[St. Pachomius Library]

Bad Gandersheim

City in the Harz Mountains of Germany, built around a women's monastery which figured prominently in one of the last concerted efforts to keep the West Orthodox.

The Community of Saints Anastasius and Innocent of Rome was founded in the mid-IX Century by Duke Liudolf of Saxony and his wife Odo; the first three abbesses were their daughters. In the X Century, Gandersheim was a major centre of the "Ottonian Renaissance", the heroic but doomed attempt of the Greek-born Empress Theophano and her father-in-law, husband, and son (the three Emperors Otto) to Byzantinise the Western Empire and Church. Gerberga II, abbess from 959-1001, was one of the leaders of this project; daughter of the powerful Duke Henry of Bavaria, she had spent years in Constantinople as the fianceé of a Greek prince before embracing monastic life. Both she and her sister Hedwig, also a nun at Gandersheim, spoke Greek, and the monastery became a major conduit of Eastern culture into Germany as well as a cultural centre in its own right. During this period, the Gandersheim nun Roswitha wrote poetry and plays, many on specifically Eastern Orthodox themes, which are regarded as the beginning of mediæval German literature. There was also apparently contact with the Slavic world; a glagolitic alphabet is copied onto the back of one of Roswitha's manuscripts.

Although its cultural importance declined after the Schism, Gandersheim continued to function as a monastically ruled principality with its own army, money, and representation in the Imperial Diet all through the Middle Ages and (strangely) even under the rule of Protestant "abbesses" up until the final disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire in the Napoleonic Wars.

--- Norman Hugh Redington


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