Lehnin Abbey was founded by the Ascanian margrave Otto I of Brandenburg in 1180, 23 years after his father, late Albert the Bear had finally defeated the Slavic prince Jaxa of Köpenick and established the Brandenburg margraviate in 1157. According to legend, Otto, while hunting at the site, had fallen asleep beneath a giant oak, when a white deer appeared to him in a dream, whose furious attacks he could only ward off by appealing to the Saviour.

To consolidate their rule, the Ascanians called for Christian settlers, especially from Flanders to settle among the 'pagan' Slavs. Beside, they established Cistercian monasteries to develop the lands and to generate an income. Lehnin on the Zauche plateau south of the Havelland region, a daughter house (filial) of Morimond Abbey, was the first abbey to be founded as an Ascanian family monastery and place of burial. It soon became an important contributor to the land development of the Margraviate. Otto I was buried here in 1184. In its turn Lehnin founded the daughter houses of Paradies Abbey (1236, present-day Klasztor Paradyż in Gościkowo, Poland), Mariensee Abbey (1258, relocated to Chorin in 1273), and Himmelpfort Abbey near Fürstenberg/Havel (1299).

The abbey was dissolved in 1542 during the Reformation and turned into an electoral demesne and hunting lodge under the Hohenzollern elector Joachim II of Brandenburg. Devastated during the Thirty Years' War, it was rebuilt under the 'Great Elector' Frederick William from about 1650 and became a summer residence of his first consort Louise Henriette of Nassau. After her death in 1667, Frederick William encouraged the settlement of Huguenot refugees at Lehnin according to his 1685 Edict of Potsdam, which added largely to the recovery of the local economy. Lehnin received access to the Havel river via an artificial waterway and became the site of a large brickyard, while the historic monastery premises again decayed and were used as a stone quarry.

In the 19th century, when Lehnin Abbey came into the focus of German Romanticism and national sentiment, the decay was halted at the initiative of King Frederick William IV of Prussia and his nephew, Crown Prince Frederick. From 1871 to 1877, the ruins were remarkably well restored.

In 1911 the premises were purchased by the Prussian Union of churches to house the Protestant community known as the Luise-Henrietten-Stift. The deaconesses adopted the Cistercian tradition; they were suppressed under Nazi rule, when the authorities seized large parts of the monastery complex for Wehrmacht and SS purposes. From 1949 onwards, Lehnin Abbey was turned into a hospital, today it serves as a geriatric rehabilitation clinic and nursing home.

Lehnin Abbey is significant for its Brick Gothic architecture, and is one of the finest German Brick Gothic period buildings in the country.

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Details

Founded: 1180
Category: Religious sites in Germany
Historical period: Hohenstaufen Dynasty (Germany)

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