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|Unica in urbe virorum abbatia fuit, in
eandem a Bernulpho episcopo translata circa annum 1040 et in honorem
divi Pauli consecrata, cum eadem primum ab Ansfrido itidem episcopo in
Montesancto, non procul loco qui Emersfort dicebatur, ante 40 fere
annos fuisset fundata in honorem sancte Mariae. Monasterii locus
Hohorst dicebatur, peculium ut volunt quidam Lockhorstiorum.
Buchelius, Monumenta, f. 131.
Willibrord shown as Archbishop between two deacons. Miniature from the 11th century. This is the eldest portrait of this saint.
of Charlotte J.C. Broer's PhD thesis
Uniek in de stad (Unique in the city)
about the earliest history of St Paul's Abbey in Utrecht
This publication (in Dutch) is still available.
About the year 1000, the Utrecht Bishop Ansfried (995-1010) founded a community of monks at the Hohorst, a hill near Amersfoort. This community formed the monastic continuation of the monasterium in Utrecht, founded by the Anglo-Saxon missionary Willibrord at the end of the seventh century. The monasterium was dedicated to St Saviour as well as to Mary, the apostles Peter and Paul, St John the Baptist and All Saints. Serving as a guiding principle for community life in Utrecht, was not the Rule of St Benedict, but probably a mixed rule of Irish and Anglo-Saxon origin, offering the monks room for activities outside their own monastery, especially for missionary work.
The monastic community of St Saviour will initially also have served the Church of St Martin [St.-Maartenskerk], which held the bishop's see from the mid-eighth century and which became the cathedral at the official founding of the diocese of Utrecht towards the end of the eighth century. Later on, a separate community of clerics was attached to the Church of St Martin.
The Emperor Otto III with his advisors, bishops and layman, in ruling his empire.
Monks having dinner together, while listening to the reading from the Scripture.
Bishop Bernold of Utrecht (1027-1054). Portrait in a 15th century obituary of St Peter's in Utrecht.
Map of Utrecht showing the most important churches of Utrecht in the 11th century.
Church and Abbey of St Paul. Map of Utrecht by Braun and Hohenberg (detail).
the course of the tenth century, in connection with the pursuit of
reform of monastic and ecclesiastical life, a clearer distinction
was being made between the different groups of clerics, monachi or
monks on the one hand, and clerici
or canonici (canons) on the
other. Related to this, greater importance was being attached to the
observance of special rules by these groups: the Rule of St Benedict
for monks and the so-called Rules of Aachen (816) for canons. Had
there so far always been room for monastic life, in particular in the
old monasterium of St
Saviour, in those days this community developed itself - presumably
just like that of the Church of St Martin - more and more into a
community of (secular) canons: clerics who also took certain tasks
within the ecclesiastical organization upon themselves. The
establishment of a new monastic community on the Hohorst about 1000,
must have been related to that development within the existing Utrecht
communities and the wish of some of the clerics to live - truly turned
away from the world - as monks. This wish was shared by the then Bishop
Ansfried, who himself stayed in the new community from time to time and
who also provided it with a property (dos
or dowary) of its own, allocated for
the maintenance of the monks.
From the early eleventh century onwards, there was a sharp increase in the tasks of the bishop and the wealth of the church. This was connected with the fact that the kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire considered themselves - next to the Pope - as heads of the church, with also a special responsibility for the procedures within that church. Furthermore, they regarded the bishops - whom they appointed themselves - as important and loyal supporters and as instruments in the exertion of their power in the various parts of their realm. The bishops, including the Bishop of Utrecht, therefore were not only invested with ecclesiastical power, but also with secular government authority and - to enable them to discharge their duties in the service of the Empire - they were also endowed with numerous important property rights.
This sharp increase of the church property enabled the Utrecht bishops in the eleventh century - in accordance with a bishop's duty and task to enhance the service to God - to provide their city with several large churches. In those churches especially equipped clerics - canons or monks - performed their regular choral prayers and sang God's praise. Parts of the enlarged general property of the church of Utrecht were allocated to these new institutions as property of their own, earmarked for their maintenance. This took place at their foundation, but sometimes afterwards as well.
Monks gathered together and listening to the reading of (a chapter from) the Rule of St Benedict.
The establishment of the monastic community at the Hohorst under Ansfried, the introduction at that place of the Rule of St Benedict and of the Rules of Aachen for canons in the two older communities in the time of Bishop Adelbold (1010-1026), formed in fact the start of those activities in the field of the foundation and (re)organization of several (new) ecclesiastical institutions. Thereafter it was Bishop Bernold (1027-1054), who founded - next to the then existing chapters of St Saviour and St Martin in Utrecht - two new collegiate churches or chapters, dedicated to St Peter and St John the Baptist respectively. Special importance, however, - on account of the presumed effectiveness of their prayers - was also attached to the presence of monks in the cathedral city. Consequently, Bernold had the abbey at the Hohorst - which earlier on had had its origin in Utrecht, and which was regarded upon as being the only truly monastic successor to Willibrord's monasterium - brought back to Utrecht. Next to the chapters, it was given a place on a plot south of the episcopal castle as St Paul's Abbey [Sint-Paulusabdij]. Towards the end of the eleventh century, Bishop Conrad (1076-1099) would finally found and donate a fifth collegiate church, that of St Mary.
Mural painting in the church of St Peter in Utrecht, showing Bischop Bernold, standing between St Peter and St Paul, with the churches he founded: St Peter's, St John's, St-Paul's (all in Utrecht) and St Lebuinus (in Deventer).
Just as it had earlier been the case with the community of the church of St Martin, all these institutions that were founded in the eleventh century, were supposed to have developed from the oldest community in Utrecht, founded by Willibrord himself: the monasterium of St Saviour, later also called Oudmunster [Oldminster]. The new institutions were thus considered to be 'daughters' of the chapter of St Saviour. From this chapter they derived their individual patron saints: St Peter, St Paul, St John and St Mary. Together with St Saviour and the church of St Martin, all of them - just because of their origins - would form the church of Utrecht (ecclesia Traiectensis) and therefore share in the property of that same church. In that perspective, it befitted Bishop Bernold not only to move the abbey from the Hohorst to Utrecht, but also to make a donation to it when the new abbey church was consecrated on 26 June 1050.
During the one and a half centuries that followed, St Paul's Abbey took a unique position. It was the only abbey in the city - and even in the diocese as a whole - that had a close and exclusive bond with the bishop as its proprietor [Eigenkirchenherr]. Evident was in addition the basically equal position of the abbey next to and among its sister institutions, the chapters. This was clear from the ways in which it - together with the chapters - shared in the in those days ever growing property of the church of Utrecht. Besides, the abbey was - in the person of the abbot - involved in, for example, the administration of the diocese. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the abbot of St Paul had a highly prominent position among the provosts of the Utrecht chapters in the bishop's entourage. He was part of the episcopal council, in which capacity he was regularly mentioned in charters as a prominent witness at juridical transactions. Besides, there are indications that, when at the beginning of the twelfth century the choice of the new bishop became a matter for the clergy of the church of Utrecht in particular, the abbot (and his monks) were initially involved in this election. It was not until later - towards the end of the twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth century - that the election of the bishop was to be reserved to the five Utrecht chapters and to the provosts of a number of chapters elsewhere in the diocese.
Siegburg and the influence of its consuetudines in other monasteries in the 12th century.
The buildings and surroundings of the Abbey of St Paul.
though the position of St Paul's Abbey had been in the
eleventh and also in the twelfth centuries, in the course of the
twelfth century various developments in general
political-ecclesiastical as well as in monastic matters were profoundly
affecting its position. In this respect, the close and personal
bond of the abbey with the bishop as its proprietor - which was
probably once more confirmed by the affiliation of the abbey to
the monastic reform movement of Siegburg in the late eleventh century -
was finally replaced by a more formal and general bond with the bishop
as an ecclesiastical functionary and supervisor. This period is
furthermore characterized by the rise of other monasteries and abbeys,
of new monastic orders such as the Norbertines or Premonstratensians
and the Cistercians, who in certain respects were considered to be
stricter and apart from that embodied a new kind of spirituality. These
new monastic communities caught the attention of not only the bishops
but also of ordinary believers and they were responsible for the
decline in the attention for the traditional Benedictine abbeys like St
Paul's. This was among other things reflected in the declining or even
the defaulting material support to the abbey by those same bishops and
the nobility which became increasingly important in those days.
At least as important was furthermore that in this period gradually a clear distinction was being made between secular chapters on the one hand, and monasteries, abbeys and also regular chapters on the other hand. The duties of (secular) canons and monks - which were in principle the same, namely choral prayer and service to God at regular times - were finally more regarded upon as being different. While (secular) canons were also expressly expected to have administrative tasks in both ecclesiastical and secular respect, and therefore became the most important clergy of the diocese, for monks on the contrary, this was in general considered to be less and less appropriate. This resulted in a shift of position of the abbey, which up to then had been next to and among the Utrecht chapters. The latter presented themselves in the course of time more and more distinctively as institutions which collectively formed the church of Utrecht, for which as such certain tasks and privileges were reserved. The abbey on the other hand, failed to maintain its - in principal similar and equal - position next to the chapters as part of the church of Utrecht in the long run. In numerous matters - especially concerning the administration of church and diocese - the abbey or its abbot were being involved less frequently; privileges based upon its old position were partly lost and eventually the abbey - as opposed to the chapters - was no longer actually counted as part of the ecclesia Traiectensis, the church of Utrecht. Rather than to its 'sisters', the chapters, St Paul's Abbey was finally explicitly being compared to other, much more recently founded monasteries and abbeys, which eventually even rivalled it for popularity and attraction. It is true that the abbey later still ranked as old, exclusive and distinguished. It was also held in high esteem because it was founded by Ansfried, who was worshipped as a saint. Finally, it was rich in (real) estate and rights situated throughout the diocese. However, by then the abbey no longer had the influence and the true role in the administration of the diocese it had had during the first centuries of its existence. Since then its range of action was restricted rather to the Nedersticht, that is to say, the area where the bishop exercised worldly power and which was about coterminous with the current province of Utrecht.
At the establishment of the monastic community at the Hohorst, Bishop Ansfried donated certain goods and rights, allocated for the maintenance of the monks. The same was done by Bishop Adelbold when the community was (re)organized as a Benedictine abbey in the 1020s and by Bishop Bernold when the abbey was moved to Utrecht and the church was consecrated there in 1050.
Charter, 1308, which includes a charter of 1050, in which Bishop Bernold confirmed the donations of his predecessors Bishop Ansfried (995-1010) and Bishop Adelbold (1010-1026), and made his own donation to St Paul's Abbey.
Contemporary portrait of the Emperor Henry III, standing between two bishops or abbots, while entering a church.
episcopal donations to the abbey have been thoroughly examined
for their origins and their contents. Besides, there has been a
thorough investigation into the implications and the further
development of the donated property in the course of time. It was
concluded that the property and the rights which the abbey acquired
through these donations, partially originated from the old property of
the church of Utrecht, which had been partitioned between the abbey and
the chapters. Besides, it turned out that the abbey explicitly shared
in the new property and rights which the church of Utrecht itself
acquired during the same period. Some of these new acquisitions had
formerly belonged to families of counts against whom the Bishop of
Utrecht functioned as a supporter for the royal authority and who had
been politically eliminated. By sharing in these acquisitions of the
church of Utrecht, the abbey got in fact involved from the start in the
role of the bishop as a political supporter of the imperial authority.
Together with the chapters, the abbey became thus mixed up in political
affairs during the rest of the eleventh century and in the early
The extent of the property in the early days of the abbey was certainly not impressive. The donations of Ansfried and Adelbold - briefly described in two confirmation charters from 1028 and 1050 - dealt with some rather extensive sets of property (landownership, including jurisdiction, churches with rights to tithes), situated mainly in the Eemland region and in the middle of the Netherlands, and furthermore in the province of South Holland and in and around the Veluwe region. In addition chiefly smaller and scattered properties and rights (in the provinces of Overijssel and North Brabant) were part of these donations. After their first mention in the oldest charters, however, these smaller properties and rights are no longer found as property of the abbey so they have probably been lost or given up at an early stage.
Important in connection to the oldest property of the abbey, however, was that it was partly situated in areas where - whether or not within the existing settlements - reclamations were taking place (in Eemland and in the area of the big rivers in the middle of the Netherlands) or were just getting started (South Holland) in those days. Because of these reclamations, one is to conclude on the basis of the oldest charters, the property of the abbey grew both in size and in significance soon after the first donations. After that - partially as a result of this success - initially some further donations of waste, still uncultivated areas have been made to the abbey. This way, it acquired the reclamation area of Papendorp near Utrecht from Bishop Bernold in 1050. Later on the episcopal donations of huge, for the greater part still to be reclaimed areas seemed to be restricted to the chapters.
The various possessions of St Paul's Abbey, spreaded all over the diocese of Utrecht.
It is true that further donations to the abbey in the late eleventh century and the early twelfth century - apart from some exceptions - were not attested by charters or known to be mentioned in later sources. The exceptions were a donation for the remembrance of Bishop William (1054-1076), in which St Paul's Abbey shared next to the chapters, and a donation of Bishop Burchard (1100-1112) of the church of Carnisse in 1100. Yet it is possible - on the basis of further analysis of the nature and the make-up of the property of the abbey in later times - to make a reasonable case for the acquisition of several other properties and rights through episcopal donations in the first centuries of the community's existence. This applies in particular to the rights with respect to several churches in the provinces of Friesland (Arum and its daughter churches), South Holland (besides Carnisse also Monster) and Zeeland (Middelburg), to which rights to tithes may have been connected as well. In the case of the church of Arum, it was probably Bishop Conrad who made the donation, in the other cases it might have been his successor, Burchard.
In these donations, too, apart from practical-religious motives, political grounds will have played a part. All churches mentioned were situated in areas where the bishops in those days either acquired secular rights (in Friesland and 'Holland') or else ranked as a loyal supporter of the king or emperor against lay dynasts (Zeeland). In its turn, the abbey seems to have served as support for the bishop by the acquisition of its new property. Compared to the way in which at that same time the chapters were favoured by the bishops as well, it is remarkable that the abbey actually merely acquired churches and tithes, and not, for example, more extensive lands that were being reclaimed through special arrangements (copes) instead of within old local levels. Possibly all this has to do with an attitude that was developing in the abbey under the influence of the Siegburg ideas on reform. Among other things these implied a more explicit turning away of the monks from worldly affairs and possibly also the rejection of the property that brought with it involvement in these affairs.
In the course of the twelfth century, for the abbey things concerning its property changed emphatically under the influence of the general political and ecclesiastical developments. After the Investiture Controversy it was impossible for the kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire to rely upon the bishops in the exertion of their authority as they had done before. In consequence they stopped benefiting the bishops and their churches. Because of this loss of the king's support and the default of royal donations to their churches, the bishops were forced to be more cautious about further donations out of the church property or their diocesan estates to the already wealthy and increasingly more independently operating institutions like the chapters and St Paul's Abbey. For the latter in particular - in accordance with the new ideas on monastic poverty and austerity - it probably was hardly considered to be appropriate to require more property and rights through further donations. Most of the twelfth century bishops, from Godebald (1114-1127) to Godfried van Rhenen (1156-1176) are therefore not or hardly known to have made any donations out of the church property. Nevertheless, in those days the already existing property of the abbey actually did increase and became of greater significance, because at local level land reclamation was being carried out as of old.
View of Utrecht with its churches. In the centre Saint Paul's and in the background the Abbey of Saint Lawrence in Oostbroek. Anthonie van Wijngaerde, 1558 (detail).
It is to be assumed that in the end it was Bishop Godfried who made a final more extensive donation of estates and rights to the abbey in the 1170s. In this case it concerned rights in the northern part of Eemland, which were more or less linked with property and rights that the abbey as of old already possessed in this vicinity. Compared to the oldest episcopal donations, however, this concerned rights that were clearly more restricted. The bishops are not known to have made any further donations after that. Gradually the abbey would also be confronted with pressure chiefly on its estates that were further away and of which finally parts (in Holland, Guelders and Zeeland) were lost or were parted with against annual payments. Also as far as the property of estates and rights of the abbey was concerned, the centre finally became to lie more or less completely in the Nedersticht.
© C.J.C. Broer en M.W.J. de Bruijn 2000-2015. - Gepubliceerd 4 januari 2015; laatst bewerkt 4 januari 2015.