Corvey Abbey

Corvey Abbey: West end
Courtyard of Corvey Abbey
Corvey today

The Imperial Abbey of Corvey (German: Fürstabtei Corvey) was a Benedictine monastery on the River Weser, 2 km northeast of Höxter, now in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

It was first founded in 815 among the recently converted Saxons on a site called Hethis[1] by Charlemagne's cousins Wala and Adelard, with monks from Corbie Abbey in Picardy, under the joint patronage of the Emperor Louis the Pious and the abbot of the older foundation, whence the new one derived its name (Latin: Corbeia nova, the "new Corbie").

In 822,[2] the monastery was reconstructed on the present site near the banks of the river Weser. It became "one of the most privileged Carolingian monastic sanctuaries in the ninth-century Duchy of Saxony".[3] A mint was authorized as early as 833[4] though surviving coins date from the early eleventh century. The site of the abbey, where the east-west route called the Hellweg crossed the Weser, accounted for some strategic importance and assured its economic and cultural importance. The abbey's historian H. H. Kaminsky estimates that the royal entourage visited Corvey at least 110 times before 1073, occasions for the issuance of charters.

A diploma granted by Otto I in 940, the first of its kind, established the abbot, Folcmar, on a new kind of setting. The abbot was granted bannus—powers of enforcement—over the population of peasants that were to seek refuge in the fortress built in the monastery's lands; in return they were expected to maintain its structure, under the abbot's supervision. The workforce under monastic protection was drawn from three pagi, under the jurisdiction of four counts, who, however, were to have no rights to demand castlework from them. "Here then a profitable sanction, which cut across the ordinary competence of counts, was entrusted to the monastery", Karl Leyser notes.

Under the guidance of abbots drawn from the Imperial family, Corvey was granted the first rights of minting coins east of the Rhine (with the exception of Frisia). It soon became famous for its school, which produced many celebrated scholars, among them the tenth-century Saxon historian Widukind of Corvey. In its library were preserved the first five books of the Annales of Tacitus. From its cloisters went forth a stream of missionaries who evangelised Northern Europe, chief amongst them being Saint Ansgar, the "Apostle of Scandinavia". The Annales Corbenjenses, which issued from the same scriptorium, is a major source of medieval history—spuriously supplemented by the forged Chronicon Corbejense which appeared in the nineteenth century. Unsuspected, in the library lurked books I to V of Tacitus' Annales.[5] Ninth-century wall-paintings remain on the west end inner wall.

The Carolingian west end of the abbey, with its landmark matching towers (built 873–885) survives, the earliest standing medieval structure in Westphalia, but the abbey church is now Baroque.

In the Investiture Controversy, the abbot of Corvey took a stand with the Saxon nobles against Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor. Its abbot Markward (served 1081–1107), "without doubt one of the most important abbots of the thousand-year history of the abbey" (Kaminsky), and his successor Erkenbert (1107–28) saw the abbey through the critical period.

The school of Corvey declined after the fifteenth century, but the abbey itself, most of its feudal lands separated from it, continued until 1803, when it was secularized under Napoleonic administration and became briefly part of the Principality of Nassau-Orange-Fulda, then went to Jérôme Bonaparte's Kingdom of Westphalia (1807), then to Prussia (1815); the Landgrave of Hesse-Rotenburg rebuilt the abbey buildings as a Schloss (palace) which has descended to the Victor I, Duke of Ratibor.

The famous abbey library has long since been dispersed, but the "princely library" (Fürstliche Bibliothek), an aristocratic family library, containing about 67,000 volumes, mainly in German, French, and English, with a tailing off circa 1834, survives in the Schloss. One striking feature of the collection is the large number of English Romantic novels, some in unique copies, for in Britain fiction was more often borrowed than bought, and was read extensively in the lending libraries.[6]


  • Poeschke, Joachim (2002) (in German). Sinopien und Stuck im Westwerk der karolingischen Klosterkirche von Corvey [Sinopia and stuccowork in the westwork of the Carolingian monastery church of Corvey]. Münster: Rhema-Verlag. ISBN 9783930454341. OCLC 50130269.  Also OCLC 491824148. Proceedings of a conference on the theme "Die karolingischen Stuckfiguren im Westwerk von Corvey : zur Frage ihrer Deutung [Carolingian stucco figures in the westwork of Corvey: on questions about their meaning]", held Nov. 1-3, 1996 at the Institut für Kunstgeschichte [Institute of art history], University of Münster.


  1. ^ The site, Hethis, is not securely identifiable (Hethis, noting Herbert Krüger, "Wo lag Hethis, der Ort der ersten Corveyer Klostergründung?", Mannus 24, Leipzig, (1932:320—32)).
  2. ^ Dedication of the new abbey church, September 822. Jahns, Susanne: "The later Holocene history of vegetation, land-use and settlements around the Ahlequellmoor in the Solling area, Germany," Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 15.1 (2006:57-63 ) p. 57.
  3. ^ Karl Leyser, "Ottonian Government" The English Historical Review 96.381 (October 1981), p 735.
  4. ^ Hans Heinrich Kaminsky, Studien zur Reichsabtei Corvey in der Salierzeit (Historische Commission Westfalens, Cologne 1972) assembles the documentary history.
  5. ^ R.J. Tarrant in L.D. Reynolds, ed., Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics (Oxford 1983), p 406f.
  6. ^ The library has been discussed as a cultural marker in the record of a symposium at Corvey, Rainer Schöwerling, Hartmut Steinecke and Norbert Otto Eke, Die Fürstliche Bibliothek Corvey: ihre Bedeutung für eine neue Sicht der Literatur des frühen 19. Jahrhunderts, 1992, and Werner Huber and Rainer Schöwerling, The Corvey Library and Anglo-German cultural exchanges, 1770-1837, 2004.

External links

Coordinates: 51°46′40″N 9°24′36″E / 51.77778°N 9.41°E / 51.77778; 9.41

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