Community ID
Medieval Location
Vilich is located at the confluence of the Rhine and the Sieg and the convent lay on the eastern side of the Rhine.
Modern Location
The community lay on the eastern side of the Rhine River, directly across the river from the modern city of Bonn.
Corporate Status
Cornelius, Cyprian, Peter (dedicated in Vilich III circa 1020)
Date Founded
circa 980
Date Terminated
September 4, 1802
Religious Order
Foundation Information

The abbey of Vilich was founded circa 980 by Megengoz and his wife Gerberga. They used their manor as the basis for the new foundation. Their youngest daughter, Adelheid, became the community's first abbess. Gerberga "redeemed" Adelheid from the convent of S. Ursula in Cologne where she had been educated and was dwelling with a gift of land. Gerberga wished initially to found a community of Benedictine nuns, but Adelheid desired the less strict life of a canoness. The initial community was thus created as a community of canonesses, a rather late foundation for such a community, and did not initially adhere to the Benedictine rule. With the death of Gerberga (sometime around 996) Adelheid and the canonesses of Vilich decided to adopt the stricter Benedictine rule, perhaps in memory of Gerberga's initial wish. Abbess Adelheid was not completely successful in this change and her chapter refused to agree. She even lost some of her canonesses. Supported by her sister, Abbess Bertrada of Santa Maria in Cologne, Adelheid eventually turned Vilich into a Benedictine nunnery. The founders built the original church and convent as well as procured a charter of immunities modeled on those of the imperial abbeys of Quedlinburg, Gandersheim, and Essen from Emperor Otto III and his mother Theophanu. The immunities gave the community of Vilich the right to freely elect their abbess, and no judges or advocate could intrude on the convent without the permission of the abbess and the congregation. One charter mentions that the abbess ought to be a member of the founder's family, but this ceased to be the case after the second abbess. The abbey ceased to exist as a community on September 4, 1802 and its lands and possessions went ot the princely house of Nassau-Usingen.

First Members

The first abbess was the youngest daughter of the founders, Adelheid (c.970-1015). Adelheid was at the convent of Saint Ursula in Cologne when Vilich was founded, and it may be likely that Gerberga drew the first members of the community of Vilich from this convent. Adelheid converted the community of canonesses circa 1000 to the Benedictine rule. When her sister died in 1002, Adelheid also assumed leadership of the convent of S. Maria im Kapitol in Cologne. Adelheid was famed for her care of the poor and was held in high regard by both the people and rulers of the region. Adelheid later became a saint, and her vita was written by a young nun of the convent, Berta/Bertha.

Notable Heads

The first abbess, Saint Adelheid of Vilich, made the community a popular pilgrimage site. Her well is supposed to cure eye diseases. She was succeeded by her niece, then Mathilda, daughter of Ezzo of Aachen.

Notable Members/Residents/Guests

The family of Adelheid of Vilich had ties to the Ottonian ruling house. Members of the Vilich founding family were close relatives to Otto III and Empress Theophanu. One of the Empress's granddaughters became abbess of Vilich. Adelheid's sister, Imiza, a friend of the empress may have spent her widowhood at Vilich and died there circa 995. The convent also had ties to the Empress Kunigunde. In a charter of 1003 reaffirming Vilich's immunities, Henry II declared that she was the intercessor and that it was at her request that he had ordered the charter. It is possible that Adelheid and Kunigunde knew each other. Irmingard, of the famous Hammersteiner divorce, may have spent some time at Vilich and may have met Otto of Hammerstein there.

Population Counts

The Vilich community was not very large; there were about fifteen to twenty sisters in the beginning and no more than thirty-five at its height. In addition, there was a school for girls and a number of servants, as well as canons, priests, and visiting laity and pilgrims, who dwelled outside the abbey walls.

Other Ecclesiastical Relations

The community of Vilich was much influenced by the archbishop of Cologne. Archbishop Heribert (d. 1021) held Adelheid in high esteem and appointed her as abbess of Santa Maria (S. Maria-im-Kapitol) in Cologne after the death of her sister, Bertrada, circa 1000. She succeeded her sister Bertrada in this office. She thus functioned as abbess both of Vilich and Santa Maria simultaneously. According to Bertha, Heribert also put Adelheid in charge of poor relief in times of famine.


Menengoz and Gerberga, founders; the counts of Jülich served as the lay advocates of Vilich in the twelfth century; Otto III and Empress Theophanu. Vilich had relatively close ties to the Ottonian ruling house.

Secular Political Affiliations

Having been granted imperial immunities, the community existed as a free institution. This was the case through the eleventh century, but the abbey lay too close to Cologne not to be influenced by its archbishop, under whose influence it eventually fell. Vilich had relatively close ties to the Ottonian ruling house.

Social Characteristics

The vita of Adelheid provides a detailed record of her family. Megengoz and Gerberga had several children: a son, Godfrey, who died on the Slavic frontier in 977; two daughters who became nuns (one was Adelheid); and two daughters who married and had children. Entrants to the community were chosen by either the abbess or the sisters themselves. In the vita, Bertha addresses one of her prologues to the resident canonesses and hopes that her efforts will result in her full admittance to their circle. Bertha was the sister of Abbot Wolfhelm of Brauweiler, who died in 1091. Their parents were Frumold, a noble, and his wife, Eveza, called a duaghter of Count Sicco. Bertha was likely Wolfhelm's youngest sister, born circa 1020. It is known that she dwelled at Vilich from 1050-1060. The family of Adelheid had ties to the Ottonian ruling family. A granddaughter of Empress Theophanu became an abbess of Vilich. Abbess Mathilda (mid-eleventh century), who built the third revision of the abbey church, came from the Ezzonen family, which existed on the fringes of the royal house.

Relative Wealth

Vilich's lands and the appeal of the cult of Adelheid brought in enough wealth for the small community to carry out the wishes of the founders throughout several centuries of the convent's existence. The rebuilding of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (Vilich IV) put the convent's finances in a precarious state. The convent was 'rescued' by the Archbishop of Cologne in return for his control of its affairs henceforth.


The initial endowment for the convent came from the patrimony of the deceased Godfrey, Adelheid's brother. References in the vita indicate that the remaining wealth of her parents also came to Adelheid after their deaths. Adelheid used some of the lands for the convent, but she also used others to make charitable donations to the poor (see charitable work). Some of the property of the sisters who entered the community went to the abey, although as canonesses they could also retain this wealth and use lay personnel to administer it for them.


Adelheid contributed some of her familial property to charitable works. Fifteen beggars were to be fed and clothed from the profits of one manor in perpetuity; fifteen solidi of money were to be given to them at Christmas. Another fifteen beggars were to be looked after by the convent and these were to receive a sum of money at Lent, as well as payments on the feastdays of the Apostles and at three of the quarter-days. These charitable bequests were still in force in 1804 when the sisters were expelled from the abbey by Duke Fredrick Augustus of Nassau-Usingen.

Other Economic Activities

The abbey ran a school for girls. Bertha records that Abbess Adelheid was much concerned with education and visisted the convent school frequently to teach and examine the young scholars. She was also interested in the liturgical life of the convent.


The charters from Vilich refer to several problems with their lay advocates.

Literary Works

The Vita Adelheidis by Berta/Bertha

Early Documents

The charter of 944 by Otto I pardoning Adelheid's father Megeengoz for his rebellion and returning his lands; the Otto III foundation charter of 987; the eleventh-century copy of the 996 charter of Pope Gregory V (which was issued on May 24, 996); the thirteenth-century copy of Henry II's 1003 reaffirmation of Vilich's immunities. The papal bull of Gregory V confirmed the provisions of 987 with some adjustments and records that the death of the foundress Gerberga was a recent occurrence. These early documents must have been kept in the cloister archives, for Bertha states that they "are faithfully preserved in our custody" Mater Spiritualis: The Life of Adelheid of Vilich.

Art & Artifacts

A seal for the community of Vilich exists from 1242 onwards. The oval seal depicts Saint Peter holding a cross and key atop a crescent moon. At the bottom of the seal stands Christ with his right hand raised in blessing and a book in his left hand. Above Christ stand two figures, a man on the left and a woman on the right, identified as Megengoz and Gebirgus, who present a replica of the church of Vilich. The inscription reads: "Sigilium Ecclesie Sancti Petri in Viliche."

Architecture & Archaeology

The church was rebuilt at least three times in the Middle Ages and twice in the seventeenth century. The community was never a very large complex. The buildings were probably surrounded by a wall. The cloister was likely situated on the south side of the complex. Archaeological work was undertaken by the University of Bonn and the Rheinisches Landesmuseum under the directorship of Irmingard Achter from 1949-1955. The archaeological survey recovered the remains of a Frankish cemetery (5-8th c.) on the site and the earliest Vilich church was placed in the midst of this cemetery. Remains of this small church were found within the fabric of the present church and all later rebuildings followed the original placement of nave and altar. The early church was erected in the eighth or ninth century (known as Vilich I). The founders used this early church when they began their construction circa 980. The original building was a rectangle measuring 6 meters long and 5.30 meters wide. In the tenth century, another room was added, circa 3.8 meters wide and 4.7 meters long, which was used as a chancel. This church probably existed as a proprietary church of the estate belonging to Megengoz and Gerberga in 980 and formed a part of the original property from which the abbey acquired its wealth. Vilich II, the first abbey church, was finished by 987. The church had a single nave, 9 meters wide and 25.10 meters long, with a rectangular choir. The main entrance was on the western side in the form of a "Westwerk." The choir was at the eastern end and contained the chancel of the original church (Vilich I). A cloister was located at the south side of the church. Evidence exists for a small annex to the choir which eventually became part of the crypt. This is probably the site of the burials of Gerberga (d. c. 996) and Megengoz (d.c. 999). The 1955 excavation found the tomb of Gerberga and Megengoz. The second abbey church (Vilich III) was constructed between 1020-1040 on the site of the first and the old wall foundations were used for the pillars of the central nave. The principal 'builder' was the abbess Mathilda. The Westwerk remained, but the entrance may have been moved to the north side. The central nave remained 9 meters wide, each of the side naves were 3.65 meters wide and remain so today with the addition of two side chapels. The church had a flat ceiling about 10.80 meters in height. The rectangular transcepts and the semi-circular sanctuary/chancel were added at this point. Below the sanctuary was a Ringkrypta so that the altar rose above the floor approximately 1.8 meters. In the twelfth and thirteenth century other alterations were made, such as the vaulted ceiling and the addition of a Gothic choir that destroyed the old Ringkrypta at the eastern end. A special chapel was built for the cult of Adelheid, the Adelheid-chapel. These finally changes are referred to as Vilich IV. The sisters at Vilich initially stood at the western end of the nave. In the early thirteenth century, a Gothic choir was built surrounding the older one, but the canonesses probably used a side altar, such as the chapel of Adelheid, for their private services. The main choir was used by the canons attached to the abbey who officiated at the Mass (Mater Spiritualis: The Life of Adelheid of Vilich). VilichVilich

State Of Medieval Structure

The church still stands and was restored to its thirteenth-century interior by renovation work done between 1955 and 1965. The transcepts and the choir are mediaeval. Alterations to the church made in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries altared the basic plan of the medieval church, shortening the nave and adding a tower to the west entrance, which remain today. The exterior of the church was always plastered. The medieval part is painted a reddish tint, which was the surviving colour; the nave and steeple are painted white in the style of the seventeenth century.


The abbey contained the tomb and remains of Saint Adelheid and became a cult center almost as soon as the abbess had died. The cult of Adelheid brought so many pilgrims that the abbey's church was expanded and rebuilt (Vilich III). Berta/Bertha describes the transfer of Adelheid's remains to a tomb within the church from its original site in the cloister. The sandstone sarcophagus, still present today, is the original, although Adelheid's remains are no longer extant. In the thirteenth century, Adelheid's tomb was moved into the Adelheid-chapel. Evidence indicates that the relics still existed in the church in the sixteenth century; a violent local war in the 1580s severley damaged the church and probably destroyed any relics or burial remains. Adelheid's body may have been taken from the sarcophagus at this time as well.

Manuscript Sources

Manuscript sources for this community are located in the Staatsarchiv of the Province of Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf. The Vita of S. Adelheid of Vilich by Berta/Bertha (Vita Adelheidis) survives in two medieval manuscripts located in the Royal Library in Brussels and in the British Museum in London, Harley 2800, fol. 207v.

Published Primary Sources

Vita Adelheidis Abbatissae Vilicensis and in Achter's Die Stiftskirche St. Peter in Vilich. Translated in English in Mater Spiritualis: The Life of Adelheid of Vilich.

Miscellaneous Information

Adelheid of Vilich (c.970-1015) was the youngest daughter of Megengoz and Gerberga. She was made abbess of Vilich at a young age, perhaps seventeen or a bit older. She was evidently much younger than her brother and sisters and her parents were middle aged at the time of her birth. Adelheid entered the convent of S. Ursula in Cologne and was educated there as a child. She was probably there in 977 when her brother was killed and her parents began the foundation of Vilich. Bertha records that Abbess Adelheid was much concerned with education and visisted the convent school frequently to teach and examine the young scholars. She was also interested in the liturgical life of the convent. She worked with the sisters to perfect the proper methods of singing the offices. Bertha records an incident when one sister could not carry a tune. The abbess eventually lost her patience with the singer and boxed her ears; henceforth the sister was endowed with true pitch! (Mater Spiritualis: The Life of Adelheid of Vilich) Saint Adelheid was known for her miracles of healing, curing of demonic possession, and one instance of releasing the chains from a prisoner. Her well supposedly cures eye diseases. The cult of Adelheid of Vilich was formally approved in 1966.


Canons were initially attached to the abbey and officiated at Mass.

Admin. Notes

Link to communities of S. Maria im Kapitol & S. Ursula when entered w/more information.

June Mecham