SOEST, a town of Germany, in the Prussian province of Westphalia, situated in a fertile plain (Soester Borde), 33 m. E.
of Dortmund, on the main railway Cologne-Elberfeld-Berlin. Pop. (1905), 17,394. Its early importance is attested by its seven fine churches (six Protestant), of which the most striking are St Peter's, the Wiesenkirche, a gem of Gothic architecture, Maria zur Hohe St Mary-on-the-height with beautiful mural frescoes, founded in 1314 and restored in 1850-1852, and the Roman Catholic cathedral, founded in the 10th century by Bruno, brother of Otto the Great (the present building was erected in the rath century). This last, with its very original facade, is one of the noblest ecclesiastical monuments of Germany. Remains of the broad wall, now partly enclosing gardens and fields, and one of the gates remain; but the thirty-six strong towers which once defended the town have disappeared and the moats have been converted into promenades. The town-hall (1701) contains valuable archives, and among the numerous educational establishments must be mentioned the gymnasium, founded in 1534, through the instrumentality of Melanchthon, an evangelical teachers' seminary, an agricultural school, and a blind asylum. Iron-working, the manufacture of soap, hats, sugar, cigars, bricks and tiles, linen-weaving, tanning and brewing, together with market-gardening and farming in the neighbourhood, and trade in cattle and grain are the leading industries.
Mentioned in documents as early as the 9th century, Soest was one of the largest and most important Hanseatic towns in the middle ages, with a population estimated at from 30,000' to 60,000. It was one of the chief emporiums on the early trading route between Westphalia and Lower Saxony. Its code of municipal laws (Schran; jus susatense), dating from 1144 to 1165, was one of the earliest and best, and served as a model even to Liibeck. On the fall of Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony, Soest passed with the rest of Angria to' Cologne. In the 15th century the strife between the townsmen and the archbishops broke out in open war, and in 1444 the strong fortifications of the town withstood a long siege by an army of 60,000 men. The women of Soest are said to have distinguished themselves in this contest (Soester Fehde). Papal intervention ended the strife, and Soest was permitted to remain under the protection of the dukes of Cleves. The prosperity of the town waned in more modern times: in 1763 its population was only 3800; in 1816 it was 6687.
See Vogeler, Soest, seine Altertiimer und Sehenswiirdigkeiten (Soest, 1890); Hausberg, Die soester Fehde (Trier, 1882); Summermann, Die Wandmalereien in der Kirche Maria zur Hohe in Soest (Soest, 1890) ; Aldenkirchen, Die'mittelalterliche Kunst in Soest (Bonn, 1875) ; Ludorff und Vogeler, Kunstdenkmdler des Kreises Soest (Soest, 1905).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)