Medingen, Cistercian Nunnery
The Abbey of Medingen (Lower Saxony) was founded in 1228, moving to its current site in 1336. Its nuns followed the Cistercian liturgy while the provost belonged to the clergy of the diocese of Verden. Most of the nuns came from the leading Patrician families of the Hanseatic town of nearby Lüneburg, which sponsored through shares in its salt-production a number of convents. The network between these convents was strong, documented in numerous letters and exchange of gifts. The link with Wienhausen, another of the Lüneburg convents following Cistercian rule, was strengthened in the Reform which the convent undertook in 1478 / 9, which saw several nuns from there help with the implementation, among them Margarete Puffen who became Prioress and then successfully campaigned to have the office of an abbess installed at Medingen. The provost at the time, Tilman von Bavenstedt, actively promoted the reform, ordering new books from his home-town Hildesheim. Crucially, the Reform led to an increased manuscript production by the nuns, mainly prayer-books and psalters, for the sisters themselves, the lay-sisters and the female relatives in Lüneburg.
In 1524, Duke Ernest of Brunswick-Lüneburg started a first attempt to implement the Lutheran in the convent and to get hold of its possessions; the nuns resisted strongly and the Abbess Margarete Stöteroggen took key manuscripts to Hildesheim to deposit them in Catholic territory. It took until 1554 before a compromise was reached which established Protestantism in the Abbey but allowed the nuns to keep most of their habits. It was presumably only in 1722 when the Abbess Katharina Stöteroggen decided to sell “superfluous precious objects” that most of the manuscripts written for the private use of the nuns left the convents. They were sold to regional libraries and private collectors and many of them went through several auction houses before ending up at institutions around the world. From the nineteenth century, there was an increased interest in the vernacular elements of the manuscripts as “antiquities” with scholars such as Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben editing extracts from manuscripts and cataloguing them. Only in the twentieth century, the Medingen manuscripts were recognised as a group by the musicologist Walther Lipphardt who was looking for early examples of vernacular hymns.
Today, over 50 manuscripts have been attributed to Medingen; ten of these are kept in British Libraries: the Bodleian has three, the Victoria & Albert Museum two, and one each are held at Keble College Oxford, University Library Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College Cambridge, the British Library, and the Guildhall Library London. Meanwhile, the convent at Medingen Abbey is still going strong, a religious community of Protestant women interested in their heritage and preserving key objects linked to the history of the convent such as the statues of the patron saint St Maurice and the medieval crozier.
- Henrike Lähnemann
For a full list of the manuscripts from Medingen and a comprehensive bibliography cf. http://medingen.seh.ox.ac.uk.
The letter exchange with the convent of Lüne is currently being edited in the Digital Library of the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel.
Watch an interview with the current abbess of Medingen, Dr Kristin Püttmann.