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S. Maria dell' Anima, the German national church and hospice in Rome, received its name, according to tradition, from the picture of Our Lady which forms its coat of arms (the Blessed Virgin between two souls ). It was founded as early as 1350, as a private hospice for German pilgrims, and was erected on its present site in 1386, by Johann Peters of Dodrecht, officer of the Papal Guard, and his wife. Pope Boniface IX granted it indulgences in 1398. In 1406, it was raised by the German colony to the rank of a national institution and united with a Brotherhood governed by Provisors and a Congregation. The foundation was confirmed by Innocent VII, who exempted it from all but papal jurisdiction, and took it under his immediate protection. In 1418, it was greatly enriched by the legacy of its second founder, Diedrich of Niem. The Popes of the fifteenth century, with the exception of Sixtus IV , showed it great favour. United, in 1431, with the German hospice of St. Andrew which had been founded in 1372, by a priest, Nicholas of Kulm, it became during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the German national and religious centre in Rome, as well as burial place; in short, it became synonymous with the German nation in Rome, and in its remarkable Community Book (unscientifically edited at Rome and Vienna in 1875) the most important names may be found.

The chief "Protectors" of this period were: Theodorich of Niem (1406); Johann of Montmart (1427); Gerhard of Elten (1431); Johann Rode (1431); Heinrich Senftleben (1450); Nicolaus Tungen (1462); Albert Cock (1468); Melchior Neckau (1479); Johann Burkhard of Strasburg (1494); Bernhard Sculteti (1503); Kaspar Wirt (1506); Wilhelm of Enckenwort (1509); Jakob Apocellus (1530); Martin Lupi (1536); Peter Vorstius (1543); Jodokus Hoetfilder (1548); Kaspar Hoyer (1551); Alexander Junius (1557); Johann Fonck (1558); Kaspar Gropper (1564); Gerhard Voss (1584); Klemens Sublindius (1586); Richard Stravius (1589). These were followed, later, by: Lambert de Vivardis (1595); Hermann Ortenberg (1602); Johann Baptist Rembold (1614); Aegidius de Vivariis (1619); Lukas Holstenius (1635); Theodorich Amayden (1636); the two Gualterii, and the two Emerix.

The present church which owes its Renaissance style to the influence of Bramante, was built by German subscriptions, between 1499 and 1526. It stands on the site of the older church, built between 1431 and 1499, and was decorated by the great artists of the period. Among its treasures is the famous Holy Family of Giulio Romano. It is the resting place of the last German Pope, Adrian VI , as well as of Cardinals Enckenwort, Gropper, Andrew of Austria, Slusius and the Hereditary Prince of Cleve (1575). Although the Emperor Maximilian I took the institution under his special imperial protection in 1518, it fell off greatly, during the period of religious strife; it remained nevertheless a stronghold of German influence and a refuge to all Germans in need. After Sixtus V , the Anima grew in political importance as well, inasmuch as during the great events that took place in Germany, and during the Thirty Years War, it came to be looked upon by the nation, the national representatives, and even by the popes, as a national work of thanksgiving and supplication to God. The violent interference of the Ambassador Martinitz in 1697 (confirmed by an edict of Leopold I in 1699), ushered in the most eventful period in the history of the Anima. In 1742 the Congregation decided in favour of Maria Theresa and against the Emperor. In 1798, the French plundered the church and took possession of it as the property of the French Republic (in behalf of Belgium ), but were driven out by the Neapolitan troops. An attempt on the part of Napoleon to annex this institution was also defeated. These vicissitudes had the effect of gradually changing the house from what its original founders had intended to be and of turning it over, almost entirely, to Italians. It was only in 1853 that the noble determination of the Emperor Francis Joseph I restored it to its former purpose. He opened the institution to his Austrian subjects, and brought about its reorganization by means of an Apostolic Visitation in 1859 (Brief of 15 March).

From that time forward the Anima has gradually regained its old position, by timely adaptation to modern conditions. Its field of action is extending, step by step, to the boundaries of the German-speaking peoples. It has been the originator and support of almost every new German national undertaking in Rome. It possesses a special importance as the place where religious services are held on the occasion of political or national festivals, as parish church of the German colony, and as the centre in Rome of national charitable associations. It is also a hospice for German pilgrims, and the stopping place of German bishops and priests from Austria, Germany, and America. It acts, at the same time, as intermediary for Austrian and German dioceses in their relations with the Curia, and serves as a home for German-speaking priests.

The Anima, as a college of priests, dates back to the year 1496, and was founded by the well known Master of Papal Ceremonies, Burkhard of Strasburg. As early as the sixteenth century it consisted of fourteen chaplains. No noteworthy persons, however, are to be found among them, for the reason that they held their positions for an indefinite term, or even for life. Notwithstanding numerous attempts at reform, especially that of 1584, the moral condition of the college left much to be desired. The French Revolution destroyed it, and, in particular, eliminated the German elements. It was only after the restoration of 1859 that the college was reorganized (1863). The brief of reorganization, placed prominently in the refectory, enjoins that the members of the college "shall acquire a better and more perfect knowledge of theological matters in Rome and shall study the transaction of ecclesiastical affairs in the Holy See, so that each may carry to his diocese the methods of the Roman Curia, the spirit of discipline, and a true knowledge of the sacred sciences." The two years' residence in the college affords special opportunities for the study of canon law in theory at the Papal universities, and in practice under the higher church officials. It is for this reason that many students of the Anima are promoted, on their return home, to positions of trust and authority in their respective dioceses. The list of deserving men who, since its restoration, have gone forth from this training school, no fewer than 300 in all, includes eleven bishops and twenty university professors. In addition to the chaplains, whom the German and Austrian bishops appoint in regular succession, other priests are admitted on moderate terms, so that there are twenty-one priests now residing in the house. The college is governed by a rector, who controls the spiritual management under a Cardinal Protector (at present H.E. Cardinal Steinhueber), and the temporal, under Austrian protection, assisted by a procurator. The first rector was the well known writer and university professor, Alois Flir, the restorer of the institution, who died in 1859 as auditor of the Rota. He was succeeded by Michael Gassner, afterwards Dean of Brixen (1860-72), by Karl Jaenig of Prague (1875-87); Franz Doppelbauer, now Bishop of Linz (1887-89); Franz Vogl, now Bishop of Triest (1889-1902) and by Protonotary Joseph Lohninger of Linz (since 1902).

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