The Adelphinian Reforms were a series of measures taken to reform the Catholic Church, originally developed by Saint Adelphina of Essen (1401 - 1420) in order to restore faith in the One True Church and combat the spread of heresy. These reforms mainly address Church corruption, assisting those less fortunate, and generally emphasise the importance of living a meagre, devout life.


In 1401, Abbess Adelphina of Essen was elected in the hope of reconnecting the abbey with the city. At the Kölsch Treppen ("Cologne Stairs") Commission held in Cologne in 1401-1402, her envoy suggested that phasing in canonesses regular in Essen rather than secular canonesses in order to help solve dissatisfaction issues in both cities. The Commission agreed with Adelphina's other proposals - to bring back strict monastic discipline and emphasise charitable works of mercy - and decided to focus more on assisting the poor in Cologne.

In 1403, inspired by Abbess Adelphina, Archbishop Friedrich III of Cologne wrote a series of pastoral letters on the subject of caring for the poor. The first five canonesses regular arrived at Essen Abbey from a nearby non-sovereign abbey.

In 1404, two secular canonesses from Essen became permanent consultants in Cologne on the subject of Adelphina's inspired teachings and gave public lectures on discipline in the Church.

By 1406, the Consmas und Damian infirmary in Essen, funded by Cologne, finished construction. The next year, the hospital in Cologne finished construction. The hospital in Cologne took longer to build, despite Bohemia's financial assistance, because it was of an extremely high quality. A further hospital is completed in 1409 in Westphalen.

In 1408, one of the two consultant canonesses discovered a priest forsaking his vows of chastity. Archbishop Friedrich III removed this priest of his titles and imprisoned him. After consulting the Cologne Stairs Commission and Adelphina's representatives, Friedrich III decided to execute this priest to make an example of him and, further, establish a Court of Discipline to enquire further into wrongdoers in the Church.

In the Imperial Diet of 1413, Abbess Adelphina introduced the Adelphinian Reforms and they were taken up by the Kingdom of Bohemia, which at the time was the Holy Roman Emperor.

A learned theologian and canonesses rewrote the Bible into German for the first time at Adelphina's request. This Bible was completed in 1417 and placed in the Essen library. From 1418 until 1419, Adelphina took the German bible on a tour around little towns in Essen and Cologne to show the people, and to lecture on her new reforms. She passed through Berg and Mark peacefully during this time, and the people began to tell of the "ancient abbess who guards a single German bible with her life and walks around excitedly as if possessed by mystical forces". She was known to spend most of her days passionately talking to passers-by about the wonders of the Church and her reforms.

After Adelphina's death in 1420, Abbess Margarete set up a school run completely from Church funds to give all the children in Essen an education. This school was completed in 1425.

In 1421, Archbishop Dietrich II of Cologne gave canonesses in Essen a licence to lecture in other nations. The next year, they lectured in Berg, Mark and Julich.

From 1423 until 1428, Archbishop Dietrich II of Cologne negotiated with Karl von Havel, the Hussite leader, on behalf of the Pope. Finally, they arrived at a peace agreement called the Concord of Luxembourg. Most significantly for the Adelphinian Reforms, these involved working towards universal poverty of individual clergy members. The Concord also endorsed Adelphinian Reforms generally.

In 1453, Archbishop Dietrich II of Cologne and young Abbess Sophia of Essen travel to Rome to explain the Adelphinian Reforms to His Holiness, Pope Callixtus IV

After Adelphina of Essen was reported to have performed a series of intercessory miracles, she was canonised as a Saint in 1460 by Pope Callixtus IV, forty years after her death. A small Book of Saint Adelphina's Miracles was put together by the canonesses in Essen in celebration and quickly distributed around the nation.


The Book of Adelphinian Reforms (published in 1421 and distributed widely in 1441 with the advent of the printing press) contains a condensed version of all of the prolific Saint Adelphina's addresses to the people.

  • It is important to care for those less fortune and live a meagre life devoted wholly to the service of the Lord and the people.
  • Canonesses Regular, who are often nurses or teachers, are to be preferred over Secular Canonesses.
  • Heretic Infidels can be returned to the correct Way through mercy and discussion; however, upon continued defiance, the Church is justified in dealing with them however it sees fit.
  • Corruption is not to be tolerated and discipline amongst religious leadership is paramount. Clergy members should not be allowed to forsake their vows.
  • A good religious leader visits those less fortunate and lives amongst the people.
  • Canonesses should be encouraged to learn and have new ideas, especially about medicine. Hildegard of Bingen is an excellent example of this.
  • Solidarity and mourning are important in the face of crushing military defeat, but there is always hope.
  • Indulgences should not be associated with money changing hands because it fosters the idea that the Church is corrupt.
  • The Church should be respected by the people not for its wealth and prestige but for the way it brings the grace of God to those who are most needy.


  • Canonesses Regular should be integrated with Secular Canonesses.
  • Hospitals and Infirmaries should be created to be used mostly for those less fortunate. They should be staffed and supported by the Church.
  • Priests should be banned from selling indulgences.
  • A Court of Discipline should be established. This will have two functions:
    • To enquire into any wrongdoing within the Church and punish clergymen for forsaking their vows.
      • These clergymen should be executed unless they revealed themselves in a mercy plea, in which case they should be condemned to a life of hard labour.
    • To enforce the ban on selling indulgences.

Under the Concord of Luxembourg, Adelphinian Reforms involved further measures.

  • Preaching in languages other than Latin is permitted, but Latin remains the ultimate standard for Church documents, doctrine and sermons.
  • The Church will work towards universal poverty of individual clergy members. Clergy members may fully handle the financial affairs of their respective religious establishments and may obtain these funds through legitimate mesans, but these funda may only be usef to further uphold the Word of God: they cannot be used for personal reasons except to cater for very basic needs.

In 1453, in addition to outlining the reforms above, Abbess Sophia emphasised the importance of making Catholic texts accessible to the wider community, with the printing press championed by Abbess Margarete of Essen.

In 1499, Abbess Meina advocated for a revival of Adelphinian lectures and, in the process, added further reforms:

  • Stricter Horarium (communal timetable) in abbeys
  • Emphasis on field-work and manual labour

Reformed Countries

  • Essen
  • Cologne and Westphalen
  • Bohemia (1414)
  • Berg (1429)
  • Mark (1429)
  • Julich (1429)
  • Burgundy (Holland) (1431)
  • Cleve (1435)
  • Limburg (1435)
  • Geldern (1435)
  • Sweden (1438)
  • Denmark (1438)
  • Norway (1438)
  • Ireland (Desmond) (1443)
  • Munster (1453)
  • Brandenburg (1460)