Women pen

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The Lüne Monastery, which has existed since 1711 . Since it was previously a Cistercian monastery, the complex is still called a monastery .

A woman pin or convent is a religious community for women who live without passing vows in a monastery-like plant. The women living in such a free secular pen (mostly noble in the Middle Ages) are called canonesses , choir women or canonesses , which is why the terms women's pen or canoness pen are often used. The head of a pen is also called domina (Latin for 'mistress').

A distinction is to be made here between nuns who live according to a monastic rule of the order such as Benedictine women , Carthusian women , Cistercian women etc. or regulated choir women such as the Augustinian choir women or the Premonstratensian women , who also live according to a rule of the order and follow solemn vows to a life for life committed to the evangelical councilors under an abbess or a prioress . The monasteries of these religious women and other monastic orders are regionally, especially in Austria, often also referred to as monastery .


A women's monastery was often founded by a nobleman or a wealthy widow in order to do a godly work. As a rule, the canoness received the mandate to pray for the salvation of the founder's soul.

The pens were either directly subordinate to the king or emperor as imperial pens , or to the bishop , who then also had the right to appoint the abbess and appoint a confessor for the canonesses.

The nobles of the area ensured through their donations that the monastery was only open to their own daughters, but one could also “buy” into a monastery from outside. Abbey posts have also been created for the daughters of well-deserved officials.

Way of life in the secular pens

The canonesses lived in monastery-like buildings, which, however, were often more spacious than those of the nuns. The canonesses often brought their own furniture and servants. They were required to attend the Liturgy of the Hours and Holy Mass , and to eat with the community in the refectory .

When they entered, the canonesses only took vows of chastity and obedience to their abbess , but could marry if they renounced their benefices . They were free to consume the income they received from the monastery wherever they wanted. Often only the abbess, the headmistress and a small number of canons stayed in the monastery building, while the other canonesses had their own apartments with a small servant in the vicinity. The canons did not renounce their private property or their inheritance claims and could leave the pen at any time.

The monasteries earned their livelihood from the benefices brought in when the foundation was established , from the proceeds of which all the nuns received an annual sum. For this, a canoness had to donate a certain amount when she joined.

There was a certain gray area between monasteries and secular monasteries. Because the secular monasteries were also based on the Rule of Augustine or the Rule of Benedict in their statutes , from today's perspective it is not always possible to determine unequivocally from the sources whether a women's monastery was a monastic or a secular monastery. In addition, it was customary for noble widows to buy into a monastic monastery in order to spend their retirement there after joining the monastery community of religious women, but without taking their vows. Secular monasteries were also occasionally converted into regulated monasteries, or vice versa.


The first women's pencils are proven to be in the early Middle Ages. The basis for the design of the canonical monasteries is the Aachen rule ( Institutiones Aquisgranenses ) drawn up by Amalarius von Metz from 816. They became binding through the Synod of Aachen . The rule applied to pens in Essen , Gandersheim , Meschede , Gernrode , Cologne , Herford and Quedlinburg , among others . One of the oldest women's monasteries was the Böddeken monastery in the (prince) diocese of Paderborn (836).

In the Middle Ages and the early modern period, women's monasteries were important centers for looking after unmarried noble women and widows. The canonesses were often scholarly and skilled handicrafts.

On the one hand, the Reformation was supported by the establishment of the Ursuline Order dedicated to female education , while on the other hand the tradition of secular canonies was preserved. The houses of the deaconesses partly go back to this tradition. Many women's monasteries also turned into secular canonical pens during the Reformation in order to avoid dissolution.

Today there are only a few women's pens left. In Germany the Lüneklöster or Ehreshoven Castle are well-known examples. Outside Germany, there are pens in Salles-Arbuissonnas-en-Beaujolais (Rhône), in Maubeuge , in Remiremont , in Épinal , in Bouxières-aux-Dames (near Nancy), in Montfleury (near Dijon) and in Mons (Belgium) .

For the history of the women's pen, see also Sanktimoniale .

Mixed denominational pens

To a certain extent, as a transition between the Catholic and Protestant women's monasteries, the free worldly women's pen from former Catholic monasteries and monasteries emerged in the confessionally fragmented Westphalia. The pens took on both Protestant and Catholic women. After 1648, some Calvinists were also added. In these institutions, the preambles were allocated to the various denominations according to a certain key. In Schildesche Abbey there were six prebenders each for Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists. The administration was led by an abbess. This was alternately provided by each of the denominations involved. A vow did not exist and every canoness kept mostly her property. In total, around twenty such institutions were set up in the territories of Westphalia that had become Protestant to look after daughters from noble and patrician families. In some cases, Catholic traditions continued. The ladies in the Cappel Abbey continued to wear a habit .

Evangelical women's pencils in Germany

A special group are the Protestant women's pens (see list of pens) (also: "Fräuleinstifte") in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony. The Schleswig-Holstein knighthood today maintains the noble ladies pins Monastery Preetz , Kloster Itzehoe , St. John's Abbey in front of Schleswig and monastery Uetersen . The Knighthood of Bremen maintains the Neuenwalde Monastery.

The Calenberg monasteries Barsinghausen , Mariensee , Marienwerder , Wennigsen and Wülfinghausen belong to the General Hanover Monastery Fund, a foundation under public law . The General Hanover Monastery Fund is administered by the Hanover Monastery Chamber.

The so-called Lüneburg monasteries Ebstorf , Isenhagen (near Hankensbüttel ), Lüne , Medingen , Walsrode and Wienhausen , on the other hand, remained legally independent as corporations under public law, but have been financed mainly from the General Hanover Monastery Fund since 1963 and are under the legal supervision of the President of the Monastery chamber. In addition, there are five free monasteries in Lower Saxony: Stift Börstel , Stift Bassum , Stift Fischbeck , and Stift Obernkirchen . These are exclusively under the legal supervision of the President of the Monastery Chamber, but are not financed by the Monastery Chamber.

Conventual women in Dobbertin Monastery, 1923

In Mecklenburg , after the Reformation in 1572, the monasteries Dobbertin , Malchow and Ribnitz were converted into women's monasteries for the Christian, honorable upbringing of domestic virgins, if they wanted to go there . The three state monasteries now served to care for unmarried daughters of the knighthood and the countryside . During the November Revolution on November 18, 1918, the Dobbertin Monastery Office with all its assets and possessions was subordinated to the new Free State of Mecklenburg-Schwerin . The conventual women could stay in the women's monastery until they died. According to Section 75 of the Constitution of the Free State of Mecklenburg-Schwerin of May 17, 1920, the decision was no longer contestable.

In Brandenburg in the 13th century various women's monasteries based on the Cistercian order were created , but as a rule they were not accepted into the order. They did not belong to filiations of Cistercian mother monasteries , but mostly went back to foundations of the local nobility . For example, the Prignitz family Gans zu Putlitz founded the Marienfließ convent in 1231 , which still exists today as "Marienfließ Abbey" and is involved in diaconal care for the elderly. Furthermore, the Brandenburg monastery Stift zum Heiligengrabe existed until 1945 and the Drübeck monastery (Province of Saxony, today Saxony-Anhalt) until 1946 as women's monasteries.

The former evangelical aristocratic women's monasteries in Central Germany, for example in the former rulers of the Wettins, are among the less well-known institutions today . These did not go back to medieval monasteries, but were purely new foundations in the early modern period or the 19th and 20th centuries. The most important buildings include the Magdalenenstift, inaugurated in 1705 in Altenburg, Thuringia, and the Joachimstein Monastery in Radmeritz near Görlitz, which opened in 1728 . Both pens no longer exist in their former function. While a variety of diaconal tasks are still carried out in Altenburg today as part of a social center, the Joachimstein Abbey in Oberlausitz did not survive the end of the Second World War . There were other women's colleges in Wasungen , Dresden , Großkromsdorf and Löbichau .

See also


  • K. Heinrich Schäfer: The canon founders in the German Middle Ages. Their development and internal arrangement with the early Christian sanctuary. F. Enke, Stuttgart 1907 ( canon law treatises 43/44, ZDB -ID 501637-x ).
  • Thomas Schilp : Norm and Reality of Religious Women's Communities in the Early Middle Ages. The Institutio sanctimonialium Aquisgranensis of the year 816 and the problem of the constitution of women's communities. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1998, ISBN 3-525-35452-5 ( publications of the Max Planck Institute for History 137 = studies on Germania Sacra 21), (also: Duisburg, Univ., Habil.-Schr., 1994) .
  • Robert Suckale : The medieval women's pencils as bastions of women's power. O. Schmidt, Cologne 2001, ISBN 3-504-62025-0 ( series of publications by the Cologne Legal Society 25).
  • Jan Gerchow (Ed.): Food and the Saxon women's pencils in the early Middle Ages. Klartext, Essen 2003, ISBN 3-89861-238-4 ( Essen research on women's pen 2).
  • Thomas Schilp: Reform - Reformation - Secularization. Women's pens in times of crisis. Klartext, Essen 2004, ISBN 3-89861-373-9 ( Essen research on Frauenstift 3).
  • Klaus Gereon Beuckers (ed.): Liturgy in medieval women's pens. Research on the Liber Ordinarius. Klartext, Essen, ISBN 978-3-8375-0797-3 ( Essen research on Frauenstift 10).

Individual evidence

  1. Alois Schroer: The Westphalian monasteries and monasteries in the Reformation period. In: Monastic Westphalia. Monasteries and monasteries 800–1800. Münster 1982, p. 219f.

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