Own church

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Own churches ( Latin ecclesia propria , propriae hereditatis or cellulae iuris nostri ) were houses of worship ( churches , monasteries ) in the early Middle Ages , which mostly lay people (local nobility, counts and dukes of the Franconian Empire at times up to the king) had them built on private land. The landlord had the right to invest over his own churches or monasteries , that is, to appoint and dismiss the pastor or abbot without the approval of the diocesan bishop . The landlord was Vogthis own church. Although he was entitled to use the income ( tithe and basic income), he also had to pay for the needs of the church and pastoral care . In return, the private church master and his relatives were included in the prayers ( memoria ); this was the original reason for the foundation of churches and monasteries on their own land. Bishops also bought their own churches in order to fill them with loyal and educated free people.

The private church system reached a high point in the 9th and 10th centuries. Since the own churches and monasteries could be bought, exchanged and inherited, they increasingly lost their religious purpose - although the churches themselves could not be profaned . Spiritual offices were often bought ( simony ), unsuitable clergy or even lay people were often appointed, who attracted attention to the diocesan bishop because of their immoral conduct and disobedience. If an unfree under the full authority of the landlord was appointed as a priest, this could be used in addition to low work. In the Cluniac monastic reform movement , attempts were made to counteract these developments. Ludwig the Pious regulated the private church system in 818/19 in such a way that the full property rights of the landlord were lost and he could no longer completely bare his own church of its property.

The dispute over the occupation of the dioceses and imperial abbeys intensified in the 11th century in the investiture dispute between king and pope . By Pope Alexander III. and by the Third Lateran Council in 1179 the private church law of the laity was converted into a patronage law . The landlords were granted the right to propose the clergyman to be appointed, the office was conferred by the bishop.

Although the private church system has been judged negatively since the reforms of the 11th century, due to the rudimentary development of the diocesan church organization, it often made the pastoral care of the rural population possible.

Remains of the private church system can be found to this day, for example, in the church patronage and in the royal churches and chapels in Great Britain (royal peculiars) , of which Westminster Abbey is the most important.


  • Knut Schäferdiek : Eigenkirchen. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde . No. 6. De Gruyter, Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-11-010468-7 , pp. 559-561.
  • Ulrich Stutz : Selected chapters from the history of the individual church and its rights. Böhlau, Weimar 1937.
  • Ulrich Stutz: The own church as an element of medieval Germanic church law. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1964.
  • Ulrich Stutz, Hans Erich Feine: Research on the law and history of the own church. Collected Treatises. Scientia, Aalen 1989, ISBN 3-511-00667-8 .
  • Ulrich Stutz: History of the Church Benefit System. From its beginnings to the time of Alexander III. Scientia, Aalen 1995, ISBN 3-511-00091-2 (supplemented by Hans Erich Feine).
  • Peter Landau : private churches. In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie 9 (1982), pp. 399-404.
  • Claudia Moddelmog: Foundation or private church? Dealing with research concepts and the Saxon women's monasteries in the 9th and 10th centuries. In: Wolfgang Huschner , Frank Rexroth (Hrsg.): Donated future in medieval Europe. Festschrift for Michael Borgolte on his 60th birthday. Akadademie Verlag, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-05-004475-0 , pp. 215-243 ( online ).