Herford Abbey

Imperial Abbey of Herford
Reichsfrauenstift Herford
Imperial Abbey of the Holy Roman Empire

Coat of arms

Former Herford Abbey church, now Herford Minster
Capital Herford Abbey
Languages West Low German
Government Theocracy
Historical era Middle Ages
  Dedicated as Imperial abbey
    under Louis the Pious

   Herford gained city rights 973 1147
  Both abbey and city gained
    Imperial immediacy

  City joined Hanseatic Lg. 1342
  City's immediacy confirmed 1631
  City annexed by
    Mgvt Brandenburg

   Secularised 1802
  Annexed by Cty Ravensberg 25 February 1803
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Duchy of Saxony
County of Ravensberg
Today part of  Germany

Herford Abbey (German: Frauenstift Herford) was the oldest women's religious house in the Duchy of Saxony. It was founded as a house of secular canonesses in 789, initially in Müdehorst (near the modern Bielefeld) by a nobleman called Waltger, who moved it in about 800 onto the lands of his estate Herivurth (later Oldenhervorde) which stood at the crossing of a number of important roads and fords over the Aa and the Werre. The present city of Herford grew up on this site around the abbey.


9th–12th centuries

The abbey was dedicated in 832 and was elevated to the status of a Reichsabtei ("Imperial abbey") under Emperor Louis the Pious (d. 840). In ecclesiastical matters it was answerable directly to the Pope and was endowed with a third of the estates originally intended for Corvey Abbey.

In 860, at the instigation of the abbess Haduwy (Hedwig), the bones of Saint Pusinna, later the patron saint of Herford, were brought from her hermitage at Binson ("vicus bausionensis" near Châlons-en-Champagne, Corbie). The presence of these relics in the abbey increased its importance and its dedication was changed in due course to Saints Mary and Pusinna.

In the time of the abbess Matilda I her granddaughter Matilda, later Saint Matilda, was brought up here. In 909, through the negotiations of her grandmother, she was married to Henry, Duke of Saxony and later King Henry I of Germany.[1]

Between 919 and 924 Herford was destroyed by Hungarians but was rebuilt by 927.


In 1147 the abbey, which by this time had almost 850 estates and farms, was granted Imperial immediacy (German: Reichsunmittelbarkeit). This made it an independent territory within the Holy Roman Empire (although admittedly a very small one, comprising part of the area of the present city of Herford) which lasted until 1803. The abbesses became Imperial princesses (German: Reichsfürstinnen) and sat in the Reichstag in the College of Prelates of the Rhine. The territory belonged to the Lower Rhenish-Westphalian Circle.

The first Vögte seem to have been the Billunger, and after they died out, Henry the Lion, who appointed the Counts of Schwalenberg as under-Vögte. From 1180, after the fall of Henry the Lion, they exercised the same function for the Archbishopric of Cologne and the Duchy of Westphalia. By 1261 the office seems to have passed to the Counts of Sternberg and in 1382 to the Counts of Jülich-Berg.

In the vicinity of the abbey there grew up the town of Herford, which had acquired municipal rights by 1170/1180 and later, as the Reichsstadt Herford, acquired Reichsunmittelbarkeit in its own right.

By the end of the 15th century, "Sancta Herfordia" ("Holy Herford"), as it became known, had some 37 churches, chapels, monasteries and other religious houses, and hospitals. Its spiritual life was thus comparable to that of a great centre such as Cologne.


In 1533, during the Reformation, Herford Abbey became Lutheran, under the Electors of Brandenburg. From 1649 for over a century the abbesses were all Calvinist but that did not alter the Lutheran character of the principality.


In 1802 the abbey was dissolved in the course of secularisation under the terms of the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss and on 25 February 1803 was annexed to the County of Ravensberg, which belonged to the Kingdom of Prussia. In 1804 it was turned into a collegiate foundation for men, and in 1810 finally suppressed.

The former abbey church remains in use as Herford Minster (Herforder Münster).


  • Theodrada, Tetta (838 – after 840)
  • Addila (before 844 – after 853)
  • Hedwig (before 858 – after 888)
  • Matilda I (before 908 – after 911; Immedinger)
  • Imma (before 973 – after 995; Billunger)
  • Godesdiu (before 1002 – after 1040; Billunger)
  • Swanhild (before 1051–1076)
  • Gertrud I (before 1138 – after 1139)
  • Jutta (Jutta of Arnsberg; before 1146 – after 1162)
  • Ludgard I (before 1163 – after 1170)
  • Eilika (c. 1212)
  • Gertrud II (Gertrud of Lippe; before 1217 – after 1233)
  • Ida (before 1238 – after 1264)
  • Pinnosa (before 1265 – after 1276)
  • Mechthild II (Mechtild of Waldeck; before 1277 – after 1288)
  • Irmgard (Irmgard of Wittgenstein; before 1290–1323)
  • Lutgard II (Lutgard of Bicken; 1324–1360)
  • Heilwig (Heilwig of Bentheim; 1361)
  • Elisabeth I (Elisabeth of Berg; 1361–1374)
  • Hillegund (Hillegund of Oetgenbach; 1374–1409)
  • Mechthild III (Mechtild of Waldeck; 1409–1442)
  • Margaret I (Margaret of Gleichen; 1443–1475)
    • Jakobe of Neuenahr, rival abbess 1476–1479
  • Anna I (Anna of Hunolstein; 1476–1494)
  • Bonizet (Bonizet of Limburg-Stirum; 1494–1524)
  • Anna II (Anna of Limburg; 1524–1565)
  • Margaret II (Margaret of Lippe; 1565–1578)
  • Felicitas I (Felicitas of Eberstein; 1578–1586)
  • Magdalene I (Magdalene of Lippe; 1586–1604)
  • Felicitas II (Felicitas of Eberstein; 1604–1621)
  • Magdalene II (Magdalene of Lippe; 1621–1640)
  • Sidonia (Sidonia of Oldenburg; 1640–1649)
    • Maria Clara Theresa of Wartenberg, rival abbess 1629–1631
  • Elisabeth II (Elisabeth Luise Juliana of the Palatinate-Zweibrücken; 1649–1667)
  • Elisabeth III (Elisabeth of the Electorate of the Palatinate; 1667–1680)
  • Elisabeth IV (Elisabeth Albertine of Anhalt-Dessau; 1680–1686)
  • Elisabeth V (Elisabeth of Hesse-Cassel; 1686–1688)
  • Charlotte Sophia (Charlotte Sophia of Courland; 1688–1728)
  • Johanna Charlotte (Johanna Charlotte of Anhalt-Dessau; 1729–1750)
  • Sophia (Sophia of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp; 1750–1764)
  • Frederica Charlotte (Frederica Charlotte of Brandenburg-Schwedt; 1764–1802; d. 1808)


  1. In 936, in memory of her late husband, Matilda founded another house of secular canonesses, the famous Quedlinburg Abbey.


Coordinates: 52°06′47″N 8°40′13″E / 52.113056°N 8.670278°E / 52.113056; 8.670278

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