Iwona's Sources - Evangelical Lutherans in Catholic Parishes

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Evangelical Lutherans in Catholic Parishes

The fate of Evangelical Lutherans in Poland has varied considerably over the centuries, from their heyday in the 16th century (due to Martin Luther’s influence), through a decline at the turning point of the 17th and 18th centuries, to a slow rebirth during the period of the partitions of Poland. On the one hand, the partition Sejm of 1773-1775 limited the rights of believers in other religions; on the other, the Four-Year Sejm of 1788-1792 declared for unlimited religious tolerance. But as a result of policy conducted with the Vatican, the Constitution of May 3, 1791 recognized the Roman Catholic religion as the dominant one; those straying from that faith were guaranteed punishment, whereas followers of other religions were assured government protection and peaceful practice of their faith. By 1796, when the Prussian army occupied the capital of Poland, the Vatican’s influence was limited. Friedrich Wilhelm’s powerful rule caused a process of Germanization to flourish in territories under Prussian rule; the process consisted of, among other things, liquidating Catholic churches (mainly in Silesia) and selecting priests of German descent.

But the predominant majority of the populace of Polish descent did not permit a ruthlessly conducted policy of Germanization, and in this situation Prussia resorted to long-term activity. In succession it brought colonists from Germany to settle in Poland, and seized administrative control over the Roman Catholic church (even the letters of spiritual authorities were censured). But no changes were made in diocesan organizational structures in Prussia until 1815. And even though, according to the Prussian Landrecht [the common law, the general laws in force within the lands ruled by Prussia], the United Evangelical Church belonged to the group of religious organizations and functioned on the basis of public law, nonetheless until 1817 local Protestants in Prussian territories ruled themselves by the legal precepts from the time of the Republic, and availed themselves of Polish legal texts.

In 1794 metrical registers were recognized as public legal documents and thereby lost their ecclesiastical exclusivity. The prevailing law of the Landrecht regulated questions of mixed marriages. Till 1803 sons were to be raised in their father’s religion till the age of 14, and daughters in that of the mother. From 1803 on a royal decree required raising children in their father’s religion, during his life and after his death. The reason for this was the number of marriages between German settlers and Polish Catholic women. But even though the Evangelical community increased with time, the number of Catholics was incomparable larger.

Newly-arrived German settlers lived in colonies called Olędry or Holędry* scattered throughout the provinces of East and West Prussia—and if there was no Protestant church nearby, they attended the nearest church in their vicinity, which was usually a Catholic one. (Toward the end of the 18th century there existed three Evangelical Lutheran consistories of the Augsburg Confession: in Piotrków Trybunalski, Warsaw, and Płock. But for a long time Protestant parishes were not stabilized in terms of territory).

We may take as an example of this the locality of Witoszyn nad Wisłą, the name of which can be found in metrical registers of two or even three neighboring parishes. This attests to the fact that the affiliation of the religious to individual parishes was free, unlimited by any administrative measures.

While looking for a Protestant family, colonists from Olędry Witoskie, I came across their records in several parishes: the Roman Catholic parish in Chełmica (1753-1808), the Roman Catholic parish in Szpetal (1753-1809), and after 1808 in the Roman Catholic parish in Szpetal and in the Protestant congregation in Lipno and Dobrzyń. This was a Protestant family that got used to the nearby Roman Catholic parish in Szpetal, even though in the beginning of the 19th century a Protestant parish was founded in Lipno—even in the 1820s they were baptizing their children in the Catholic church. This may speak to the good relations between neighbors of different faith, as well as to practicality; for the oldest Protestant congregation was founded in Michałki as early as 1784, but it was 35 miles away, definitely too far.

The earliest entries in Catholic registers describe religions other than Catholic as akatolickie ("a-Catholic"); later, after 1807, the religion is given by name.* Indexes from 1753 to 1808, however, do not mention religion, so Catholics and Protestants are found mixed together in the same registers. Not until 1828, when the Superintendent’s office of the Płock diocese was founded, were Protestant congregations reorganized territorially, until their final composition in 1849, when all congregations of the Protestant faith in the territory of the Kingdom of Poland were put under the jurisdiction of the Evangelical Lutheran Consistory of the Augsburg Confession in Warsaw.

*Editor’s note: This reminds me of records I saw from one Roman Catholic parish in an area ruled by Prussia, with a large German element in the local population. I was amused to see that under "religion" for people with German-sounding names, again and again the priest wrote down the Latin words "advena corrupta"—"corrupt alien." That was his term for "non-Catholic"!

*Olędry or Holędry was a by-name added to the names of localities to designate colonies of new settlers from the West. Depending on their administrative affiliation, these additional names varied: also used generally were Rumunki, Budy, and Działy. In the 17th century the first wave of colonists came from Holland, and they easily adapted to the low terrain, which required drainage. The Dutch arrivals gathered in colonies called Holędry [cmp. German Holländer, "Dutchmen"]. These settlements developed mainly in Pomorze [Pomerania], Kujawy [Kujavia], Wielkopolska [Great Poland], and in Mazowsze [Mazovia]. From the second half of the 18th century on, these colonists were mainly Germans.

Iwona Dakiniewicz, Łódź, Poland genealogy@pro.onet.pl

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