Starting as an abbey in the 10th century it became a sovereign state (though probably the smallest, ever) of the German Empire.
Here, the high aristocracy found a haven for their unmarried daughters. Originally a convent, it soon changed its status to a religiously focused, but secular establishment.
In Dutch, as well as in German, this type of institution is called a "stift" (there is no equivalent English word.) Vows were not required, and the Vatican was petitioned repeatedly to permit worldly dress. It took about two hundred years before the ladies would wear anything but black.
The abbess, who ran the "stift" and the town, ranked as a reigning monarch, and lived in a small palace. In Thorn, only women with the most impeccable pedigree were accepted.
They dwelled in luxury in the white houses, being attended by servants and owning property. If they married, they left.
A walk through and around the village will reveal picturesque views through narrow streets and into cobbled court yards. The cobble stones that pave most of Thorn's streets are from the bottom of the river Meuse, literally not much more than a stone's throw away from the village.
The interior of the church is an all white Gothic shell, a perfect foil for the soaring Baroque main altar that is as ornate as the nave is pristine.
The nave is flanked by a half dozen side altars from various periods of the church's existence.
Below the main choir is the crypt where, along with other tombs, the eternal rest of two abbesses can be observed through their glass topped coffins.
A small museum at the rear of the church exhibits paintings and other memorabilia of the haughty Thorn women. They offer an interesting insight into Thorn's daily life, two centuries ago.
The abbess with a chapter of canons and canonesses were its administrators. Of the abbey's original large building complex only the church remains.
In the 12th century it was a sturdy Romanesque building. Of that, only the western half still stands with two stair towers and a crypt.
At the end of the 13th century, the church was renovated in the Gothic style and in the fifteenth century it was expanded in the same style with chapels along the side naves.
The late Baroque furnishings of the choir date from the 18th century.
After more than eight centuries, in 1797, the French invaded the
country, and declared the church a property of the State. Life as Thorn had known it, came to an end.
Between 1860 and 1880 the church was thoroughly restored under the supervision of the, in Holland well known architect, Dr. P. J. H. Cuypers, whose best known buildings are the Rijksmuseum and the Central Station of Amsterdam. The top of the tower dates from this period.<