Lüne Abbey (German: Kloster Lüne) is a former Benedictine nunnery in the Lower Saxon town of Lüneburg. Today it is a Protestant Lutheran convent and is managed by the Klosterkammer Hannover (Hanover Monastic Chamber). The current abbess is Reinhild Freifrau von der Goltz.[1]

Lüne Abbey
LÜNE 20.jpg
Lüne Abbey is located in Lower Saxony
Lüne Abbey
Lüne Abbey
Location of Lüne Abbey in Lower Saxony, Germany
Lüne Abbey is located in Germany
Lüne Abbey
Lüne Abbey
Lüne Abbey (Germany)
Coordinates: 53°15′37″N 10°25′20″E / 53.260278°N 10.422222°E / 53.260278; 10.422222
LocationLüneburg, Lower Saxony
DenominationProtestant Lutheran
Previous denominationCatholic
Founder(s)Hildeswidis von Marcboldestorpe
Functional statusActive
AbbotFreifrau Reinhild von der Goltz

Founded in 1172, the convent soon established itself as a wealthy and autonomous local power in the Lüneburg Heath region. It recruited its nuns mostly from the influential patrician families of Lüneburg and accommodated up to 60 women over most of its existence. These women would be thoroughly educated in Latin, Liberal Arts and in Christian doctrine and liturgy. Over the course of the 15th and 16th centuries, the convent structure changed first through the monastic reform (1481), then through the Protestant Reformation but was never resolved.


The convent as a Benedictine abbeyEdit

Foundation and early historyEdit

Lüne Abbey was founded in 1172 by a small community of no more than 10 noblewomen from Nordborstel. The group, led by Hildeswidis von Marcboldestorpe, was allowed to move into a vacant chapel that had been built as a hermitage for a monk from Lüneburg in 1140. The foundation charter was signed by Hugo, bishop of Verden, Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria, and Berthold II., abbott of the monastery St Michael in Lüneburg.[2] The convent was dedicated to St Bartholomew and kept a part of the apostle's robe as the convent’s main relic.[3] Although initially the convent did not follow any specific monastic rule, it adopted the Rule of Saint Benedict during the course of the 13th century. The original convent buildings burned down two times (in 1240 and in 1372) and were subsequently rebuilt closer to the city of Lüneburg.[4]

Over the course of the 13th century, the convent grew steadily to a number of up to 60 nuns. They were mainly recruited from surrounding noble families and from the patrician families of Lüneburg. To cover the general living expenses, the convent relied first and foremost on the yearly income from the local saltworks that it held as a Pfandherr (pledge lord) since 1229. In 1367, the community had grown so influential and wealthy that it openly refused to accept its papally appointed provost Giles of Tusculum, a powerful cardinal bishop, and instead elected their own candidate, the lesser known Conrad of Soltau. In the end, both parties agreed on a third candidate, Johannes Weigergang, and Pope Urban V granted the nuns the privilege to elect their own provost.[5] As premodern female convents had to rely on a male provost to represent the community’s political and economical interests to the outside world, this privilege of free election implied the highest degree of autonomy the convent could obtain. In 1395, the Lüne provost was granted the full sacramental care of the nuns, so that the convent was now de facto autonomous, both politically and spiritually.

The Monastic Reform of 1481Edit

The 15th century brought with it a widespread desire for ecclesiastical reform, and the monastic orders were no exception. The reform movement (not to be confused with the Protestant Reformation) firmly established itself in Northern Germany in the early second half of the century.[6] The emerging reform theologians viewed the rich and influential convents of the north as having diverted from the original, rightful teachings of Christianity, first and foremost the ideal of poverty, but also their interference in the temporal sphere and a decline in Latin education were criticised. For a long time, historians have adopted the latter claim unaudited, but whether or not and to what extends it was actually accurate has to be evaluated individually for each convent. In most examined cases, however, the production of Latin writing within the women’s convents shows no sign of the alleged decline in education.[7] Lüne Abbey agreed nonetheless to undergo reformative measures, and took in the provost and seven nuns from the nearby Ebstorf Abbey which had already undergone reforms, in 1481. The provost, Matthias von dem Knesebeck, deposed the prioress Bertha Hoyer and her subprioress, and installed his own candidate, the former Ebstorf nun Sophia von Bodenteich.[8]

The reform included an enhanced curriculum in matters of Catholic doctrine, a changed liturgy in conformity with the reform, and a centralized and communal intake of daily meals to strengthen the convent’s isolation from the outside world and to better control the required abstinence from meat on Fridays and during Lent. The latter arguably provided the greatest logistical difficulty, as both the kitchen and the refectory had to be rebuilt.[9] Subsequently, the convent was incorporated into a dense network of reformed Northern German female convents and their male provosts, most of them committed reformers, which became a regional power within ecclesiastical politics.

Lüne Abbey and the Protestant ReformationEdit

The territorial fragmentation of political sovereignty in Germany on the outset of the 16th century pushed the individual territorial lords (‘’Landesherren’’) into the position of the official decision-maker regarding the acceptance or rejection of the new Reformation process.[10] The monastic convents had to fear for their survival, as the new movement set out to secularize and expropriate what they saw as an expression of the decadence and detachment from the faithful in the outside world.[11] Lüne Abbey fell into the jurisdiction of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg which had been the main site of the Hildesheim Diocesan Feud in 1519. The convent suffered greatly under the joint raids of the princes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and Calenberg, at some point even having to evacuate the convent building and move into the city of Lüneburg itself.[12] The feud saw Brunswick-Lüneburg fall into major debt and its convents become weakened as a result. In 1525, as many German territories had to face peasant uprisings, Duke Ernest I tried to quickly consolidate his budget by sending a demand over 28,000 guilders to all convents in Brunswick-Lüneburg which he threatened to enforce by a military show of force, if necessary.[13] It did not take long after that, however, for the duke to publicly declare his allegiance to the cause of the Reformation and thus target the Roman Catholic convents directly.[14] The female convents of Brunswick-Lüneburg, tightly knit together since the monastic reform of 1481, staunchly opposed the duke’s demands, and the situation effectively went into a standstill for the next four years. In 1529, Duke Ernest and his court decided to break up the monastic network by first targeting its male provosts. He hoped to replace them one by one with a Protestant preacher loyal only to the duke himself, as those provosts had once themselves deposed the old leadership of the convents without much opposition.[15] Indeed, in late 1529, the Lüne provost Johannes Lorber resigned from his post and made way for a ducal administrator, Johannes Haselhorst, and a Protestant preacher, Hieronymous Enkhusen. In the following year, these measures were followed up by the inception of a new monastic policy which changed the liturgy within the convents drastically and nullified all monastic vows. The female communities were explicitly stated to be the new religious enemies.[16] In 1531, one of the ducal tax collectors even went so far as to destroy one of the chapels of Lüne Abbey, consecrated to Saint Gangulphus of Burgundy. As prioress Mechthild von Wilde died in 1535, the nuns’ opposition against the Reformation faltered altogether. Although the convent was able to independently elect a new prioress, Elisabeth Schneverding, they accepted their incorporation into the Protestant Landeshoheit of the duke. Duke Ernest, on the other hand, surprisingly accepted that the convent remained a secular foundation for unmarried Protestant women (Damenstift), and did not dissolve the institution as a whole.[17] It took, however, until 1562, for the convent to elect its first decidedly Protestant head.

Lüne Abbey as a DamenstiftEdit

Over the course of the following two centuries, the community had a somewhat ambiguous status. Outwardly, it was treated as a purely secular retirement institution, but inwardly, the community still led a highly devoted spiritual life in Benedictine tradition. In 1711, this tension was resolved in an agreement between the convent and Duke George-Louis (later George I of Great Britain) in favour of the secular role that came to dominate also within the convent walls. Lüne Abbey would find itself as part of a war zone two more times. In 1793, a French army marched through nearby territory during the First Coalition War in which the Electorate of Hanover took part on the side of the anti-French coalition. The abbess, Artemisia von Bock, anticipated an upcoming occupation of the convent and quickly sold a large stock of artworks, manuscripts and books from the library, some into private hands, some into the care of larger archives and depositories nearby. During World War II many of those archives fell victim to Allied bombing raids, and many more artworks and manuscripts vanished within the turmoils near the end of the war when German administrative structures collapsed and effectively ceased to exist.[18]

Historical milieuEdit

As new women entered the convent, they did not break off contact to their biological families. In that sense, the nuns lived in a double family, as they were indissolubly linked both to their biological family and their newfound sisters in the convent. Their regular and unbroken contact to relatives in the outside world is documented in a number of letters, especially from the 15th and 16th centuries.[19] The familial connections between the nuns and the Lüneburg patrician families are widely reconstructed and show a deep link between the convent and the city politics.[20] Further connections could arise between the convent and other estates that a new provost held beside Lüne Abbey.

Literacy and educationEdit

Poster presentation for the Nuns Network Project

The extant amounts of manuscripts originating within the convent walls suggest a thorough education of the nuns in the Latin, Liberal Arts and theology. The educational standard was not limited to the convent leaders, but extended to every novice entering the abbey, provided by the convent’s own monastic school. For the nuns, the central purpose of education was the rightful execution of the liturgy which had to be sung in Latin. In their letters, they styled themselves as Brides of Christ, dedicating their life to serve God as spouses in the vineyard of the convent. Their personal and business correspondence only recently has been brought back to the attention.[21]

Letters between the convent and their secular contacts, such as the city of Lüneburg or their estates, were written in Middle Low German which was the economic lingua franca within Northern Germany and around the North Sea and the Baltic Sea as the main operating areas of the Hanseatic League. Codeswitching between Latin and Middle Low German was used, mainly in the correspondence between the convents.


Summer refectory (Remter) at Lüne Abbey, restored in 16th century style
Wall painting on the east wall of the refectory dating to 1500

In 1380 the convent was rebuilt in the Brick Gothic style after a major fire. The cloisters, the single-nave church of 1412 and the Nonnenchor (nuns' choir) are well preserved, the same is true of the former Dormitorium (dormitory).[22]


Lüne is famous for its knitting and embroidery (wool on linen). Valuable pieces (white embroidery (Weißstickerei) altar cloths, fasting cloths (Fastentücher) and carpets, the oldest dating to around 1250) are displayed in the textile museum in the grounds of the monastery opened in 1995. In the church on the altar in the Nonnenchor is a painting from the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder. The high altar's triptych (carved altar) was made in the early 16th century. Also worthy of mention are the wall paintings from around 1500 in the refectory of the monastery.[23]

Scholarly receptionEdit

Unsurprisingly, most of the historiographic literature on Lüne Abbey is written in German. Only the most recent edition project, a cooperation between the universities of Oxford and Düsseldorf on the convent's letter collections,[24] has opened up the opportunity of a more widespread reception of the Lower German women's convents within the Anglosphere. Nonetheless, the amount of English literature currently available remains all but non-existent.[25]

List of heads of conventEdit

List of provosts
Name From Until
Burchardt 1197? 1197?
Otto 1202? 1213?
Thietwig 1231? 1231?
Conrad 1241? 1255?
Werner von Dören 1263? 1264?
Heinrich von der Sülte 1273? 1278?
Alward 1282? 1288
Christian 1288 1308
Johannes Schinkel 1309 1317
Gerlach von Stade 1318 1339
Heinrich von Langlingen 1341 1369
Conrad von Soltau 1369 1370
Egidius von Tusculum 1373 1373
Johannes Weigergang 1374 1412
Heinrich Bodenstedt 1412 1433
Cord von Tzerstede 1433 1440
Dietrich Schaper 1440 1451
Lüder Lerte 1451 1457
Dietrich Schaper 1457 1457
Nikolaus Graurock 1457 1470
Otto Vulle 1470 1471
Nikolaus Graurock 1471 1493
Nikolaus Schomaker 1494 1506
Johannes Lorber 1506 1529
Johann Haselhorst in Winsen (ducal bailiff) 1529 1535
List of prioresses (until 1562)
Name From Until
Hildeswidis von Marcboldestorpe 1172 ?
Gertrudis 1231? 1231?
Oldegardis 1284? 1289?
Ghisla 1299? 1315?
Elisabeth 1318? 1329
Lutgarda 1330 1337?
Gertrudis 1339? 1339?
Alheyd von Barfelde 1341? 1346?
Ghyseltrudis Willeri 1349? 1357?
Richza 1362? 1369
Mechtildis 1370 1370?
Wicburgis 1374? 1374
Kunegundis 1375 1375?
Mechtildis von Oedeme 1397? 1415
Drude Semmelbecker 1415 1422?
Helena von Meding 1436? 1446?
Gebeke Möller 1448? 1450
Gertrudis Schomaker 1450 1450
Susanne Münter 1451 1451?
Mette von dem Berge 1458? 1468
Berta Hoyer 1468 1481
Sophia von Bodenteich 1481 1504
Mechtild Wilde 1504 1535
Elisabeth Schneverding 1535 1540
Katharina Semmelbecker 1540 1562
List of Protestant abbesses (since 1562)
Name From Until
Anna Marenholtz 1562 1580
Dorothea von Meding 1580 1634
Katharina Margaretha von Estorff 1634 1659
Dorothea Elisabeth von Meding 1659 1672
Dorothea Maria von Estorff 1672 1680
Margaretha Elisabeth von Harling 1680 1685
Barbara von Wittorf 1685 1713
Anna Dorothea von Estorff 1713 1729
Eleonore Margaretha von Harling 1729 1759
Barbara Sophia von Estorff 1759 1790
Eleonore Artemisia Friederike von Bock von Wülfingen 1790 1798
Caroline von der Wense 1799 1838
Wilhelmine von Meding 1838 1844
Friederike von Meding 1844 1893
Dorothee Marie von der Decken 1893 1927
Emilie Elisabeth von Möller 1927 1944
Marie Agnes von Reden 1944 1970
Ilse Erna Margarethe Segler 1970 1976
Liesel Sofie Gössling 1976 2000
Barbara Taglang 2000 2006
Renate Krüger 2006 2008
Reinhild Freifrau von der Goltz, née von dem Knesebeck-Milendonck 2008 2023
Amélie Gräfin zu Dohna[26] 2023 incumbent



  1. ^ "» Neue Äbtissin im evangelischen Kloster Lüne eingeführt".
  2. ^ Nolte, Quellen (1932), 120–126.
  3. ^ The saint is depicted on the convent’s seal, cf. Reinhardt, Art. Lüne, in: Germania Benedictina 11, 393.
  4. ^ Böker; Winghart (eds.), Baudenkmale (2010).
  5. ^ Nolte, Quellen (1932), 88–90.
  6. ^ Grotefend, Der Einfluß (1872), 73-88.
  7. ^ Hamburger, Schlotheuber, Marti, Fassler, Liturgical Life (2017), 92-96.
  8. ^ Nolte, Quellen (1932), 127-128.
  9. ^ Nolte, Quellen (1932), 128.
  10. ^ Wolgast, Reformation (2017), 39.
  11. ^ Schmidt, Kirchenregiment (1984)
  12. ^ Van den Heuvel and Boetticher, Geschichte (1998), 35-38.
  13. ^ Tamcke, Impulse (1997), 242.
  14. ^ Brandis, Zur Reformationsgeschichte (2017), 43.
  15. ^ Lähnemann, Nonnenkrieg (2016), 101.
  16. ^ Rhegius, ’’Radtslach’’ (1530).
  17. ^ Brandis, Zur Reformationsgeschichte (2017), 41.
  18. ^ Dolle; Knochenhauer (eds.), Klosterbuch, (2012), vol. 2, 940-946.
  19. ^ [1]Lähnemann; Schlotheuber et.al. (eds.), Netzwerke der Nonnen (2016-), online edition
  20. ^ Witzendorff, Stammtafeln (1952).
  21. ^ Schlotheuber, Doctrina (2019).
  22. ^ Article on the abbey's architectural history on its website.
  23. ^ https://www.kloster-luene.de/klosteranlage/klosterschaetze/ Article about the convent treasures on the abbey's website.]
  24. ^ [2]Lähnemann; Schlotheuberet.al. (eds.), Netzwerke der Nonnen (2016-), online edition
  25. ^ An exception being the article by Vosding, Gifts (2018).
  26. ^ "Report by the local newspaper about the election".
  27. ^ Dolle; Knochenhauer (eds.), Klosterbuch (2012), 946-947.


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