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The former Kingdom of Hanover has been a province of the Prussian monarchy since 20 September, 1866. Its nucleus was a region inhabited, when its history began, by Saxon tribes, which subsequently formed part of the old Duchy of Saxony. From the year 1137, under the name of the Guelphic Lands ( Welfissche Lande ), it was under the Dukes of Brunswick. In 1692 this country was raised to the dignity of the ninth electorate, as Hanover (or Bruswick-Lüneburg). As such it consisted of the Principalities of Lüneburg (Celle), Calenberg, Göttingen, and Grubenhagen.
After the partition of the Guelphic Lands (1569) it was extended to include the County of Hoya in 1582, the County of Diepholz in 1585, parts of the County of Schaumburg in 1640, the Duchy of Lauenburg in 1689, the Duchies of Bremen and Verden in 1719, the Principality of Osnabrück in 1802, the Principality of Hildesheim, Goslar, the Lower Eichsfeld, Eastern Friesland, the Duchy of Aremberg-Meppen, the district of Emsbüren, the Sub-county of Lingen, and the County of Bentheim in 1814, the Dominion of Plesse together with the Abbey of Höckelheim and the Bailiwick of Neuengleichen in 1816. In 1714 Hanover was connected with Great Britain through the personal union of its rulers. Thereafter it was under a peculiar regime, ruled over at times by a governor-general or viceroy. During the Napoleonic wars it was annexed now to one and then to another state. By the Congress of Vienna it was raised to the dignity of a kingdom, after the separation of Saxe-Lauenburg. A new constitution was conferred upon the kingdom in 1819; this was amended in 1833, in 1840, again in 1848, and, by the annexation to Prussia in 1866, was annulled.
The beginnings of Christianity in Hanover date from the time of the Emperor Charlemagne. This monarch having conquered the Saxons under their chieftain, Wittekind, after a war that lasted for thirty years, marked by unparalleled stubbornness, opened the way (785) for the conversion of this contumacious race. It was not until a comparatively late date that they were won over to civilization, and even after their nominal conversion they cherished heathen superstitions and customs for a long time. For centuries the Christian Church continued to exert all its might and power in the effort to eradicate the relics of paganism from the minds of this people. In this, however, she did not completely succeed. Until far into the Middle Ages they continued obstinate, notwithstanding the rigour with which the State and Church punished any relapse into heathen customs. In a certain sense, these customs are not quite extinct even at the present day. Various attempts to convert the Saxons were made, even before Charlemagne, by St. Boniface and other apostles. Apparently they succeeded in implanting Christianity in the Hanoverian Province of Eichsfeld and the region directly north of it. The next foothold secured by the Faith was in the North Thuringian counties of Eastphalia, where Charlemagne, as early as A. D. 777, bestowed churches at Allstedt, Riestedt, and Osterhausen in the Friesenfeld, on the Abbey of St. Wigbert at Hersfeld. St. Liafwin, a Briton, at Marklo, and Abbot Sturm of Fulda were less successful in their missionary preaching, from 760 to 770. Thanks to the zealous co-operation of the Emperor Charlemagne, the scattered missions were built up into bishoprics, but not until the supremacy of the Franks over the Saxons had been firmly secured. The first of these bishoprics was at Osnabrück, where a church had been in existence before the year 787; Wiho appears to have been the first bishop, in 803. Another bishopric was established, about the same time, at Mimigardeford (afterwards Münster), where St. Liudger, a Frieslander, laboured successfully; and others at Paderborn, Minden, and Verden. The Bishopric of Bremen, under St Willehad, was added to the number in the year 787. The two bishoprics for Eastphalia proper and Northern Thuringia, Hildesheim and Halberstadt, were created with the help of Charlemagne's son and successor, Louis the Pious. In addition to this, the Archdioceses of Cologne and Mainz extended their influence into the western and southern portions of the Saxon country.
Aside from the episcopal sees, the abbeys took an exceedingly important part in the work of converting and civilizing the Saxons, in the country that later became Brunswick-Lüneburg territory. The most important of all was the Abbey of Corvey, founded by Louis the Pious at the beginning of his reign. This developed into not merely the chief source of Christian civilization and learning for its immediate neighbourhood, but became the centre of an active and self-denying missionary movement which carried its teachings as far north as Scandinavia. It was from this place that St. Ansgar, the Apostle of the North, directed his great campaign of conversion. Next in importance were the Abbeys of Bücken and Bassum in the County of Hoya, Wunstorf, Lamspringe, and Gandersheim. The most eloquent and brilliant testimony to the fervour and depth of religious feeling that already inspired large sections of the Saxon people at the period is given by the Old Saxon poem "Heliand" ( Evangelienharmonie ), the only monument in German philology that has survived from the early days of Christianity in Saxony. This poem is unique in its simplicity and grandeur.
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It was not long before the ecclesiastical dignitaries, bishops and abbots, became as powerful as the temporal lords, the dukes, margraves, and counts, even in the Saxon country. They were supported by the rest of the clergy, then, and for a long time afterwards, almost the sole custodians of culture and learning, and exponents of business methods. The princes of the Church in Saxony during the Othonian and Salic era included many men of rare intellectual endowments, men, moreover, of extensive learning and of moral excellence. Their names will always reflect honour on the German episcopate: names such as those of Bishop Bernward and Bishop Godehard of Hildesheim ; of Liemar and Adalbert, Archbishops of Bremen ; of Benno II of Osnabrück; of Meinwerk of Paderborn, and others. Besides Benno II (died 1088), Drogo, (952-968) and Detmar (1003-1022) stand pre-eminent among the Bishops of Osnabrück in the early Middle Ages . Benno II was as illustrious on account of his knowledge and efficiency in building and husband ry as because of his ecclesiastical and political ability. Detmar, according to contemporary accounts, was one of the most learned men of his day. Of the later bishops, Adolf (1216-1224), who was venerated as a saint, was especially notable. Most of them had to fight against the encroachments of their temporal and spiritual neighbours, and the nobility in general, so that the entire period prior to the sixteenth century was taken up with endless, devasating feuds, both internal and external. Little can be reported of the See of Verden, for its history is enveloped in obscurity because of its limited extent, and the bishops were, for the most part, insignificant or unfit men; moreover, they frequently were changed so rapidly that even the really strong characters among them had scarcely time enough to achieve anything noteworthy. The Bishoprics of Paderborn, Münster, Minden, and Halberstadt, though larger than Verden, had little influence on Hanover.
Much more important was the part played by the Church of Hildesheim and her rulers, above all by Bishop Bernward (d. 1022), an exceptionally pious, learned, and art-loving prelate, one of the most influential men of this period. The Church canonized him in the year 1193, but even during his lifetime he looms up a venerable and saintly figure, in the midst of wild excitement, wars, and strife. Rarely do we meet with a prince of the Church who at the same time held so brilliant a position in the world and was yet a man of such touching modesty, of such learning and love of art, and so solicitous a father of the lowly and the poor. He was the tutor, friend, and counsellor of his emperor; he conducted negotiations for him and followed him into battle. He governed his diocese, founded churches and abbeys, and also built strong fortresses for a protection against foreign marauders, and raised the fortifications around his metropolitan city. He took care of the needy and the sick and adjusted legal disputes. He was not only a liberal patron of art and science, but was himself a scholar and an artist and the foremost educator of his day. In the history of art his importance is even greater than in political history or in legend. In his time began the religious movement which, starting in Cluny, about the year 1007, leavened the entire religious life of the Church ; which, in the monasteries, preferred asceticism to the practical work of the old Benedictine rule and the confined views of the cloister, to freedom of motion; but which, moreover, gradually infused its spirit into bishops and secular clergy and forced them to take a political attitude fundamentally different from that which they had hitherto held. The literary and artistic activity of this time was purely religious and was notably conspicuous in monasteries and episcopal cities. Widukind, a monk of the Abbey of Corvey, published, in 967, an historical work on the fortunes and achievements of the Saxon race from its origin down to the days of Otto the Great. Hroswitha, the nun of Gandersheim (d. about 1002), wrote several dramatic and other poems. Much more brilliant and many-sided were the achievements of Christian art, especially of architecture, calligraphy, and metal work, whose grandest creations were inspired by Bernward of Hildesheim, and bear the impress of royal magnificence and deep religious sentiment. They may be looked upon as the finest products of the truly Christian spirit which in the tenth and eleventh centuries pervaded Europe.
The steady growth of power and wealth in the Church, since the beginning of the twelfth century, introduced an ever increasing spirit of worldliness. Even the austerity that emanated from Cluny did not suffice to check it, inasmuch as it was fostered by the Crusades. However, both spiritual and temporal powers sought to stop this decay. The monastic orders themselves repeatedly attempted to reform the monastic and ecclesiastical abuses, and this was done especially by the newly founded Premonstratensian and Cistercian Orders in the twelfth century. The former founded in Hanover two excellent centres for their activities at Pöhlde and Ilfeld; but the latter established more than eighteen: at Walkenried, Amelungsborn, Mariental near Helmstedt, Rigsdagshausen, Michnelstein near Halberstadt, Lokkum, St. Mary's Convent at Osterode, Wibrechtshausen, Bischofsrode, Mariensee or Isensee, Wöltingerode, Neuwerk zu Goslar, Heiligkreuz near Brunswick, Wienhausen and Isenhagen, Altenmedingen, and several other places. From these points of vantage monks and nuns most efficiently promoted education and culture. Besides introducing rational methods of husbandry, they fostered learning and the minor arts, erected churches, and produced liturgical vessels and vestments that challenge our admiration to this day. To the progress due to these causes the Church in Hanover owed the dominant position it held since the fourteenth century, which had its sure material foundations in the donations and gifts, both of money and property of every kind, offered to the Church by the laity. As pre-eminent examples of wealth thus bestowed, as well as of its wise administration, we may cite the cathedral of Hildeshelin, the Abbey of Walkenried, St. Michael's Convent near Lüneburg, and even such less prominent institutions as the Martinikirche in Brunswick, the hospital of the Holy Ghost at Hanover; and there were others.
The Church now attained the summit of her power, influence, and prestige. While the disintegration of the Empire was affecting all its ancient institutions, while the administrative affairs of the State were bordering on anarchy, the Church was the sole immovable bulwark of the country, the only thing permanent amid the changes and revolution of the time. In the Hartz country, throughout the valley of the Ecker, near the Brocken, over Elend and Hohegeiss, then down and along the valley of the Zorge, were found her chapels of succour, her hospices for travellers, her hospitals, infirmaries, and houses of worship, where the wretched could find shelter and safety, where the sick and the maimed were taken in and nursed. To the persecuted she afforded protection against the rich and the powerful, against the despotism of princes and the aggressions of the nobility, by using the numerous and effective means of punishment at her disposal. When the abuse of her temporal power and wealth threatened to destroy her, the Church twice reformed herself before the Lutheran revolt. The first time was during the thirteenth century, through the instrumentality of the Dominicans and Franciscans ; and again, during the fifteenth century, by means of the reform movement led by the Brethren of the Common Life under Johannes Busch of Zwolle (1437-79), which had its origin in the Dutch Abbey of Windesheim. Busch, one of the chief champions of the internal reform movement, laboured with most signal success in Hanover, first in Wittenburg and Neuwerk, and then in the Sültenkloster near Hildesheim. With the help of friends sympathizing with his aims he thoroughly reorganized, from this place, most of the monasteries of Lower Saxony, and revived their discipline and religious zeal.
This revival, however, was confined almost entirely to the religious orders, while the secular clergy, especially the high dignitaries, became more and more corrupt. This paved the way for the revolt against the Church, which convulsed Germany under the lead of Martin Luther in the sixteenth century, resulting in a lasting schism and the division of the country into two hostile camps. Favoured by the internal dissensions called the Stiftsfehde and supported by the burghers, Luther's innovations found ready entrance at first among the lower classes, then spread through the larger cities amid more or less tumultuous rioting, and finally gained the ascendancy even in the country, when the reigning house in all its branches embraced the new doctrines. Duke Ernest of Brunswick-Lüneburg, in 1529 and Duke Julius of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, in 1545, reorganized ecclesiastical affairs along Lutheran lines. In this they were not actuated by religious motives but by a desire to extend their possessions. The establishment of the Protestant Church administration threw a great part of the possessions and the revenue of ecclesiastical property and of the abbeys into the princely exchequer. This, of course, increased their influence on the religious views of their Church. Hanover had become almost entirely Protestant by about the middle of the sixteenth century. Only the episcopal chapter of Hildesheim and a few abbeys held out against the Reformation in that diocese, until Bishop Ernest II of Bavaria (1573-1612) improved the situation somewhat by inviting the Jesuits to Hildesheim. In Osnabrück the see was even occupied by Protestant sympathizers, until here also the Jesuits, who were summoned in 1624 by Eitel Frederick of Hohenzollern, effected a tardy improvement.
The conversion, in 1651, of John Frederick, who was Duke of Calenherg-Grubenhagen from 1665 to 1679, and resided at Hanover, led to the establishment of several new mission parishes in the electorate. He organized the Catholic congregations in Hanover, Hameln, and Göttingen, from Catholic newcomers and numerous converts. Ernest Augustus I, his successor (1679-1698), who annexed Celle, made a compact with the emperor, guaranteeing to Catholics the right to practice their religion in the aforesaid places and in Celle. But it was only when liberty of worship was accorded at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and freedom of settlement was permitted towards its middle, that numerous new Catholic parishes were established. Until the reorganization of church affairs after the secularization of 1803 the country belonged to the Vicariate Apostolic of Lower Saxony and the North. By the circumscription Bull of Pope Leo XII, "Impensa Romanorum", 26 August 1824, the Kingdom of Hanover was divided between the Bishoprics of Hildesheim and Osnabrück, the revenues of the church regulated, the rules laid down for the election of bishops, and the limits of parishes and succursals fixed. The agreement arrived at was not carried out until 1928. Since then the Catholic Church in Hanover has grown visibly stronger and the Catholic population has markedly increased. In a total population of 2,500,000 in 1905, the Catholics numbered more than 325,000.
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