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Brunswick (Braunschweig)

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A duchy situated in the mountainous central part of Northern Germany, comprising the region of the Harz mountains. Territorially, the duchy is not a unit, but parcelled into three large, and six smaller, sections. Both in extent of territory and in population it ranks tenth among the confederated states of the German Empire. The inhabitants are of the Lower Saxon race. The census of 1900 enumerated 464,333 inhabitants. Of these 432,570 were Lutherans, 4406 Reformed, 24,175 Catholics, and 1824 Jews. The Government is a constitutional monarchy, hereditary in the male line of the House of Brunswick-Luneberg. The elder line having become extinct in 1884 by the death of Duke Wilhelm, the younger line, represented by the Duke of Cumberland, should have succeeded to the throne. For political reasons, however, Prussia objected to his taking possession, and by decree of the Bundesrat he was excluded. The present regent, chosen by the legislature, is Duke Johann Albrecht of Mecklenberg. Agriculture, industries, and commerce are highly developed in the duchy. It is stated that the first potatoes raised in Germany were planted in Brunswick from five of the tubers brought to Europe by Francis Drake. The town Brunswick (Brunonis vicus, Bruno's village), which has given its name to the duchy, was founded in the second half of the ninth century. The country was part of the allodial lands of Henry the Lion. After his defeat and exile in 1180, he lost all his possessions. Brunswick, however, was restored to his grandson Otto, who was made first Duke of Brunswick by Frederick II. In the fourteenth century the town became a centre of the Hanseatic League, as well as of the confederation of the Lower Saxon towns.

Christianity dates from Charlemagne's conquest of the Saxon country of which Brunswick is a part. Charlemagne found and destroyed an ancient German idol in the place where now Brunswick stands. At Kissenbruck many of the conquered Saxons were baptized. During the Middle Ages the country was partly under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Halberstadt, partly under that of Hildesheim. At the end of the eighth and the beginning of the ninth century St. Ludger laboured in the neighbourhood of Helmstedt, where he founded a monastery. The pious Duke of Eastphalia and his devout wife founded, in 852, the monastery of Brunshausen, near Gandersheim, for Benedictine nuns, where his daughter Hathumod was first abbess. It was her brother Bruno who some years later founded the town of Brunswick. When, in 881, the church and monastery of Gandersheim were completed, the community was transferred thither, under the abbess Gerberga, sister of Hathumod. This monastery reached its highest point of prosperity in the tenth century, as is shown by the life of Hrotswitha, the celebrated "nun of Gandersheim", who sang the praises of Otto the Great and wrote Latin comedies after the manner of Terence. Other Benedictine monasteries founded in the eleventh and twelfth centuries were Steterburg, Lutter, and Clus. The great Cistercian Order also flourished in Brunswick. The three monasteries of Amelungsborn, Marienthal, and Riddaghausen were founded in the twelfth century. The Augustinians also had a monastery for men and one for women at Helmstedt.

In the town of Brunswick religion flourished from an early period. Among the older monasteries should be mentioned St. Blasius and St. Cyriacus, also the Benedictine monastery built in honour of St. Autor, whose relics were brought from Trier, and who became the patron saint of the town. In the twelfth century Henry the Lion did much for his town of Brunswick. He rebuilt some monasteries and erected several churches. The Franciscans made a foundation in the town in the thirteenth, the Dominicans, early in the fourteenth, century. The town also possessed several hospitals and Beguinages. Mention must here be made of the great reform of monasteries which was wrought in North Germany in the fifteenth century. The celebrated reformer of monasteries, Johannes Busch, canon regular of Windesheim, extended his beneficent labours to Brunswick. The Benedictine Congregation of Bursfeld, which at the end of the fifteenth century counted 142 monasteries, may be said to have sprung from the monastery of Clus near Gandersheim. (See Bursfeld.)

With regard to the religious revolution of the sixteenth century it will be necessary to consider the town of Brunswick separately. It was a proud and rich town and had long sought to make itself independent of the authority of its dukes. Hence the revolutionary doctrines of the Reformers were readily accepted by the townsmen. Lutheranism was introduced as early as 1521, and firmly established by Burgenhagen in 1528, not without ruthless fanaticism. In the country, however, Duke Henry's authority prevailed, and the Reformers gained no foothold until 1542, when, owing to the victory of the Smalkaldic League, the duke fell into captivity, Bugenhagen was recalled, and the external observance of the new religion was forced upon the people with much violence and cruelty. When Henry recovered his duchy, in 1547, he re-established the Catholic religion. His son and successor made the whole district Lutheran, and it has since remained a Protestant stronghold. Duke Julius did not destroy all the monasteries, but allowed many of them to persist as so-called Protestant convents. Among these was the once celebrated Gandersheim which was only suppressed during the general spoliation and secularization of 1802. Prominent among the Dukes of Brunswick in post-Reformation times is Anton Ulrich, said to have been the most learned prince of his time, a patron of the arts and sciences, himself a poet, and a student of the early Fathers. He took a lively interest in the movement for the reconciliation of the Protestant sects with the Church, the same movement with which Leibniz was identified. Early in 1710 the duke abjured Protestantism and a few months later published his "Fifty Reasons Why the Catholic Church is Preferable to Protestantism". (See Räss, Convertiten, IX.) Two of his daughters followed him into the Catholic Church. The only result of his conversion so far as the duchy was concerned was his erection of two Catholic churches, one in Brunswick, the other in Wolfenbuttel, to which according to his desire Franciscans were appointed.

Pope Gregory XVI placed the Catholics of the Duchy of Brunswick under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Hildesheim. They are merely tolerated in the duchy. The Constitution of 1832, it is true, granted liberty of conscience and the rights of public worship, but subjected all churches to the "supervision of the Government", that is to say, of the Lutheran church authorities. The law of 1848 brought little relief to the Catholics. No ecclesiastical ordinance or pontifical constitution may be published without the government's placet; all Catholic congregations were incorporated in Protestant parishes. The last intolerable law was abolished in 1867 for three Catholic parishes, henceforth recognized as such by the State, viz., Brunswick, Wolfenbuttel, and Helmstedt, all the others remaining parts of Protestant parishes. Catholic priests (with the three aforesaid exceptions) may not perform baptisms, marriages, or hold funeral services without giving previous notice to the Protestant pastor and obtaining his leave. And no priest, unless duly recognized by the State, may perform any ecclesiastical function without falling under the penalty of the law. Non-recognized priests are even fined for conferring baptism in the case of necessity, and for administering the last sacraments. The same intolerance prevails with regard to schools and the education of children of mixed marriages. The State contributes nothing towards the support of Catholic worship. In the year 1864 a law was passed abolishing Stolgebühren, i.e., all perquisites and fees received by the priest for certain ecclesiastical functions, such as marriages and funerals, which had previously to be handed over to the Protestant pastor. The general statement, therefore, in the "Kirchenlexicon", that the law of 1867 has rendered the condition of the Catholics in the Duchy of Brunswick "wholly satisfactory", needs recension; it must be restricted to the three above-named parishes; in the rest of the duchy the condition of Catholics is far from satisfactory. It is for this reason that the Centre Party in the Reichstag has brought in the Toleration Bill, which, if carried, would sweep away all Catholic disabilities throughout the empire, in Brunswick as well as in Mecklenburg, and in the Kingdom of Saxony.


Daniel, Handbuch der Geographie (5th ed., Leipzig), IV, 568-82; Bruck, Gesichte der kath. Kirch in Deutschland im 19. Jahrh. (Mainz and Kirchheim), III; Woker in Kirchenlex., s.v.; Janssen-Pastor, Gesch. des deutsch. Volkes (18th ed., Freiburg), III, Bk. II, xvii; IV, Bk. II, viii, Bk. III, xi; Staatslexikon (2nd ed.), I, s.v. Konversations-Lex. (3rd ed., Freiburg), s.v.

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APA citation. Guldner, B. (1908). Brunswick (Braunschweig). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Guldner, Benedict. "Brunswick (Braunschweig)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by William D. Neville.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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