History of the Monastery

Overview on the timeline

Events in Steinfeld


Events in the world

Construction of a church in historical obscurity around 920


Otto the Great (* 912)



Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (962-973)



Leif Eriksson (975-1020) discovered North America in 1000 as the first 

First monastery founded in Steinfeld around 1070



Canons Regular come to Steinfeld in 1121

Around 1130 they take over the Rule of the Norbertines

1142 laying of the foundation stone of the basilica in Steinfeld



1184 Steinfeld is raised to a status of an abbey


From 1095 to 1291 the Crusades take place - the goal is the liberation of Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the "nonbelievers"

King Richard (the Lionheart) ruled England from 1157 to 1199

St. Hermann Josef died in 1240








The plague shocks Europe in the 14th century

Under the rule of Abbot Gottfried Bongenberg (1381-1388), the monastery is attacked by the Bretons, the abbot is murdered cruelly.



End of the 15th Century: re-erection of the cloister in Gothic style





Gutenberg printed the first Bible 1450-1456

Reformation in Germany: Martin Luther, theologian and reformer (1483-1546)

After many difficult years (including plague) from about 1500: Start of a new heyday for Steinfeld.

1522 to 1557 glazing the cloister with artful stained glass


1534 Copernicus discovered the heliocentric view






Very difficult times for Europe: the Thirty Years' War (1618-1848)







Abbot Evermodus Claessen from Gangelt (1767-1784) gives the monastery its current shape, including the surrounding monastery wall with the large entrance gate.


The French Revolution (1789-1799)

Napoleon Bonaparte (1799-1815)


1802: Abolition of the abbey by Napoleon, Monastery Church becomes Parish Church, St. Andrew's Church is demolished, monastery buildings are sold and art objects are squandered.

In 1844 the monastery comes in the possession of the Prussian state and becomes a reformatory






1923 Take-over of the monastery by the Salvatorians, foundation of a school and a boarding school.


1914-1918 World War I
1939-1945 World War II

Hermann Josef is allowed to be venerated as a saint (1958).

1960 The Church of Steinfeld becomes a Papal basilica (basilica minor)

850 years of Basilica Steinfeld (1992)


1969 Neil Armstrong landed on the moon for America

1990, Germany is reunited




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920 - 1184

Around the year 920 the name “Steinfeld” is mentioned for the first time. Count Sibodo of Hochstaden lets transfer the bones of St. Potentinus the Confessor and his two sons Felicius and Simplicius from Carden Moselle to Steinfeld. For this he got permission of the Archbishop Rutger of Trier. There the Count is said to have had a hunting lodge, which he converted into a Benedictine monastery. Wigfried, Archbishop of Cologne (925-953) consecrated this House of God.

Since the religious discipline of the nuns became lax, Archbishop Frederick of Cologne (1100-1131) bought the monastery and called Augustinian canons from the convent Springiersbach County Wittlich to Steinfeld in 1097. An already built chapel to St. Andreas received the rights of a parish church. The foundation charter of Archbishop Friedrich, which regulated the rights and obligations of the monastery, is the oldest preserved document of Steinfeld.

St. Norbert of Xanten founded the Norbertine Order in 1121, which reflects the rule of the Augustinian Canons. A short time later, under the first provost Evervin of Helfenstein (1121-1151), who personally knew the Saints Norbert and Bernard of Clairvaux, the Convent associates itself to the Norbertines (Premonstratensians) around 1138.

This provost was of outstanding importance for Steinfeld Monastery. In 1142 he laid the foundation stone of a new monastery church. In a building time of eight years, the today’s basilica was built as a three-aisled, Romanesque vaulted church. Under Evervin a development of Steinfeld began that brought it to one of the most important monasteries in Germany. It was also him who sent out Confreres from Steinfeld to found new monasterys. Daughter monasteries were in the Netherlands, Ireland and Germany (e.g. Duisburg-Hamborn), but especially in the east. Of particular importance is the foundation of the monastery of Strahov above Prague (1140).

The second provost Ulrich (1152-1170) was guided by the movement of renewal of the Church that came from France and was connected with the places Citeaux, Clairvaux and Prémontré. In 1163 the Blessed Frederick of Mariengarten committed his foundation in Friesland to the monastery Steinfeld. Provost Ulrich also admitted the young Hermann of Cologne, later St. Hermann Joseph, in the Convent. Later on Hermann completed his studies at the Convent Mariengarten.

After the death of the fifth Steinfeld provost in 1184, Steinfeld was promoted to an abbey. Until the abolition during the secularisation in 1802, 44 abbots presided over the monastic community in consecutive order. 


1184 - 1802

Following the promotion to an abbey in 1184, Steinfeld Monastery had time to develop and to get on a sound economic footing for many peaceful decades. According to the mission of the Founder, the Steinfeld Canons took over pastoral work throughout the region. Steinfeld soon became archdeaconry with the places Steinfeld, Kall, Krekel, Reifferscheid Ripsdorf and Sistig, probably also Harperscheid, Hellenthal, Schleiden and Wildenburg. In addition, the Steinfeld Norbertines exercised pastoral works in many parishes of an area that extends from St. Dionysius in Krefeld to Wehr near Laach, and to the Nahe River in the south.

The later St. Hermann Josef is accepted to the convent by provost Ulrich and studied in Mariengarten. Until his death he is Canon in Steinfeld. His devoteness and his mystical charisma are so overwhelming for his contemporaries that immediately after his death (about 1241), a seemingly endless worship began. Sure a life has contributed, which a friar composed from own knowledge shortly after his death.

The abbey was well established, but war and unrest followed in the 14th Century. Also inside the monastery, it was not like you could want. Crop failures and famine became a plague in this region. The Steinfeld canons were forced to sell some property to survive. Furthermore there were the terrible effects of the plague, which did not stop at the gates of the monastery. Six abbots resided within 47 years.

The Steinfeld Canons also entered into the conflict between the legitimate Pope Urban VI. and the anti-pope Clement VII. Steinfeld was entirely on the side of the rightful pope. Thus, the Bretons attacked the monastery, put the church on fire, and tore down the walls. Abbot Gottfried Bongenberg (1381-1388) was kidnapped and assassinated.

After these terrible events, the following abbots together with the community built up Steinfeld Monastery again and made it to a particular religious and spiritual center of the northern Eifel again. But even some of the confreres thought the reforms too strict. So the abbot Jacob I. (1412-1416) is said to have been murdered at the hands of two of his own brothers. However, his successors continued the work of reform and so Steinfeld became in its period of boom to one of the most important monasteries in Germany.

Also, the conflicts during the Reformation and the Thirty Years War did not leave Steinfeld uneffected. Nevertheless Steinfeld was a place of theology for centuries. Abbot Christopher Pilkmann from Bonn (1606-1630) founded the Collegium Norbertinum for monasteries of the Rhenish-Westphalian circary in Cologne. Abbots of Steinfeld became Rector of the University of Cologne for several times.

Also in Steinfeld, the importance can be seen. Especially in the years of the abbot Evermodus Claessen from Gangelt (1767-1784) Steinfeld was restored, architecturally renovated and expanded. Under this abbot the monastery complex got its present form with the 1.6 km long wall and the main gate that receives visitors, hikers, and pilgrims with wide open gates.

But as soon as everything was completed, a Napoleonic decree stopped all monastic life in a violent way in 1802. The canons were expelled, the last Abbot Gilbert Surges (1790-1802) became the first parish preast of Steinfeld. The monastery church became and St. Andrew’s, the older (Parish) Church was demolished. The precious shrine of St. Potentine was brought to Paris (now in the Louvre), the library is wasted or burned, and the estate was parceled and also wasted. The abbey itself was being auctioned and came into the possession of the Prussian state later.

1802 till today

After the abolition of Steinfeld Abbey in 1802 through a political rape, a difficult time began for the monastery. The property was sold and squandered by French commissioners, and the Canons were expelled. The abbey church remains as parish church for the local community, but who should take care of the large monastery complex.

More than 120 years the abbey remained secular property and served various purposes. After much back and forth, the Prussian state took over the estate in 1844 and established in the monastery Steinfeld a "Royal Prussian reformatory". This utilization did not meet the expectations for use of a monastery, but at least the total decay was prevented.

1873 there was a terrible fire of the roof truss and the crossing tower. This eventually resulted in a mandate for the renewal of the west facade to the Cologne architect and diocesan master builder Heinrich Wiethase (1833 bis 1893).

In this renewal (1884), the West facade got its distinctive shape with the two high round towers. At the last restoration (2010), it was plastered and whitewashed. Now it shines - like the whole basilica - in bright white.

Until 1923, the reformatory remained in Steinfeld as the Salvatorians took over the monastery. The first years were very difficult for the religious, because they had to whip into shape the run-down buildings. The Salvatorians took over the pastoral care, and right from the start they founded a grammar school with a boarding mainly for religious vocations in 1924. Through the World War II and the nearness to the Siegfried Line, the monastery and the surrounding area got a terrible time again.

After the war, the school closed by the Nazis was reopened in 1958 and was expanded to a complete grammar school (new school building in 1959 with several extensions until 1985). The Salvatorians established in Steinfeld monastery several apostolic works: Publishing House (today the Monastery Shop), guest and formation house and the Academy Kloster Steinfeld. Again, Steinfeld has become a center of formation and spirituality, art and culture far beyond the region.

And so the quotation about Steinfeld published in a Festschrift from 1747 is valid still today: "The House on the Rock, in which the light dwells, in which there was no room for darkness, nor is, nor ever will be."