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History: The Middle Ages

Essen is older than Berlin, older than Munich and even older than the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Essen's origins are closely connected with the history of two religious institutions. They were among the most important of their kind in the Middle Ages and shaped the development of the town for 1,000 years. Around 800 A.D., missionary Luidger, the first bishop of Münster, founded a monastery in Werden. This monastery later became one of the largest landowners of the old German Reich. In the 14th century, the settlement which had formed around the monastery grew into a town. In around 850 A.D., Altfrid, later the bishop of Hildesheim, together with Gerswid, first abbess, founded a convent called Astnide (probable meaning "place in the east"). This is the origin of the city’s present name, Essen. The convent was a kind of living and education centre for the daughters of the Saxon nobles. Apart from the abbess, those who lived in the abbey did not have to make a vow of chastity and were allowed to keep their possessions. The church treasure and the west building of the cathedral still testify to the convent’s heyday in Ottonian times. Around the year 852 A.D., the abbey started building the collegiate church which was finished in 870 A.D. Today, the Cathedral of Essen in the city centre is built on its foundations. The later town grew bit by bit from the former settlement around the wealthy convent. As the settlement was conveniently situated at the intersection of two trading routes, Hellweg and Strata Colonesis, this encouraged farmers, craftsmen and merchants to settle there. The civilian community detached itself more and more from the abbess’s sovereignty. A town council was established and from 1244 the town had its own seal. Emperor Charles IV granted the town imperial immediacy in 1377.