Thorn Abbey

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Imperial Abbey of Thorn

Reichsstift Thorn(de)
Rieksstif van Thoear(li)
Rijksabdij van Thorn(nl)
Thorn wapen.png
Coat of arms
Thorn, Horn, Kessenich.PNG
Territory of the Abbey of Thorn (blue), in the 18th century. The striped area of Neeroeteren was a condominium between Thorn and Liège
The Low Countries.png
The Low Countries in the 16th century, showing the Abbey of Thorn in dark blue, at the north-eastern tip of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège (paler blue, centre)
StatusImperial Abbey
CapitalThorn (Netherlands)
Common languages Dutch
Historical era Middle Ages
c. 975
 Gained Reichsfreiheit
 Joined Council of Princes
  Annexed by France
June 9, 1815
17901.5 km2 (0.58 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Armoiries Principaute de Liege.svg Bishopric of Liège
Meuse-Inférieure Flag of France.svg

Thorn Abbey or Imperial Abbey of Thorn was an imperial abbey of the Holy Roman Empire in what is now the Netherlands. The capital was Thorn. It was founded in the 10th century; independence ended in 1794, when it was occupied by French troops. The abbey was reichsunmittelbar and belonged to the Lower Rhenish-Westphalian Circle.

Holy Roman Empire varying complex of lands that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe

The Holy Roman Empire was a multi-ethnic complex of territories in Western and Central Europe that developed during the Early Middle Ages and continued until its dissolution in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars. The largest territory of the empire after 962 was the Kingdom of Germany, though it also came to include the neighboring Kingdom of Bohemia, the Kingdom of Burgundy, the Kingdom of Italy, and numerous other territories.

Netherlands Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve separate provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba— it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.


The territory covered about 1.5 square kilometers with 3400 inhabitants in 1790.


Ansfried of Utrecht and his wife Hereswint are regarded by some sources as the founders of the Abbey of Thorn Abdijkerk Thorn - Ramen H-Ansifridus H-Hilsonidis.jpg
Ansfried of Utrecht and his wife Hereswint are regarded by some sources as the founders of the Abbey of Thorn

Details of the founding of the abbey are not clear. According to some sources, the abbey was founded by Countess Hilswind in 902 for herself and her daughter Beatrix. She donated the necessary land, which had been personal property, given to the Countess by King Zwentibold. Other sources claim a Benedictine double monastery was founded by Bishop Ansfried of Utrecht and his wife Hereswint in 925. A Romanesque abbey church was built in 992; some sources give this as the year the Abbey was founded.

Zwentibold King of Lotharingia and Saint

Zwentibold, a member of the Carolingian dynasty, was the illegitimate son of Emperor Arnulf. In 895, his father, then king of East Francia, granted him the Kingdom of Lotharingia, which he ruled until his death. After his death he was declared a saint and martyr by the Catholic Church.

Ansfried of Utrecht Dutch bishop

Saint Ansfried of Utrecht was Count of Huy and the sword-bearer for Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor. He became Bishop of Utrecht in 995. He appears to have been the son or grandson of Lambert, a nobleman of the Maasgau, the area where he later founded the Abbey of Thorn, and to have been related to various important contemporaries including the royal family.

Romanesque architecture architectural style of Medieval Europe

Romanesque architecture is an architectural style of medieval Europe characterized by semi-circular arches. There is no consensus for the beginning date of the Romanesque style, with proposals ranging from the 6th to the 11th century, this later date being the most commonly held. In the 12th century it developed into the Gothic style, marked by pointed arches. Examples of Romanesque architecture can be found across the continent, making it the first pan-European architectural style since Imperial Roman architecture. The Romanesque style in England is traditionally referred to as Norman architecture.

Abbey structure

Model of the abbey district Abdijkerk Thorn - Maquette.jpg
Model of the abbey district
View of the south side of St. Michael's Church Hochblick auf Abteikirche St. Michael in Thorn von.jpg
View of the south side of St. Michael's Church

The community of women came only from the high nobility. It is likely that Thorn had belonged to the Benedictine order originally. It probably changed, however, in the 12th century, to a free secular ladies' abbey. In 1310, the secular canons of the Abbey stressed their secular status and they claimed to never have been Benedictine.

In the 18th century, collegiate ladies were, in principle, required to reside in the Abbey all year, except for at most six weeks per year. However, for 600 florins, ladies could buy themselves free. In theory, free ladies were still required to provide six weeks of choral service; this was not always observed in practice. Some ladies held positions in several abbeys. This possibility of buying freedom appears to have been used frequently. Maria Josepha of Hatzfeld and Gleichen, for example, was a member of the abbeys at Thorn and Essen for 46 years. During this time, she resided in Essen Abbey for four years, but never in Thorn.

Essen Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Essen is the central and second largest city of the Ruhr, the largest urban area in Germany. Its population of 583,393 makes it the ninth largest city of Germany, as well as the fourth largest city of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. On the Ruhr and Emscher rivers, Essen geographically is part of the Rhineland and the larger Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region. The Ruhrdeutsch regiolect spoken in the region has strong influences of both Low German (Westphalian) and Low Franconian.

Essen Abbey monastery

Essen Abbey was a monastery of secular canonesses for women of high nobility in Essen, Germany. It was founded about 845 by the Saxon Altfrid, later Bishop of Hildesheim and saint, near a royal estate called Astnidhi, which later gave its name to the religious house and to the town. The first abbess was Altfrid's kinswoman, Gerswit.

The abbey district contained a curia building for the Deachoness and five house for the ladies. In the 14th Century, a new Gothic Abbey Church was built. Some of the ladies built houses outside the abbey district.


The imperial immediacy of the abbey was confirmed in 1292 by King Adolf of Nassau. Under Emperor Maximilian I, the abbey was under the special imperial protection. In the imperial matriculation register at Worms, the Abbey was recorded as a reichsunmittelbar area. The matriculation duties, however, were transferred to the Counts of Lippe.

Imperial immediacy was a privileged constitutional and political status rooted in German feudal law under which the Imperial estates of the Holy Roman Empire such as Imperial cities, prince-bishoprics and secular principalities, and individuals such as the Imperial knights, were declared free from the authority of any local lord and placed under the direct authority of the Emperor, and later of the institutions of the Empire such as the Diet, the Imperial Chamber of Justice and the Aulic Council.

Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor Holy Roman Emperor

Maximilian I was Holy Roman Emperor from 1508 until his death. He was never crowned by the Pope, as the journey to Rome was always too risky. He was instead proclaimed Emperor elect by Pope Julius II at Trent, thus breaking the long tradition of requiring a papal coronation for the adoption of the imperial title. Maximilian was the son of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, and Eleanor of Portugal. He ruled jointly with his father for the last ten years of the latter's reign, from c. 1483 to his father's death in 1493.

Principality of Lippe german principality

Lippe was a historical state in Germany, ruled by the House of Lippe. It was located between the Weser River and the southeast part of the Teutoburg forest.

The abbey was a member the Lower Rhenish-Westphalian Circle and the Rhenish College of Imperial Prelates.

In the 17th century the governorship of the Spanish Netherlands sought to restrict the imperial immediacy. The abesses resisted these attempts successfully. In the 18th century, the abbess held the title of Princess. Several abbesses were simultaneously head of Essen Abbey.

The territory was conquered by French troops in 1794 and formally annexed by France in 1795. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna awarded the territory to the Kingdom of the United Netherlands.


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  1. Derolez, Albert (1999). Corpus Catalogorum Belgii: Counts of Flanders, Provinces of East Flanders, Antwerp and Limburg. Paleis der Academiën. pp. 201–202.
  2. Verspaandonk, J. A. J. M. (1875). Het hemels prentenboek: Devotie- en bidprentjes vanaf de 17e eeuw tot het begin van de 20e eeuw. Hilversum: Gooi en Sticht. p. 9. ISBN   9030400641.

Coordinates: 50°10′N5°50′E / 50.167°N 5.833°E / 50.167; 5.833