Versuch der gewaltsamen Rekatholisierung der Willibrordi-Kirche am 26. Juni 1628.


Versuch der gewaltsamen Rekatholisierung der Willibrordi-Kirche am 26. Juni 1628.

© Stadtarchiv Wesel

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Reformation in the 16th century and “religious refugees“

The Reformation in Westphalia and in today's Ruhr Region was a gradual process that began in the 16th century. However, the influx of "religious refugees" from neighbouring Catholic countries, such as southern Holland, meant that Westphalia also saw different groupings of Protestantism come into contact with one another, which was not always a smooth process. Thus, in addition to generally Protestant parishes, there were those that were specifically Calvinist or Lutheran in orientation, and which took time to get used to one another. First, Catholic churches began to be converted, but later also newly constructed Protestant churches were built, whose architecture reflects the principles of a Predigtkirche – a preacher’s church – that of the receding importance of the sacrament, in favour of the Word.

One example of a former Catholic church that converted to Protestant use is what is now known as the Unna parish church.
Unna officially converted to the Protestant faith in 1559, but the old forms continued to be adhered to, and the rich and grand interior decoration of the church did not change either.

Unna is not only an example of a church parish that converted to Protestantism but in the 1570s it also offered a sanctuary for numerous "religious refugees". Thanks to its easily accessible location on the Hellweg it began to both attract and give asylum to an increasing number of Calvinists fleeing the persecution of the Spanish Catholic rule in Holland. Initially, the economic advantages of the influx of refugees were welcomed. Yet, shortly after they attempted to grab some of the political power, Unna’s hospitality soon abated. Hostilities were not uncommon and it was only in 1817 that peace came to be established between the two denominations when Calvinists and Lutherans united as an evangelical parish.

Another example of such “hospitable towns” is Wesel. The so-called Geusen (French “gueux” = beggar) were insurgents from Flanders and today's Belgium who rose up against the Catholic rule in their homelands. In the 16th century they fled in their thousands into the Lower Rhine region to escape having to convert back to Catholicism. Wesel, having itself undergone conversion by 1540, welcomed the refugees with open arms. The Wesel Cathedral, planned in 1498, still in Catholic times, had just been completed and offered the refugees a new home.

In the beginning of the 17th century the practice of reusing of Catholic churches now gave way to construction of new Protestant church buildings.
In the small town of Alpen am Niederrhein stands the oldest reformed royal parish church in Germany. The church in Alpen was founded by the Electoral Princess Amalia von der Pfalz (1539-1602). In 1560 Amalia's father Graf Hermann von Neuenahr-Moers officially introduced Lutheran Reformation in Alpen. Shortly afterwards the Archbishop of Cologne also converted to Protestantism. This threatened to create a power imbalance within the Reich, prompting the Catholic powers to intervene. Subsequently Spain invaded Alpen and the citizens were compelled to revert to Catholicism. At the end of the 16th century, however, the Spanish would once again be expelled; the now widowed Electress returned, and reversed the counter-reformation.

Thus Amalia not only provided the impetus for the construction of the church – though she did not live to see its completion - but she also secured and consolidated the Protestant faith in her homeland.
The church in Alpen is a first from an art history perspective as well. In this predominantly late-gothic Westphalian architectural landscape the Electress initiated the construction of a hall church in an early-baroque style. From 1602-1604 a Wandpfeilerkirche (wall pier church) was built and was designed from the outset as a preacher’s church. The pulpit was in the middle of the nave; this made it easier for the preacher to be seen and heard from all around. The church was for the greater part destroyed in the town fire of 1716 and subsequently rebuilt with modifications. Today a superb Renaissance gravestone commemorates today the founder of this church.

The Lutherkirche in Kamen, built in 1742, also demonstrates architectural evidence of the denomination of the congregations worshipping here. This is another example of a hall church with a feature that is particular to Protestantism. It features a pulpit altar from the year 1650, where the altar and the pulpit together form an architectural unit. The early date of the altar indicates that it was originally made for a different church, and was moved here once the Lutherkirche was fully completed. The pulpit altar demonstrates clearly the equal status of preaching and holy communion to the Lutheran interpretation of church service.

Denkmale zum Impuls

Wesel - Willibrordi-Dom

Wesel mit seinem beeindruckenden Willibrordidom galt den Geusen, die im 16. Jahrhundert um des ... weiter


Unna - Evangelische Stadtkirche

Offiziell wendete Unna sich erst 1559 der Reformation zu. Erstmals wurden beim Osterfest ... weiter


Kamen - Lutherkirche

1714 wurde in Kamen die evangelische Luthergemeinde gegründet, eine zweite evangelische ... weiter


Alpen - Evangelische Kirche

Die evangelische Kirche in Alpen am Niederrhein markiert den Beginn des reformierten Kirchenbaus ... weiter


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