Church archives are some of the most reliable historical sources. Nevertheless, it is still hard work unearthing the history of monasteries. Kiel University's Institute of History is now involved in just such a mammoth task for the second time as part of a broad-based cooperation project.
After Kiel University's Regional History Department presented the successful conclusion to its very time-consuming studies on this subject with the publication of its two-volume "Klosterbuch Schleswig-Holstein und Hamburg" (book on the monasteries of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg) in 2019, similar efforts are now directed at research into such establishments in Pomerania. "The idea was suggested because we were able to gather together a great deal of expertise in the first monastery project," explained Professor Oliver Auge.
A small group met in the small Eastern Pomeranian town of Kulice in Poland to get the ball rolling back in 2017. The subject of money was to be paid particular attention from the outset this time to ensure that the project would not end up in financial straits like the study on Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg. "It was a long process, but a very successful one," said Auge, referring to the support provided by the Krupp Foundation, Ostdeutsche Sparkassenstiftung, the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media as well as the federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
€1.65 million in funding is available for creating a definitive work on monasteries in Pomerania within seven years. In terms of geography, the area extends from Darß in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania to Słupsk and Lebork in present-day Eastern Pomerania in Poland. In terms of time, it essentially concerns the period from the first half of the 12th century up to the Reformation and its aftermath from 1520 to 1540.
It is in this last chapter where research into monasteries, convents and other religious institutions becomes difficult because the influence of Luther and his contemporaries often resulted in secularisation. This often meant an end to the legendary church archives, as many items, ranging from information on the economic activities of the monasteries to books and artworks were moved elsewhere.
These types of records can often be found today in the federal state archives, however, some are held in local authority or private collections or in churches and may have found their way there in a variety of ways. As this specific case involves two countries, Germany and Poland, the research and documentation project is also extremely varied in terms of its cooperation partners. Alongside Kiel University, other members of the Historische Kommission für Pommern (historical commission for Pomerania) are the University of Greifswald, the State Archives in Szczecin, the Landesamt für Kultur und Denkmalpflege Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (federal state office for culture and monument preservation in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) as well as research institutes in Poland, Denmark and Sweden.
In terms of specialist fields, there is also a lot of diversity or, in other words, interdisciplinarity. It was said that "Pommerland ist abgebrannt" (Pomerania has been burned to the ground) after various raging battles in the Thirty Years' War and other conflicts long before the major wars of the 20th century and so there is nothing or almost nothing left to see of some monasteries. For this reason, the team includes archaeologist Dr Andreas Kieseler, who speaks fluent Polish and therefore has a second very important qualification for this work.
Dr Katja Hillebrand, who worked with Oliver Auge on the two-volume book on monasteries in Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg, has meanwhile focused on the architectural and art history-related aspects of the subject, while Robert Harlaß is involved as a historian. Depending on the given phase of the project, experts on specific fields will also be consulted. A website will provide detailed information on the project's progress and there is a plan to publish a short version of the large printed work for tourists on traditional cultural tours. The researchers also plan to hold several major events from next year onwards to inform the public of their work.
Author: Martin Geist
From knight to beguine
Around 65 to 70 establishments are likely to be rediscovered in "Klosterbuch Pommern" (book on Pomeranian monasteries) over the next few years. Among those represented are the traditional orders, including the Augustinians, Benedictines, Cistercians, Franciscans and Dominicans, almost all in both male and female forms.
The order of knights also played a role with the Order of Saint John or German Order being among the most famous. These faith communities emerged from the medieval crusades. When the crusades came to an end, some knights decided to continue serving their lord not with the sword but with the Bible (partly due to lack of alternative work).
The beguinages were also very popular. They were designed not only for young women but also older single or widowed women. Although their life here was similar to life in a monastery, the vows they took were not for their whole lives but for just one year at a time.
Despite this considerable diversity, significantly fewer monasteries were erected in northern Germany than in southern Germany or in neighbouring countries further south. The main reason for this is that Christianisation began several centuries earlier in the south. (mag)
More information on the project is available at