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§ 33. Christian Missions among the Wends.


ADAM Of BRENEN (d. 1067): Gesta Hammenb. (Hamburgensis) Eccl. Pont., in Pertz: Monumenta Germ., VII.

Helmoldus (d. 1147) and Arnoldus Lubecensis: Chronicon Slavorum sive Annales Slavorum, from Charlemagne to 1170, ed. H. Bangert. Lubecae, 1659. German translation by Laurent. Berlin, 1852.

Spieker: Kirchengeschichte der Mark Brandenburg. Berlin, 1839.

Wiggers: Kirchengeschichte Mecklenburgs. Parchim, 1840.

Giesebrecht: Wendische Geschichten. Berlin, 1843.


Charlemagne was the first who attempted to introduce Christianity among the Slavic tribes which, under the collective name of Wends, occupied the Northern part of Germany, along the coast of the Baltic, from the mouth of the Elbe to the Vistula: Wagrians in Holstein, Obotrites in Mecklenburg, Sorbians on the Saxon boundary, Wilzians in Brandenburg, etc. But in the hands of Charlemagne, the Christian mission was a political weapon; and to the Slavs, acceptation of Christianity became synonymous with political and national subjugation. Hence their fury against Christianity which, time after time, broke forth, volcano-like, and completely destroyed the work of the missionaries. The decisive victories which Otto I. gained over the Wends, gave him an opportunity to attempt, on a large scale, the establishment of the Christian church among them. Episcopal sees were founded at Havelberg in 946, at Altenburg or Oldenburg in 948, at Meissen, Merseburg, and Zeitz in 968, and in the last year an archiepiscopal see was founded at Magdeburg. Boso, a monk from St. Emmeran, at Regensburg, who first had translated the formulas of the liturgy into the language of the natives, became bishop of Merseburg, and Adalbert, who first had preached Christianity in the island of Rügen, became archbishop.

But again the Christian church was used as a means for political purposes, and, in the reign of Otto II., a fearful rising took place among the Wends under the leadership of Prince Mistiwoi. He had become a Christian himself; but, indignant at the suppression which was practiced in the name of the Christian religion, he returned to heathenism, assembled the tribes at Rethre, one of the chief centres of Wendish heathendom, and began, in 983, a war which spread devastation all over Northern Germany. The churches and monasteries were burnt, and the Christian priests were expelled. Afterwards Mistiwoi was seized with remorse, and tried to cure the evil he had done in an outburst of passion. But then his subjects abandoned him; he left the country, and spent the last days of his life in a Christian monastery at Bardewick. His grandson, Gottschalk, whose Slavic name is unknown, was educated in the Christian faith in the monastery of St. Michael., near Lüneburg; but when he heard that his father, Uto, had been murdered, 1032, the old heathen instincts of revenge at once awakened within him. He left the monastery, abandoned Christianity, and raised a storm of persecution against the Christians, which swept over all Brandenburg, Mecklenburg, and Holstein. Defeated and taken prisoner by Bernard of Lower Saxony, he returned to Christianity; lived afterwards at the court of Canute the Great in Denmark and England; married a Danish princess, and was made ruler of the Obotrites. A great warrior, he conquered Holstein and Pommerania, and formed a powerful Wendish empire; and on this solid political foundation, he attempted, with considerable success, to build up the Christian church. The old bishoprics were re-established, and new ones were founded at Razzeburg and Mecklenburg; monasteries were built at Leuzen, Oldenburg, Razzeburg, Lübeck, and Mecklenburg; missionaries were provided by Adalbert, archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen; the liturgy was translated into the native tongue, and revenues were raised for the support of the clergy, the churches, and the service.

But, as might have been expected, the deeper Christianity penetrated into the mass of the people, the fiercer became the resistance of the heathen. Gottschalk was murdered at Lentz, June 7, 1066, together with his old teacher, Abbot Uppo, and a general rising now took place. The churches and schools were destroyed; the priests and monks were stoned or killed as sacrifices on the heathen altars; and Christianity, was literally swept out of the country. It took several decades before a new beginning could be made, and the final Christianization of the Wends was not achieved until the middle of the twelfth century.


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