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A city supposed to be identical with the Marionis of Ptolemy, was founded by a colony of fishermen from Lower Saxony, who settled on the wooded heights (hamma-wald) at the end of a tongue of land between the Elbe and the Alster, on the spot now occupied by the church of St. Peter and the Johanneum Gymnasium. Between 805 and 810 Charlemagne fortified the place and used it as a base of operations for the diffusion of Christianity in the North. By permission of Gregory IV, Louis the Pious established there an archiepiscopal see, in 831, with jurisdiction over all missions in Scandinavia, Northern Russia, Iceland, and Greenland. The see was given to St. Ansgar, the Apostle of the North, but the piratical raids of the Northmen and the Obotrites compelled him to remove to Bremen. When, in 845, the Bishop of Bremen died, Ansgar sought to have the two sees united, and his request was granted, but the consolidation was not ratified by Nicholas I until 31 May, 864, Bremen being detached from the metropolitan Province of Cologne. Ansgar died in 865, after preparing the way for the conversion of Sweden and giving new life to the missionary movement among the Danes. He was succeeded by his disciple Rimbert, a second Apostle of the North (865-88), who carried on the work of evangelization in Denmark and Sweden in spite of repeated raids by the Northmen and the Wends. Rimbert's immediate successors were St. Adalgar (888-909) and Holger (909-916), both of them monks from Corvey, in whose time Cologne renewed its claims to metropolitan jurisdiction. Under Reginwart (916-18), the successor of Holger, the diocese was overrun by the Huns, who burned Bremen. Of the succeeding archbishops, St. Unni (918-36) became known as the third Apostle of the North, such was his energy, and so successful was he, in evangelizing Denmark and Sweden, while St. Adalgag (936-88) is credited with having established the suffragan Sees of Aarhuus (946), Schleswig (c. 948), Ripen (950), and Odensee (980), as well as the Wendish See of Oldenburg, later Lübeck (940). Lubentius I (988-1013), an Italian, proved a very able administrator of the diocese. Like St. Ansgar, he was forced by the Danish pirates to flee in order to save his own life and the sacred treasures of the Church. The first Swedish see was established at Skara during the incumbency of Unwann (1013-30). Lubentius II (1030-32) established a chapter of canons at Hamburg, the city having been rebuilt in 1015. He also founded a hospital and organized in a practical way the work of relieving the poor. The next archbishop was Hermann (1032-35), who was succeeded by Bezzelin Alebrand (1035-43). The latter built the stone cathedral and the archiepiscopal palace, and transferred the see to Hamburg.
The united See of Hamburg-Bremen reached both the height of its greatness and the depth of its misfortune under Adalbert the Great (1043-72), a scion of the royal Saxo-Thuringian line, and a remarkable man in every respect. He was contemporary with Adam of Bremen (died c. 1076), the first and best of the medieval historians of North Germany. Adam's chief work is the "Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiæ Pontificum" in four books, the third of which deals exclusively with the administration of Adalbert, whose loyal and devoted adherent he was, though he did not deny or conceal that prelate's weaknesses of mistakes. The political eminence attained by Adalbert makes Adam's work exceedingly important for the history of the German Empire. It may be noted that the fourth book of the "Gesta", entitled "Descriptio Insularum Aquilonis" (Account of the Islands of the North) is unique in its kind, and is in fact a geography of Northern Europe and of the Baltic Coast so far as those regions were then known at Bremen. The decline of the metropolitan See of Hamburg-Bremen was hastened under the administration of Adalbert's successors, Liemar (1072-1101) and Humbert (1101-04). On account of their opposition to Gregory VII, they were compelled to reside outside of the diocese. Externally, the decline of Hamburg was indicated by the separation from it of the See of Lund, which became the metropolitan of the entire Germanic North. As the Wendish sees had already disappeared, Hamburg-Bremen had now only nominal suffragans. This state of affairs prevailed during the period following, in spite of the efforts of Frederick (1104-23) and Adalbero (1123-48). Hartwig I, of Stade (1148-68), a clever and energetic, but haughty, prelate, who introduced brick into the construction of the many and magnificent churches which he built, made things worse by his quarrel with Henry the Lion, who, in the incumbency of Baldwin of Holland (1169-78), was not only the temporal lord of Hamburg-Bremen, but also dominated the ecclesiastical administration. Whatever Sigfrid, the successor of Hartwig, accomplished in the brief period from 1178 to 1184 was undone under Hartwig II, of Ultede (1184-1207). His death was followed by a disputed election, the Hamburg chapter supporting the claims of Burkhard of Stumpenhusen, prior of the cathedral, while the Bremen chapter chose for bishop Waldemar of Schleswig. Even the speedy death of Burkhard did not put an end to the conflict, and Gerhard I, of Oldenburg, though elected by the combined chapters in 1210, did not take possession of his see until 1216. Under Gerhard II, of Lippe (1219-58), the see was finally removed, in 1223, to Bremen, whence Bezzelin Alebrand (see above) had transferred it to Hamburg.
The ecclesiastical importance of Hamburg thenceforward declined with the rapid growth of its commerce and its consequent political development, especially after the city had joined the Hanseatic League, in 1253. Despite temporary improvements, the condition of Hamburg on the whole grew worse from year to year, and at last the popular discontent with the clergy became so great that the Reformation, generally accepted by the cities, was here welcomed with eagerness. It entered Hamburg in 1525, under the leadership of Magister Stiefel, of the apostate Minorite Kempe, the blacksmith Ziegenhagen, and others. As early as 1528 the faithful Catholic clergy were forced to leave the city, for which new religious regulations were made by Johann Bugenhagen, generally known as Doctor Pommer. The last Mass publicly celebrated at Hamburg was on 15 August, 1529. Catholic services in the cathedral were prohibited, while the cathedral and the convents and monasteries were secularized. The stone cathedral built, in 1037, by Bezzelin Alebrand remained in the possession of the archbishops of Bremen until the Treaty of Westphalia placed it in the possession of Hanover. It was given back to the city in 1802, but in 1805 was condemned as unsafe and was razed to the ground. The "Long Recess" Decree of 1529 commanded strict observance of the Lutheran creed and the prosecution and punishment of all who did not conform; while the Protestant preachers, both in speech and writing, insisted upon rigorous enforcement of that decree.
Nevertheless, Catholic merchants and residents managed to re-establish themselves gradually, and as early as 1581 incorporated themselves as an independent community under the protection of the emperor, and found a home in the neighbouring city of Altona. Emperor Rudolf II issued an edict protecting Catholics from the molestation and persecution of the Hamburg magistrates. Relying upon this edict, the Jesuits, led by the historian, Michael of Isselt, began missionary work. In spite of many obstacles they succeeded in opening two chapels for religious services, one in the palace of the French envoy, the other in that of Queen Christina of Sweden, who had been converted to the Catholic Faith. The envoys from the courts of Catholic rulers furthered the Catholic cause by lending it valuable protection and influence. In 1671 Leopold I sent a most powerful protector in the person of an imperial minister resident. The chapel in his legation served the Catholics of Hamburg for more than a hundred years as their parochial church, until, on 10 September, 1719, a mob desecrated and destroyed it. During the era of Illuminism the hatred against Catholics was stirred up on the one hand by the Lutheran preachers, who, in 1777, abandoned all use of ecclesiastical vestments, and on the other hand, especially after 1770, by many apostate priests and monks who sought and found asylum at Hamburg. Among these latter was the ex-Augustinian F. A. Fidler of Vienna, who conducted a particularly vehement "Antipapistisches Journal", in which he reviled the Catholics of Hamburg, until he was taken into the service of the Duke of Mecklenburg as consistorial councillor and superintendent.
In 1784 the Catholics of Hamburg were officially recognized by the civic authorities and were legally authorized to celebrate Divine worship. In 1792 they became independent of the parish of Altona, even in respect to church property. During the French occupation, in 1806 and in 1810-14, the prefect of the Department of Elbemündungen raised the mission to the rank of a parish, and in 1811 established as its parish church the chapel known as Little St. Michael's, which had grown out of the former chapel of the legation. The downfall of Napoleon did not disturb these privileges. Religious liberty, already fully established, was extended, in 1815, by Article 16 of the Decrees of the Confederation, which guaranteed civil equality to Catholics. This was also guaranteed later on by the Constitution of 28 September, 1860. New dangers arose in 1821-24 and in 1839, when Gregory XVI sought to make Hamburg the residence of the Vicar Apostolic of the Northern Missions. These troubles, however, soon passed away. The parish clergy for a long time suffered from lack of means, so that at times only one resident priest could be appointed. Not until 1831 was the parish able to support two.
The first Catholic school was established in 1840. The support of the schools is a heavy burden on the faithful, as the State refuses aid to Catholic schools. In the last three decades, not only has the condition of the Catholics of Hamburg greatly improved, but their numbers have materially increased. Of nearly 900,000 inhabitants, about 840,000 are Protestants, and some 18,000 are Jews. The State of Hamburg consists of the Hanseatic Free City itself and what is known as the Vierlande or Four Districts¯i.e. the Geestland and Marschland, Bergedorf and Ritzebüttel, the last-named including Cuxhaven, the four Walddörfer, or forest hamlets, of Farmsen, Volksdorf, Wohldorf, and Grosshausdorf, in Holstein, Geesthacht in Lauenburg, Moorburg and Gudendorf in Hanover, and the islands of Neuwerk and Scharhörn. Notwithstanding the separation of Church and State, Protestant ecclesiastical affairs are supervised by the Senate. The Protestant population is divided into four church districts, with 33 parish churches and 100 clergymen, under the government of a council and the synod. The 32,000 Catholics belong to the Vicariate Apostolic of the Northern Missions, under the Bishop of Osnabrück, who appoints the pastors. Non-Lutheran Christians are subject to a special board of control. Of the 28 places of worship in the city 18 are Protestant, 5 Catholic, and 5 Hebrew. There are altogether 6 Catholic parishes: St. Michael, St. George, Eimsbüttel, Hammerbrook, Rothenburgsort, and Barmbek. The oldest parish church is that of St. Ansgar, which dates from the eighteenth century and was formerly known as Little St. Michael's. Next come St. Boniface's chapel, dating from 1892. St. Mary's church, built in 1893 in Romanesque style, by Güldenpfennig, with two steeples 200 feet high, St. Sophia's, built in 1900, by Beumer, in Early Gothic, and St. Joseph's, by the same architect, in 1901, in Late Gothic. There is another Catholic church at the emigrant piers of the Hamburg-American Line, on the Veddel. Fifteen priests attend to the needs of these churches. According to the latest census (1905) there are altogether 143 elementary, or public, schools (Volkschulen), and of these 6 are Catholic parochial schools. The secondary schools include one Catholic high school for boys (Realschule and Progymnasium). Among the 50 girls' high schools two are Catholic, that of St. Johannis Kloster and that of the Ursuline Sisters. More than one-third of the children baptized as Catholics attend Protestant schools and receive scanty Catholic religious instruction, in many cases none at all. The loss sustained every year by the Catholic Church in Hamburg in this way and through mixed marriages is very considerable. There are several Catholic charitable institutions, among them St. Joseph's Convent (St. Josephstift) and St. Mary's Hospital (1864), conducted by the Borromean Sisters, a Catholic orphanage with school attached. Towards the expenses of the Church in Hamburg the Boniface Association has contributed in all, since 1858, about half a million marks ($125,000). Voluntary contributions are the only other resource, and, as the German Catholics are generally poor, great sacrifices must be made for the preservation of the Faith. The social and charitable life of Catholic Hamburg is sustained by numerous associations, among them the Gesellenverein and the Societies of St. Elizabeth and St. Vincent (three conferences each).
Rimbertus, Vita Ansgarii in Mon. Germ. Hist.: Script., II, 683-725; Tappehorn, Leben d. hl. Ansgar (Münster, 1863); Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammab. eccl. pontif. in Mon. Germ. Hist.: Script., VII, 267-389; Krantz, Metropolis, sive hist. eccles. Saxoniæ (Bar, 1548); Lappenberg, Hamburg. Urkundenbuch (Hamburg, 1842); Idem, Hamburg, Chroniken, 1852-61; Hodenberg, Die Diözese Bremen und ihre Gaue (Celle, 1858-59); Dehio, Hartwig von Stade (Göttingen, 1872); Idem, Gesch. des Erzbist. Hamburg-Bremen (Berlin, 1877); Drever, Gesch. der kathol. Gemeinden Hamburg und Altona (Schaffhausen, 1866); Idem, Annuæ Missionis Hamb. a 1529 ad 1781 (Freiburg, 1867); Hist.-polit. Blätter, XC (Munich, 1882), 407 sqq.; Bollheimer, Zeittafeln der Hamb. Gesch. (Hamburg, 1896-98); Wichmann, Hamb. Gesch. in Darstell. aus alter und neuer Zeit (Hamburg, 1880); Koppmann, Aus Hamburgs Vergangenheit (Hamburg, 1885-86); Pieper, Die Propaganda-Kongreg. und die Nord. Missionen (Cologne, 1886); Woker, Aus norddeut. Missionen (Cologne, 1894); Der Bonifatius Verein (Paderborn, 1899); Curschmann, Die älteren Papsturk. d. Erzb. Hamburg (Hamburg, 1909).