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Eulogies (Leichenpredigten) in Lower Saxony
Leichenpredigten from the late 1500-1750s are deposited in large numbers in libraries. These eulogies were printed and passed on to relatives and other mourners. To collect them was a fashionable thing to do. The custom went back into the beginning of the 16th century. The first eulogies were created by Martin Luther whose intention was to comfort, to uplift and to teach the congregation. During the second half of the 1600s biographical information was added which became its own section. Elaborate descriptions about the dying process, from the onset of the illness through the end with last hours and minutes were part of this account. It was important to relate the reaction of the person when facing death. Important also was to report how the individual managed opposition in life. The end of printed eulogies occurred in the middle of the 18th century by which the genre had started to take on another importance, especially in view of death.
Printing eulogies was an expensive business and was the privilege of the upper and middle classes. Members of the nobility, academics, officials, pastors, their wives and children were mostly represented. Looking at the relationships it seems that the printing of eulogies was a fashion trend among privileged families. The rural population was less affected. Factors may have been their lack of education, money, and mobility. The eulogies of members of nobility often reported connections, travels, customs, and fashions which leads to the conclusion that such a form of publicity was stimulated or even provoked.
Leichenpredigten reflect a pattern of the ideal sequence of dying. When methods of healing were not fruitful neither by household remedies, medications nor physicians, preparations were made to face death. Eulogies show different patterns for deaths of children and young women than for old persons. If someone died at the age of 75 years, the pastor pronounced it as a rightful old age. If a young woman was involved a pastor might have given her advice to fight for her life instead of wanting to die.
The beginning of the 18th century death and dying pulled away from church oriented thinking and turned secular. Consequently, the attendance at Leichenpredigten subsided in such a way that pastors had to remind their congregations to not neglect being present at burials. At the same time they also emphasized not to be too rambling with their tributes to the dead. Descriptions of death disappeared from the Leichenpredigt. Instead education, origin, occupation and career became more important topics to relate.
When Leichenpredigten went out of existence, the obituary in a newspaper took its place.
Following are some websites and names of libraries which hold eulogies for various areas of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen).
Bibliotheken in Niedersachsen enter Leichenpredigten in text box
Niedersächsische Landesbibliothek 17,000 Leichenpredigten
Herzog-August-Bibliothek 37,000 Leichenpredigten
Stadtbücherei Hannover 3,000 Leichenpredigten
Leichenpredigten des Stadtarchivs Braunschweig with 10 vol. of Leichenpredigten
Forschungsstelle für Personalschriften – Datenbanken