The Reformation in Feuchtwangen

A.) The Setting

In the early 16th century, Feuchtwangen was what in German is referred to as an Ackerbürgerstadt - a town where agriculture contributed significantly to the income of the burghers, in addition to their trades as craftsmen. Feuchtwangen had the status of a city (Stadtrecht), but was, at best, of secondary importance. It formed part of the County of Ansbach, in Franconia (modern Bavaria). The following text is based on Friedrich Jacobi, Geschichte der Stadt Feuchtwangen (History of Feuchtwangen), first published in 1833. The original text has been Posted by Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Heimatgeschichte Feuchtwangen

Inside the city walls the STIFT FEUCHTWANGEN was located, a monastery which used to be subject to the Bishop of Augsburg; the sovereignty over it had been transferred by the latter to the Count of Ansbach, in order to settle an unpaid debt. In the course of the late 15th and early 16th century the monastery had been mismanaged; in addition, the canons were better known for their conflict over the allocation of monastery property, than for their spirituality. In 1504, in the streets of Feuchtwangen the following line was sung : es thue kein gut, man schlage denn die Pfaffen todt (it is of no use, unless one kills the priests), indicating how low the reputation of the priesthood had sunk.

B.) The Call for Change, 1517-1527

The publication of MARTIN LUTHER's 95 Theses in 1517 immediately found a resonance in the Counties of Ansbach and Bayreuth (which were united in dynastic union). Martin Helfer, teacher in Hof, resigned from his post to study in Wittenberg (1517); he then returned, inspirited by the zeal of Lutheran reformation. Preachers in Kulmbach, Bayreuth, Nürnberg, Ansbach equally emphasized the scripture, the original values of the church. In 1522 JOHANN VON WALD was hired as preacher in Feuchtwangen, where he advocated Lutheran thought. When the twin towers of the Stift church suddenly collapsed, he declared this to be a sign from heaven, announcing that the monastery was predestined to fall soon. Von Wald, a monk, declared no longer to be member of a religious order, and he married.
The government, however, had not yet declared herself in favour of the reformation. On a 1524 county diet the representatives of the city argued in favour of the reformation; the Stift, however, had petitioned the government to suppress pro-reformation agitation in the city. The count, on Oct. 31st, ordered that sermons should purely follow the gospel, and no novelties should be introduced without further decision by the count, thus a decision in favour of Catholic creed. The Stift succeeded in having Johann vom Wald removed for having violated the celibacy. The city accepted the count's decision, but claimed that the canons of the stift were in no position to complain in this instance. Von Wald was succeeded by JOHANNES VON LANGER, who equally was removed at the request of the Stift.
Meanwhile the GERMAN PEASANTS WAR affected Feuchtwangen and the county of Ansbach. When reports arrived of dissatisfied peasants assembling nearby, the Stift canons fled the city (toward Augsburg); only one of them remained behind, GEORG VOGTHER. He was entrusted for the time being with the administration of St. John's parish. He was a devoted supporter of Lutheran thought. Once the canons had left the city, he introduced changes; he held the mass in German, gave out the communion in both kinds, abolished the confession. He called on the parishioners to do penance, to participate in the communion and to be obedient to the authorities. The fact that the burghers did not respond to the call of the peasants to join in their struggle is largely to be credited to him.
Then Count Casimir ordered that men from the county should be recruited to serve in a force with which he hoped to defeat the rebelling peasants. The peasants of the County of Ansbach, who had shown their goodwill toward the count by having remained neutral so far, did not want to take up arms against their fellow peasants, and if war was to come, would rather join them. The city of Feuchtwangen refused to give quarter to the count's troops.
The peasants were defeated in three separate battles; the count fined the city; all city council members who had voted against giving quarter to the count's troops had to be replaced. An Edict of August 31st 1525 blamed the rebellion on uneducated, unskilled preachers, and contained regulations for sermons. Protestant preachers, among them Vogther, who had recently married, were ousted. Some of the canons returned. The church ordinnance of 1526 for the County of Ansbach was strictly Catholic, insisted on celibacy, the confession and on keeping the fast. When these measures were announced, many burghers left the church. The new city priest, Hans Bayer, left the city on his own accord soon after he was given the post. His successors, Erhard Scheurer and Hans Neuhäser, found, that as Catholic priests they experienced such an animosity on the side of the community, that they left soon after; another candidate, Veit Sessler, did not even show up.

B.) The Reformation

Meanwhile, Count Casimir of Ansbach-Bayreuth had died on an expedition in Hungary. His co-regent and successor, Count Georg, was favourably inclined toward the reformation; the articles of the 1526 church ordinnance opposing the reformation were rescinded; the county diet of 1528 introduced visitations. The Stift canons meanwhile had experienced an almost empty Stift church; they were ordered to again appoint Georg Vogther as preacher (1528). Thus the Lutheran reformation had finally been introduced to Feuchtwangen. The County of Ansbach established a church organization of her own; the Catholic diocesis of Augsburg was no longer responsible for Feuchtwangen.


This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 17th 2003, last revised on November 15th 2004

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