Located on a hill in the western part of Lutherstadt Eisleben, the ensemble consisting of church and monastery still form a characteristic feature of the cityscape. St. Anne's and Augustinian Monastery founded by Martin Luther in 1515 with the parsonage form an ensemble significant in the history of art and the history of the Reformation. Kaspar Güttel, a close confidant of Martin Luther and one of the most important reformers of the Mansfelder Land region, preached in St. Anne's Church. Following the dissolution of the cloister, the church became the first Protestant church in the Mansfelder Land region.
Dedicated to the patron saint of mining, St. Anne, the church was built between 1513 and 1590 as a flat-roofed, aisleless church with a recessed east choir closed on three sides. The outward appearance is characterized by significant features of the late Gothic period. The Cloister Church of St. Annen has one of the most beautiful church interiors of the Renaissance in Germany. Adjoining the nave of St. Anne's Church at a right angle to the south are the Cloisters of the Augustinian Eremites. Overall, the cloisters building possesses remarkable fittings dating from the 16th and 17th century; these illustrate the importance of the monastery for the Reformation period and the period that immediately followed it.
The Church served as the burial place of the Counts of Mansfeld-Hinterort, who ranked among the proponents of Reformation doctrine, and holds numerous epitaphs, funerary hatchments and sarcophagi of members of the family. Unique witnesses to the history of the Reformation are the monastic cells in the spire lights, dating to the era of the structure’s service as a monastery.
An upswing in copper mining brought the settlement of more and more miners in the newly founded ‘New Town’ of Eisleben [Eisleber Neustadt]. Since 1511, Count Albert IV (VII) of Mansfeld had planned to build a church and found a monastery for its spiritual care. The cornerstone for the church was laid in 1514; on 13 January 1516, the choir was consecrated by Archbishop Albert of Magdeburg and Mainz. This was followed by a pause in construction work lasting approximately 70 years. This interruption owes not only to the dissolution of the monastery in 1523, but also to the peasant war of 1525, the Schmalkaldic War of 1546-1547, as well as to declining revenue from the mining sector.
In 1515, Count Albert IV entered into negotiations with the Order of St. Augustine for the establishment of the monastery. The order was represented by Martin Luther and his spiritual mentor, Johann Staupitz. Martin Luther held the high office of district vicar at that time. He was in charge of the monasteries in the Saxony-Thuringia region. On the recommendation of the vicar general Staupitz, the master and preacher Kaspar Güttel was not sent to Munich but instead was appointed to serve as prior of St. Anne's Monastery in Eisleben. St. Anne's Monastery were founded by Martin Luther on 15 July 1515.
Due to the Reformation, most of the monks abandoned the monastery in 1523, bringing construction activity to a halt. Countess Margareta of Mansfeld initiated further construction of the Church, which took place intermittently from 1585-1608. There have been numerous instances of restoration and repair work since the 19th century, most recently in 2012 (church) and 2013-2015 (cloisters).
Founded in 1515, St. Anne's Church and Monastery offer an outstanding structural testimony to the architectural setting of the Reformation: In addition to the Luther House, the ‘Black Monastery’, in Wittenberg, it is the only witness to the Augustinian Eremites in late-mediaeval Central Germany; only here can monastic cells dating to the Luther era be found intact. The Interior of the cloister church ranks among the most beautiful Renaissance church interiors in Germany.
It was not least the careful subsequent usage of the facility and the restoration against the backdrop of its significance for the history of the Reformation that led to the preservation of the monastic cells; today they offer an important testimony to the architectural and social setting of the Reformation.
The cloister was a starting point for the Reformation in the Mansfelder Land region and occupied an important place in Luther’s life. Together with Johann von Staupitz, he negotiated the establishment of the monastery with Count Albert IV of Mansfeld, which then finally took place in 1515. Here, in 1516, Martin Luther celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi with a procession that would become a key theological experience in regard to his doubts about a gracious God; it would thus become a catalyst to his work towards Reformation. The role Luther played in the history of the cloisters has always remained present in the collective memory.