A Saxon-Thuringian duchy. It has an area of 953 sq. miles, and 278,792 inhabitants (1910). In 1905 its population of 268,916 included 4870 Catholics (2 percent), 262,283 Evangelicals, and 1276 Jews.
The duchy came into existence in 1681, as the result of the various succession agreements among the seven sons of Duke Ernest the Pious of Saxe-Gotha. Later agreements increased the territory of the duchy, especially that of 1826, when the previously independent Duchy of Saxe-Hildburghausen was assigned to it (560 sq. miles, with 70,000 inhabitants). In the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Duke Bernard II (d. 1882) was the only Thuringian prince of the Saxon house to adhere to Austria or the German Confederation. Prussia therefore occupied his territory and had the government transferred to his son, George II (b. 1826), who is still reigning (1911). The heir apparent is Prince Bernard, who married Charlotte, sister of the German Emperor.
In pre-Reformation times the territory of the present Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen belonged to the Diocese of Würzburg , to whose care today also the few Catholics of the country are committed. The Reformation caused the disappearance of Catholicism.
In 1808, in consequence of a treaty between Saxe-Meiningen and the then Grand Duchy of Würzburg, the Catholic parish of Wolfmannshausen was ceded to Saxe-Meiningen. In the course of the nineteenth century, Catholic pastoral stations were established at Meiningen, Hildburghausen, Poessneck, and Sonneberg (seat of the celebrated toy industry). The legal statute of the various parishes or stations is regulated by special treaties between the bishop and the Government. Before making an appointment, the bishop presents to the ducal Government a priest of the Diocese of Würzburg provided with the royal Bavarian titulus mensae , and asks if this cleric is a persona grata to the duke. On the approval of the duke, the priest receives episcopal institution, and promises on oath before the ducal Government that he will observe the laws of the land and faithfully fulfil his duty. The State grants a small subsidy towards the payment of the clergy. Several districts are attended as a matter of charity by priests of neighboring dioceses. If Catholic priests wish to exercise their priestly functions outside of their appointed district, they must first inform the Evangelical clergyman of their intention. In the case of interments, the Catholic priest must, even within their special district, obtain the approbation of the Evangelical clergyman as regards the time. There are no legal ordinances concerning religious orders. For the establishment in Meiningen of the Daughters of the Divine Redeemer from Würzburg notice to the police only was necessary.
The primary schools are Evangelical Lutheran, although this is not expressly provided for in the law. Religious instruction for the denominations in the minority (and thus for Catholics ) must be provided in a manner deemed sufficient by the representatives of such churches. A public Catholic primary school exists at Wolfmannshausen (70 pupils), and a private school without state or communal support at Poessneck (since 1883; 31 pupils in 1910). The Primary School Law of 1908 definitively set aside the religious supervision of schools, and effected a sharp division of church and school ; even the supervision of religious instruction no longer pertains to the parish priest.
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