Archaeology of the monastery

When the cloister buildings were being converted to the Brandenburg State Museum in December 2003, extensive refurbishing work was started to reconstruct them. The digging required to conduct this work led to a series of archaeological investigations alongside the construction.

According to a previously lost inscription, this part of the margravial court was gifted to the Dominican order in 1286. The church is thought to have been sanctified that same year, which means that construction must have started before the land was actually gifted.

The few deeper chunks of ground inside the church revealed that the sand was already half a metre below the top edge of the ground at the time, which means that the building site was a valley sand crest. Plough marks were found in the nave as well as in the east cloister above a decidedly dark stratum, which suggest previous use as farmland during medieval times.

After extensive removal of the filling and rubble, the medieval altar table in the choir was uncovered, which had been newly extended in the 19th century.

On the axis from the altar towards the nave, there was a circular brick foundation with a central rectangular base, which must have been used to hold the font for baptisms after the monastery was dissolved.

Archaeological investigations in the ruins of the church revealed pillar foundations and crypts. Photo: D. Rathert

A deviation in the foundations at the southern arcade of pillars was of note. While the four western pillars all had generally the same foundation, the eastern pillar had an older, east-west-oriented foundation line. The western end of the foundation line ended at a construction seam that could be observed throughout the monastery complex, which was a consequence of the east-to-west construction process. The choir, the first part completed, was probably initially planned to be used as a (temporarily?) closed hall church before the construction work could be continued to the west.

Until then, no traces of more intensive pre-monastery settlement activity had been observed, let alone indications of the margravial court. However, settlement pits with formerly soft-fired grey ware pottery and various wall sections of a multi-phase, previously unknown cellar complex in the southern enclosure seemed to indicate older structures.

At a depth of more than 2 metres under the ground floor of the time is a confusing array of wall lines with different foundations, which were initially impossible to fully understand.

The stratigraphically oldest finding has to be a north-south oriented wall with massive boulder foundations, which ran exactly at the position of the continuous building seam that separates the older eastern parts of the monastery from the younger western ones. At both ends, the wall passes under the enclosing walls of the southern cloister. On the south side of the dividing wall, a west-facing doorway with bevelled jambs was excavated, half of which lies under the monastery's enclosing wall! The doorway, which had been built on three layers of brick, was then sealed at a later date.

The findings described above included a cellar complex to the west of the masonry seam. Chronologically, this cellar complex must have been from a very early construction phase as it deviates from the cloister’s perpendicular alignment, just like the east wing.

Left: View of the monastery church with altar foundations in the choir. Photo: D. Rathert?Right: View of the altar and baptismal font foundations through the tracery in the choir. Photo: D. Rathert

The separate, huge cellar complex must have been below a brick building built in the 13th century. This building was then built over by the western part of the south wing, which is considered to be the newest section of the cloister from an architectural history perspective. Therefore, the building above the cellar may have been just an earlier temporary monastery building, a pre-existing building from the margravial court or a building near the court.

The rest of the walls that were discovered are mostly from a later uniform reconfiguration of the cellar complex when a new entrance to the west was added in the form of another doorway.

How can the discoveries in the south cloister, which are extremely complex yet span a very small area, now be interpreted in context? The findings from the archaeological excavation with regard to St. Paul’s Monastery’s topography and architectural history are summarised below as theories.

1. The church was originally designed as a single-nave church with a slightly re-entrant choir. It was then redesigned and built as a three-nave hall church to the detriment of the square cloister.

2. The clearly older parts of the building, which are to the east of the masonry seam running from north to south, were built on previously untouched land (archaeological evidence of plough marks and the lack of settlement features). The parts of the building built at that time (church and east cloister) formed an entirely usable “core monastery” when the margravial court still existed.

3. The east wing deviates from the perpendicularity of the cloister through its alignment and is probably the remains of a previous structure, presumably the margravial court.

4. To the west of the masonry seam stood a huge 13th-century brick building with a cellar, which adjoined the south wing (north wall). Initially, it was not meant to be part of the monastery complex, as shown by a surviving dentil. This building appears to have survived for a long time, as indicated by a series of small cellars from a later reconstruction phase with new doorways built to the west.

5. The connected brick building must have been from at least the monastery's earliest construction phase, as it deviates from the perpendicularity of the cloister. It could therefore have been a temporary monastery building built at the same time as the church or a pre-existing building from the margravial court.

6. A medieval pit-house in the current south-west-facing garden below the modern St. Paul’s cemetery, the early settlements in and around the south cloister and the 13th-century cellar complex with a brick building mentioned above are evidence of a concentration of early archaeological settlement features to the south and south-west of the cloister building.

These findings neither help to make a reconstruction of the buildings, nor shed light on a settlement area. However, we can assume that the margravial court and its outbuilding were most likely located here.?Further excavation would be required to get a reliable idea of the former building of St. Paul’s Monastery. Discovering the margravial court remains the future goal for now.

Author: Dietmar Rathert


Cante, M.: Stadt Brandenburg an der Havel, Part I: Dominsel – Altstadt – Neustadt, in: Denkmaltopographie Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Denkmale in Brandenburg Volume 1.1, ed. on behalf of the Ministry for Science, Research and Culture (MWFK) of the state of Brandenburg by the Brandenburg State Office for Monument Preservation. (Worms 1994)?Hillebrand, K.: Das Dominikanerkloster zu Prenzlau, Untersuchung zur mittelalterlichen Baugeschichte, Munich – Berlin 2003

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