Bad Bevensen: Cloister Medingen
Medingen Cloister lies two kilometres outside of Bad Bevensen and is one of the remaining inhabited cloisters on the heath.
Cultural life in Bad Bevensen would be unimaginable without them: the cloister buildings in Medingen, two kilometres outside of the main town. The early neo-classical structure on the banks of the River Ilmenau has the Church of St. Mauritius at is centre and is one of the region’s architectural highlights. Medingen Cloister is the only newly erected Protestant cloister in North Germany.
The current cloister was inaugurated in 1778 as an “Aristocratic Lutheran Convent” - the old cloister had been destroyed by fire seven years earlier. The “Brewery” built in the redbrick Gothic style at the rear part of the cloister is all that remains as a reminder of the former cloister from the 14th century.
The predecessor to the current cloister was built in 1336 in Zellensen on the banks of the Ilmenau in the redbrick Gothic style for the nuns of the Cistercian convent in Medingen, six kilometres away. The nuns no longer felt safe in the convent founded in 1241. When they relocated to the new cloister on 24. August 1336, however, they brought the old name with them: thus, Zellensen was renamed Medingen and the former cloister site became the town of Altenmedingen, as it is still known today.
The new cloister in Medingen was situated directly on the River Ilmenau , which at the time was the most important traffic and transport artery in the region. Neighbouring Bevensen was still a relatively insignificant market town, although Markt Bevensen did already have a marksmen's guild that was able to assure the nuns’ protection.
Close connections between the guild and the cloister were established at the latest in 1450, when Bevensen was pledged to the cloister, and again in 1489, when it preliminary became the property of the cloister: to this day, the current abbess is a guest of honour at the annual guild parade and shooting competition. The guild’s valuable flags were donated by the nuns of the cloister in 1848 and 1912 and are kept at Medingen Cloister to this day, as is the guild’s valuable collection of silver.
Medingen is one of six active heath cloisters
During the Middle Ages, Medingen Cloister belonged to the nuns’ convents in the Principality of Braunschweig-Lueneburg. Many hymns penned here are still sung by members of both denominations to this day. Numerous significant manuscripts found today in international libraries were produced in the cloister’s writing workshop.
The nuns were mainly daughters of patrician families who brought valuable households with them to the cloister, rapidly multiplying its wealth. In just a few decades, Medingen Cloister had also acquired rights to the Lueneburg Saline, customs duties, mills and shipping traffic on the Ilmenau . More than 100 nuns lived at Medingen Cloister at its peak just before the reformation.
When Duke Ernst zu Braunschweig und Lueneburg – the “confessor” – converted to Lutheranism in 1524, the “Lutheran Duke” naturally imposed the reformation on the six cloisters in his domain. The abbess of Medingen, however, had the Lutheran bible sent by the duke burned in public.
The convent in Medingen defied the orders of the head of state for more than 30 years. During the course of the “nuns’ war”, the duke had a part of the cloister demolished and, in 1539, even confiscated its property. It was 1555 by the time a small amount was returned to the cloister – after the nuns had converted to the Lutheran faith.
The strict regulations governing convent life were loosened as a consequence of the reformation and, in 1559, the convent became a “Protestant Ladies’ Foundation”. Thus, the mainly aristocratic ladies were permitted to venture beyond the cloister’s walls and even leave it entirely in order to marry. The conventuals were much sought-after as potential wives on account of their upbringing, education and housekeeping skills.
Community of Christian women
Today, the protestant foundation of Medingen has 14 conventuals and is the largest convent in Lower Saxony. It is presided over by an abbess, as it was in 1494. Medingen and the other five heath cloisters belong to the Cloister Chamber of Hanover. The abbess reports exclusively to the Chamber’s president with regard to the cloister’s management.
The conventuals are responsible for safekeeping the cloister’s art treasures, ensuring the transfer of knowledge and guiding visitors through the cloister. Its most significant treasures include the abbess’s hooked staff from 1494, the golden reliquary statue of St. Mauritius dating from the 15th century, a tapestry from the 16th century, and old silver and porcelain as well as medieval trunks and cabinets.
The six heath convents of Lueneburg Heath are inhabited by single women of the protestant faith who live together as a community, each in her own apartment with its own garden. Contrary to catholic convents, women’s foundations have a more social, cultural and artistic function. They accept not only unmarried women as members but also widows and divorcees. Conventuals often join the convent at the end of their working life to enjoy their retirement in a cultured, Christian atmosphere and social inclusion.
Guided tours of the cloister
The 40-metre tall, late baroque church tower with its green-patinated copper spire is the dominating element of today’s baroque-classic cloister on the Ilmenau. The cloister’s layout represents a stubbed H, while its architecture is clearly reminiscent of a castle complex.
The church at Medingen Cloister is dedicated to St. Mauritius and the reliquary statue of the martyr can be viewed in the “silver chamber”. The circular domed structure is aligned with a “resurrection altar” in the form of a sarcophagus opposite the entrance. The altar, pulpit and organ inside the church are arranged one above the other. A relief image of the cross of the risen Christ and instruments of torture are depicted between the altar and the pulpit.
The pulpit protrudes from the church’s circular gallery. The loges in the well-lit and neatly arranged church are located beneath the gallery, where the pewage also reflects the circular layout. The “nuns’ choir” with its own simple altar is situated above the congregational choir opposite the pulpit.
The impressive portraits of every abbess since the 17th century that hang in the atmospheric chapter room, the meeting place for the ladies of the foundation, are one of the convent’s highlights.
During the summer months, Bad Bevensen Marketing and the cloister organise cultural weeks under the title “Musical Summer at Medingen Cloister” with events held in the hall of the old brewery and the round baroque church. The “Young Pianists” concert series held in the winter features highly talented young musicians performing in the cloister’s ceremonial hall.