Silesia.—1. PRUSSIAN SILESIA.—Prussian Silesia, the largest province of Prussia, has an area of 15,557 square miles, and is traversed in its entire length by the River Oder. In 1905 the province had 4,942,612 inhabitants, of whom 2,765,394 were Catholics, 2,120,361 Lutherans, and 46,845 Jews; 72.3 per cent were Germans and nearly 25 per cent Poles. Agriculture is in a flourishing condition, 66 per cent of the area being under cultivation; the mining of iron, lead, and coal is largely carried on, and the manufacturing industry is considerable; among the articles manufactured are hardware, glass, china, linen, cotton, and woollen goods.
In the earliest period Silesia was inhabited by Germans, the tribes being the Lygii and the Silingii. When during the migrations these peoples emigrated about the year 400 towards the West, the territory was lost to the Germanic races, and for about eight hundred years the region was Slavonic. The sole memorial of the Silingii is the retention of the name Silesia; the Slays called Mount Zobten near Breslau “Slenz” (Silingis), and the Gau surrounding Mount Zobten they called Pagus Silensi or Slenzane, Slenza, Silesia. The region belonged politically at times to Poland and at times to Bohemia. Christianity came to it from Bohemia and Moravia. The apostles of these two countries, Cyril and Methodius (from 863), are indirectly also the apostles of Silesia. Until nearly the year 1000 Silesia had no bishop of its own. The right bank of the Oder belonged to the Diocese of Posen which was established in 968 and was suffragan of Magdeburg; the left bank belonged to the Diocese of Prague that was established in 973 and was suffragan of Mainz. The Emperor Otto III transferred the part on the left bank of the Oder to the Diocese of Meissen in 995. In 999 Silesia was conquered by the Poles. Duke Boleslaw Chrobry (the Brave) of Poland now founded the Diocese of Breslau; in the year 1000 this diocese was made suffragan of the new Archdiocese of Gnesen that was established by Otto III. In 1163, at the command of the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, Silesia was given dukes of its own who belonged to the family of the Piasts. With these rulers began the connection with Germany and German civilization. Lower Silesia was governed by Boleslaw the Long, the companion-in-arms of the emperor. His successor was Henry the Bearded (1201-38), the husband of St. Hedwig. From about 1210 Henry began to bring German colonists into his territory and to permit them to found German villages and cities. Bishop Laurence of Breslau followed his example in the district under the control of his see, the castellany of Ottmachau. The monasteries did much to aid the colonization and the Germanic tendencies, especially the Cistercians of the monastery of Leubus. These established no less than sixty-five new German villages and materially promoted agriculture and gardening, mechanical arts, mining, and navigation of the Oder. In the reign of Henry II (1238-41), the son of St. Hedwig, Silesia and its western civilization were threatened by the Tatars. Henry met them in battle at Wahlstatt near Liegnitz and there died the death of a hero; his courageous resistance forced the barbarians to withdraw. Consequently April 9, 1241, is one of the great days of Silesian history.
The German colonization was vigorously carried on and towards the end of the thirteenth century Lower Silesia was mainly German, while in Upper Silesia the Slays were in the majority. Among the contemporaries of St. Hedwig (d. 1243) were the Blessed Ceslaus and St. Hyacinth, both natives of Upper Silesia. They entered the Dominican Order in Italy and then became missionaries. Ceslaus labored in Breslau, where his order in 1226 obtained the Church of St. Adalbert; he died in 1242. Hyacinth, who among other labors also preached in Upper Silesia, died in 1257 at Cracow. A third native saint of Silesia was a relative of Hyacinth, Bronislawa, who became a Premonstratensian in 1217 and passed forty years in the practice of severe penances. Besides the monastery of Leubus the Cistercians had monasteries also at Kamenz (1248), Heinrichau (1228), Rauden (1252), Himmelwitz (1280), and Grussau (1292). The wealthiest convent was the Abbey of Trebnitz for Cistercian nuns founded by St. Hedwig who was buried there. Celebrated monasteries of the Augustinians were the one on the Sande at Breslau, which was founded at Gorkau about 1146 and was transferred to Breslau about 1148, and that at Sagan, established in 1217 at Naumburg on the Sober and transferred to Sagan in 1284. There were also a large number of houses belonging to the Premonstratensians, Franciscans, and orders of knights, as the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of the Cross, Knights Templar. Up to the middle of the fourteenth century forty-five monasteries for men and fourteen for women had been established. The ruling family, the Piasts, repeatedly divided their inheritance so that in the fourteenth century Silesia contained no less than eighteen principalities. This made it all the easier for the Bishop of Breslau as Prince of Neisse and Duke of Grottkau to become the most important of the ruling princes. Silesia came under the suzerainty of the kings of Bohemia in 1327-29. As Bohemia was controlled by Germany the change was more favorable for colonization than if it had fallen to Poland. Silesia suffered terribly during the Hussite Wars (1420-37). The Hussites repeatedly undertook marauding expeditions, and hardly any city except Breslau escaped the havoc they wrought. About forty cities were laid in ashes. The clergy were burnt or put to death in other ways; the nobility grew poor; the peasants became serfs; the fields lay uncultivated; the “golden” Diocese of Breslau became a diocese of “filth”. In 1469 Silesia came under the suzerainty of Hungary. However, as in 1526 Hungary, with Silesia, and Bohemia became at the same time possessions of the Habsburgs, from this time the province was once more regarded as a dependency of Bohemia.
The Reformation made rapid progress in Silesia. For the causes of this see Prince-Bishopric of Breslau. In the same article also the course of the Reformation and that of the counter-Reformation are fully treated. A large share of the credit for the restoration and firm establishment of Catholicism is due to the Jesuits, who during the years 1622-98 established in Silesia nine large colleges, each with a gymnasium, four residences, and two missions, and brought under their control all the higher schools of the country. This control endured, as Frederick the Great continued his protection of the Jesuits, even after the suppression of the order, up to 1800. In the seventeenth century Silesia obtained great renown through the two Silesian schools of poetry, the chief of these poets being Martin Opitz, Friedrich von Logau, and Andreas Gryphius. In 1702 the Jesuit college at Breslau was changed into the Leopoldine University (see University of Breslau). At the close of the three Silesian wars (1740-2, 1744-5, 1756-63) the greater part of Silesia belonged to Prussia. By this change Catholicism lost the privileged position which it had regained in the counter-Reformation, even though Frederick the Great did not impair the possessions of the Church, as happened later (1810-40). In 1815 the Congress of Vienna enlarged Silesia by the addition of about half of Lausitz (Lusatia). During the decade of the forties the sect of “German Catholics” developed from Silesia as the starting point; this sect was founded at Laurahiitte in Upper Silesia by the ex-chaplain, John Ronge. Finally a brief mention should here be made of the enormous economic development of the province in the last fifty years, especially in the mining of coal, the mining and working of metals, and the manufacture of chemicals and machines. In Upper Silesia especially manufactures have advanced with American rapidity. Ecclesiastically the entire province belongs to the Prince Bishopric of Breslau with the following exceptions: the commissariat of Katscher, which consists of the Archipresbyterates of Katscher, Hultschin, and Leobschutz with 44 parishes and 130,944 Catholics, and belongs to the Archdiocese of Olmutz; the county of Glatz, which has 51 parishes and 146,673 Catholics, and belongs to the Archdiocese of Prague.
AUSTRIAN SILESIA.—Austrian Silesia is that part of Silesia which remained an Austrian possession after 1763. It is a crown land with an area of 1987 square miles and a population of 727,000 persons. Of its population 84.73 per cent are Catholics; 14 per cent are Protestants; 44.69 per cent are Germans; 33.31 per cent Poles; 22.05 per cent Czechs. As in Prussian Silesia, agriculture, mining, and manufactures are in a very flourishing condition. The districts of Teschen and Neisse belong to the Prince Bishopric of Breslau, those of Troppau and Jagerndorf to the Archdiocese of Olmutz.