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April 2016, Barbara Antoni,1510, Isenhagen, Germany

This month’s brass will be new to our readers and is a significant and striking addition to the list of brasses in Germany


 Isenhagen is one of six female monasteries in the area between Lüneburg and Celle, Niedersachsen, originally intended for Cistercian nuns, and which at the Reformation were not demolished, but transformed into a sort of beguinage, at first confined to unmarried young ladies from wealthy Protestant families, nowadays open to all single, Protestant, self-supporting women. In the course of a restoration in the year 1987 [sic] the many funerary slabs found in the church were lifted from the floor and either affixed to the walls or stacked in a store-room behind the west end.

 There is also one incised brass tablet to be admired. It is set into a strong metal frame and placed to the left of the interior church-entrance that allows admittance from the southern wing of the cloisters. Although it is very small it contains a wealth of pictorial design and a fine Latin text.

Commemorated Person

 By the middle of the 15th century, life in the German monasteries had generally become decadent, assumed quite worldly manners, the old conventual rules having fallen into desuetude, the buildings decaying. The new individual piety of the “devotio moderna”, propagated by the Brethren of Communal Life in Deventer and other cities of western Europe, revived the Christian religion. As a result, a wave of reform-movements swept through German monasteries in the second half of the 15th century with the aim of restoring the old monastic earnestness. The papal legate Nikolaus von Kues furthered reformatory movements: centres were Melk in Austria, in west and central Germany Bursfelde. The Bursfelder Kongregation reintroduced the strict Benedictine rules, religious life in member-monasteries received a powerful new impetus and improved their economic condition. But not only were serious abbots behind this reform, also the territorial overlords were keen to get the monasteries purged of their laxness and regain their earlier role of a nucleus of economic progress.

   Also the leaders of Cistercian monasteries felt the need of reform and were supported by the princes, such as Duke Heinrich V. of Mecklenburg and Anna von Nassau, widow of Otto II Duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg. In 1488, with the help of the Bishops of Magdeburg and Halberstadt, Anna had Barbara Antoni called from the Nunnery of Marienstuhl near Egeln and instated as abbess at Isenhagen, where she was to restore order. She ruled for 22 years, during which period the nuns lived under much closer surveillance. After her death a  small brass epitaph in her honour was placed beside the door, which the nuns had to pass on their way to church, and which reminded them continually of their duty. It is said that she also had herself buried underneath the doorstep in order to be always present and vigilant.

 Not so long afterwards, the Protestant Reformation put an end to monasteries. Ernst der Bekenner (the Confessor) Duke of Lüneburg used persuasion, trickery and pressure to convert or oust the nuns of Isenhagen, causing strife and misery for many. The house became a convent of single Protestant ladies – today there are only five left.


 Clamps hold a profiled brass frame over the epitaph, pressing it against the wall at eye-level beside the church-entrance. A little less than half of its surface is taken up with a most complex and charming design.

 In the bottom left-hand corner, the abbess kneels on a grass-mound. She is dressed in her nun’s habit, has drawn her cowl, which is decorated with Byzantine crosses, over her head, and hugs her pastoral staff in her arms, the crozier of which is bigger than her head. Her hands are hidden entirely within her sleeves – it was considered undignified for nuns to show their hands openly.  

 Thus she kneels in adoration before the vision of the Madonna who has appeared to her. The Mother of God stands within a ring of fiery rays of light that seem to be emanating from her. She wears the imperial crown on her head, from under which her open hair streams down, as a mark of her virginity. She holds her child, who leans over to the abbess, stretching out his arms towards her in token of sympathy.

 Behind the abbess is a tree that branches out at the top of the picture, and on the left-hand limb a shield is slung bearing one heraldic lily, Barbara’s arms. In the background, there is the rough sketch of a landscape showing a bushy plain, with a town rising above it.

 The rest of the plate contains a text.


 The Latin prose text is an epitaph in textura-miniscule with a few capital letters. It is engraved in relief, the well-executed script being delicately cut out of the surrounding metal by means of fine and careful criss-crossing. A space of blank metal is left open between the lines, whereby – most fittingly – an orderly impression is created. The third but last line has a delicate garland for line-filler.

 The frame that holds the tablet  has obliterated a small margin of design and text (the artist had engraved it in its entirety), so a few seemingly unfinished words need to be understood as correctly prolonged – there is no blemish in the lettering.


Barbare · hui?· cenobij · Abbatis / se · Regularisqz · vite · reduc / trici– · vt · pij– ·

 sororum / intercessionib? · perheni– / apud · misericordem · deu(m)  / habeatur · memoria /

 positu(m) · est · hoc · mon(u) / mentum ~/ Obijt · anno· salut’ / 1510 nona  februarij


Clear Text

Expansion (and correction) shown, punctuation added, and line-end markings suppressed.

Barbaræ,  hui(us)  cenobii  Abbatisse  Regularisq(ue)  vitæ  reductricis,  ut  piis sororum  intercessionib(us)  per(/ )en(n)is  apud  misericordem  deu(m)  habeatur memoria,  positu(m)  est  hoc  mon(u)mentum.  

Obiit  anno  salut(is) 1510 nona (die)  Februarij.


This monument has been placed here in order that, with the help of the sisters’ pious and continuous intercessions, the memory of Barbara, this convent’s abbess and restorer of its life-rule, be kept up before our merciful God.

She died on February 9th in the year of grace 1510.

1  Dickmann, Günter, Kampf ums Kloster, p.11.

Copyright:  Reinhard Lamp

Rubbing by Reinhard Lamp, photo by Klaus Krüger, Halle