Ruins of medieval monastery explored by archaeologists in Germany

For hundreds of years during the Middle Ages, Kaltenborn monastery was thriving in central Germany. Archaeologists are now exploring the ruins of that monastery to help understand its downfall in the 16th century.

Kaltenborn monastery near Allstedt was founded in 1118 by Ludwig the Springer, Count of Thuringia. Favoured by the high nobility and richly endowed with donations, Kaltenborn developed into one of the most prosperous and influential monasteries in the region.


The prosperity and power of the monastery, as well as its vigorous collection of taxes, aroused resentment in the local population. There are even reports that its subjects were refusing services as early as the mid-15th century. When the German Peasants’ War broke out in 1524-5, the monastery was plundered and devastated by insurgents from the nearby villages of Riestedt and Emseloh in April 1525. Many monks fled and did not return. The monastery did not recover from this and was finally abolished in 1538. Later, the church, cloister and all other buildings were removed so thoroughly that today only small rests of ruins have remained of the once magnificent abbey.

Romanesque column base in the main apse of the monastery church. Photo by Felix Biermann / State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt

Archaeologists from the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt explored the site last year, conducting geophysical investigations, metal detector surveys and excavations. The work, led by Dr. Felix Biermann has led to the discovery of surprisingly rich relics of the monastery.


The walls of the abbey church have been partially preserved under enormous masses of rubble up to a height of two meters. It reveals a stately three-aisled basilica with transept, rectangular main apse and semi-circular side apses, which were built in Romanesque style during the first half of the 12th century and later expanded in the Gothic style.

Gothic pillars, altar and steps from the church – Photo by Felix Biermann / State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt

To the south, other cloister buildings connected to a large, walled, roughly rectangular courtyard with a diameter of up to 230 meters. Particularly impressive are the Romanesque architectural and decorative elements of the church, which include magnificent column bases, lintels with floral motifs and round arches with friezes – the latter with close parallels to the Ulrichskirche in nearby Sangerhausen, which has survived to this day and is one of the main works of Romanesque art in Saxony-Anhalt.

A medieval architectural item found in the dig. Photo by Felix Biermann / State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt

These architectural relics and a rich ensemble of small finds – coins, book fittings, belt buckles, pieces of jewelry, scales, signet rings, pens and the like – shed light on the monastery’s proud early days. Other finds tell of its eventual downfall. The furor of the rebellious peasants resulted in burnt debris layers with smashed ceramic vessels, broken glass from windows, broken tiles and melted metal objects.

Top Image: Eastern end of the monastery church with rectangular main apse and semi-circular northern side apse, bird’s eye view from the east. Photo by Robert Prust / State Office for Heritage Management and Archeology Saxony-Anhalt