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« Hill-Forts | Home | What's in a Name »

Christianization of the Wends

by Bill Biar

Friday 18 November 2011 at 10:20 pm.

There is some evidence that the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius (born in Thessalonica in the 820s), the Apostles to the Slavs, reached the Bautzen area.  Their mission of evangelization, in the latter part of the ninth century, took them to Great Moravia, which, at that time, included Bohemia and other central European territory.  It is known that they reached Görlitz, Königshain and Jauernick, west of the Lusatian Neisse River, less than 30 miles east of Bautzen.  Ancient stone crosses have been found near Guttau and near Gleina.  Some researchers believe that these could have been sites of the first Christian preaching stations or, perhaps, sites of the first baptisms in the area.

Missionaries from the west arrived with the German conquerors.  They often introduced Christianity by means of the sword.  “Convert or extirpate” was commanded by the German conquerors.  A crusade against the pagan Wends (the Obodrite Slavs to the north) was launched in 1147 under Henry the Lion and Albert the Bear.  This crusade was patterned after those to the Holy Land.  However, by this time the Sorbs had already been subjugated.  The policy of Christianization with the sword had not been very successful, because by the twelfth century, the Sorbs were still not fully converted.  The Sorbs rebelled against the church's cruelty and the imposition of intolerable taxation by the bishops.  A lot of blood was shed to make Christians out of the Wends.

The first church in the Bautzen area appears to have been established at Göda, five miles west of Bautzen, by Bishop Benno in 1076.  A Latin language document called Codex Lusatiae, issued at the see of Göda in 1222, named nine churches to be placed under the newly established St. Peter's Cathedral in Bautzen.  The location of these were as follows: Welintin (Wilthen), Neinkirgen (Neukirch), Solant (Sohland) and Kumwaldow (Cunewalde), south of Bautzen; Bukewicz (Hochkirch), east of  Bautzen; Porsicz (Purschwitz), Klix, Gradis  (Gröditz), and Guttin (Guttau), northeast of Bautzen.  The names of the villages as they appear in the Latin document are followed by the modern German names, except for Klix which is the same.

Our ancestors were Christianized at least 300 years before the Reformation, or over 750 years ago.  Before the Reformation the Wends were Catholics.  However, after the Religious Peace of Augsburg (1555), Catholicism and Lutheranism  (but not Calvinism) were recognized according to the principle of  “cuius regio, eius religio,” that is, “whose region, his religion.”  This meant that a person belonged to the religion of the ruler in whose territory he lived.  Since most of Lusatia was ruled by Lutheran noblemen most of the parishes became Lutheran.

Our ancestors, who came from the province of Silesia in Prussia, belonged to the Lutheran Free Church, also called the Breslauer Synode, and were referred to as “Old Lutherans” (Altlutherisch), or, for the most part, were in sympathy with them.  The ones who came from Saxony belonged to the Saxon State Church, but, also, were in sympathy with the Old Lutherans across the border in Prussia.  There were two Old Lutheran congregations in the Silesian part of Upper Lusatia, one at Weigersdorf and one at Klitten.  Both were organized in 1843.  These two congregations, together with a number of preaching stations, were served by Pastor Johann Kilian before the Wendish Emigration of 1854.  These Old Lutherans were interested in pure Lutheran doctrine and not in the mixture of Lutheranism and Calvinism offered by the state-controlled church of Prussia.  Most of the descendants of the Wends living in America are members of the Lutheran Church.

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