Diocese of Limburg
Kingdom of Prussia, suffragan of Freiburg, diocese dates from the end of the eighteenth century
I. HISTORY.—This diocese dates from the end of the eighteenth century. The city of Limburg then belonged to the Elector of Trier, but the northeastern part of the present diocese lay outside of any diocesan territory, having been under Protestant rulers since the Peace of Westphalia. It was administered in spiritual matters from Trier, through the ecclesiastical authorities at Coblenz. When the latter city fell into the hands of the French (1794), the administrator, Archdeacon Joseph Ludwig Beck, was given ecclesiastical jurisdiction over that part of the Diocese of Trier which lay on the right bank of the Rhine, the seat of his administration being Limburg. When, in 1801, the left bank of the Rhine came into the possession of the French, the three rural deaneries of the Archdiocese of Trier on the right bank still continued to exist, but in 1803 passed to the princes of Nassau-Weilburg, who allowed the vicariate-general at Limburg to continue, but diverted various ecclesiastical revenues and, in the city of Limburg, suppressed the collegiate chapter which had existed since the tenth century. In 1802 the last Archbishop of Trier, Klemens Wenceslaus, appointed Beck sole vicar-general for what remained of the archdiocese, and after the death of the archbishop (1812) Beck was confirmed in this position by the pope (1813). His ecclesiastical administration was carried on under the most difficult circumstances, in spite of which he did not fail to provide for a well-trained priesthood, and to encourage learning and virtue among his clergy. Upon his death (February 3, 1816), the primate, Dalberg, in his capacity as metropolitan and nearest bishop, appointed Hubert Anton Corden, pastor of Limburg, to be administrator and director of the vicariate (December 15, 1816). Pius VII appointed him, July 8, 1818, vicar Apostolic for the Archdiocese of Trier. Prussia did not recognize the new vicariate, and forbade Corden to administer the parishes which were under Prussian rule. A separate Diocese of Limburg was the only possible solution of the difficulty. Long negotiations, begun in 1818 at Frankfort-on-the-Main, were carried on between Rome and the Governments interested, with the result that the ecclesiastical Province of the Upper Rhine was established in 1821, and, as a part of it, the Diocese of Limburg. The Bull “Provida solersque”, establishing the new diocese, was issued August 16, 1821, but, on account of a dispute between the pope and the Governments concerned, the See of Limburg was not filled for five years. The first bishop was Jacob Brand, parish priest of Wieskirchen (b. January 29, 1776, at Mespellbrunn in Franconia), proposed by the Government, confirmed by the pope, and consecrated October 21, 1827.
The new diocese consisted of the fifty-seven parishes of the Duchy of Nassau that had formerly been under the Archbishop of Mainz and in 1821 had been placed, under the vicar Apostolic Corden, the freeimperial city of Frankfort-on-the-Main, fifty-one parishes of the former Archdiocese of Trier, and twenty-five parishes in which no episcopal jurisdiction had been exercised since the Peace of Westphalia. In 1828 the diocese was divided into fifteen deaneries. The former collegiate and parish church of St. George, at Limburg, which since the French Revolution had been in a dilapidated condition, became the cathedral. The endowment was, as Pius VIII himself expressed it, a “deplorable” one, and amounted only to 21,606 gulden for both the bishop and the entire cathedral chapter. This endowment was administered by the secular Government, as was also the Catholic central fund (Zentralkirchenfonds) for the diocese, over which the bishop had no control whatever. The position of the first bishop, little worthy of his rank, suffered from the ecclesiastical laws of Nassau in which he had too easily acquiesced before his appointment. In truth he was only a paid official dependent upon the nod of the Government, put in charge of the purely religious affairs of the Catholics of this territory. He issued a number of excellent ordinances during his brief term of office. Having himself been a teacher, he devoted special and enlightened care to the founding of an ecclesiastical seminary, which was opened in 1829 in a former Franciscan monastery granted for the purpose by the Government. He prepared the way for a special theological seminary, but did not live to see it established, dying in 1835. The second bishop, Johann Wilhelm Bausch (1835-40), was likewise unable to secure from the Government any appreciable measure of freedom. Any attempt to control the central diocesan fund brought upon him and the cathedral chapter a sharp rebuke.
In the appointment of the third bishop, Peter Joseph Blum (1842-84), the diocese gained a man who, aided by the changed conditions of the times, was able to carry on a successful contest for greater liberty in the administration of his see. He cared for the religious quickening of his diocese by the introduction and zealous fostering of general confession, of religious brotherhoods, and a Christian press, the dissemination of good books, and the practice of spiritual exercises, which he succeeded in establishing after some opposition from the Government. The year of the Revolution, 1848, brought to the Catholic Church some freedom from the system of state guardianship until then in force, and permitted for the first time the holding of popular missions, which the bishop introduced as early as 1850. In that year, also, he obtained possession of the former Franciscan monastery of Bornhofen, a much-frequented pilgrimage, and there founded a house of Redemptorists, in spite of government opposition. The first house of the Poor Handmaids of Christ was founded in 1850 at Dernbach; it gradually developed into a large motherhouse with numerous branches. In 1855 followed the house of the Brothers of Mercy at Montabaur; in 1862, the diocesan protectory at Marienstatt; in 1850, the hospital of the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul at Limburg, etc. Gradually the bishop replaced the old undenominational schools with Catholic schools which he obtained permission to establish. In 1851 a Catholic normal school was founded at Montabaur; in 1852 a college for boys was opened at Hadamar, and in 1872 another at Montabaur. From 1851 the bishop had an eight years’ struggle with the Government in regard to the filling of vacant parishes; it ended by the establishment in principle of the bishop’s right to independent administration of the diocese, and to the appointment and training of the clergy.
The political independence of the Duchy of Nassau and of the imperial free city of Frankfort-on-the-Main came to an end in the German war of 1866, after which both were incorporated in the Kingdom of Prussia. New religious houses, missions, and exercises were made possible by the introduction into the new territory of the same legal freedom of action as the Catholic Church then enjoyed in Prussia. These favorable circumstances did not last long. The Kulturkampf, beginning in 1872, destroyed at Limburg the greater part of what had been created by long years of work. Several institutions were closed by the expulsion of the Redemptorists, Jesuits, Poor Handmaids of Christ, the English Ladies, etc., while the Old-Catholic legislation transferred a number of Catholic churches to this new sect. By the Sperrgesetz, the clergy of Limburg found themselves deprived of salaries, while the bishop, after suffering fines and distraints for filling parishes without giving to the Government the newly prescribed notification, was, in 1876, expelled from office by the civil authority, and exiled. He administered his diocese, as well as possible, from Haid, in Bohemia, where Prince von Lowenstein generously granted him an asylum. It was not until 1883 that he was able to return to Limburg.
The spirit of Bishop Blum lived in his successors, Johann Christian Roos, who, after a short episcopate (1885-86), was raised to the archiepiscopal See of Freiburg, and Karl Klein (1886-98), dean of the cathedral chapter, appointed by the pope. Dr. Klein had been for many years the trusted vicar-general of Bishop Blum. During his episcopate the former Cistercian Abbey of Marienstatt was restored (1888) by Cistercians from Mehrerau, near Constance. The same bishop also founded a “Schola Gregoriana” to provide music for the cathedral, built a new seminary, and made zealous efforts to repair the damage caused by the Kulturkampf. He was succeeded by Dominikus Willi, first abbot of the new Marienstatt.
II. STATISTICS.—The Diocese of Limburg includes the Prussian civil district of Wiesbaden in the Province of Hesse-Nassau, with the exception of that part of the city of Frankfort-on-the-Main which belongs to the Diocese of Fulda and four towns in the Grand Duchy of Hesse. There are, taken altogether, 413,000 Catholic inhabitants. The diocese is divided into fifteen deaneries and the commissariat of Frankfort-on-the-Main (q.v.); it contains 210 parishes and cures of souls, 29 benefices, 38 endowed and 49 non-endowed chaplaincies, 48 other positions in the administration and the schools, and, at the close of 1909, there were 368 secular priests. The cathedral chapter consists of a dean, 5 canons, 1 honorary canon, and 2 cathedral vicars. The bishop is elected by the cathedral chapter from a number of candidates who must be approved by the ruler of Prussia; the members are appointed alternately by the bishop and the chapter itself. The institutions of the diocese are: ‘the theological seminary at Limburg, with 18 students; the colleges for boys at Hadamar and Montabaur, each having about 100 pupils; the St. Joseph school for boys at Marienhausen; the asylum for idiots at Aulhausen; the “Schola Gregoriana” and the diocesan museum at Limburg. The monasteries for men in the diocese are: the Cistercian Abbey of Marienstatt, originally founded in 1215, suppressed in 1803, reestablished in 1888, now (1910) numbering 32 fathers and 15 brothers; 3 Franciscan monasteries (Mariental, Bornhofen, and Kelkheim), with 17 fathers and 20 lay brothers; 1 Capuchin monastery at Frankfort-on-the-Main, 5 fathers and 3 brothers; the chief house of the Mission Society of the Pallottini at Limburg, 13 fathers, 57 scholastics, and 90 lay brothers; the chief house of the Brothers of Mercy at Montabaur and 5 other monastic houses, 105 professed brothers and 30 novices. The female orders and congregations in the diocese are: the Congregation of St. Vincent de Paul, 1 house, 12 sisters; the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, 1 motherhouse and 86 dependent houses, 940 sisters; the Association of the Sisters of Divine Providence of Mainz, 6 houses, 36 sisters; the Poor Sisters of St. Francis, 1 house, 21 sisters; the Sisters of the Christian Schools of Mercy, 3 houses, 27 sisters; Ursulines, 3 houses, 80 sisters; English Ladies, 2 houses, 48 sisters; Sisters of Charity of the Good Shepherd, 1 house, 32 sisters; Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, 2 houses, 8 sisters; the Pallottine Nuns, a motherhouse at Limburg, 65 sisters; the Benedictine Nuns, 1 abbey (St. Hildegard, at Eibingen), 30 sisters; Benedictine Nuns of the Perpetual Adoration, 1 house, 29 sisters; Alexian Nuns, 1 house, 7 sisters.
The diocese has about 35 societies for boys and young men; 18 journeymen’s unions; about 60 workmen’s unions; 10 merchants’ associations; 7 societies for servants; the Bonifatiusverein; a society for the support of priests; the St. Raphael Society; the Marian Society for the protection of girls, etc. There are 20 charitable institutions under religious administration (orphanages, working-girls’ homes, hospitals, etc.). The most important church of the diocese is the cathedral at Limburg. It is in the transition style between Romanesque and Gothic, and was built in the first third of the thirteenth century, consecrated in 1235, and completely restored 1871-78. The celebrated treasure of the cathedral, containing costly reliquaries of the Byzantine period, etc., is kept in the church of the Franciscans. Other churches of the diocese worthy of special notice are: the Kaiserdom of St. Bartholomew at Frankfort-on-the-Main, formerly a place of pilgrimage, and the church where the German emperors were crowned (see Frankfort-on-the-Main), the Romanesque church of the former monastery of Augustinian Canons at Dietkirchen near Limburg, the oldest church of the diocese (ninth century), the Gothic pilgrimage church of Bornhofen (fifteenth century); the church of Eltville (fourteenth century), the pilgrimage church of Kiedrich (early fourteenth century), Rudesheim (1391-1400), the pilgrimage church of St. Martin at Lorch (end of thirteenth century), the abbey churches of Marienstatt and Eibingen, and the Romanesque-Gothic Church of the former Premonstratensian monastery of Arnstein-onthe-Lahn, etc.