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The small remnant of the old duchy of this name and since 11 May, 1867, an independent neutral grand duchy, comprising 998 sq. miles of territory, lying principally between 49° 27´ and 50° 12´ N. lat., and 5° 45´ and 6° 32´ E. long.
It is bounded by Belgium on the west, Prussia on the east, Lorraine and (for a short distance) France on the south. It is well wooded, having over 190 sq. miles of forest, and well watered (Moselle, Sure, Our, and Alzett, the first two being navigable to a greater or less extent); it is situated at an elevation of about 1000 feet above the sea level, is mountainous and possesses a temperate healthy climate. The arable lands, including almost half the country, yield abundant crops of grain, and splendid pastures feed numerous herds of cattle and horses. The vine produces annually more than 1,300,000 gallons of wine and the fruit harvest is no less generous. There is an inexhaustible supply of fine building-stone. Especially important are the extensive beds of excellent iron ore (10,000 acres), which are extensively worked. Trades and industries flourish, thanks to the network of roads and railways. The population, which numbers about 250,000 souls, is almost entirely of Germanic origin and a dialect is in use which suggests the German of the Palatinate. In one or two districts only Walloon is spoken. In administration and justice, French predominates. In the churches and schools, sermons and instructions are given in High German.
Almost all of Luxemburg is Catholic. Only in the capital city and in the industrial centres (Esch, Dudelingen, Differdingen, Rodingen, Rimmelingen) there are Protestant communities whose entire membership scarcely numbers 3000. Nevertheless they enjoy the same rights as the hundred-times more numerous native inhabitants. Of Jews there are only about 1200, but their number is increasing. The Catholics have had a bishop of their own to preside over them since 1870 (officially recognized in 1873). Originally Luxemburg belonged to various sees (Trier, Liège, Metz, Reims, Verdun, Cologne), from 1795 to 1801 it belonged to Metz, then to Namur. From 1840-70 it was a vicariate Apostolic; in that year it was raised to the dignity of a bishopric, the first bishop being Nicholas Adames. Since 1883 his successor Joseph Koppes has been assisted by a chapter of nine dignitaries (cathedral provost and eight canons) in the administration of the diocese. The former Jesuit church of Our Blessed Lady in the city of Luxemburg is the present cathedral. Parochial duties are performed by 260 priests with 200 additional chaplains assisted by regular clergy of different orders.
The diocese also possesses several institutions for the sick and for educational purposes, and for those preparing to enter the priesthood there is a seminary in the capital. For higher education there is in the same city a flourishing athenæum in which the more advanced classes give the usual university instruction; gymnasia and similar institutions exist in Diekirch, Echternach, etc. Common school education has been obligatory since 1881. The schools (700, with 32,000 children) are non-sectarian and priests are allowed merely to give religious instruction. Children may begin their secondary education only at the age of twelve years. The line which in most states divides the educated from the non-educated has been in this way bridged over, and social distinctions are less marked in Luxemburg than elsewhere.
Of Catholic organizations we will mention here only the Bonifatius-Verein, which since its establishment in 1850 has collected 200,000 marks which has been almost entirely handed over to German mission stations. The rights of the Church and the people have been upheld (since 1847) by the splendidly conducted journal "Luxemburger Wort". Among the lesser newspapers the "Moselzeitung" which appears in Gravenmacher, has a large circulation. The editors of the well-known periodicals "Stimmen aus Maria Laach" and "Die Katholischen Missionen" (Fathers Frick and Huonder, S.J.) direct them from Luxemburg.
The grand duchy is a constitutional monarchy, the sovereignty being vested in the House of Nassau, the so-called Walramic line, according to the law of primogeniture. As the present grand duke, William, has no son by his marriage with Maria Anna of Braganza, the crown will revert on his death (according to the law of 1907) to his eldest daughter, who like her sisters belongs to the Catholic Church. The parliament consists of 51 members elected for six years, part of which is chosen every three years. The Government consists of a president (minister) and three directors general, and is responsible to the Chamber, but submits bills only after obtaining the opinions of fifteen councillors of state, named by the reigning prince. The country is divided into three administrative districts, twelve cantons, and 130 communes. Justice is administered by a supreme court, two circuit courts and a criminal court in every canton. The armed force (one company of volunteers, one company of gendarmes) is concerned merely with the maintenance of order. The financial system (modelled on the French both as to the coins and the weights and measures) is in flourishing condition. The national debt is small. Receipts and expenditures balance, so that there is no lack of means for promotion of culture. The national colours are red, white, and blue. There are several orders, the most widely distributed being the Order of the Crown of Oak (5 classes, 2 medals). The capital of the grand duchy, also called Luxemburg, is very ancient, and was formerly strongly fortified, but is now dismantled, and beautifully laid out. It is rich in fine ecclesiastical and secular buildings (churches, castles, government buildings, etc.), as well as in scientific institutions and industrial plants. It has over 25,000 inhabitants. Among the other towns that of Echternach is interesting for its primitive basilica, which contains the tomb of the Frisian apostle, St. Willibrord. The procession that takes place annually is unique and is the last of the "Springing processions", the origins of which seems doubtful.
The first written account of this country and people is found in the fifth book of Cæsar's "Commentarii de Bello Gallico". On the Lower Moselle and its tributaries dwelt at that time (53 B.C.) the powerful race of the Treviri, who, in alliance with the people under their protection (for example the Eburones under Ambiorix), at first gave the Romans great trouble, but they were soon compelled to yield to superior numbers and gradually attained the highest civilization. Under Emperor Constantine (323-337) Trier (Augusta Trevirorum) became the capital of the province Belgica prima, and later the residence of the prefects of Gaul. The Christian Faith was introduced at a very early period. Since 316 the town was the see of a bishop. As more than half of the subsequent Duchy of Lorraine belonged for centuries to the Diocese of Trier, it is a logical conclusion that the Christianization of the Ardennes proceeded principally from there. During the Germanic migration the north-eastern provinces of the Roman Empire suffered greatly. Devastated and depopulated, they were occupied by the victorious Franks. In the division of Charlemagne's empire (843) the provinces in question fell to the share of the Emperor Lothair. In the middle of the tenth century (963?) the feudal lord, Siegfried, who held rich possessions in the Forest of Ardennes, acquired the Castellum Lucilini (supposed to have been built by the Romans) with the lands in its vicinity, and styled himself Graf von Lützelburg. From the marriage of this great and good man descended Empress Saint Cunigunde, wife of Henry II, the Saint.
The last of Siegfried's male descendents, Conrad II, died about 1126. His dominions passed first to the counts of Namur and subsequently to Ermesinde, who reigned from 1196 to 1247. She was especially noted for the impulse she gave to religious life by the foundation of monasteries. Her son and successor, Henry V (1247-81), showed the influence of his noble mother. He took part in Saint Louis's crusade against Tunis. His successor, Henry VI, remained until nearly 1288 at war near Woringen. His wife, Beatrice, had borne him two sons, both of whom attained the highest honours and excellence: Baldwin, afterwards Archbishop of Trier, and Henry, who obtained the Roman imperial crown as Henry VII (1309). The advancement of the reigning family brought no advantage to the country, as the counts wandered farther and farther from home, and concerned themselves only with the affairs of the Empire or the Kingdom of Bohemia. They endeavoured to compensate for this in a measure by raising Luxemburg to a duchy, but could not prevent part of it from crumbling away and the whole (1444) falling to Burgundy by conquest. From the House of Valois, which became extinct on the death of Charles the Bold, in 1477, the country passed to Austria, and was subject to the Spanish Habsburgs (1556-1714); then to the German Habsburgs (1714-95), and finally to the French (until 1814). The last rule was attended with pernicious results, especially as regards religion and morals, the brutalities of the French to the Church and her servants left sad memories. Even the worship of the goddess of reason prevailed for a time in place of the Catholic religion.
After the overthrow of Napoleon, better times began for Luxemburg. The Congress of Vienna decided that as an appendage of the newly created Kingdom of the Netherlands with the rank of grand duchy, it should become a part of the German Confederation. The Belgian revolution of 1830 soon exercised a momentous influence on the territorial stability of the country. The entire western (Walloon) part (larger in extent, but more sparsely populated and less fertile than the remainder) was separated from the German Confederation and annexed to the new Belgian Kingdom. The King of Holland established a regency in the part which remained to him (only under personal union) and in 1842 as Lord of Luxemburg joined the German Zollverein. Until 1866 the country enjoyed quiet and increasing prosperity. The garrisoning of the city and castle of Luxemburg by Prussian troops for the first time introduced Protestants into the grand duchy. After the Prussian victories in Bohemia (1866) and the foundation of the North German Confederation, Luxemburg was drawn into the political whirlpool. Napoleon III thought of annexing the little country and the King of Holland declared himself ready to discuss the matter. Even Bismarck favoured the plan. But when the German nation declared unanimously against it, and the danger of a Franco-German war became imminent, the great powers interfered and regulated the "Luxemburg question" at a conference assembled in London, which decreed that the fortress of Luxemburg should be abandoned and dismantled and the "country declared neutral and under the protection of Europe". Luxemburg, however, remained a member of the German Zollverein. On the death of William III of Holland, Luxemburg passed, as the result of a family agreement made by the two Nassovian houses in 1783, to the Nassau Walram branch. The old Duke of Nassau, Adolf, who had been deposed in 1866 by Prussia, assumed the regency on 23 November, 1890, as grand duke. It has been settled in detail that in case his son and successor leaves no male heir, the crown will descend to the eldest daughter.
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