Formerly the seat of an archdiocese situated in the north-western part of the present German Empire. After Charlemagne's conquest of the Saxons, Christianity was preached in the region about the lower Elbe and the lower Weser by St. Willehad ; in 787 Willehad was consecrated bishop, and that part of Saxony and Friesland about the mouth of the Weser assigned him for his diocese. He chose as his see the city of Bremen, which is mentioned for the first time in documents of 782, and built there a cathedral, praised for its beauty by St. Anschar ; it was dedicated in 789. The Diocese of Bremen, however, was erected only under St. Willehad's successor, St. Willerich (804 or 805-838). After the death of the third bishop, Leuderich (d. 845), by an act of synod of Mainz (848), Bremen was united with the Archdiocese of Hamburg, which, since its foundation, in 831, had been under St. Anschar, who was appointed first archbishop of the new archdiocese (848-865). Hamburg had been destroyed by the Vikings in 845, and in 1072, after a second destruction of the city, the archiepiscopal see was definitely transferred to Bremen, though the title was not formally transferred until 1223. Until the secularization of 1803 Hamburg had its own cathedral chapter. Before it was united with Hamburg, the Diocese of Bremen had belonged to the Province of Cologne. Despite the protests of the Archbishop of Cologne against the separation of Bremen, Pope Nicholas I, in 864, confirmed the new foundation, which fell heir to the task of evangelizing the pagan North.
Rembert, (865-888), the successor of St. Anschar, summoned the Benedictines from Corvei and became a member of the order; his companion and successor, St. Adalgar (888-909), was likewise a Benedictine. Both performed great services in the conversion of the North to Christianity. When the Archbishop of Cologne renewed his claims to Bremen, Pope Formosus, in 892, gave the decision that the Archbishop of Bremen was to be independent of the Metropolitan of Cologne, but should take part in the diocesan synods of Cologne. Under St. Hoger (909-916), a Benedictine of Corvei, and Reginward (917-918), the Hungarians laid waste the diocese and even burned the city of Bremen. The ninth bishop, St. Unni, died at Birka (936), while on a missionary journey to Scandinavia. Through the efforts of Archbishop Adaldag (937-988) Bremen received the privileges of a market town, and in 967 the same archbishop obtained the jurisdiction of a count over the city, as well as various crown-lands from Otto I , thus laying the foundation for the temporal possessions of the archbishops of Bremen. At the instance of Adaldag three dioceses were erected in Danish territory and in Schleswig, and made suffragans of Bremen. There was a considerable accession of territory to the archdiocese under Archbishop Unwan (1013-29). The foundation, however, of the later highly developed temporal power of Bremen was laid by Adalbert, the guardian and influential counsellor of Henry IV ; during his long episcopate (1043-72) he brought nearly all the countships (Grafschaften) within the limits of the archdiocese under the jurisdiction of the Church of Bremen. His dream of raising the archdiocese to the dignity of a northern patriarchate, however, was never realized. During his episcopate the Obotrites were converted to Christianity, and three dioceses, Oldenburg, Mecklenburg, and Ratzeburg, were erected as suffragans of Bremen. The Northern churches, however, were separated from Bremen, and later placed under the Bishop of Lund, who was raised to the rank of a metropolitan in 1103. Like Adalbert, his immediate successors took the side of the emperors against the popes. At the Council of the Lateran the nominal metropolitan jurisdiction over the churches of Scandinavia was restored to Adalbert II (1123-48), but in reality they remained independent of Bremen. During the episcopate of Adalbert Vizelin succeeded in his task of evangelizing the Slavs of Holstein and Mecklenburg. Hartwich I (1148-68), Count of Stade, brought the countship of Stade under the jurisdiction of the Church of Bremen. His struggle with Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, entailed great suffering to the archdiocese ; in 1155 the city of Bremen was captured and plundered, and the countship of Stade seized and held by Henry. After the fall of Henry, Archbishop Siegfried (1178-84) was the first to regain possession of the countship. Hartwich II (1184-1207) founded several monasteries and promoted the civilization of his people; his administration of temporal affairs, however, was unfortunate and involved the archdiocese in serious difficulties with Emperor Henry VI, resulting in revolt on the part of the bishop's subjects.
Dissensions over the choice of an archbishop and the claims of Palatine Count Henry, son-in-law of Henry the Lion, to the countship of Stade, left the Church of Bremen in sore straits at the beginning of the thirteenth century. After lengthy struggles, Archbishop Gerhard II (1219-57) finally received the undisputed possession of the countship, by which the territorial extent of the archdiocese was substantially fixed, covering, at that time, the land between the lower Weser and the lower Elbe, including also a part of the territory to the right of the mouth of the Elbe. Repeated difficulties over the choice of an archbishop, the growth of the city of Bremen, the continual disposal of diocesan privileges by archbishops under stress of financial embarrassment, misrule on the part of some archbishops, and other circumstances as well, contributed towards the decline of the power and splendour of the archdiocese which took place in the course of the fourteenth century. Among the more capable bishops of this period were: Johann Grant (1307-27), previously Archbishop of Lund, Burchard Grelle (1327-44), who held a synod in 1328 and redeemed several castles of the archdiocese, which had been given as security; Johann II Slamstorff (1406-21); Boldewin von Wenden (1435-41), who was also Abbot of St. Michael in Lüneburg; Gerhard III (1441-63), and others. Less fortunate was the episcopate of Heinrich von Schwarzburg (1463-96), who also became Bishop of Münster in 1466; the city of Bremen took advantage of the almost uninterrupted absence of the last-named archbishop to shake off the episcopal authority almost entirely. Several estates or castles were given in pledge or fell in ruins, and the dissatisfaction of the people under the ecclesiastical rule increased, preparing the soil for the Reformation.
The successor of Heinrich von Schwarzburg, Johann III Rohde (1497-1511), cleared the archdiocese of debt, and introduced many reforms. In spite of the fact that he came of the middle class, he sought to increase his prestige in the diocese by taking as coadjutor Prince Christopher of Brunswick (1500). The latter succeeded in 1511, but being at the same time Bishop of Verden, resided chiefly in Verden, and so was unable to devote the necessary attention to his Diocese of Bremen. The Reformation won its first victory in the city of Bremen; the Catholic clergy who opposed the new teaching were expelled, monasteries suppressed, the cathedral chapter banished from the city in 1533, and allowed to return only under the condition that no Mass be said or choir service held. From the city as a centre the new teaching spread through the surrounding territory and though the archbishop himself and some monasteries for a long time offered vigorous opposition, by the help of the Smalkaldic League, which Bremen had joined, the Reformation was introduced throughout the archdiocese, in some cases by force. After the death of Christopher (1558), the cathedral chapter, which was almost entirely Protestant by this time, chose as his successor his brother George (1558-66), who was already Bishop of Verden and Minden ; during his episcopate, the archdiocese, with the exception of the cathedral and some country parishes, accepted the teaching of Calvin. George was succeeded by four Protestant archbishops, the last (1634) being Frederick, Prince of Denmark, later King of Denmark under the name of Frederick III. During the Thirty Years War , by the edict of restitution of Emperor Ferdinand II (1625), the archdiocese was restored to the Catholics, Catholic worship re-established, monasteries given back to the monks, and a college at Stade placed in charge of the Jesuits (1629-32). When, however, in 1632, the imperial troops were forced to evacuate the territory before the Swedes, Catholicism was once more rooted out. In 1644 the archdiocese was captured by the Swedes, and in 1648 secularized by the Peace of Westphalia, and ceded as a duchy to Sweden, and the cathedral chapter at Bremen suppressed. In 1712 the territory became a possession of Denmark, and in 1715 was purchased by the electoral Prince George of Hanover. The city of Bremen with the surrounding territory was in 1731 recognized as a free city of the empire, and in 1803 received an increase of territory; in 1815 it entered the German Confederation, in 1866 the North German Confederation, and in 1871 the German Empire. The greater part of the present duchy was ceded to Prussia with the Kingdom of Hanover (1866). Ecclesiastically, the territory of the former Archdiocese of Bremen is divided among several dioceses : the city of Bremen and the vicinity, with about 13,000 Catholics is subject to the Vicariate Apostolic of the Northern Missions, the remaining territory to the Dioceses of Hildesheim, Osnabrück, and Münster.
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