The history of the medieval convents of St. Niklas and St. Clara is overly fascinating
I am sure most of us would love to see what Vienna looked like in the medieval period – well, it was quite different to the city we love and experience today. I want to take you back to the 13th and 14th century, to tell you a bit more about two convents that no longer exist. The Cistercian convent St. Niklas and the convent of Poor Clares St. Clara.
St. Niklas got presumably founded by the duke of Austria (Babenbergs) Leopold VI. in 1228. Built outside of the city near the area of the U3 Landstraße (Salmgasse and Rasumofskygasse) station – it focused on women from different backgrounds and was under the control of the male Cistercian monastery Heiligenkreuz (about 30 minutes away from Vienna, it’s definitely worth a visit). One of those male friars, called Gutolf von Heiligenkreuz, wrote a report (Translatio sanctae Delicianae) about a transfer of relics from Prague to Vienna – in said report, he also mentions the nuns of St. Niklas. Gutolf described them as extraordinary and insanely smart.
Blanche of Valois and her husband Rudollf III. founded St. Clara in 1305. Built near todays Kärtner Straße (Maysedergasse, Kärntner Straße, Führichgasse, Lobkowitzplatz). St. Clara focused on noblewomen, especially widows and unmarried daughters would find their way to this convent. Barely any sources from this convent survived, hence why we don’t have much information about St. Clara. But we do know that even though the founder of the convent wanted the sisters to live in poverty. They didn’t follow her rules.
Both convents were involved in economic activities, such as salt trade, viticulture and property purchases. This is an insanely important fact for the history of the female agency in the medieval period. It deconstructs the myth of binary gender segregation of the scopes of actions. Women found themselves involved in different aspects of economic and social activities. Especially the nuns and sisters of convents were allowed to operate more freely.
Sadly both convents disappeared from our city in the 16th century.