Near Essen Saint Ludger founded a monastery in 799 and became its first abbot. The little church which Saint Ludger built here in honor of Saint Stephen was completed in 804 and dedicated by Saint Ludger himself, who had meanwhile become Bishop of Münster. Upon the death of Ludger on 26 March 809, the abbacy of Werden passed by inheritance first to his younger brother Hildigrim I (809–827), then successively to four of his nephews: Gerfried (827–839), Thiadgrim (ruled less than a year), Altfried (839–848), Hildigrim II (849–887). Under Hildigrim I, also Bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne, the new monastery of Helmstedt in the Diocese of Halberstadt was founded from Werden. It was ruled over by a provost, and remained a dependency of Werden till its secularization in 1803.
Werden was a wealthy abbey with possessions in Westphalia, Frisia, eastern Saxony and around the abbey itself, where it had a territory of 125 km².
Under Hildigrim II the monastery, which up to that time had been the property of the family of Saint Ludger, obtained, on 22 May 877, Reichsunmittelbarkeit — the right of free abbatical election and immunity. Henceforth the abbots of Werden were imperial princes and had a seat in the imperial diets. The abbey church of Werden, destroyed by fire in 1256, was rebuilt in the late-Romanesque style (1256–75). Thereafter the monastery began to decline to such an extent that under Abbot Conrad von Gleichen (1454–74), a married layman, the whole community consisted of but three, who had divided the possessions of the abbey among themselves. After a complete reform, instituted in 1477, by Abbot Adam von Eschweiler of the Bursfelde Congregation, Werden continued until its secularization in 1803.