The Convent of the Holy Cross

  • Aerial photography

  • Courtyard of the Convent, postcard, early 20th century

  • Painted nun’s cell in the north-west wing, about 1560

  • View of the south wingof the convent, about 1975

  • Painting of the foundation of the Convent of the Holy Cross, detail, 1705/1756

Foundation by Queen Margaret of Denmark 1270

The Convent of the Holy Cross was endowed in 1270 by Margaret, Queen of Denmark, and her cousin Waldemar of Rostock as atonement according to a legend from around 1300. The Rostock convent is named after the founding relic, a splinter from the cross of Christ, which Margaret is supposed to have brought to Rostock from her pilgrimage to Rome. The widowed Queen probably spent the last years of her life in the convent that had been authorized in 1276 by Pope Innocent II.  After her death in 1282 she was buried in the Doberan Monastery. This fact seems to contradict her role as the only founder. It is more likely that citizens of Rostock played a greater role as founders than has been assumed up till now.

Stiftungsbild des Klosters zum Heiligen Kreuz, 1705/1756
Painting of the foundation of the Convent of the Holy Cross, 1705/1756

The convent in the Middel ages

The Cistercian convent was one of four medieval monasteries and convents in Rostock. The existence of St. Katherine’s Franciscan monastery (St. Katharinen) since 1243 in the eastern part of the Old Town is documented. St. John’s Dominican monastery (St. Johannis) in the centre of town was endowed in 1256. The nuns settled in the south-west area of the New Town, the most recent of the medieval Rostock town areas, constructed in the middle of the 13. century. In 1456 the house of the “Brothers of Common Life“, St. Michael’s monastery (Michaeliskloster) was built in Altbettelmönchstraße.

Cistercian convent

Seal of the Convent of the Holy Cross, 14th century

Although the rules of the Cistercians stipulated, “None of our monasteries or convents is to be erected inside towns, castles or villages, but only in remote, desolate areas far from the concourse of men“, Holy Cross was built inside the town boundary.
There were probably 20 nuns living here in 1300. In 1354 their number was reduced to 60. Holy Cross was a large and economically strong convent. Land ownership and income were increased in the Middle Ages by endowments and purchase of land. In 1492 the Bishop of Schwerin reorganized the convent. From then on 40 nuns and 10 lay sisters were living here. Holy Cross mostly admitted daughters of burgher families in Rostock. The nuns had to contribute a dowry to the convent.
At the head was the abbess, called prioress. She was in charge of the convent and had disciplinary power over the nuns. From 1453 on she was assisted by a subprioress. The provost, in the Middle Ages usually a Dominican monk from St. John’s Monastery, was responsible for the administration of the convent and its property.

South wing and west wing

Inner courtyard of the Convent

Probably from 1307 on, the southern wing of the convent enclosure was built with the nuns’ dormitory on the upper floor and the common rooms and meeting rooms on the ground floor.
The south wing underwent changes in the late 15th century. The three rooms on the ground floor were united into one large arched refectory. Reconstruction completed in 1985  saw later additions removed and the impressive, double-spanned hall  regained.
In the second half of the 15th century another wing was built to the north-west of the enclosure. The upper floor served as a dormitory. The convent hospital was also situated in the north-west wing.
In the first quarter of the 14th century the west wing was built. On the ground floor were the winter and summer refectories, and a dayroom, upstairs another dormitory that was needed because the number of nuns had increased quickly.

North wing and east wing

Adjacent to the church is the north wing, today completely different inside from the original. The sexton’s office and rooms for the provost were situated here.
In the late 15th century a solidly built, two-storey gateway building with summer cells upstairs for the prioress and the subprioress was attached to the east cloisters. This replaced the original entrance on the north side. The present-day gatekeeper’s office was built there in 1734.
In addition to the convent enclosure, the convent also had other buildings such as the washhouse, the cookhouse, the provost’s residence, the brewery, the barn and the stables situated in the Nuns’ Court to the east of the convent enclosure. Apart from a few remains of the brewery and part of the convent wall that was still there or has been reconstructed, none of these buildings, once so important for the running of the convent, have survived.


Painted nun’s cell in the north-west wing, about 1560

During the reformation the convent was converted in 1584 into a Protestant endowment for ladies. The transition of Rostock to the Lutheran doctrine began in 1524 with the sermons of Joachim Slüter in St. Peter’s church (Petrikirche). In 1531 the town council decreed the Lutheran way of preaching compulsory in the churches and the dissolution of the monasteries and convents.
While the monasteries disappeared, the Cistercian nuns repelled the attempts of the council to appoint a Lutheran preacher to the convent church, carry out inspections and close the convent. It was not until 1558 that some nuns converted to the new faith. The prioress converted in 1562.

Protestant Endwoment for Ladies

East wing with view to the church, 1920-30

In a contract of inheritance between the Dukes of Mecklenburg and the city of Rostock the Convent of the Holy Cross was converted in 1584 into a Protestant endowment for unmarried daughters of Rostock families and Mecklenburg aristocrats.
The convent rules of 1586 gave it a new constitution that regulated the life of the members of the convent. From 1605 on there were 20 ladies living in the Convent of the Holy Cross. On admission they took a vow and contributed a dowry of at least 100 talers.
The start with, the convent ladies used the cells of the nuns, but as time went on apartments were created inside the enclosure, consisting of several rooms that the residents could decorate to their liking.
The head of the convent was the Domina, very similar to the traditional medieval prioress. A convent provost was responsible for the administration of the land property.
With the general decline in Mecklenburg in the 17th century the economic situation of the convent also deteriorated. In the 18th and 19th century land was lost. 
After several attempts to confiscate its property in the 19th century, the Convent of the Holy Cross was closed in 1920 during the Weimar Republic and its property confiscated by the Free State of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. The convent ladies who were living there at this time retained a life-long right of residence.

The convent church of the Holy Cross (University church)

Klosterkirche vom Wall aus gesehen
Convent church seen from the ramparts

Building of the convent church began in the middle of the 14th century and was completed about 1350/60. The three-naved basilica with its single-nave polygonal choir has, as the building regulations of the Cistercians required, no tower but only the characteristic turret. There is no transept. In this it differs from other Cistercian churches, which after the middle of the 13th century were nearly always single-naved. The convent church of the Holy Cross was comprehensively restored in 1898/99 by the architect Ludwig Gotthilf Möckel. Since then it has been the university church.
The cross-rib vaulted interior is characterized nowadays by the neo-gothic painted decoration. In 1861 and 1898 elements that were important for a convent church such as the nuns’ gallery in the nave and the rood screen that separated the nave and the chancel were removed.
The high altar from the 1st half of the 15th century, an altar originally in the nuns’ gallery, the tabernacle and 49 medieval grave slabs have been preserved. It is probable but not certain that the relic of the Crucifixion on the breast of the crucified Christ in the triumphal crucifixion scene is the one said to have been brought to Rostock from her pilgrimage to the pope in Rome by Queen Margaret.
After wartime destruction in 1944 and losses due to the reconstruction and transformation of Rostock’s town centre into a socialist city, the convent complex is one of the last remaining complete medieval sites in Rostock.



Opening times

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10:00 to 18:00

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