Gruekloster Schleswig (The Grey Concent) Source: wikipedia

Abbeys and other Religious Institutions in Schleswig-Holstein

The Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein hold a long and fascinating story. Following the mission of Ansgar, hamburg spearheaded the christianisation of Scandinavia, thus making room for a multitude of religious institutions – abbeys, monasteries, convents and friaries


Cover Klosterbuch Schleswig Holstein

Klosterbuch Schleswig-Holstein und Hamburg. Klöster, Stifte und Konvente von den Anfängen bis zur Reformation Vol. 1-2
by Oliver Auge and Katja Hillebrand
Schnell & Steiner 2019

This impressive work offers more than 1600 pages in two volumes and presents a complete overview of all the monasteries, convents, abbeys and other religious institutions in the northernmost part of present-day Germany (until 1864 part of Denmark; now divided).

The monasteries and convents dealt with in this publication, reach from the first institution in 9th century Hamburg and until the dissolution of the institutions during the reformation. However, as many of these religious institutions were preserved as convents for unmarried daughters of the nobility, their building fabric has to a large extent been preserved. To travel through the old duchies offers splendid opportunities to visit and delve into many of the preserved building complexes; and to study their collections and converse with the present caretakers.

Just to mention an example: One of these hidden gems is the Grey Monastery (klosterprojekt graues kloster in Schleswig, founded in 1234 by Duke Abel, later king of Denmark. Already in 1210, the future king donated land to the Franciscans in the city of Schleswig. This led to the formation of one of the most prominent Franciscan friaries, which to some extent one of the important centres of the province, Dacia. In 1292, 1316, and 1392 the ‘Graues Kloster’ was home to the chapter of the province. During the reformation, the king repossessed the buildings including the magnificent hall church, St. Paul.

Overview of monasteries and other religious institutions in Schleswig Holstein © Klosterprojekt
Overview of monasteries and other religious institutions in Schleswig Holstein © Klosterprojekt

In 1529, a major disputation was held in the church under the auspices of the future king Christian III. He had witnessed the diet in Worms in 1521 and became an early proponent of the Lutheran Reformation. More than 400 people gathered in order to set down the rules of the new religious order. Although the bishop of Schleswig continued as a staunch opponent until his death in 1541, the duchies were soon reformed. After the dissolution of the Franciscan Order in Denmark, the buildings were taking over by the city magistrate, and the church was turned into a city hall. The rest of the buildings were turned over to a foundation for the poor, and until 1980, 22 worthy citizens lived in the old buildings. Today, the old brick-building serves as office space for the magistrate, but guided tours are available to see the interior with its preserved ‘Gothic Hall’ with the preserved wall-paintings from 1280 and later.

The book has been prepared for years by an international and interdisciplinary team. Archaeologists, historians, theologians, art historians, and literary scholars have contributed to this major work outlining not just the art history but also the economic contribution of these institutions to the wealth in part of the hinterland of the rich Hanseatic League – Lübeck, Hamburg, and elsewhere.

The book is the result of years of work carried out by the so-called Klosterprojekt housed at the University of Kiel.


Oliver Auge is leader of the department for local history at the Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel.
Dr. Katja Hillebrand is attached to the same institution.