Germany Church History
Effective research in church records requires some understanding of your ancestor's religion and of the events that led to the creation of church records.
The Roman Catholic faith was accepted in parts of Germany from the fifth century after Christ onward. In the 1200s, German Crusaders, called the Teutonic Knights, conquered pagan Preußen and converted it to Catholicism. Catholicism remained the predominant faith of Germany until the 1500s, when the Reformation movements of Martin Luther and the Swiss religious reformers began to take hold.
There was much conflict between Catholics and Protestants. In the 1550s, the Catholic Church began a counter reformation movement. The Thirty Years' War, which swept across central Europe from 1618 to 1648, had its origins in religious conflicts between rulers of parts of Germany and Austria.
After the war, the Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed churches were the only recognized state churches. Smaller religious groups, such as Jews, Mennonites, and Huguenots, were still persecuted by the Protestant and Catholic churches.
Roman Catholics have remained more predominant in southern Germany than in northern Germany.
Evangelical (Lutheran) and Evangelical Reformed
Beginning in the 1500s, many Germans accepted Luther's teachings. The Evangelical, or Lutheran, Church was formally established by 1531. Despite persecution by both the Catholic Church and some governments, the Lutheran Church spread throughout Germany and became a prominent religion. Lutherans are more predominant in northern Germany than in southern Germany.
Protestants who accepted the creed of the Swiss Calvinist reformers became members of the Evangelical Reformed Church. This group was strong in some areas of Germany, especially in the Pfalz, Baden, Hessen, and near the Dutch border, but it had far fewer followers than the Lutherans.
Other Christian Groups
- Anabaptists (Mennonites), Huguenots (French Protestants), Waldensians, Moravians, Dunkards, Separatists, and other groups have existed in Germany since the 1500s.
For more information about the history of the Mennonites and Huguenots, see the following sources:
- Horsch, John. Mennonites in Europe. Second Edition. Scottdale, Pennsylvania, USA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1971. (FHL book 940 K21h.)
- Tylor, Charles. The Huguenots in the Seventeenth Century. London, England: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent, 1892. Microfilmed by Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Genealogical Society of Utah,1983. (FHL film 1,231,509 item 13.)
- Weiss, M. Charles. History of the French Protestant Refugees. New York, New York, USA: Stringer and Townsend 1854. (FHL book 940 W2w.)
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