For many years, high-born women ruled the Imperial Abbey of Thorn. It was once part of the Holy Roman Empire, and it now lies in the southern Dutch province of Limburg, close to the Belgian border. The women of the abbey lived independent lives and were unmarried. Although most of the abbey has now been demolished, the abbey church has survived and can still be visited in the picturesque town of Thorn.
The Limburgs Museum in Venlo now has a grand exhibition about three Princesses who lived in Thorn Abbey – Polyxena of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg, who later became Queen of Sardinia as the wife of King Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia, Gabriella of Salm-Salm, the daughter of Nikolaus Leopold, Fürst of Salm-Salm and Dorothea Francisca Agnes of Salm, and Maria Kunigunde of Saxony, the daughter of King Augustus III of Poland and Maria Josepha of Austria. Over 75% of the items on display have never been displayed in the Netherlands before.
The exhibition is accompanied by an audio tour, and I have a love-hate relationship with audio tours. I hate it when you are only able to follow the flow of an exhibition if you have an audio tour, and I find it very inconvenient of having to hold something up to my ear the entire time. Luckily, the story can still be followed even without the audio tour, sort of. The items on display are quite magnificent – from actual letters, huge portraits, a golden carriage and grand gowns; they certainly speak for themselves.
I was quite surprised by the size of the exhibition as it just keeps going and going. We learn about how Maria Kunigunde almost became Holy Roman Empress and how the women lived in the abbey. It’s a lovely look at a bygone age and one that has been overlooked for quite some time.
The exhibition is based on the book by the same name by Joost Welten, which was released in 2019. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an English translation, though the museum did offer a German translation. Overall, I loved the exhibition. My only real negative would be the lighting. The entire exhibition is quite dark, with bright lights on the items. This made the text harder to read and caused me to be a bit disoriented at times. Nevertheless, you need to go see this exhibition if you can, if only for the fabulous portraits.
And when you’re done, travel a little bit further south to the town of Thorn to see the church. Down in the crypt, you’ll find the tomb of Christina of Salm-Salm, who lived in the abbey.
Learn more about visiting the Limburgs Museum here.