Tour of the monastery

In the Middle Ages, the monastery was a Dominican settlement. The members of this order did not shut themselves away in rural solitude, but devoted themselves to providing pastoral care in the community and to studying theology and philosophy. As a mendicant order, they renounced all sources of income and lived solely on donations. The complex built in the 13th and 14th century consisted of the church and cloister buildings. In the Late Middle Ages, a separate library building was built to the west of the church.

Library and chapel

This part of the building to the west of the current museum foyer was only built in 1497 as an addition to the monastery complex. The top floor housed the library collection, while the ground floor served as the Liebfrauenkapelle (“Chapel of Our Lady”). Separate chapel buildings were built during the Late Middle Ages, as laypeople became increasingly involved in religious life. These buildings were used as oratories for brotherhoods and families. The chapel was probably used by a “rosary guild” or the “Brotherhood of Our Lady”, a lay community associated with the order. The vaults of the chapel were destroyed when it was converted into a fire station in the 18th century. The St. Paul’s community established a makeshift church here after 1945. The original two-storey building was only restored during the 2004-2007 renovation.

Monastery church and town

The mendicant order did not shut itself away in solitude like the Cistercians. Rather, they settled in the towns and opened up their churches to the public.
The north portal, which faces the town, is particularly elaborate and inviting as it was used by the public as an entrance.
Many people could listen to the Dominicans’ sermons in the nave’s wide hall. There were also side-altars here, which had been donated by the public or guilds. Funerary monuments commemorated worthy people and influential families.

Choir – the part of the church used by the convent

In the choir, the eastern part of the monastery church, the friars worshipped next to the high altar. The choir was built around 1286 and is the oldest part of the monastery church. The convent stalls were located on the long sides of the choir. The rood screen, a dividing wall that no longer exists, later closed the choir off from the nave used by laypeople.

1. Remains of the high altar's stone foundation and altar stone have survived.

2. Stained glass windows bathed the room in ceremonious light. Some panes made around 1320-30 have been preserved. Scenes from the life of Jesus in the middle panel match events from the Old Testament along the sides. Some panes were added in the 19th century.

3. The priest sat in the pointed arched niche (sedile) on the south side while he officiated the mass.

4. The brickwork joints inside were adorned with red and white paint. Some parts were particularly decorative, as shown by remains of the tendril frieze in the eastern arcade arch.

5. The monastery was connected to the south side of the choir. This meant it was not possible to have real windows here. The choir appeared symmetrical thanks to false windows with painted glass.

6. The inscriptions with Renaissance frames commemorate St. Paul’s church's reconsecration as a Protestant parish church after the 1560 reformation and allude to the monastery's past history.

7. From the cloister, the friars entered the church through the south portal. The holy water font was in a niche on the wall at the side. Round pots were built into the walls above with the openings pointing downwards. These “acoustic jars” supposedly improved the sound.

Wall stairs

During the renovation work, the remains of an original staircase were discovered in the south wall. It allowed quick and direct access to the first floor of the cloister from the portal.

The stairs could not be accessed from the church. As the walls were not thick enough to accommodate the staircase, a box-like structure jutted out into the church. After the staircase was no longer used, two tombstones were built into the wall in its place. Evidence suggests that the tombstones were originally embedded in the floor of the church.

Monastery portal

The corridor in the northern part of the west wing led from the monastery courtyard to the cloister via the portal. It provided access to the cloister, the Dominicans’ living and working area. This inner part of the monastery was closed off from the outside world, apart from during public events, political gatherings, court hearings and receptions. Women were not allowed here. A friar held the position of porter and monitored the entrance. A doorway (right), which is now bricked up, led to a staircase half built into the church wall..

Cloister - the backbone of the monastery

The central cloister is a distinctive feature of Western monasteries. It connects the individual parts of the monastery. St. Paul’s Monastery has the best-preserved cloister of all the mendicant monasteries in Brandenburg. The cloister was built in the late 13th and 14th centuries along with the adjacent buildings. It is likely that the upper parts of the walls were once adorned with inscriptions and paintings. The friars used the cloister for meditation and processions. It was also used as a burial place for the convent, as well as for important middle-class and noble families. This tradition continued after the monastery was dissolved in the 16th century. The surviving tombstones are from the baroque period.
The two-storey cloister is a special feature of many mendicant monasteries. The simple, unarched corridors on the top floor connected the sleeping quarters, study rooms and guest rooms.

Choir portal

The friars accessed the church choir directly from the cloister via a portal with decorative jambs. The cloister was originally extended here to form a courtyard, the vault of which rested on a free-standing column. The construction of the church tower in the 15th century meant that this area had to be reduced. A Romanesque column base was used to support the vault.?The portal jambs featured large terracotta pieces that were installed in the wall opening. They were tied together with red ornamental painting. In the arch, the painting alternated between red and white.

Chapter house – the meeting place

The lavishly decorated portal marked the entrance to the monastery community’s main room. The chapter house was usually located in the middle of the east wing. The friars gathered here each morning to read a chapter from the rules of the order and to discuss the tasks at hand. The chapter house once had a double-nave vault with two columns. From images and other monasteries, we know that there would have been benches around the outside of a room like this. The room was destroyed after the reformation when the monastery was converted into a hospital and poorhouse. The portal and the windows overlooking the cloister serve as a reminder of where the room used to be.

Construction stages

The monastery complex was not built in one go. Today, there are still signs that the construction was paused several times. If you look at the south side of the church, a masonry seam in the brickwork is evidence of one of these pauses. The construction's progress depended on funding and available land. The church choir, the east wing of the cloister and the eastern part of the south wing were built first. The extension to the west followed gradually. A relaxation of the order’s original strict building regulations meant the church tower could be built in the 15th century. It replaced the delicate ridge turret above the choir.

Auditorium or “representation room”?

While most of the monastery rooms were lost during renovations after the reformation and later destroyed in wars, some of the original vaulted rooms in the west wing have been preserved. The former function of the room on the ground floor is not known. It may have been used as an auditorium for the order’s studies or as a reception room for distinguished guests. The arched opening at the northern gable end of the room is from a renovation during the baroque period.

Refectory – dining room

Here the friars ate their meals together. In medieval monasteries, it is typical for the refectory to be located as far away from the church as possible. In St. Paul’s Monastery, this is the south wing. From here, the kitchen and brewery in the adjoining farmyard could be easily accessed. Evidence of construction on the enclosing walls indicate that this room had a double-nave vault. It was heated by underfloor heating. The monastery's first construction phase only included the eastern part of the south wing. The monastery could only be extended to the west after the demolition of previous buildings that may have belonged to the margravial town court.

East wing – the heart of the monasterys

The oldest part of the cloister built in the late 13th century had the most important functions. After renovations and damage, only the old enclosing walls stand today. The shape and arrangement of the windows, archaeological findings and comparisons with other monasteries have enabled us to reconstruct the original layout. The surviving staircase at the north end led from the choir to the sleeping quarters on the upper floor. A small vaulted room underneath was probably used as a safe place to keep valuables or documents. The sacristy was located where the staircase is now. Liturgical objects and vestments were kept here. The priests prepared for worship in this room. This was followed by the chapter house and a passageway. The fratry (friars’ hall) was located in the southern part of the east wing. Large windows lit the convent’s work and recreation room. Column bases found in the ground during the renovation and evidence on the walls indicate that the room originally had a double-nave vault. The partly completed fireplace on the west side was added in the Late Middle Ages.

Monastery cellar

The cellar near the farmyard and kitchen was used as a storeroom. As donations were not received regularly, stock-keeping was important for the monastery community. While the main rooms in the monastery had elegant pear-shaped rib vaults, the cellar had a groin vault with simple groins as it was an inferior part of the building.

Dormitory – sleeping quarters

Like in almost all monasteries, the top floor of the east wing housed the sleeping quarters. It probably did not have a flat ceiling, but a wooden barrel vault that projected into the roof area. The high tracery windows on the south gable lit the room. Wooden partitions divided the large room into cells. A subceiling was required when it was later used as a hospital. During the renovation work, it was decided not to have a continuous ceiling to recreate the effect of the original, spacious room.


The monastery farmyard was located near the refectory on the now empty land south of the cloister. Only a few remains of the west side of the brewery have survived. There were probably workshops and stables too. These facilities were only for personal use. Unlike the Benedictines and Cistercians, the Dominicans did not run any enterprises for profit. They did not want their spiritual duties to be impacted by business activities.

Position within the urban fabric

Looking south, you can see that the monastery is near the town fortifications. A location like this on the outskirts of the town was typical for many mendicant settlements. This is usually where the territorial lords’ estates were located, which they left to the orders. In some places, the convents were responsible for maintaining the parts of the town walls that bordered their monastery.

West wing

In St. Paul’s Monastery, the west wing is the best-preserved part of the monastery. However, the original function of the rooms is unknown. Mendicant orders did not have a specific use for this area. The order’s study facilities were probably located here (e.g. the auditorium). The wood beam ceilings and fireplaces in some rooms in the southern section created a very homely feel. These rooms were probably used to accommodate honourable guests. As benefactors, the margraves of Brandenburg had the right to use monasteries as a place of residence. The surviving vaulted room on the top floor may have housed the monastery's first library. It was not until 1497 that a larger, separate building was built for the growing book collection.

Library building

The new library, the last part of the medieval monastery, was built in the late 15th century and incorporated older walls. It is one of the few surviving research libraries from the Late Middle Ages in northern Germany. Monasteries kept the most extensive book collections of the Middle Ages. At first, small rooms were sufficient to house the manuscripts. With the invention of printing, the number of works grew and larger libraries had to be built. This building is the only part of the monastery for which the exact time of construction is known. In a letter to the Zerbst town council in 1497, the convent requested permission to raise funds for the construction of the library, which had already begun. In this room, which was well lit by large windows, books were stood on lecterns and secured with chains.


From the cloister, the friars could go down a short path to the late medieval library building. Today, you can look out of the large windows onto the covered courtyard (museum foyer) and the monastery garden. You can also see the gable of the monastery church in the north. It was modified in the Late Middle Ages when a steeper roof was added to the church. The monastery garden was located to the south. Fruit, vegetables, herbs and wine were produced to feed the convent. Unlike the Benedictines and Cistercians, the friars did not trade the food and drink they produced.

East wing – from the outside in

As the arm of the cloister was added at a later date, here you can see the original western exterior of the east wing. A dentil called a “Deutsche Band” (German band) sections off the upper part of the wall. The narrow dormitory windows are below. Findings from the renovation indicate that cornices, friezes and window frame embellishments were painted white to set them apart from the bare brickwork. An original window frame embellishment has been preserved on the back of this wall in today's stairwell.

Dormitory – a glance at a cell

The Dominicans also had shared sleeping quarters (dormitory), but it was divided into separate cells. This was an innovative arrangement compared to other orders at the time. The small rooms separated by wooden partitions were on either side of a central corridor and were not only used as bedrooms, but also as private study rooms for each friar. They contained a bench for sleeping and a desk.

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