Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stubber Kloster, North Jutland
Benedictine Nuns in the Middle Ages

Stubber Klosterruin on the inlet at Stubbergård Sø

Upon an inlet in a small lake in North Jutland was built a nunnery for the Benedictine-order in the early Middle Ages. This was Stubber Kloster, mentioned for the first time in 1268 - but maybe already from 1150. In the Middle Ages the inlet was an island connected to the main land with a bridge. The building was a small four- winged plan from which is left a vaulted cellar, which was built in the 1400s together with a west wing. In the beginning of the 1800s a big part of Stubber Kloster burnt down and the last rests - except the west wing addition with the cellar - was demolished in 1870. The ruin has a beautiful situation at Stubbergård Sø . From Søgårde is a road to a Parking place. From here is a 2 km long nature trail down to the ruin on the east side of Stubbergård Sø.

In the Middle Ages the hills were forested, now they are grown with junipers

How was a nun's life in a Benedictine convent ? She took the monastic vow which meant that she promised to stay inside the walls of the convent, to live a life in poverty and chastity and to subject to the will of the prioress in unconditional obedience. In the convent all sisters were equal, they wore the same dress and shared the same conditions, they shared a dormitory with simple beds or had small sparsely furnished cells. They had dinner in a joint dining hall. Only the prioress had her own flat in one of the wings and was allowed to have guests at her table. If the private nuns had visitors, the conversation had to take place through a grated window.

The pious sisters had to spend their time praying, attending service and doing housework, under which they had to remain silent. Three times in 24 hours they gathered for a hymn of thanksgiving and prayers in the church. There were 2 daily masses, confessions every fourtnight and Communion at least once a month. The convent had its own priest. He might also be a prior who together with the prioress took care of the out-turned functions of the convent and administered the estates. The prioress could not herself attend meetings at the thing or do business on behalf of the convent. Later it was common practise to let a secular businessman function as a principal of the nunnery.

The nature trail goes between two small lakes to Stubber Kloster

Actually the nuns had to do all pursuits in the household, but the rough work was undoubtedly taken over by servants. The nuns came from the top of the social class, and they were probably not the least interested in cleaning and wash. Many nunneries in Europe were wellknown educational places, but there is no documentation for this in Denmark - the education was mostly of a religious kind in the convent. Many nuns worked as teachers for children, who were placed in the convent in order to be brought up. Much of the nuns' spare time went with fine needlework, magnificent embroidery with gold and silverthread with biblical scenes. And the Benedictine nuns still obeyed the rules of St. Benedict.

But as time went by the rules began to loosen. The prioress began to attend church-meetings, and the private nuns went in the streets of the town or in the country-roads, mostly in order to visit their families, but people were shocked. In 1447 the Danish king commanded that a building should be added to the convent in Aalborg in order to make the nuns remember their vows and shut them in to keep them from going out or have any other social convention than the one which the rule and the church allowed.

The nature trail

The vow about poverty was not kept in full either. The Danish Benedictine nuns were not without possessions. There are many examples that the nuns owned estates and gold, and they had both furs and silken clothes and jewelry. The record was held by a prioress in Easebourne in England who in the 1400s brought her convent almost on the verge of bankruptcy because of her luxurious social life - and she was instructed by the bishop to sell her furs in order to rectify the economy of the convent.

The ascetic life was relieved as time went by. Benedict's rule suggested that meat must not be eaten. This was changed into that meat of two-footed animals was allowed. But later the four-footed animals joined the queue; the findings of animal bones in Ringkloster's soil tells that the nuns had feasted on delicious pork. In a convent is a list of what food and clothes the prior in the end of the 1400s had to deliver to the nuns. Four barrels of beer every week, besides bread, barley, butter, herring, fish, pork, peas, beans, beef, porpoise-pork, onion, cheese, barley- and oat grain and salt and milk from 6 cows which were in the prior's stable, oil for the Lent, free cabbage-land and barley and oat for the geese.

As much as it was possible the nuns lived like other ladies of high rank; they had furs, linen in stead of rough underclothes, and they might wear jewelry. The life has been somewhat relieved, but in the middle of the 1400s a European reform movement demanded sinful nuns to follow the rules of Benedict, and some Johannes from Holstein was sent to the convents in Jutland. In Sebber and Gudum kloster he was received well by the nuns - and they were brought back to follow their original vows, but in the other Jutland convents they did not want to have anything to do with this Johannes - so they just sat still and said nothing and let the storm sweep out.

It was the aristocracy who made the convents rich, and it was the ladies of the aristocracy who lived in the convents. The old widows could achieve a safe and comfortable old age - but to the women wo came to the nunnery when children or quite young, the life in the convent could be terribly difficult and awful. The world outside was a closed land to them. An abbedisse Elisabeth in Bergen Convent at Rügen said that her brother had better marry her to the poorest knight of all than bury her alive in the nunnery in Bergen.

The ruin

At the reformation Stubber Kloster had an estate of 146 large and lesser farms and houses in 34 various parishes in Jutland. The convent owned several water-mills, seven forests, seven moors, seven green meadows, seven scores of ploughs - and they had the patronage-rights to seven churches. In 1538 were only 11 nuns left in Stubber Kloster.

Stubber Kloster

Stubbergård Sø

Source: Skalk 6, 1972; "Nonneliv - især i Jylland", Rikke og Olaf Olsen

photo 25 April 2009: grethe bachmann, Stubber Kloster, North Jutland

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