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Archdiocese of Utrecht

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Situated in the Netherlands, includes the Provinces of Utrecht, Friesland, Overyssel, Drenthe, Groningen, the larger part of Gelderland, and a small part of North Holland. In 1911 the archdiocese contained 17 deaneries, 282 parishes, 578 secular priests, 390 churches and chapels, and 383,000 Catholics. The cathedral chapter consists of a provost and 8 canons; the Government has no part in the nomination of the archbishop. The archiepiscopal seminary is divided into two sections: one at Driebergen with five professors, the other at Culenberg with twelve. The religious orders and congregations are: Augustinians, Carmelites, Capuchins, Dominicans, Franciscans, Trappists, Redemptorists, Brothers of Mercy, Brothers of Our Lady of the Sacred heart, and Brothers of St. John of God, with altogether 15 houses; Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, Tertiaries of St. Francis, Tertiaries of St. Dominic, Sisters of Konigsbusch, Sisters of the Society of Jesus of Bois-le-Duc, Sisters of St. Joseph, Benedictine Nuns of the Perpetual Adoration, Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo, Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Carmelite Nuns of the Strict Observance, Daughters of Mary and Joseph, Sorores Matris Boni Succursus, Poor Sisters of the Child Jesus, Poor School Sisters, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and Ursuline Nuns; altogether about 80 houses. The principal church of the diocese is the Cathedral of St. Catherine, built in the Gothic style in 1524; the former Catholic Cathedral of St. Martin, built 1251-67 in Gothic style, now belongs to the schismatic Jansenists.

The founding of the Diocese of Utrecht dates back to the Frankish era. In 695 St. Willibrord was consecrated at Rome Bishop of the Frisians. Towards the close of the seventh century, with the consent of the Frankish king, he settled at the market-town of Utrecht and built two churches there, the Church of Our Saviour, and that of St. Martin. The conversion of the Frisians to Christianity, though, progressed very slowly. After Willibrord's death St. Boniface repeatedly gave his attention to the Church of Utrecht without, however, being its bishop. Under the guidance of his friend St. Gregory, the school founded by St. Willibrord became a noted centre of Christian education for the northern part of the Frankish kingdom. During the early years of its existence the diocese suffered greatly from the incursions of the heathen Frisians, and in the ninth and tenth centuries from the plundering expeditions of the Normans, who traversed the territory robbing and burning as they went. Better times appeared during the supremacy of the Saxon emperors, who esteemed the Bishops of Utrecht highly, and frequently summoned them to attend the imperial councils and diets. Through the grants of land and privileges bestowed by these emperors the Bishops of Utrecht became secular princes, and were among the most powerful feudal lords of the northwestern part of the empire. In this way, like the other German bishops, they became involved in the quarrels of the emperors and popes. Bishop William (1057-76) was an unswerving partisan of the Emperor Henry IV during the Strife of Investitures. He took part in the synod of Worms which pronounced the deposition of Pope Gregory VII, and signed the decree of deposition directly after the Archbishop of Mainz. His successor Konrad (1078-99) was also a zealous adherent of the emperor. The Concordat of Worms (1122) annulled the emperor's right of investiture, and the cathedral chapter received the right to the free election of the bishop. It was, however, soon obligated to share this right with the four other collegiate chapters which existed in the city of Utrecht. The Counts of Holland and Geldern, between whose territories the lands of the Bishops of Utrecht lay, also sought to acquire influence over the filling of the episcopal see. This often led to disputes at the election of the bishops, and it was but seldom that capable and worthy men gained the See of St. Willibrord. Consequently the Holy See frequently interfered in the election, and after the middle of the fourteenth century repeatedly appointed the bishop directly without regard to the five chapters.

The Great Schism of the West in the latter quarter of the fourteenth century also affected the Diocese of Utrecht. Bishop Arnold II of Horn (1371-78) was opposed by a rival bishop, Floris of Wevelinkhofen (1378-93). The latter was generally recognized when Arnold, in return for a large sum of money, renounced his claims to Utrecht, and was raised to the See of Liège. During the episcopate of Floris, Gerhard Groote, who traversed the diocese as a preacher of repentance, was very successful in his efforts to bring about reforms. Floris was succeeded by one of the best bishops of Utrecht, Frederick of Blankenheim (1392-1423). Frederick's excellent administration was followed by a schism that lasted twenty-five years. Pope Martin V would not recognize Rudolph of Diepholz (1423-55), who had been elected by the chapters, and appointed Rabanus, Bishop of Speyer, as bishop, and, after his resignation, the cathedral provost of Utrecht, Zweder of Culenberg. After Zweder's death in 1433 his brother, Walraf of Mors, was appointed bishop by Pope Eugene IV. As the neighbouring secular rulers took part in the quarrel over the diocese, the country suffered terribly until the general recognition of Rudolph put an end to the schism. After his death the chapters elected Gijsbrecht of Brederode, but Philip of Burgundy was able to obtain at Rome the appointment of his illegitimate son David. During the entire period of his episcopate David (1457-94) maintained himself with difficulty against his enemies, namely the knights of the diocese and the city of Utrecht. He was succeeded by Frederick of Baden (1496-1516) a protégé of Maximilian of Austria, and Philip of Burgundy (1518-24), who did much for the encouragement of art and to improve church discipline. Henry of Bavaria (1524-28) who was also Bishop of Freising and Worms, resigned the see in 1528 with the consent of the chapter, and transferred his secular authority to Charles V, who was also Duke of Brabant and Count of Holland. Thus Utrecht came under the sovereignty of the Hapsburgs; the chapters voluntarily transferred their right of electing the bishop to Charles V, and Pope Clement VII gave his consent to the proceeding. The first bishop appointed by Charles, Cardinal William Enckevorst, died in 1533 without having ever entered his diocese.

In 1550 at the instance of Philip II, the church organization of the Netherlands was entirely changed by forming new dioceses and reorganizing the old ones. Utrecht was taken from Cologne, of which it had been a suffragan, and raised to the rank of an archdiocese and metropolitan see. Its suffragan dioceses were Haarlem, Bois-le-Duc, Middleburg, Deventer, Leeuwarden, and Groningen. But the new ecclesiastical province had not a long existence. During the administration of the first archbishop, Frederick Schenk of Toutenberg (1561-80), Calvinism spread rapidly, especially among the nobility, who viewed with disfavour the endowment of the new bishoprics with the ancient and wealthy abbeys. When the northern provinces of the Netherlands revolted, the archdiocese fell, with the overthrow of the Spanish power. As early as 1573, under the supremacy of the Calvinists, the public exercise of the Catholic faith was forbidden. Proof of the persecution which the Catholics suffered is given by the death of the nineteen martyrs of Gorkum. The two successors appointed by Spain did not receive canonical confirmation, neither could they enter their diocese on account of the opposition of the States-General. From the end of the sixteenth century their place was taken by vicars Apostolic for the United Netherlands, who, however, were generally driven from the country by the States-General and forced to administer their charge from abroad. Although, in addition to this, there was a great lack of priests, still a very large part of the population of the Netherlands remained loyal to the Catholic religion. Among these vicars Apostolic, who were generally made titular archbishops, was John of Neercassel (1662-86), a friend of the Jansenists Arnold and Quesnel, who had fled from France and was inclined to Jansenism himself. His successor, Petrus Cobde (1688-1704), was suspended in 1702 by Clement XI on account of his Jansenistic opinions and his stubborn opposition to the papal see, and in 1704 the pope deposed him. The cathedral chapter of Utrecht, though, illegally elected first a vicar-general (1706), then in 1723 with the approval of the States-General chose the parish priest of Utrecht, Cornelius Steenhoven, as archbishop. Steenhoven was excommunicated by Pope Benedict XIII. This was the origin of the Jansenistic Church of Utrecht, which, however, was joined by only a very small part of the Catholic clergy and laity, although the state favoured it entirely. As the pro-vicars appointed by the pope were not permitted by the Government to enter the country, both the Catholic Church of Utrecht and that of the entire Netherlands was administered until the French Revolution by papal internuncios of Cologne and Brussels.

Owing to the occupation of Holland by the French in 1795, the Catholics obtained somewhat more freedom. Still, there was no proper organization of church affairs, not even after the uniting of the Netherlands with Belgium by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The concordat made with the pope in 1827 was not carried out. In 1833 a vicar for the Netherlands was appointed once more. The Constitutions of 1848 granted the Catholics at last complete parity with the other confessions, and gave the church authorities almost unlimited freedom in purely religious matters and in the administration of the property of the Church. The pope could now plan the restoration of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in the Netherlands. After long negotiations the most essential regulations of the Concordat of 1827 were put into force. The Bull "Ex qua die" of 4 March, 1853, organized the Church of the Netherlands anew. Utrecht was raised once more to an archbishopric, and received the four suffragan dioceses of Haarlem, Bois-le-Duc, Breda, and Roermond. John Zaijsen was appointed the first archbishop; as administrator he also ruled the Diocese of Bois-le-Duc. The archbishop took up with great energy and caution the organization of the new dioceses, the division into deaneries, the settling of the boundaries of the individual parishes. The administration of the lands of the parishes, of the lands of the Church, and the management of the benevolent institutions. By numerous excellent decrees he provided for the improvement of church discipline, for the encouragement of orders and of church associations, for the training of a competent clergy (1857, a seminary for priests was opened), for the establishment of Catholic schools independent of the State, for the improvement of the Press, etc. In 1858 the cathedral chapters of the dioceses were organized and in 1864 the first provincial synod was held. In 1868 the archbishop resigned the archdiocese on account of age, retaining only the direction of the Diocese of Bois-le-Duc. His successors were Andreas Ignatius Schaepman (1868-82), during whose administration the large archiepiscopal museum was established; Petrus Matthias Snickers (1883-95), and Henry van de Wetering (since 1895).


BROM, "Bullarium trajectense" (2 vols., The Hague, 1891-96); "Neerlandia catholica seu provinciae ultrajectensis historia et conditio" (Utrecht, 1887); ALBERS, "Geschiedenis van het herstel der Hierarchie in de nederlanden" (2 vols., Nimwegen, 1903-04); "Archief voor de geschiedenis van het Aartbisdom Utrecht" (Utrecht, 1874--); BLOK, "Geschiedenis van het Nederlandsche Volk" (6 vols., Groningen, 1892-1904); "Onze Pius Almanak" (Alkmaar, 1911); "Naamlist der Dekens, Pastoors etc. van het Aarbisdom van Utrecht" (St. Michiels e-Gestel, 1911).

About this page

APA citation. Lins, J. (1912). Archdiocese of Utrecht. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Lins, Joseph. "Archdiocese of Utrecht." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by John Looby.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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