Category Archives: German History

Today in Catholic History – The Completion of the Cologne Cathedral

On 14 August 1880, the Cologne Cathedral, the Hohe Domkirche St. Peter und Maria, was finally completed. Construction on the cathedral had begun in 1248, 632 years earlier.

There had been an older cathedral dating back to the 6th century on the site, but this had been torn down in the 9th century to construct a second cathedral. The second cathedral burned down on 30 April 1248.

When construction on the third cathedral began on 15 August 1248, it was intended to house the relics of the Three Kings which had been obtained by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. For the next several centuries work on the cathedral was completed bit by bit – first the eastern arm of the cathedral in 1322. The south tower was completed in 1473. Intermittent work continued until the 16th century before ceasing only to be renewed during the 19th century as a result of the Romantic movements attraction to all things medieval. The renewed construction had the support of the Protestant Prussian government who hoped that such assistance would improve relations with its Roman Catholic subjects.

When the cathedral was completed, it inspired a national celebration attended by Emperor Wilhelm I.

During WWII, the cathedral suffered bombing attacks but was not destroyed. Some accounts assert that the twin towers of the cathedral were used by Allied bombers as landmark for guiding their bombing missions.

The cathedral continues to be famous as an example of Gothic architecture and is a World Heritage site.

The Website of the Cathedral


Today in Catholic History – The End of the Holy Roman Empire

On 6 August 1806, the Emperor Francis II abdicated ending the Holy Roman Empire which had existed from the time of Otto I in 962.

After Napoleon’s defeat of the Austrian armies at the battles of Ulm and Austerlitz in 1805, Francis II was forced to sign the Treaty of Pressburg on 26 December 1805. This treaty required the Francis to cede much of his German territory, including Bavaria and Wurtemberg, to Napoleon and his allies. Napoleon would use this territory to form his Confederation of the Rhine.

While Francis II held the title of Holy Roman Empire, this empire was really understood as the German Empire and as a later letter from Napoleon to the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire noted, now that Bavaria and Wurtemburg as well as other fourteen other German states belonged to the Confederation of the Rhine, it was inappropriate to speak of the continued existence of a unified Holy Roman Empire. The end of the Empire did not cause much of a stir in Europe, Goethe noted that news of it concerned him less than an argument involving his coachman. Indeed, the decline of the Holy Roman Empire had been taking place for quite some time.

With his abdication, Francis II Holy Roman Emperor became Francis I Emperor of Austria.

Today in Catholic History – The Peace of Passau

On 2 August 1552, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V granted religious freedom to his Lutheran subjects – ending thirty years of civil war in his domain.

While Charles V had hoped to unify the Holy Roman Empire under the Catholic faith, he was unable to overcome the strength of the German Protestant alliance with the Kingdom of France. Therefore, he chose to grant religious freedom to his Lutheran subjects and bring an end to the Thirty Years War. These freedoms would be confirmed at the Peace of Augsburg in September 1555.

The Peace of Passau and later Peace of Augsburg would only grant religious freedom to Catholics and Lutherans in the Holy Roman Empire, as Calvinism spreads into the Empire and replaces Lutheranism as the dominant Protestant faith religious conflict will again erupt.

Today in Catholic History – The Battle of Bouvines

On 27 July 1214, the forces of Otto IV of the Holy Roman Empire, King John I of of England, and Count Ferrand of Flanders were defeated by the forces of Philip II Augustus of France at the Battle of Bouvines.

Otto IV had come into conflict with Pope Innocent III over whether the right of conferring the crown of the Holy Roman Empire belonged to the pope alone. Innocent III claimed that the pope had the authority to decide whether a candidate chosen by the German princes to become Emperor was worthy of that dignity. While Innocent had initially supported Otto, they became opponents in 1210 after Otto decided to restore Imperial power in Italy. Innocent was greatly upset at this, believing that a Holy Roman Empire with the addition of Italian territories would be a threat to the Papal States. Innocent would excommunicate Otto and give his support to Frederick II Hohenstaufen as a rival claimant to the title of Holy Roman Emperor.

While the forces of John I and Otto IV [25,000] outnumbered those of Philip II [15,000], the French forces were more experienced – having fought in the Crusades. the three hour battle saw around 2,000 casualties and about 9,000 captured. Philip II was nearly killed in the battle after being de-horsed several times.

After the Battle of Bouvines, Otto IV would be forced to resign and Frederick II would become the new emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. John I would also be forced to sign the Magna Carta by his nobles.

Today in Catholic History – The Foundation of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration

On 20 July 1863, Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel established the congregation of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Olpe, Germany.

This Third Order congregation sought to connect Mother Maria’s devotion to St. Francis of Assisi and Eucharistic Adoration with a real need to provide education to orphans and homeless children and to minister to the sick and wounded. Her motto was “He leads, I follow.”

In 1875, six of the sisters will emigrate to Lafayette, Indiana in response to the persecutions of the German Kulturkampf. In 1876, they will establish St. Elizabeth’s hospital. In 1886, the community will be divided into German and American provinces – the American province would later be divided into Eastern and Western provinces. A province in the Philippines has also been established.

When Mother Maria died on 6 February 1905, there were more than 1,500 sisters in her congregation.

Today, the sisters continue to minister in health care and education.

On 20 March 2010, Pope Benedict XVI declared Mother Maria Venerable.

Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration

Today in Catholic History – The Formation of the Catholic League

On 10 July 1609, a coalition of Roman Catholic states in the Holy Roman Empire gathered together to oppose the Protestant Union which had formed in 1608.

The purpose of the Catholic League, under the leadership of Maximilian I of Bavaria, was to defend Catholic interests in the Empire which seemed pressing particularly after a conflict at the city of Donauwörth in Bavaria on 25 April 1606. The Lutheran majority in Donauwörth forbade a St. Mark procession involving the waving of flags and singing hymns from passing through the town even though this was to be permitted according to the terms of the Peace of Augsburg. This was followed by other anti-Catholic incidents in the Empire.

While the purpose of the League was intended to “promote peace” by being a counter-force to the earlier formed Protestant Union, the establishment of large military forces under the leadership of opposing Catholic and Protestant leadership in fact made war between the two sides more likely. This will be especially seen in the eventual outbreak of the Thirty Years War in 1618 which saw significant fighting between Protestants and Catholics.

Indeed the Thirty Years’ War will bring about the end of the Catholic League as the peace terms will prohibit such inter-state agreements and alliances within the Holy Roman Empire. Only direct alliances between states and the Emperor will be permitted.

Today in Catholic History – Pope Leo X issues the bull Exsurge Domine against Martin Luther

On 15 June 1520, Pope Leo X issued his bull Exsurge Domine, or Arise, O Lord, ordering Martin Luther to reject 41 errors or face excommunication. Leo X called for the public burning of any of Luther’s works containing these errors.*

Pope Leo X assigned the responsibility for publishing and distributing the bull in the Holy Roman Empire to Johan Eck. Eck was an adamant foe of Luther as well as the growing humanist movement in Germany. His presence combined with that of the harsh condemnations of Exsurge Domine caused much conflict in the Holy Roman Empire as both bishops and universities united against him. He was unable to publish the bull in several cities and indeed from a few was forced to flee for his life.

Martin Luther’s response to the bull of Leo X was to burn a copy of it along with several volumes of Canon Law, reportedly saying – “Because you have confounded the truth [or, the saints] of God, today the Lord confounds you. Into the fire with you!” On 3 January 1521, Leo X will excommunicate Luther with the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem. The bull which Leo X intended to bring Luther back into union with the Catholic Church instead to drove him further away.

The bull Exsurge Domine in English
An image of the Vatican’s copy of this bull

*Historian Hans J. Hillerbrand has questioned whether the bull accurately presented the ideas of Luther in these condemnations. Moreover, Jimmy Akin has shown the degree of difficulty in ascertaining how serious the condemnation in particular regards to any one of these 41 reputed errors.

Today in Catholic History – Frederick I drowns while on the Third Crusade

On 10 June 1190, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa drowned in the Saleph [also known as the Calycadnus] River near Antioch. Some accounts claim that he drowned while bathing. Other accounts state that after Frederick fell from his horse while crossing the river, his head hit some rocks and drowned.

Frederick, along with French king Philip Augustus and English King Richard the Lionheart was leading the armies of the Third Crusade in the hopes of re-capturing the city of Jerusalem from the Muslims and their leader Saladin. But with his death, the soldiers of the Third Crusade fell into chaos as rivalries between Philip Augustus and Richard the Lionheart split the Crusaders apart. Much of the army of Frederick I would return to Germany. Unable to preserve the body of Frederick I in vinegar, his son Frederick V of Swabia will have the body boiled to remove the flesh of of Frederick Barbarosa from his bones. This was a typical treatment of fallen Crusaders as it was easier to transport just the bones of a dead Crusader rather than the entire body. However, this practice will eventually be condemned by the Pope Boniface VIII in 1300. While Frederick V hoped to bury the bones of his father in Jerusalem, he will be unable to do so and instead the bones will be buried in the city of Tyre.

Richard the Lionheart and his soldiers would later attempt to retake Jerusalem, but fail. This failure would lead to a call for a fourth crusade a few years later.

One account of the death of Frederick I

Today in Catholic History – Maximillian Kolbe arrives in Auschwitz

On 28 May 1941, Maximillian Kolbe arrived at the Auschwitz concentration camp as prisoner #16670.

In July of 1941, in response to the disappearance of a prisoner from Kolbe’s barracks, the camp officials sentenced ten men to death by starvation in order to prevent further escape attempts – though the man who had disappeared was later found drowned in the latrine. One of the ten men selected, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out ‘My wife! My children!’ upon his selection and Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

Kolbe spent his time in his cell as he endured starvation in songs and prayer. After three weeks without water and food, Kolbe was the last of the ten men still alive. He was executed by an injection of carbolic acid on 14 August 1941.

An audio account of Kolbe’s death in Auschwitz by a fellow prisoner
courtesy of The SaintCast

#233 – Operation Mincemeat

In 1942, the British needed someone special to help ensure the success of the Allied invasion of Sicily. Major Martin was that person – he was dead and he was Catholic.

More on Operation Mincemeat
BBC History Magazine Podcast talked about Operation Mincemeat in October 2008

SaintCast on Fr. Maximilian Kolbe

CNMC Boston

Photo from cosas de huelva

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podcasticon#233 – Operation Mincemeat