Friday, 30 June 2017

Reformation in Lower Saxony (Germany)

Actually I planned for June a post about Johannes Bugenhagen and the Reformation in Braunschweig, but recently I visited some great special exhibitions in other Lower Saxon cities and decided to extend the theme of this month to include also other parts of the modern day German State of Lower Saxony, but let's start with Braunschweig first.

The writings of Martin Luther came to the rich Hanseatic city very quickly by travelling merchants. One of Braunschweig's civics also gave them to a young monk at the Saint Aegidius Abbey, who started, supported by his abbot, to study theology in Erfurt in the same year. In 1520 the monk, called Gottschalk Kruse, continued his studies in Wittenberg and with the support of Martin Luther he became Doctor Theologiae already in 1521. In December 1521 Kruse returned to Braunschweig and until his flight in January 1522 he preached the ideas of Luther to the civics of Braunschweig. Also in 1522 he wrote the first Lutheran script of Lower Saxony, which was printed in Braunschweig in the same year. In late 1522 Kruse returned to Braunschweig, but already in February 1523 he had to leave the city again and this time he never returned.


Gottschalk Kruse found a new home in Celle, where he helped Duke Ernst I of Brunswick-Lüneburg to spread the Reformation in his territory. In 1527 Kruse left Celle to continue his preachings in Harburg, where he also died in 1540.

Duke Ernst I of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1497-1546), also known as Ernst the Confessor, spent parts of his youth at the court of Frederick the Wise in Wittenberg, where he also met Martin Luther. In 1520 Ernst and his brother became regents of Brunswick-Lüneburg. In 1524 he introduced the Reformation in the capital city Celle and in 1527 in the whole territory. Also in 1527 Ernst I became sole ruler, after his brother became Baron of Harburg. In 1530 he signed the Augsburg Confession and also brought back Urbanus Rhegius from Augsburg, who worked to spread the Reformation.

Town Church of Celle - a religious centre of the Reformation

Epitaph of Ernst the Confessor at the Town Church

The Chapel of Celle Castle - the only church  in Germany
which was nearly not altered since the early-Reformation period
The Reformation in Braunschweig did not stop when Kruse left the city in 1523. Already in 1526 the first mass in German language was held at the Braunschweig Cathedral. The civics always tried to gain more independence from their Prince and considered that the Reformation might be the right way to achieve their goal. In 1528 Johannes Bugenhagen, a close friend of Martin Luther, came to Braunschweig and preached at the Brüdernkirche. For Braunschweig Bugenhagen wrote the first Lutheran Church Order in the World. In 1531 Braunschweig joined the Schmalkaldic League, although the ruling Prince Henry V of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (1489-1568) remained a Catholic.




The Free Imperial City of Goslar introduced the Reformation in 1526. In 1528 the reformer Nicolaus von Amsdorf came to the city. He founded a Latin School and wrote a Church Order for Goslar in 1531.

At that time Goslar was in conflict with Prince Henry V of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel because of the mining law at the Rammelsberg. The Prince used violence against Goslar's civics and as the town was dissatisfied with the Emperor, who was not able to end the crimes, Goslar joined the Schmalkaldic League in 1536.

A special treasure of the Reformation period is housed in Goslar, the Market Church Library. The library includes important manuscripts of the period, which came to Goslar in 1535 after a donation from the clergy Andreas Gronewalt from Halberstadt.



Elisabeth of Brandenburg (1510-1558) was the Duchess consort of Brunswick-Göttingen-Calenberg by marriage to Eric I. Already in 1527 she got to know the ideas of Martin Luther. In 1534 she met Martin Luther for the first time and in 1538 she entered into regular correspondence with Luther. Also in 1538 she publicly announce her affiliation to Luther's ideas and called Antonius Corvinus to her residence in Münden. After the death of Eric I in 1540, she became Regent of the Duchy during the minority of her son Eric II. Together with Corvinus she introduced the Reformation to Brunswick-Göttingen-Calenberg. Although her son Catholicised in 1547, he was not able to undo the Reformation.


The Hildesheim Cathedral is still today the seat of the Bishop of Hildesheim, but already in 1542 the Reformation was introduced in Hildesheim. In 1544 Johannes Bugenhagen wrote a Church Order for the city.

Hildesheim Cathedral

Saint Andrew's Church, where
Bugenhagen preached in 1542

Saint Michael's Church, a Shared Church of
Catholics and Lutherans since 1542

Jubilee Card printed by the Churches of Hildesheim

The Riddagshausen Abbey, which is today in a suburb of Braunschweig, was founded in 1145 by Cistercian monks and was an imperial abbey when the Reformation began. The Reformation was first introduced in 1542, but already in 1547 it was recatholicized. In 1568 the Reformation was permanently introduced and an abbey school was founded there.


Prince Henry V of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was the last Catholic ruler in Northern Germany and an important ally of the Emperor. In 1538 he became one of the leaders of the Catholic League, the counterpart of the Schmalkaldic League. Due to his conflicts with Braunschweig and Goslar the Schmalkaldic League captured the Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, imprisoned Henry V and introduced the Reformation. After the Battle of Mühlberg in 1547 Henry V was able to return to Wolfenbüttel and promptly started the recatholisation. Only Braunschweig was able to remain Lutheran. In 1552 Henry V was also finally able to end the conflict with Goslar and gain control over the Mines at Rammelsberg. During the Battle of Sievershausen his two eldest sons were killed and his third son, Julius, became entitled to inherit.

Wolfenbüttel Castle - Residence of Henry V

After Henry V died in 1568, his third son, although lightly physically handicapped and considered to be unable to govern, became one of the most important Princes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Already two months after his accession to power he introduced the Reformation to the principality. When Julius died in 1589 he left a well-ordered and financially sound principality for his son.

In 1576 Julius founded in Helmstedt the first Protestant university of the northern Holy Roman Empire and the first university of the Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. It soon became one of the largest universities in Germany.


Henry Julius, the son of Julius, built another important site of the Reformation in Lower Saxony between 1608 and 1624, the Marienkirche in Wolfenbüttel. It is said to be the first new constructed monumental church of the Protestantism.



To commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation many churches and museums in Lower Saxony show special exhibitions. Two of the largest include "Im Aufbruch. Reformation 1517-1617" shown as cooperation of the Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum with the Saint Aegidius Abbey and the Brüdernkirche and "Zeichen Setzen" in Celle shown as cooperation of the Bomann Museum with the Residence Museum and the Town Church.




No comments:

Post a Comment