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Capital of the Prussian Province of Saxony, situated on the Elbe; pop. 241,000; it is noted for its industries, particularly the production of sugar, its trade, and its commerce. From 968 until 1552 it was the seat of an archbishopric.
The town was one of the oldest emporia of the German trade for the Wends who dwelt on the right bank of the Elbe. In 805 it is first mentioned in history. In 806 Charlemagne built a fortress on the eastern bank of the river opposite Magdeburg. The oldest church is also credited to the epoch. Magdeburg first played an important part in the history of Germany during the reign of Otto the Great (936-73). His consort Editha had a particular love for the town and often lived there. The emperor also continually returned to it. On 21 September, 937, Otto founded a Benedictine monastery at Magdeburg, which was dedicated to Sts. Peter, Maurice, and the Holy Innocents. The first abbots and monks came from St. Maximin's at Trier. Later on Otto conceived the plan of establishing an archbishopric at Magdeburg, thus making it a missionary centre for the Wends on the eastern bank of the Elbe. He succeeded in carrying out his idea after various changes and difficulties. The glory of the archbishopric increased rapidly, the town also became more important. The so-called Magdeburg Rights were also adopted by many towns in eastern and north- eastern Germany in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (in Pomerania, Schleswig, and Prussia). The local tribunal of Magdeburg was the superior court for these towns. Magdeburg was also a member of the Hanseatic league of towns, and as such was first mentioned in 1295. The town had an active maritime commerce on the west (towards Flanders), with the countries of the Baltic Sea, and maintained traffic and communication with the interior (for example Brunswick).
The Reformation found speedy adherents in Magdeburg where Luther had been a schoolboy. The new doctrine was introduced 17 July, 1524, and the town became a stronghold of Protestantism, being know among Protestants as "The Lord God's Chancellery". In 1526 it joined the Alliance of Torgau, and in 1531 the Smalkaldic League, and was repeatedly outlawed by the emperor. Because it would not accept the "Interim" (1548), it was, by the emperor's commands, besieged (1550-51) by the Margrave Maurice of Saxony; it defended itself bravely and retained its religious liberty when peace was declared. Here Flacius Illyricus and his companions wrote their bitterest pamphlets and the great work on church history, "The Magdeburg Centuries", in which they tried to prove that the Catholic Church had become the kingdom of Anti-Christ. The town met with a terrible fate during the Thirty Years' War.
The Elector Christian Wilhelm of Brandenburg, who had been administrator of the archbishopric since 1598, exercised a policy which was hostile to the emperor, and on this account he was deposed by the cathedral chapter in 1628, the latter having remained strictly neutral. He now hoped to regain possession of the country, by means of an alliance with Gustavus Adolphus, and succeeded in forming the alliance 1 August, 1630, with the help of the Evangelical clergy and part of the citizens. Gustavus Adolphus sent his equerry, Colonel. Diedrich von Falkenburg to defend the town against the emperor's army. On 15 December, Tilly, commander-in-chief of the imperial army, ordered Field Marshal Pappenheim to advance upon the town. Tilly himself followed in March. The help which was expected from Sweden, however, was not fothcoming; Falkenburg had 2400 soldiers, and Tilly 24,000. In spite of this the town did not surrender. It was besieged on the morning of 20 March, 1631. Falkenburg was killed. The bloodshed and pillage were frightful; and the misery was only increased by the fire which broke out from some fifty or sixty houses, and which continued to spread on account of the strong north-east wind which was blowing, so that in twelve hours the whole town was in ashes with the exception of the cathedral, the convent of the Blessed Virgin, the parish churches where the fire had been extinguished, and some two hundred small houses. Most of the inhabitants (about 30,000) were smothered in the cellars and granaries where they had taken refuge.
Much has been writtten about the question as to who was responsible for the fire. There was formerly a Protestant tradition that Tilly was responsible for the destruction of the town. It is true that Pappenheim for tactical reasons caused two houses to be set on fire, and it is possible that the soldiers ignited more, in carrying out the order. But for Pappenheim and his soldiers to have deliberately planned to reduce the town to ashes, as has been suggested, would have been downright folly, for it robbed the imperialists of all the profits of thet siege. As opposed to this, Karl Witrich's theory gained many adherents; he held that Falkenburg and his faction set fire to the town to prevent its falling into the hands of the Papists. Von Zwiedineck Sudenhorst is also of this opinion in Ullstein's "Weltgeschichte Pflug", edited by von Harttung (1500-1650, 481 sqq.). This is not absolutely authentic. Recently the opinion has been emphasized that unfortunate circumstances, such as the springing up of the north- east wind, contributed towards it. After 1680 the town belonged to Prussian Brandenburg. In 1806, General v. Kleist in a cowardly manner surrendered the fortress to the French, and it belonged to Westphalia until 1814. Since that time it has belonged to Prussia.
After the wars of the years 940 and 954, when the Slavs, as far as the Oder, had been brought into subjection to German rule, Otto the Great, in 955, set to work to establish an archbishopric in Magdeburg, for the newly acquired territory. He wished to transfer the capital of the diocese from Halberstadt to Magdeburg, and make it an archdiocese. But this was strenuously opposed by the Archbishop of Mainz who was the metropolitan of Halberstadt. When, in 962, John XII sanctioned the establishment of an archbishopric, Otto seemed to have abandoned his plan of a transfer. The estates belonging to the convents mentioned above (founded in 937) were converted into a mensa for the new archbishopric, and the monks transferred to the Berge Convent. The archiepiscopal church made St. Maurice its patron, and in addition received new donations and grants from Otto. The following bishoprics were made suffragans: Havelberg, Brandenburg, Merseburg, Zeitz, and Meissen. Then, on 20 April, 967, the archbishopric was solemnly established at the Synod of Ravenna in the presence of the pope and the emperor. The first archbishop was Adelbert, a former monk of St. Maximin's at Trier, afterwards missionary bishop to the Russians, and Abbot of Weissenburg in Alsace. He was elected in the autumn of 968, received the pallium at Rome, and at the end of the year was solemnly enthroned in Magdeburg.
The Diocese of Magdeburg itself was small; it comprised the Slavonic districts of Serimunt, Nudizi, Neletici, Nizizi, and half of northern Thuringia, which Halberstadt resigned. Posen was added to the suffragan bishoprics later on (from 970 until the twelfth century, when it fell to Gnesen), also Lebus, and, for a time, Kammin. The cathedral school especially gained in importance under Adalbert's efficient administration. The scholasticus Othrich was considered the most learned man of his times. Many eminent men were edudated at Magdeburg. Othrich was chosen archbishop after Adalbert's death (981). Gisiler of Merseburg by bribery and fraud obtained possession of the See of Magdeburg, and also succeeded temporarily in grasping the Bishopric of Merseburg (until 1004). Among successors worthy of mention are: the zealous Gero (1012-23); Werner (1063-78), who was killed in battle with Henry IV (see ); St. Norbert, prominent in the twelfth century (1126-34), the founder of the Premonstratensian order; Wichman (1152-92) was more important as a sovereign and prince of the Holy Roman Empire than as a bishop; Albrecht II (1205-32) quarrelled with the Emperor Otto II (1198-1215), because he had pronounced the pope's ban against the latter and this unfortunate war greatly damaged the archbishopric. In 1208 he began to build the present cathedral, which was only consecrated in 1263, and never entirely finished; Günther I (1277-79) hardly escaped a serious war with the Margrave Otto of Brandenburg, who was incensed because his brother Erich had not been elected archbishop. And the Brandenburegers actually succeeded in forcing Günther and Bernhard (1279-1281) to resign and in making Erich archbishop (1283-1295). Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (1513-45), on account of his insecure position, as well as being crippled by a perpetual lack of funds, gave some occasion for the spread of Lutheranism in his diocese, although himself opposing the Reformation. It is not true that he became a Lutheran and wished to retain his see as a secular principality, and just as untrue that in the Kalbe Parliament in 1541 he consented to the introduction of the Reformation in order to have his debts paid. His successors were the zealous Catholics John Albert of Brandenburg (1545-1550), who however could accomplish very little, and Frederick IV of Brandenburg, who died in 1552.
Administrators who were secular princes now took the place of the archbishop, and they, as well as the majority of the cathedral chapter and the inhabitants of the diocese, had become Evangelical. They belonged to the House of Brandenburg. Christian Wilhelm (see above) was taken prisoner in 1631, and went over to the Catholic Church in Vienna. At the time of the Peace of Prague, this country fell to the share of Prince August of Saxony, and after his death (1680) it was publicly assigned by the Peace of Westphalia to Brandenburg- Prussia (1648), to which it has since belonged, with the exception of the interval of French rule (1807-1814). At the time of the seculariization (1803) there remained only the convent of St. Agnes in the Neustadt Magdeburg, Marienstuhl near Egeln and Mariendorf, and the monastery at Althaldensleben. Catholic parishes took their places. Before the reign of Frederick the Great (1740) no Catholics were admitted to Magdeburg. In modern times the League of St. Boniface has established mission parishes in the suburbs of Magdeburg as well as in other places.
Mulverstedt, Regesta archiepiscopatus Magdeburgensis, I-IV (Magdeburg, 1876-1899); Uhlirz, Geschichte des Erzbistums Magdeburg unter den Kaisern aus dem Sächsischen Hause (Magdeburg, 1887); Rathmann, Geschichte der Stadt Magdeburg, I, II (2nd ed., ibid., 1885-86); Wolter, Geschichte der Stadt Magdeburg (ibid., 3rd ed., 1901); Hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, III, IV (Leipzig, 1903-06); Urkundenbuch der Stadt Magdeburg, ed. Von Hertel, (Halle, 1892-96); Teitge, Die Frage nach dem Urheber der Zerstörung Magdeburgs (Halle, 1904).