Leipzig, chief town in the Kingdom of Saxony, situated at the junction of the Pleisse, Parthe, and Weisse Elster. In 1905 it contained 503,672 inhabitants, of whom 22,864 were Catholics; the population today numbers about 545,000. The meaning of word Leipzig, which is probably of Slavonic origin, is still uncertain. The latest investigations have proved beyond doubt that the region about Leipzig was originally occupied by the Teutons. With the migration of the nations, the Slays settled there, but in the ninth century, the Germans succeeded in reestablishing themselves. In 922 King Henry I conquered the Daleminzians, and laid out the fortified town of Meissen. Other strongholds were subsequently founded in the vicinity. The first mention of Leipzig is to be found in the chronicle of Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg (1009-18). Another German colony grew up beside this stronghold, to which Margrave Otto of Meissen gave a charter (about 1160), the so-called Stadtbrief of Leipzig. According to this charter Leipzig was given the Magdeburg code of laws, and at the same time an important plan of extension was decided upon.
The expansion of the German people was followed everywhere by the growth of Christianity. Leipzig belonged to the Diocese of Merseburg. The oldest church was Peterskapelle, the larger Nikolaikirche was built later. Of this, parts are still extant in the present church of that name. The Thomaskloster, the first monastery, was founded in the reign of Margrave Dietrich (1197-1221); both the Nikolaikirche and the Peterskapelle were made subordinate to this monastery, which was governed by the Augustinian Canons. By purchase and through foundations the monastery, whose prior was freely elected by the friars, gradually became possessed of considerable real estate and valuable tithes. A school, the oldest in Saxony, was soon founded in connection with the monastery. Three other convents were founded in the town after the Thomaskloster; first that of the Cistercian Sisters mentioned between 1220 and 1230, which found a great benefactor in Margrave Heinrich (1230-88); then the monastery of the Dominican fathers, founded about 1229 and consecrated in 1240 in the presence of the Archbishop of Magdeburg and the bishops of Merseburg, Naumburg, and Meissen; and lastly the monastery of the Franciscans, which existed at least as early as 1253. Including these four convent churches, Leipzig thus possessed six churches in the Middle Ages; to these were added the Katharinenkapelle (1240), the Marienkapelle (about 1262), and the chapels belonging to the town hall and the castle (fifteenth century). The oldest hospital in the town was that founded together and in connection with the Thomaskloster in 1213; its management was transferred from the convent to the town in 1439. St. John’s hospital, erected at the end of the thirteenth century, was originally devoted to the care of lepers.
From the latter part of the twelfth century Leipzig was looked upon as the most important military station between the Saale and the Mulde. The Messen or annual fairs added greatly to the prosperity of the town; at first they were held in the Spring (Jubilatemesse) and Autumn (Michaelismesse), but after 1458 they were also held at Christmas or the New Year. In 1419 Leipzig obtained from Pope Martin V privileges on account of her fair, and received in 1515 a papal market privilege. The fame and importance of the city was greatly increased by still another event, namely the foundation of the university in 1449 by the students and professors who had seceded from Prague on account of the tyrannical actions of the Czech-Hussite faction. The foundation was confirmed by Pope Alexander V in 1409. Towards the latter part of the Middle Ages the state of the Church had changed for the worse. The convents were becoming more worldly; in 1445 the Bishop of Merseburg found it necessary to attempt a reform of the Thomaskloster, but met with no success. The remedial measures tried by Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa in 1451 brought about no permanent improvement. The preaching activity of St. John Capistran in 1455 was more successful, at least among members of his own order (the Franciscans), but the Cistercian Sisters in Leipzig did everything in their power to impede a reform. Later on there was a division in both the Dominican and Franciscan orders, which led to mutual opposition, some contending for a more rigorous and some for a laxer interpretation of the rule. The relations between the town council and the townspeople on the one side and the clerics, more particularly the regulars, on the other, became strained in the fifteenth century. The situation was further aggravated by the quarrel between the secular clergy and the monasteries. Small wonder, therefore, that Luther’s reform movement soon found adherents in Leipzig.
Another connection which the city had with the new movement was that Tetzel was a citizen and also that Luther’s Theses of 1517 were printed there. The celebrated Disputation between Luther and Karlstadt on one side and Eck on the other also took place in Leipzig; this was held under the most brilliant auspices, and lasted from June 27 until July 15, 1519. Although both sides claimed the victory, Luther’s adherents increased so greatly that neither the Bishop of Meissen nor the university dared announce in Leipzig before 1521 the Bull of excommunication against Luther, which Eck had brought from Rome. Among the many scholars of the town who energetically opposed the new movement by word and writing, particular mention must be made of the Dominican Petrus Sylvius, Professor Dungersheim of the university, the Franciscan Augustin Alfeld, Hieronymus Emser, and later Cochlseus. The Reformation made no headway in Saxony and Leipzig as long as Duke George lived; he even commanded four hundred adherents of the new teaching to leave the town in 1552, and forbade the people of Leipzig to attend the University of Wittenberg. After his death in 1539 the Reformation was introduced, and in 1543 all the convents were suppressed, their lands sold, the buildings mostly torn down, and Catholic public worship abolished. Besides the Disputation, there is another important event of the Reformation period connected with the town of Leipzig: the so-called Leipzig Interim (see Interims).
In connection with the political history of the town there are many events which deserve special mention. The town suffered greatly during the Thirty Years War. In 1631 Tilly appeared before it with his army and captured it, but was defeated at Breitenfeld by Gustavus Adolphus on September 17. Leipzig was-besieged seven times and was captured six; from 1642 until 1650 it was in the possession of the Swedes; in 1706 it had to pay heavy tribute to Charles XII. Even more oppressive were the burdens of war imposed on the town by the Prussians during the Second Silesian War in 1745 and during the Seven Years War. In consequence its trade and industries were ruined for years. In the Napoleonic Wars Leipzig was occupied by the French Marshal Davoust in 1806 after the battle of Jena and Auerstadt; in 1809 it was pillaged by the Duke of Brunswick; and it was only after the battle of Leipzig (16-October 18, 1813) that the town was freed from heavy taxation and oppression. Half a million men fought in this mammoth battle, by which Germany was liberated from Napoleon’s yoke. After Saxony‘s accession to the German Customs’ Union in the year 1834, the town received a new impetus. While in 1834 it only numbered 45,000 inhabitants, it had 107,000 in 1871, 149,000 in 1880, 455,000 in 1900, and at the present time (1910) has 545,000.
After the Reformation was accomplished, Catholicism became wholly extinct; at least there is no mention of any Catholic parish until about 1710. Only during the time of the fair Franciscans came from Halberstadt to Leipzig to say Mass. No mention is made of where the services were held. In 1710 the Catholics received permission to celebrate Mass openly, and Elector Frederick Augustus I, who became a Catholic in order to be King of Poland, gave up the chapel of the Pleissenburg to them, where on June 3, 1710, Mass was again said. The parish was in charge of the Jesuits, at first two fathers, but after 1743 there were three. As chaplains of the elector, or king, they received from the court in Dresden their salaries and rent allowance. The Catholic school also found a place in the Pleissenburg. When in 1738 the chapel became too small for the faithful, the elector gave funds to replace it by a larger one. The fathers did not confine their activity to Leipzig alone, but extended it as far as Merseburg, Chemnitz, Naumburg, Wittenberg etc.; and from 1749 they were also entrusted with the spiritual care of the prisoners. After the suppression of the Society of Jesus, the fathers remained as secular priests. The priests, who subsequently labored in Leipzig, came for the most part from Austria, particularly Bohemia. When in the nineteenth century the chapel of the Pleissenburg became dilapidated, and had to be given up, the town council placed the Matthaikirche at certain hours at the disposal of the Catholics. The necessary means for the building of a new church had been partly collected by the zealous efforts of the chief pastor of the Saxon Catholics in those days, Bishop and Apostolic Vicar Franz Laurens Mauermann. In 1845 the foundation stone of the first Catholic church was laid, and in 1847 it was consecrated by the new bishop, Joseph Dittrich. As the town developed, the Catholic congregation also grew; their esteemed pastor Franz Stolle built the rectory in 1871, founded the Societies of St. Vincent and St. Elizabeth with their homes, the reading association, etc. In 1892 the cornerstone of the second Catholic church was laid in Leipzig-Reudnitz; in 1907 the Marienkirche in Leipzig-Plagwitz-Lindenau, and in 1888 a new large Catholic school was built, in addition to which chapels and schools have been established in the newly incorporated suburbs.
At the present time Leipzig has three Catholic parish churches and two chapels; a Stammschule comprising a public school and a high school; three branch’ schools; three institutions belonging to the Grey Sisters of St. Elizabeth, who have charge of St. Vincent’s establishment (institution for the care of the sick, boarding school, and public kitchen), St. Joseph‘s Home (institution for the care of the sick and surgical clinic), and St. Elizabeth‘s Home (home for single persons and servants). Among the well developed Catholic institutions worthy of mention are the Society of St. Vincent and also of St. Elizabeth, the Apprentices’ Club, the Club for Catholic Business Men, the Association of Catholic Teachers, two students’ corporations, the Workingmen’s Guild, the Marienverein, the Catholic Casino, the Borromean Society, and others.