium having existed at Gernrode has come to light. Abbess Hathui, however, did commission a life of Saint Cyriacus from a cleric named Nadda.

Art & Artifacts

The church paintings were added in the thirteenth century and restored in 1864. The painting in the east apse depicts Christ Pantokrator, i.e. he is seated on a throne, holding the book of life, reigning over heaven and earth. The figures depicted beneath him are the saints of the church and at the lowest level, the founder Margrave Gero, his sons and brother, and the first abbess. These murals were rather "freely" restored in the nineteenth century; it is unclear how accurate they are as representations of the original thirteenth-century images.Gernrode, church of S. Cyriac (interior) The baptismal font of Saint Cyriac at Gernrode was created circa 1150. The images carved around the baptismal depict the birth, death, and ascension of Christ. Gernrode, church of S. Cyriac, baptismal The holy sepulcher in the church of Saint Cyriac in Gernrode is located in the southern aisle of the nave. It was created circa 1060-1080, perhaps extended and completed no later than circa 1130. Gernrode, church of S. Cyriac, Sepulcher Written references to the sepulcher first appear in the mid-fifteenth century. The sepulcher was presumably used in conjunction with Easter plays and processionals; one from Gernrode, dating from 1502, is still extant. On Black Friday the cross was carried to the grave and deposited within it (Depositio). On Easter morning it was raised again from the grave by the canons (Elevatio). Then followed a re-enactment of Christ and the three Marys at the Grave (the Visitatio), performed by the canons and canonesses. The performance ended with a procession. The north wall of the sepulcher depicts the symbols of the Evangelists; next to this is portrayed the journey of Peter and John to the grave. Continuing on the northern side of the sepulcher depicts the meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalene (the Noli(te) me tangere scene). Over this scene is the (presently decapitated) figure of Christ as God the father with the book of life and his hand raised in blessing. Gernrode, church of S. Cyriac, Sepulcher (detail of northern wall) The west wall of the sepulcher contains the most sculptural decorations. The top contains a frieze with animals, vines, fruit, and leaves; in the middle stands a female figure between two pillars, perhaps the lamenting Mary as in John 20:11 "she stood outside before the grave, weeping." In the middle of the frieze is an image of the lamb of God with a nimbus and cross to each side are depicted Moses with the laws and John the Baptist. Many of the animals depicted are symbolic representations of Christ; a Pelican and Giffon, a Lion and Stag all appear. Below them are depicted: a bear, followed by a basilica, two birds next to the tree of life, a hare and a rooster, and finally a goose (?). Gernrode, church of S. Cyriac, Sepulcher (detail of the western wall) Sculptural reliefs also decorate the inside of the sepulcher. A large niche in the southern wall, surrounded by two pillars, probably served as the grave. In the course of expansion, this was relocated to the northern wall of the sepulcher. Two guardian angels and the three Marys are depicted around the grave opening. Across from the entrance is the sculpture of a figure with a pallium, which may be a bishop or perhaps another depiction of a triumphant Christ. The pillars seem to indicate a construction date of circa 1100.

Architecture & Archaeology

Few details of the building history survive. Presumably, the building first began as early as 959, but the date of its consecration is unknown. The oldest part of the church is the eastern crypt with the choir above. A Westwerk with three towers was presumably erected during the abbacy of Hathui in the tenth century. The church's appearance circa 1000 would have been different than it exists today. The interior would have been smaller, primarily because of the inner wall of the Westwerk. The interior was presumably painted. Under abbess Hedwig III (1118-1152) the western portion of the church was rebuilt. Two side aisles were added, and the outer cloister was completed. The church is a three-naved basilica with a short transept. The eastern portion of the church is the oldest and remains largely original. Gernrode, church of S. Cyriac The western portion of the church, however, underwent changes in the mid-twelfth century. These changes resulted in the canonesses' use of a southern choir for their daily prayers and hours. A larger square tower originally sat between the two round towers, which were smaller and served as towers for the staircases. Circa 1130, this tower was removed and the two side towers were built higher and given pointed roofs. Between the two towers are housed the two bells of the church.Gernrode, cloister The cloister was built circa 1170, as was the corridor along the southern side of the church. Gernrode, cloister (detail) Gernrode cloister (interior) Gernrode, capital (detail) The west crypt, built circa 1130, is vaulted and supported by eight pillars. Three windows with rounded arches, located in the western wall of the crypt, provide light. This western crypt was first mentioned in 1149. According to a reference circa 1300, it held the relics of Saint Metronus. Gernrode, church of S. Cyriac (crypt) To preserve the relics of Saint Cyriacus, a holy grave (confessio) was built in the East crypt of the church. Another holy sepulcher existed by the eleventh century in the south aisle of the nave (see Art/Artifacts above). A dormitory was first mentioned in 1352. A document issued on August 5, 1352 recorded a donation of 30 Marks to the community by two of its canonesses, Agnes de Merwitz (referred to as a deaconess, decana) and Margareta de Warin (referred to as a concanonica) in order to rebuild a deserted home located close to the dormitory, which should serve as the summer dormitory. A refectory is first mentioned in 1344, when the election of the abbess was held there. It appears that the community did not have a chapter house but used the refectory for assemblies. The canonesses in Frose obtained permission from Emperor Otto II to live in individual dwellings. The canonesses of Gernrode may have also had personal rooms that they used, at least during the daytime. The community's liturgical books and objects along with the archive were preserved in the sacristry, located in the choir of the northern transept.

State Of Medieval Structure

The church of the community with a portion of the cloister still exists. It stands as one of the best preserved examples of Ottonian architecture in Germany, although the church has been rebuilt and restored several times.


Gero brought an arm bone from Saint Cyriacus and a unspecified bone relic of Saint Matronus back to the community after his pilgrimage to Rome. (The relics may have been stolen or it is possible that they were given to Gero by Bishop Rathers of Verona if he was present at his consecration in 961. The "theft" of the relics was not discovered in Verona until January 27, 962). Matronus was a layman who lived in the tenth century in Verona. The veneration of Saint Matronus is confined to Verona and Gernrode. An altar dedicated to Saint Matronus was dedicated in the western choir. A fifteenth century breviary contains the only complete office for the celebration of Saint Matronus as well as a brief vita. The breviary was commissioned in 1487 specifically for use in Gernrode. These relics were taken away during the Reformation. The first abbess, Hathui, was honored as a holy woman, over whose grave miracles occurred, within the community.

Manuscript Sources

Since the tenth century, the community had at least a small library. In 1500 the medieval library was disbanded. A few liturgical manuscripts are still extant. After 1530 a new library was assembled. This library is preserved largely in tact in the Anhaltischen Landesbucherei in Dessau. A lectionary and antiphonals, the vigil book, a breviary, and a processional (all dating to the fifteenth century) are among the extant works. The Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz preserves a processional from the community, later held in Quedlinburg, (dating circa 1502), #Mus. 40081. It is this manuscript that preserves the Easter play and processional. This manuscript was discovered by Walter Lipphardt in 1972. This library also preserves a theological manuscript from Eppenberg, #Theol. lat. 4o348. The City library in Dessau contains two manuscripts from the house, #BB 3613 and #BB 3944 "De matrimonio non c(on)trahendo" (c. 1454). The Herzoglisches Gipskammer in Dessau contains two works that belonged to the community: a tenth-century Bible, (#Bruchst. 2); and a manuscript of Hrabanus Maurus's "In Leviticum" (10th c.), which deals with the sexual regulations set forth in this text, (#Bruchst. 3). Some documents from the community are held in the archive for Anhalt (Anhaltisches Gesamtarchiv). A book of vigils from the community is still extant, which lists more than 130 persons for whom the canonesses held vigils. This is preserved in the Anhaltisches Gesamtarchiv. A commentary on the Psalms, created in the tenth century at the community of Essen, later came into the possession of the canonesses. It may have arrived at Gernrode by means of Abbess Hathui or Adelheid. The manuscript indicates that the canonesses were actively teaching the psalms in the tenth century.

Miscellaneous Information

From 1521 until 1610 the community continued as a noble women's chapter, although it had ceased to follow the regulations of the Benedictine order. The last abbess of the community, Sophia Elisabeth von Anhalt died in 1604. In 1616 the princes of Anhalt divided the protectorship and possessions of the community among themselves.

Manuscripts Produced

A processional from the sixteenth century, a Bible from the tenth century, and a tenth-century manuscript by Hrabanus Maurus are some of the more notable survivals from the convent's libary. (see manuscript sources)


Tenants of the community provided yearly from one to six days of service, as well as hunting and transport services to the community. From the thirteenth century on, these service requirements could be exchanged for a monetary payment to the community. Due to the plagues and famines of the fifteenth century, Gernrode had difficulty finding people to work its land, and the abbess and chapter had to lower their expectations and demands in order to attract new tenants. Traditionally, the community demanded payments at the death of its vassals. A peasant farmer from either Alsleben or Alikendorf was required to turn over half of their property to the abbess and chapter upon death. It was traditional at the death of the man to convey the best chattel to the community, at the death of the woman, the best dress. The death taxes of the Gernrode canonesses were greater than most. In 1525 the dependents of the community revolted against an increase in fees and services, but they were not successful against Abbess Elisabeth von Weida. The abbess appointed administrators to oversee the community's agricultural land. Although little is known about the duties of these appointees, by the thirteenth century, these positions were hereditary. Members of powerful ministerial families competed for these positions. The position of advocate for the community was particularly important and lucrative, and the local nobility competed for this positon. From the twelfth century, the Askan family and the counts of Ballenstedt controlled the advocacy for Gernrode as a hereditary right. Despite attempts by the abbesses to regain control over the advocacy, they were not able to do so.

Conversi/ae and servants

The canons of the community dwelt in their own apartments outside of the confines of the chapter.

Admin. Notes

This community was founded as a dependency of Quedlinburg in 961?

June Mecham
Contributors Notes

The convent's library was transferred to Bernburg in 1662 and to Dessau in 1715.
An excellent website in German provides information and images about this community:

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Date Finished