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A former see of north-east Germany. The present city of Meissen, situated in the Kingdom of Saxony on both banks of the Elbe, owes its origin to a castle built by King Henry I about 928 to protect German colonists among the Wends. To insure the success of the Christian missions, Otto I suggested at the Roman Synod of 962 the creation of an archiepiscopal see at Magdeburg. To this proposal John XII consented, and, shortly before the execution of the plan in 968, it was decided at the Synod of Ravenna (967) to create three other sees - namely Meissen, Mersburg, and Zeitz - as suffragans of Magdeburg. The year in which the Diocese of Meissen was established is not known, the oldest extant records being forgeries; however, the record of endowment by Otto I in 971 is genuine. The first bishop, Burchard (died 969), established a foundation (monasterium) which in the course of the eleventh century developed a chapter of canons. In 1346 the diocese stretched from the Erzgebirge in the south to the mouth of the Neisse and to the Queis, on the east to the Oder, on the north to the middle course of the Spree. It embraced the five provostries of Meissen, Riesa, Wurzen, Grossenhain, and Bautzen, the four archdeaneries of Nisani (Meissen), Chemnitz, Zschillen (Wechselburg), and Niederlausitz, and the two deaneries of Meissen and Bautzen. Poorly endowed in the beginning, it appears to have acquired later large estates under Otto III and Henry II.
The chief task of the bishops of the new see was the conversion of the Wends, to which Bishops Volkold (died 992) and Eido (died 1015) devoted themselves with great zeal; but the work of evangelization was slow, and was yet incomplete when the investiture conflict threatened to arrest it effectively. St. Benno (1066-1106), bishop at the time when these troubles were most serious, was appointed by Henry IV and appears to have been in complete accord with the emperor until 1076; in that year, however, although he had taken no part in the Saxon revolt, he was imprisoned by Henry for nine months. Escaping, he joined the Saxon princes, espoused the cause of Gregory VII, and in 1085 took part in the Gregorian Synod of Quedlinburg, for which he was deprived of his office by the emperor, a more imperially disposed bishop being appointed in his place. On the death of Gregory, Benno made peace with Henry, and, being reappointed to his former see in 1086, devoted himself entirely to missionary work among the Slavs. Among his successors, Herwig (died 1119) sided with the pope, Godebold with the emperor. In the thirteenth century the pagan Wends were finally converted to Christianity, chiefly through the efforts of the great Cistercian monasteries, the most important of which were Dobrilugk and Neuzelle. Among the convents of nuns Heiligenkreuz at Meissen, Mariental near Zittau, Marienstern on the White Elster, and Mühlberg deserve mention. Among the later bishops, who were after the thirteenth century princes of the empire, the most notable are Wittigo I (1266-93) and John I of Eisenberg (1340-71). The former began the magnificent Gothic cathedral, in which are buried nine princes of the House of Wettin; the latter, as notary and intimate friend of the Margrave of Meissen, afterwards the Emperor Charles IV, protected the interests of his church and increased the revenues of the diocese. During the latter's administration, in 1344, Prague was made an archiepiscopal see.
In 1365 Urban V appointed the Archbishop of Prague legatus natus, or perpetual representative of the Holy See, for the Dioceses of Meissen, Bamberg, and Regensburg (Ratisbon); the opposition of Magdeburg made it impossible to exercise in Meissen the privileges of this office, and Meissen remained, though under protest, subject to the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Magdeburg. John's successor, John II of Jenstein (1376-9), who resigned Meissen on his election to the See of Prague, Nicholas I (1379-92), John III (1393-8), and Thimo of Colditz (1399-1410) were appointed directly from Rome, which set aside the elective rights of the cathedral chapter. Thimo, a Bohemian by birth, neglected the diocese and ruined it financially. Margrave William I of Saxony prevailed on Boniface IX in 1405 to free Meissen from the authority of the metropolitan and to place it directly under the Holy See. The illustrious Bishop Rudolf von der Planitz (1411-27), through wise regulations and personal sacrifices, brought order out of chaos. The Hussite wars caused great damage to the diocese, then ruled over by John IV Hofmann (1427-51); under the government of the able brothers Caspar (1451-63) and Dietrich of Schönberg (1461-76), it soon recovered and on Dietrich's death there was a fund of 8800 gold forms in the episcopal treasury. John V of Weissenbach (1476-87) through his mania for building and his travels soon spent this money, and left a heavy burden of debt on the diocese. John VI of Salhausen (1488-1518) further impoverished the diocese through his obstinate attempt to obtain full sovereignty over his see, which brought him into constant conflict with Duke George of Saxony; his spiritual administration was also open to censure. John VII of Schleinitz (1518-37) was a resolute opponent of Luther, whose revolt began in the neighbouring Wittenberg, and, conjointly with George of Saxony, endeavoured to crush the innovations. The canonization of Benno (1523), urged by him, was intended to offset the progress of the Lutheran teaching. John VIII of Maltitz (1537-49) and Nicholas II of Carlowitz (1549-55) were unable to withstand the ever-spreading Reformation, which, after the death of Duke George (1539), triumphed in Saxony and gained ground even among the canons of the cathedral, so that the diocese was on the verge of dissolution. The last bishop, John of Haugwitz (1555-81), placed his resignation in the hands of the cathedral chapter, in virtue of an agreement with Elector Augustus of Saxony, went over to Protestantism, married, and retired to the castle of Ruhetal near mögeln. The electors of Saxony took over the administration of the temporalities of the diocese which in 1666 were finally adjudged to them. The canons turned Protestant, and such monasteries as still existed were secularized, their revenues and buildings being devoted principally to educational works. (For the present Prefecture Apostolic of Lausitz-Meissen see SAXONY.)
Urkundbuch des Hochstifts Meissen, ed. GERSDORF (3 vols., Leipzig, 1864-67), in the Codex Diplomaticus Saxoniœ Regiœ; MACHATSCHEK, Gesch. der Bischöfe des Hochstifts Meissen (Dresden, 1884); VON BRUN (von KAUFFUNGEN), Das Domkapitel von M. im Mittelalter (Meissen, 1902); Mitteil. des Vereins für Gesch. der Stadt M. (8 vols., Meissen, 1882-1910); Neues Archiv für sächsische Gesch. (Dresden, 1880-).