Memleben Abbey

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Imperial Abbey of Memleben
Reichskloster Memleben
Imperial Abbey of the Holy Roman Empire

late 10th century – 1015
The abbey church in 1820
Capital Memleben Abbey
Government Theocracy
Historical era Middle Ages
 •  Founded by Otto II 975
 •  Gained Reichsfreiheit Uncertain 10th century
 •  Granted market, mint and
    customs rights by Otto III

 •  Privileges confirmed
    by Henry II

 •  Dispossessed in favour
    of Hersfeld
 •  Abbey dissolved 1548
Today part of  Germany
Crypt of the ruined Memleben Abbey

Memleben Abbey (German: Kloster Memleben, Reichskloster Memleben) was a Benedictine monastery, now ruined, on the Unstrut in Memleben, in the Burgenlandkreis near Nebra in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.


The royal villa of Memleben acquired considerable importance under the Ottonian Dynasty. Henry I of Germany (whose ancestral estates lay in this area, where he therefore spent much time) was born in Memleben and later greatly enlarged the Kaiserpfalz (villa regia or palace), which became his favourite residence next only to Quedlinburg. He died here of a stroke while hunting in 936. His son Otto I also often stayed in Memleben and issued a number of documents from here.

Otto I died here on 7 May 973 and although his body was buried in Magdeburg, his heart, according to legend, was buried in Memleben. In his memory, and perhaps as an intended site of dynastic memorial,[1] his son Otto II founded in 975 a Benedictine monastery, which within a short time had become one of the richest and most influential of the Imperial abbeys. Otto II endowed it with several estates and privileges in the present Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Hesse.

In 994 Otto II's son, Otto III, granted the abbey the market, mint and customs rights of Memleben, and even had plans to make it the centre of a projected See of Thuringia, but died aged 22 in Italy before he was able to act on his intention.

In 1015 the golden age of Memleben Abbey ended. On his accession in 1002, Henry II, the successor of Otto III, had confirmed to Abbot Reinhold of Memleben the privileges and possessions of his predecessors, but nevertheless thirteen years later he substantially disempowered and dispossessed the community at Memleben in favour of Hersfeld Abbey, to whom he subordinated it, in return for estates for his pet project, the newly created Bishopric of Bamberg. The decline of Memleben Abbey, and its Ottonian memoria, was thus ensured.

In 1525 the abbey was plundered by rebellious peasants and after a steadily worsening decline in the wake of the Reformation it was dissolved in 1548.


The abbey's estates were taken over by the Electors of Saxony in 1551 and given to the school at Pforta, which had just been re-founded, and which retained possession of them until the end of World War II.

In 1722 the roof of the former abbey church was struck by lightning and destroyed, and attempts were made later to demolish the rest of the building, although the remaining ruins are still of interest, particularly the crypt.

The other monastic buildings were given during the period of the DDR after World War II to an agricultural collective, who made considerable alterations to them. They now house a permanent exhibition relating to the history of the abbey and the town.


  1. ^ John W. Bernhardt, in Gerd Althoff, Johannes Fried, Patrick J. Geary, eds. Medieval Concepts of the Past: ritual, memory, historiography, 2002:59f.

Sources and external links[edit]


  • Andert, Reinhold, 1995: Von Ritteburg nach Memleben in Der Thüringer Königshort. Querfurt: Dingsda-Verlag. ISBN 3-928498-45-2
  • Größler, Hermann, nd: Führer durch das Unstruttal von Artern nach Naumburg, reprinted by Dingsda-Verlag, Querfurt, 1995. ISBN 3-928498-04-5
  • Kühnlenz, Fritz, 1992: Städte und Burgen an der Unstrut, 1st edition. Greifenverlag. ISBN 3-7352-0293-4 (also special edition, 1999, Verlagshaus Thüringen, ISBN 3-89683-121-6)
  • Wittmann, Helge, 2001: Memleben: Königspfalz — Reichskloster — Probstei. Imhof Petersberg. ISBN 3-932526-92-9

Coordinates: 51°17′00″N 11°34′00″E / 51.2833333333°N 11.5666666667°E / 51.2833333333; 11.5666666667