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A grand duchy, one of the twenty-six federated states of the German Empire. It consists of three widely separated parts: the duchy of Oldenburg; the principality of Lübeck, situated between Holstein and Mecklenburg; and the principality of Birkenfeld, in Rhenish Prussia. The duchy is bounded by the North Sea, and by Hanover, It has an area of 2571 sq. miles and (1 Dec., 1905) 438,856 inhabitants. Oldenburg has 2134 sq. miles and 353,789 inhabitants; Lübeck, 217 sq. miles and 38,583 inhabitants; and Birkenfeld, 202 sq. miles and 46,484 inhabitants.
There were in 1905, in Oldenburg: Catholics, 86,865; Protestants, 264,805; other Christians, 1163; Jews, 956; in Lübeck: Catholics, 485; Protestants, 38,064; other Christians, 11; Jews, 23; in Birkenfeld: Catholics, 8717; Protestants, 37,047; other Christians, 177; Jews, 543. In the entire grand duchy: 96,067 Catholics, 399,916 Protestants, 1351 other Christians, 1522 Jews. The percentage of Catholics among the total population is now 21.9; in 1871 it was 22.4. The cause of this lies in the emigration of a part of the agricultural population to the industrial districts of the neighbouring provinces.
The capital is Oldenburg. In that part of the country facing the North Sea, the population is of Frisian descent; further inland it is Low Saxon, The chief rivers are the Weser and the Hunte. Of great importance to the country are the numerous canals. The chief industries are agriculture, cattle raising, horse breeding, peat-cutting, and fishing. The country's industrial establishments include brick factories, banquette manufacture, shipbuilding, metal and iron works, distilleries of alcohol from rye and potatoes. The most important articles of commerce are cattle, grain, lumber, etc.
The country takes its name from the castle of Oldenburg, erected about the middle of the twelfth century. The founder of the reigning house was Egilmar, who is first mentioned in a document dated 1088. His territory, of which the Duke of Saxony was the liege lord, was situated between the country of the Saxons and the Frisians. The wars with the latter lasted for several centuries, and it was not until 1234 that one of their tribes (the Stedingians) succumbed to the Oldenburg attacks in the battle of Altenesch. The Archbishop of Bremen was in these wars an ally of the counts of Oldenburg. When the famous Saxon duke, Henry the Lion, was forced to flee and the old Dukedom of Saxony was partitioned by Frederick Barbarossa in 1181, the counts of Oldenburg obtained the rights of princes of the Empire, but took little part in its development and progress. Of great importance later on was the marriage which Count Dietrich the Fortunate (died 1440), concluded with Heilwig of Schauenburg (Schaumburg). Two sons issued from this marriage, Christian and Gerhard the Valiant. Through the influence of his uncle, Duke Adolf VIII of Schleswig, Heilwig's eldest son, Christian, became King of Denmark in 1448, King of Norway in 1450, and King of Sweden in 1457. This last royal crown Christian lost again in 1471. He became, after the death of Duke Adolf, Duke of Schleswig and Count of Holstein. Christian became the ancestor of the House of Holstein-Oldenburg, branches of which are reigning to-day in Denmark, Greece, Norway, Russia, and Oldenburg.
The ancestral lands of Oldenburg were turned over by Christian in 1458 to his brother Gerhard the Valiant. The Emperor Charles V gave Oldenburg as a fief to Count Anton I in 1531. The main line became extinct with the death of Count Anton Günther (1603-67). After lengthy quarrels over the succession, Christian V of Denmark became ruler of Oldenburg in 1676. In 1773, however, the Danish King Christian VII surrendered Oldenburg to the Grand Duke Paul of Russia, in consideration of the latter's renunciation of the sovereignty of Schleswig-Holstein. Grand Duke Paul transferred the country, which was raised to a dukedom in 1777, to his cousin Frederick Augustus. The latter, who although a Protestant, was Prince-Bishop of Lübeck since 1750, added the territory of the former Catholic Bishopric of Lübeck to Oldenburg. Because William, the son of Frederick Augustus, was insane, Peter, first cousin of Frederick Augustus, succeeded the latter in the administration of the dukedom. The succeeding rulers of the country are descended from this Peter. When Napoleon in 1810 united the entire German North Sea districts with his empire, he decided to indemnify the Duke of Oldenburg for his loss by giving him other districts in Thuringia. But because the duke refused those districts, Napoleon punished him by taking possession of all Oldenburg in 1811 and by embodying it in the Departments of Wesermündung and Oberems. The battle of Leipzig in 1813 brought liberty to Oldenburg. Peter again grasped the reins of government. The resolutions of the Vienna Congress raised Oldenburg to the dignity of a grand duchy and enlarged it by adding to it a part of the French Department of the Saar, the old Wittelsbach Principality of Birkenfeld. After the establishment of the German Federation in 1815, Oldenburg became a member of it. In the war between Prussia and Austria in 1866 Oldenburg added its troops to the Prussian army of the Main; later on it joined the North German Federation and in 1871 the German Empire as an independent state. The reigning grand duke since 1900 is Frederick Augustus (born 16 Nov., 1852).
The larger part of the country was Christianized by the Bishop of Bremen, and especially through the efforts of St. Willebaldus, who was consecrated first Bishop of Bremen in 787. Until the introduction of the Lutheran confession in 1529 by Count Anton I, this district was united with the Archbishopric of Bremen. The reformation here destroyed almost all Catholic life. The southern parts of the duchy, which consist to-day of the administrative districts of Cloppenburg and Vechta, were outlying missions of the Osnabrück Diocese, attended from the monasteries of the Benedictines at Visbeck and Meppen, which had been established by Charlemagne. These parts, the pastoral care of which chiefly devolved on the Benedictine Abbey of Corvey, were subject to the Prince-Bishop of Münster from 1252 until 1803 under the name of "Niederstift" and, therefore, remained Catholic during the Reformation period. The spiritual jurisdiction over the Niederstift was exercised by the Bishop of Osnabrück and not by the Bishop of Münster. In 1688 the jurisdiction of Osnabrück was transferred to Münster. These districts were ceded to Oldenburg in the conference of the federal deputies in 1803. In the papal Bull "De salute animarum", 16 July, 1821, in regard to the establishment and limitation of the Prussian bishoprics, all Oldenburg was transferred to the Prussian bishopric of Münster; however, there were very few Catholics in the northern part of the country.
The principality of Lübeck is a part of the Vicariate Apostolic of the Northern Missions. The Principality of Birkenfeld belongs to the Bishopric of Trier. The plan of Grand Duke Paul to have a separate bishopric for Oldenburg failed on account of financial difficulties. The relations between Church and State were adjusted by the convention of 5 Jan., 1830. The Apostolic delegate to these deliberations was the Prince-Bishop of Ermland, Joseph of Hohenzollern. The supreme guidance of the Catholics of Oldenburg was entrusted to the substitute (Offizial) of the Bishop of Münster, who resided in Vechta. The resolutions of the convention became laws by order of the grand ducal cabinet of 5 April, 1831, under the title "Fundamentalstatut der katholischen Kirche in Oldenburg". Simultaneously there was published "Normativ zur Wahrung der landesherrlichen Majestätsrechte circa sacra" (Regulations for the maintenance of the ducal rights circa sacra), of which no notice had been given to the ecclesiastical authorities.
These regulations created "a commission for the defence of State rights against the Catholic Church", which exists to this day, and which is composed of two higher State officials, one of whom usually is a Catholic and the other a Protestant. The work of the commission includes all negotiations between the government and the Bishop of Münster, particularly those relating to the appointment of the Offizial, his assessors and his secretary as well as the two deacons; furthermore all negotiations between the government and the Offizial, such as those relating to the appointment of priests, the establishment of parishes and of ecclesiastical benefices. The commission furthermore must approve every sale or mortgage of church property. The regulations further decreed that all papal and episcopal edicts must be approved by the grand duke before their publication in Oldenburg, and that they shall not be valid without such an approval. On account of this one-sided unjust measure a long controversy arose between the government and the Bishop of Münster. The position of Offizial at Vechta was vacant from 1846 to 1853. In 1852 Oldenburg received a constitution. This led to an amelioration in the relations between Church and State, the ducal placet was abolished and every religious community or sect was permitted to conduct its affairs independently and without interference; church property was distinctly guaranteed. But as the approval of the government was required for the appointment of the clergy and clerical officials, the conflict continued.
The negotiations, begun in Dec., 1852, between the Bishop of Münster and the government, dragged along almost twenty years. During this conflict the bishop and the Offizial did not appoint any parish priests; only temporary pastors were placed in charge of the parishes in which vacancies occurred. In 1868 an agreement was reached according to which the bishops filled clerical vacancies after an understanding in each case with the Government, and they further agreed that the decrees of the Church should be communicated to the Government simultaneously with their publication. Several minor points in dispute were settled in 1872. The Catholics of Oldenburg were not affected by the severe trials of the Kulturkampf. Grand Duke Peter openly disapproved of the persecutions and of the severity with which the Church was treated in Prussia.
The Oldenburg part of the Diocese of Münster consists to-day of two deaconries, Cloppenburg and Vechta. The Deaconry of Cloppenburg numbers 38,678 Catholics, 6952 Protestants and 28 Hebrews; the 18 parishes of the Aemter Cloppenburg and Friesoythe also belong to it. The Deaconry of Vechta numbers 53,308 Catholics, 264,169 Protestants, 987 Jews; it includes the other 18 parishes of the country. The necessary funds for the payment of clerical expenses were partly taken from the income of several so-called commanderies in the Amt Friesoythe which formerly belonged to the Order of Malta. The State sequestrated these and other clerical possessions in the beginning of the nineteenth century, but agreed to turn over the annual income to the Catholic Church, which it has done to this day. Including these revenues the State pays annually about 22,000 Marks for the use of the Catholic Church. In 1910 the Church obtained the right of levying church-taxes. The State does not forbid the foundation of religious houses.
The Dominicans have a boarding college at Vechta, and the Franciscans a house in Mühlen, near Steinfeld. Of female congregations there are 7 houses belonging to the sisters of the third order of St. Francis; 4 houses of the Sisters of Charity; 7 houses of the Sisters of Our Lady; 1 house of the Poor Franciscan nuns Of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary; 1 house of the Grey Nuns of St. Elizabeth; in all there are 20 houses of female congregations. The sisters nurse the sick, or teach in their own schools. Until 1855 the Catholic schools were under church control.
The law of 1855 secularized the entire educational system including the secondary schools. The Catholic educational system and the Protestant system are each under a separate school board. The episcopal "Offizial" is president of the Catholic Church board which controls the Catholic "Gymnasium" at Vechta, the high school at Cloppenburg, the seminary for public school teachers at Vechta, and all Catholic public schools. On 4 Feb., 1910, a new educational law went into effect. It does away with the hitherto existing clerical superintendence of public schools. Only the religious instruction is supervised by the clergyman, who is a member of the school board. If there are more than twenty-five Catholic children in a community which has only a Lutheran school, a separate Catholic school must be established by the parish, should the parents request it.
The ancient Diocese of Oldenburg has no connexion with the country of Oldenburg, or with its principal city. The country of Oldenburg was never subject to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Diocese of Oldenburg. The Bishopric of Oldenburg was founded by the German Emperor Otto I about 950, and comprised the present territory of Holstein, The small town of Oldenburg (also called Aldenburg in the Middle Ages), near the coast of the Baltic Sea, which is still in existence, was the ancient seat of the bishop. The Diocese of Oldenburg was suffragan to the Archdiocese of Bremen; during the great revolt of the Slavic peoples in 1066, it ceased to exist, but was re-established in 1149 as the See of St. Vicelin, a missionary among the Slavs. As early as 1163, the seat of the bishopric was transferred to Lübeck, the famous Hanse city, by the Saxon Duke Henry the Lion.
VON HALEM, Geschichte von Oldenburg (3 vols., Oldenburg, 1794-96); RUNDE, Oldenburger Chronik. (3rd ed,, Oldenburg, 1863); NIEMANN, Das oldenburgische Münsterland in seiner geschichtlichen Entwicklung (2 vols., Oldenburg, 1889-91); SCHAUENBURG, Hundert Jahre oldenburgischer Kirchengeschichte 1573-1667 (3 vols., Oldenburg, 1895-1900), Protestant; WILLOH, Geschichte der Kath. Pfarreien im Herzogtum Oldenburg (5 vols., Cologne, 1898-99); PLEITNER, Oldenburg im 19. Jahrhundert (2 vols,, Oldenburg, 1899-1900); IDEM, Oldenburgisches Quellenbuch (Oldenburg, 1903); SELLO, Alt-Oldenburg (Oldenburg, 1903).