Thursday, November 26, 2009

Churches in Schlesien/ Silesia--the Home of some of my Fathers

We've looked at my grandfather's picture before. (E. is for Erich, R. is my maiden name. I won't give it away here.) -- The German population is forced out of their homes en mass, never to return, including my grandfather and his children. His wife had recently died of typhoid fever. My Uncle Herbert explained a few things about the picture. See also the other post about the expulsion. This post is more about the church buildings.

There is a cross missing on the top of the page, on the tower. I've checked it out.

This is the story:

after the 30-years-war, Silesia came under Austrian Hapsburg's rule. The Peace of Westphalia dealt with all the particulars of the arrangements. Silesia became Roman Catholic.

This meant that Lutherans had only a very limited right to assemble and worship. In all of the region Lutherans were only allowed to have three "churches". They were to be built outside city walls, could not have any towers, and could be built only from wood not stone. Worship was to be at regulated times only. These churches were called the "Friendenskirchen" (peace churches) and were in Jauer, Schweidnitz and one other place.

These churches were constructed as quickly as possible to serve a huge portion of the population. Famously, they hold up to 8000 people at one time and are entirely constructed from wood. They still stand and were not bombed during WW II. They were handed over the the Polish population undamaged and now, ironically, also serve RC congregations. The towns have grown around them over time. As an aside, these buildings have become famous sites, so famous in fact that the Japanese television had a special broadcast about these churches this very month.

The buildings are interesting for the Japanese, since the Japanese also have very large wooden structures serving as places of worship. The famous Buddha by Kyoto (Nara) is located in the largest wooden building in the world. In fact, I have visited it with my sister, when she worked in Japan. Quite impressive.

So, most interestingly to me, one can find quite a bit of information on these buildings. One can also find information about the current Lutheran church in Poland, the information being mostly in the Polish language. This church calls itself the evangelical church of the Augsburg confession, which made me wonder if it was Lutheran-Lutheran or united with the Reformed. Since the site was in Polish, I could not figure it out, but my Uncle Gerhard says that they were forced-united at some point also, some century after the Peace of Westphalia.

This church in Jauer is the largest wooden church in Europe.

Now, about my grandfather's drawing and the large church behind those having to leave their homes: this particular building, after the Peace of Westphalia (1648), was another concession to the large group of Lutherans in the area. It was not a "Friedenskirche" (peace church) but a "Gebetshaus" (house of prayer), a category under which such places as synagogues fell. Again, you could not worship just when you wanted to. This building was also to have no tower under the regulations. However, at a later time the columns and the tower were added.

This "Gebetshaus" is also very large and the population had to travel from far and wide to attend services. Now, in my great-grandfather's time (late 19the century) even with village churches available by now, people still seemed to travel far distances to attend at this church in Wuestegiersdorf, so tells my Uncle Herbert. This is how my grandfather Erich, met my grandmother. They were from different towns. People would start traveling on Friday evenings (now I don't know which century we are talking about) to be able to attend church on Sunday in these large churches. The church in Wuestegiersdorf had a wonderful famous organ, to which organists from all over would make pilgrimage to play concerts on. This was a "Silbermann" organ, I am told.

At my great-grandfather's Julius' house people would tie up their horses when they had come a distance to attend church (obviously furthering the romance between my grandfather and grandmother). After church people would go ice-scating and some kind of sacks had been put on Julius' oven to warm up, so people could wear them when they went scating in cold weather. Some stories are told about these winter pleasures and socializing.

My Uncle Herbert was baptized and confirmed at this large church in Wuestegiersdorf. I don't know about my father. I'll have to ask. Uncle Herbert has been back to see the church and was disappointed to find the organ gone and the front of the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The loss of their homeland is still hard for many of these people and a story that is rarely told. My Uncle Herbert knows the history of the area from his confirmation pastor and from traveling there numerous times over the years. He lives in Vancouver.


Anonymous said...

I've been searching the web for info/history on my roots (mother's side). My opa's brother Paul was born in Bolkenhain in 1900, and later served with the German Baptist Mission in Cameroon. My grandfather was born on Sept.15, 1899 to his parents Paul & Anna Gebauer in Wuestegiersdorf (one of 10 children). He was baptized at the age of 11 at the Baptist Church in Liegnitz and became an ordained pastor in 1947 in Luneburg. He served there as pastor until immigration to Canada in 1953 with his wife and five children. He served at the Bethany Baptist Church until 1956 (the year I was born) and then established the Immanuel Baptist Church built with many German immigrants. Continued to serve the Lord until retirement in 1974 and then in further on in Kelowna. He and his wife spent 10 years living in the Evergreen Home in White Rock, B.C. Opa passed away on July 14th, 1992. My mother has an old black and white photo of a castle on a hill in Luneburg where they lived before immigrating to Canada. thank-you for taking the time to read.

Brigitte said...

We have links to Wuestegiersdorf, too. :) Blessings.