Thursday, December 18, 2008

Würzburg, Part I— The Church in Unterfranken

Everyone knows Berlin. Everyone knows Frankfurt. Everyone knows Köln. What about Würzburg? I certainly had a vested interested in acquainting myself with this locale as my family was only a few kilometers away laying bricks for God-knows-how-many centuries! Despite my personal interest (or anyone’s) it always seems that in the small world of European political and cultural cross-pollination everything is connected, every place has played a part.

This spot in the world came under the Roman influence when Winfrid of Crediton (St. Boniface) was still a wee lad over in Wessex. Details are scarce, but apparently St. Kilian, the patron of the diocese to this day, was born around 640 in Ireland or Scotland. Like many monks of the British Isles during the early middle ages he (and 11 companions) soon left to convert, ‘civilize,’ teach etc. on the continent. Thus in the 680’s he crossed over to Gaul, passed over the Rhine, and made his way up the Main valley ending up at the castle of Thuringian (Frankish) Duke Gozbert— pagan, of course.

After hanging around Gozbert for a while he decided to head to Rome in the summer of 686 to get some paperwork from the Pope to make his missionary status ‘official.’ When he returned after obtaining his faculties (he was a “regional bishop,” something like a vicar apostolic on the American frontier) his posse had thinned out and he was left with two companions: a priest Coloman, and a deacon Totnan.

Kilian converted Gozbert and soon spread Christianity with missionary zeal over Franconia (modern Northern Bavaria) and Thuringia just to the north. There was one problem, however— Gozbert’s wife Geilana was his brother’s widow. Kilian convinced the Duke that he ought to separate but the Duchess was not a fan. Again, the facts are nebulous, but on or around 8 July 689, when Gozbert was away, Geilana had the three missionaries murdered. (The earliest full scholarly exploration of St. Kilian is Der heilige Kilian, Regionarbischof u. Martyrer. Franz Emmerich. Würzburg, 1896).

But alas, they had already become a Christian family! Gozbert’s son Hetan built a church dedicated to Mary at the castle and thus the fortress was thereafter called Marienburg. In 704 we see for the first time the Latin designation Castellum Virtebuch for the city on the River Main below the fortress— the earliest presence of the name which has become Würzburg.

Now enters Winfrid, our more famous apostle to the Germans. Needless to say, he was caught in the midst of a political dynamic quite unlike his predecessor! Winfrid went to Rome in 718 where Pope Gregory II gave him the new name Bonifacius and sent him back north the following year, 719. Boniface noticed the residual influence of Kilian in Thuringia as he worked there as well as in Frisia and Hesse in the years following 719. In November 722 he moved up the ranks again as Pope Gregory II appointed him Bishop of the German lands.

Beginning in 723, Boniface came under the protection of Charles Martel and the Carolingians. This Frankish dynasty wanted to defeat their rival, pagan Saxons. When Boniface was made Archbishop of all German lands in 732 his clout and immense experience throughout the area over nearly 20 years became an asset for the Frankish nobles— though he personally had little to gain from this alliance. Nevertheless, his contemporary Daniel of Winchester pointed out that Boniface could “neither administer his church, defend his clergy, nor prevent idolatry” without his political protectors.

Not surprisingly, Charles Martel set to work establishing dioceses throughout Bavaria in the late 730s— Regensburg, Freising, Passau. They would surround and subdue the Saxons with political structure and Roman ecclesiastical order (perhaps inseparable then)!

Boniface himself received the Metropolitan see of Mainz in 745. As the Franks divided the land further into bishoprics moving north they allowed Boniface relative freedom in recommending/selecting his own bishops— so long as they would continue to push Christianity and be Frank-friendly vis à vis anti-Pagan Saxon. And so it was, no later than the summer of 741, that Boniface consecrated his friend and fellow-Englishman, Burchard as first Bishop of Würzburg. The red-tape was cleared and Pope Zachary confirmed the appointment and foundation of the diocese in a letter of 1 April 743.

87 bishops have followed down to the present day.

No comments: