Zeitz Collegiate Monastery

AN OTTONIAN FOUNDATION

Founded as an episcopal see by Emperor Otto the Great in 968, the former Zeitz cathedral chapter was converted into a collegiate chapter, where the memory of the prominent founder remained alive throughout the Middle Ages. As the residence of the Naumburg bishops, Zeitz was an important place of residence in the late Middle Ages. 

The books left here by the bishops of Naumburg and the canons of Zeitz formed the basis for one of the most important historical book collections in Central Germany: the Zeitz Abbey Library. Julius Pflug, the last bishop of Naumburg, was one of the most influential personalities of the age of the Reformation.

A Foundation of Otto the Great

Zeitz was already the centre of a Slavic tribal area in the early Middle Ages. After the land between the rivers Saale and Oder was annexed to the empire in the 10th century, Emperor Otto the Great founded a bishopric in Zeitz in 968 with the aim of missionising this region and providing it with an ecclesiastical structure. Only 60 years later, an unprecedented event in the history of the empire occurred. Under the influence of the margrave family of the Ekkehardins, Pope John XIX and Emperor Conrad II decided in 1028 to transfer the seat of the bishop to the new foundation of the margraves in Naumburg. To keep the memory of the founder Otto the Great alive, a collegiate foundation was established at the former Zeitz cathedral.

The dispute over the bishop

Since the transfer of the bishop's seat to Naumburg in 1028, the lords of the Zeitz chapter fought a tenacious battle for the restoration of the old rights of their church. The dispute with the Naumburg cathedral chapter over the higher dignity and the right to elect the bishop was bitterly fought for 200 years until a compromise was reached in 1230 with the mediation of high church dignitaries. Naumburg remained the seat of the bishopric and the cathedral chapter there was to continue to elect the bishop. In return, the Zeitz cathedral provost was to be admitted to the Naumburg chapter and granted the third electoral vote. In addition, the Naumburg clergy were obliged to introduce the solemn commemoration of Otto, the founder of Zeitz, in Naumburg Cathedral as well.  

Residence of the Naumburg Bishops in the Late Middle Ages

At the end of the 13th century, the Naumburg bishopric found itself in a serious crisis. Heavily in debt due to the costs of the elaborate new building of Naumburg Cathedral and the disastrous consequences of a long war between the landgraves of Thuringia and the margraves of Meissen, the bishops had to abandon their ambitious goal of a great independent sovereignty. Added to this was the pressure of an increasingly powerful cathedral chapter in Naumburg. In 1285, Bishop Bruno left his Naumburg residence to settle permanently in Zeitz, 35 kilometres away. For the next 280 years until the end of the bishopric, the bishops and their court resided in Zeitz Castle. They only rarely visited the bishop's residence in Naumburg to fulfil their liturgical obligations or to be laid to rest in Naumburg Cathedral.

Julius Pflug - a scholar on the bishop's throne

In 1547, Julius von Pflug was the fortieth and last bishop to ascend the Naumburg Cathedral. With his outstanding personality, the episcopate once again experienced an unexpected blossoming. As a humanist polymath caught up in the maelstrom of the Reformation, he acted as a decisive advisor to Emperor Charles V on religious matters.

In the dispute with the Protestant reformers, whose theological works he knew very well, Pflug opted for a policy of balance. In his will, he bequeathed his unique scholarly library to the Naumburg cathedral chapter and stipulated that it should be permanently placed in Zeitz. Alongside the medieval holdings of the Naumburg bishops and the canons of Zeitz, Pflug's collection forms the core of the historic Zeitz Abbey Library, which holds one of the most important book treasures in Central Germany. 

Church box and procurator's office

Still under the last bishop Julius Pflug, another foundation came into being in Zeitz in the 16th century. The Zeitz church box brought together various former ecclesiastical estates that had become vacant in the course of the Reformation. The proceeds from these estates went mainly to the Zeitz Collegiate School, which later became the Collegiate Grammar School. The third Zeitz foundation was the so-called Prokuraturamt. After Zeitz became the residence of the small duchy of Saxony-Zeitz in 1657, the dukes endeavoured to finally break up the old collegiate monastery. However, they only succeeded in extracting part of the foundation's income, which went to the new procuratorial office. The purpose of the foundation was to provide study scholarships for gifted boys from Zeitz and to care for orphans.

Two churches and no cathedral

While the Zeitz Collegiate Church of St. Peter and Paul had to be ceded to the Dukes of Saxony-Zeitz as a court church in the 17th century and never returned to the possession of the collegiate foundation, the Zeitz parish church of St. Michael and the old Franciscan monastery still belong to the property of the United Cathedral Foundations today, along with other properties. Both churches have preserved a rich architectural heritage from the High Middle Ages and still characterise the Zeitz townscape today. The parish church of St. Michael is also the centre of a lively Protestant community life.

From the foundation to the endowment

With the transfer of a large part of the Saxon territories to Prussia after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the end of the last remaining monasteries in Central Germany seemed imminent. However, the Prussian government quickly realised that the administrations of the cathedral monasteries had for centuries fulfilled a variety of sovereign tasks, including acting as judicial rulers and maintaining churches and schools. Instead of completely dissolving the antiquated ecclesiastical institutions, the cathedral foundations were placed in the service of the new Prussian provincial administration. The legal status of the monasteries, however, remained unresolved for over a century.

It was not until 1930 that a new and contemporary basis for existence was created with the transformation of the institutions into foundations under public law. The three Zeitz foundations (Kollegiatstift, Kirchenkasten, Prokuratur), which had previously been under the supervision of the Naumburg Cathedral Chapter, also fell under the administration of the newly formed United Cathedral Chapter in 1935. After the five foundations, which until then had been formally independent, were merged into a single body in 1994, the collegiate chapter, the church box and the procurator's office in Zeitz are now part of the United Cathedral Foundations of Merseburg and Naumburg and the collegiate chapter of Zeitz. 

You can find further information on the Zeitz Abbey Library at www.stiftsbibliothek-zeitz.de.