The collegiate church at Kloster Jerichow (Monastery) in Saxony-Anhalt is one of the oldest brick Romanesque buildings in Northern Germany.
The 12th-century basilica and complex of Kloster Jerichow is the oldest brick building east of the Elbe River and a top sight to see on the Romanesque holiday routes (Straße der Romanik) of both Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg in Germany. The church inspired endless further examples in the region and contributed to the foundation of the brick industry in the region. The Premonstratensian abbey is beautifully restored and a popular day-trip destination. Jerichow is easily reached by car or public transportation (train and bus) from Magdeburg and Berlin.
History of Jerichow Monastery
Jerichow was founded as a Premonstratensian Abbey in 1144 at a time when this part of modern-day Germany was at the edge of “civilization”. The German expansion eastwards of the Elbe River was in full swing and after more than a century of fighting and struggles, the Germans were finally establishing control in what was to become Brandenburg.
Construction of the Romanesque basilica in Jerichow started in 1149. It thus claims to be the oldest significant brick building in Northern Germany and thus served as an inspiration to countless further brick Romanesque churches in Brandenburg and northern Germany, including the original St Nikolaus in Stendal. Italian craftsmen were almost certainly involved not only in building the church but also in bringing brick making as an industry to this part of the world.
Jerichow is in the modern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, as it became part of the District Magdeburg in 1952. Historically and culturally it is very much associated with Brandenburg and like other sights in the region, including Havelberg, is on the Romanesque tourist routes of both Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg.
Premonstratensian Collegiate Churches in Saxony-Anhalt
The complex at Jerichow with its collegiate church (Chorherrenstift), cloisters, and dormitory for the canons very much resembles a typical medieval monastery. However, it was never used by monks living in isolation from the world and thus never was a monastery (Kloster).
A similar set-up was used in nearby Havelberg, Brandenburg, and Magdeburg. All four were originally governed by the Premonstratensian order but eventually became part of Brandenburg (Prussia) but are now with the exception of Brandenburg in the modern state Saxony Anhalt.
The full name Premonstratensian Collegiate Church of St Mary and St Nicholas (Prämonstratenserstift St. Marien und St. Nikolai) is rarely seen, as Kloster Jerichow has been in popular use for ages.
Despite the very biblical sounding name, Jerichow is Slavic for “bold fortress”.
Construction of the Romanesque Kloster Jerichow
The basic triple-nave basilica was completed by 1172 and maintained its Romanesque original appearance almost unaltered to the present. The sunken crypt with high altar on its upper level was added during the last decades of the 12th century.
Most of the cloisters, administrative buildings, and dormitory are from the early in the 13th century but have been altered at various times. The newest parts are the largely unadorned western facade and towers that were added between 1256 and 1262 in an early Gothic style. The top of the towers and roofs were only completed during the late 15th century.
The exterior is largely unadorned but arches, blind arcades, and friezes adds some interest, especially on the westwork and the apses.
Decline and Restoration of Jerichow
The influence of the Reformation, especially from neighboring Brandenburg, forced the secularization of the collegiate chapter. The decline of the complex was hastened by damage during the Thirty-Years War when the Swedish army carried away all treasures.
By the time of the transfer from the Archbishopric of Magdeburg to the state of Brandenburg in 1680, the complex was already in a dilapidated state. The church was restored in 1685 for Huguenot refugees.
A more complete restoration of the complex only followed by the mid-19th century when many historical buildings in Germany were restored by the Prussians in a spirit of national awareness. Jerichow had a special status as the oldest brick building in Brandenburg.
American artillery fire at the end of the Second World War damaged the western end in 1945 while a fire damaged the eastern end of the roof in 1946. During the GDR-period, parts of the complex were restored but more work was done in recent years to leave the church and entire complex in a very tidy condition.
Interior of the Collegiate Church of Jerichow
The interior of the church is typical Romanesque simplicity — much of its appearance is due to the restoration work of the 1950s. The red brick set off by the white mortar gives a festive look — as is often the case now (as in centuries past) paint helps to enhance the contrast and to make lines straighter and sharper.
The floor plan is typical for a triple-nave basilica — three five-bay naves, a slightly protruding transept, and three eastern choirs ending in half-round apses. The central choir has a slightly lower crypt while the high altar on the upper level was originally accessible to the canons only.
The interior is mostly bare and unadorned. Only a few minor frescoes and details survived. More obvious is the Romanesque pedestal of the candle holder (Osterleuchter) that is an original from around 1172 with typical Romanesque decorations in six arcades — the column for the candle itself is newer.
The sandstone baptismal font is from the early 13th century — the top of the sixteen semicircles are decorated with different plant motifs.
One of the granite columns in the crypt came from Ravenna — originally gifted by Otto I to the cathedral in Magdeburg but removed from that church after a fire in 1207. The capitals in the crypt have a variety of interesting motives, including the ever-popular monster head devouring a person.
Some medieval gravestones and epitaphs are in the crypt and side hall. These are not of particular historic significance or artistic merit but their condition help to easily confirm that many further details such as the carved capitals are neo-Romanesque restorations mostly from the 19th century. (However, some capitals in the crypt and in the rooms off the cloisters are originals.)
The ceiling is a simple flat wood structure, as was normal in the Romanesque era. These were sometimes painted — fine examples survived in the Michaelskirche in Hildesheim and St Martin’s in Zillis in Graubünden, Switzerland.
The columns at the main door leading into the church from the cloisters are richly carved in bas-relief with fantastical animals and nature scenes.
Note the fox in a monk’s cowl preaching to two geese — a warning to be careful of false messengers. A theme as actual now as it was then and not only in a religious sense.
The north side of the cloisters — the church side — has been removed but the rest of the cloisters are in good condition. The sculpture in the courtyard is of Provost Isfried (1158-1178) carrying a model of the church.
Off the cloisters, a variety of rooms are open to visitors. Some carved capitals and the odd painting survived from centuries past but the rooms are mostly bare — the actual museum entrance is from the outside of the complex.
Museums at Kloster Jerichow
The Jericho Monastery complex has two museums — both entrances from the garden area rather than from the cloisters.
The main museum is typical for a medieval complex: it has a variety of old and archaeological items covering all aspects from the building of the church to religion. None of the items are of any special historic or artistic importance. The museum is interesting to see but visitors with limited time may justifiably push on without too much regret. Only the main items are described in English.
The second is the Backsteinmuseum (Brick Museum) in a shed in the garden. As stone is in short supply in Northern Germany, brick was the economical solution for major construction work. At the abbey itself, as well as in the larger region, brick became a major industry. The small museum explains this history and process of brick making. It was hard and dangerous work with devastating health consequences for workers. The (excessive )detail of the manufacturers and workers involved are only described in German.
The large wall-enclosed complex has a variety of gardens and a small cafe. A further restaurant is available at the parking lot.
Kloster Jerichow Visitors’ Information
Opening hours of the Jerichow Monastery complex are:
- November to March: Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 16:00
- April to October: daily from 9:30 to 18:00
The complex is closed from 24 December to 6 January.
Admission is €6 for adults and €3.50 for children over 6 years old. Family discount tickets are available. An audioguide (€3) is sensible, especially for non-German speakers.
Admission is charged for the monastery complex, including the church. At Havelberg, half-an-hour to the north, the church may be seen for free. The magnificent stained-glass windows in the Dom St Nikolaus and the Jacobikirche in nearby Stendal are also absolutely worth seeing.
Buy tickets at the information office at the parking lot and scan at the entrance gate leading to the cloisters.
Transportation to Kloster Jerichow
Prämonstratenserstift St. Marien und St. Nikolai (Kloster Jerichow), Am Kloster, 39319 Jerichow is to the north of the small town Jerichow near Tangermünde in Saxony-Anhalt. It is easiest reach by car — free parking available. It is also a popular stop for cyclist on the Elbe Radweg (Elbe River cycling route).
Jerichow is around 70 km to the north of Magdeburg (around an hour’s drive), 40 km south of Havelberg (30 minutes), or two hours from Berlin (120-140 km).
Jerichow is also easily reached on public transportation but note some gaps in the bus timetable. Bus 742 connects Jerichow (stop Kloster) to Tangermünde or Genthin in around 20 minutes. Good train connection from Genthin allows for total traveling time from Berlin of less than two hours and Magdeburg in 1h20. See timetables at Deutsche Bahn. (Note that the bus stop Ehem Bahnhof, Jerichow on bus 744 is around a kilometer to the south in the town center, while the stop Kloster, Jerichow on bus 742 is directly in front of the monastery complex.)
The complex has a few homes and simple overnight rooms but nearby Tangermünde is probably a better choice for hotels and restaurants.
- A large collection of photos by Raymond Faure — also of many other sights on the Straße der Romanik.
- More photos on Flickr.
- Straße der Romanik (Romanesque Road) of Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg.
- Visit the Romanesque-Gothic Havelberger Dom and Cloisters in Germany
- Tripadvisor recommendations on nearby hotels and restaurants