Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The Reformation in Lower Saxony (Germany)

For the beginning it should be mentioned that Lower Saxony had a different meaning in the early 16th century than it has today. Back than there was the Lower Saxon Circle (Reichskreis), which included parts of modern day Lower Saxony, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia, while today there is the German State of Lower Saxony, which is comprised of parts of the Lower Saxon and the Lower Rhenish-Westphalian Circles. This posts will mainly focus on the intersection of these two definitions, which is just the region where I come from. I was inspired to include this regional example of the Reformation by two great exhibitions I have visited during the jubilee year 2017: "Im Aufbruch. Reformation 1517-1617" in Braunschweig and "Zeichen Setzen" in Celle.

The Reformation in Lower Saxony began in the rich Hanseatic city of Braunschweig, to which the writings of Martin Luther came 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 he became sole ruler, after his brother became Baron of Harburg. In 1530 Ernst signed the Augsburg Confession and also brought back Urbanus Rhegius from Augsburg, who helped 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 a 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 the reformer. 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.

Still today the Hildesheim Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Hildesheim, but already in 1542 the Reformation was introduced to the city of 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

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.

By this time 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 the mentioned 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, although 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

Wolfsburg Castle was since 1302 the ancestral seat of the Family of Bartensleben, a family that grew rich by ceral growing, fish farming and timber trade. The family was a vassal to two Dukes and during the Reformation one of them became Protestant while one remained Catholic. Also the family was torn between the two confessions. To avoid escalations the family's head Hans the Rich wrote a treaty on 3rd July 1555 which granted religious freedom for the family's members and their subjects and adjusted the togetherness of the two confessions. The treaty was very progressive and anticipated the Peace of Augsburg in some points.

After Henry V had died in 1568, Julius, although lightly physically handicapped and considered to be unable to govern, became the new Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and went on to become one of the most important rulers of the principality. Already two months after his accession to power he introduced the Reformation to the whole 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 in the World.


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