When the Grand Union of the Order of Saint Augustine took place in 1256, it instantly created a sizeable German Province within the Order because a number of the constituent groups participating in the Grand Union already had religious communities in Germanic lands.
For example the Augustinian hermits of Tuscany (established at the Little Union in 1244) and the Gianboniti (participants in the Grand Union of 1256) had a number of houses north of the Alps. There were also the houses of the Williamites in German and Hungarian territory involved in 1256, most of which stayed with the Order of Saint Augustine when the Williamites in Italy withdrew and successfully reclaimed their previous independent identity in 1266. Because the first Augustinian Provincial in Germany, Guido Salanus O.S.A., was not willing to let the fruits of his hard labor slide from his rightful ownership, when the priors of the former Williamite houses of Schenthal and Seemannshausen tried to return to the Williamite fold, he resisted them with all his energy. The case was brought before Leo Thundorfer, Bishop of Ratisbon, who decided in favor of Guido; but the two priors abided by his decision only when he called in the local priors of the Dominicans and Franciscans to testify that they had not acted on their own free will but ceded only to higher authority.
Image (above): The Augustinian friary at Wittenberg. The central tower contained a study where Martin Luther claimed that his theological breakthrough (his Turmerlebenis, or “tower experience”) happened. On the right side of the base of the tower is the Katherinenportal (the “Katherine door’) that Luther’s wife arranged to have inserted there. Luther lived here in his final years as an Augustinian friar, and continued afterwards to live here with his wife and children. It is now called the “Luther House,” and is part of a series of Lutheriana that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.The General of the Williamites appealed the case to Rome and after many negotiations Stephen of Hungary, cardinal protector of the Williamites, decided (according to the intentions of Richard Annibaldi, the Cardinal Protector of the Augustinians) that all houses of the Williamites should return to their former status with the exception of those in the kingdom of Germany and Hungary, but even here Ports Coeli in Weissenborn (Thuringia) and Mariakron near Tiibingen should remain in their possession.
The Augustinians in Weissenborn would not believe this document and refused to leave, until forced to do so under threat of excommunication. When the smoke of battle had lifted, the Augustinians found themselves in the possession of Pivonia (Stockau) and Insula Marie in Bohemia, Lixtin in the diocese of Kamen, Mindelheim in the Diocese of Augsburg, Seemannshausen and Schonthal in the Diocese of Regensburg and some other places.
hese other ex-Williamite houses included those at Tubingen, Mindelheim and Schonthal in Bavaria, Lippene in Brandenburg, Marienpforte near Kreuznach, Weifsenborn west of Erfurt, Oberried in the Black Forest and houses in or near Stockau (Johannistal) and Ostrov in the diocese of Prague. There were also houses at Volkermarkt (Austria), Marienthal in the diocese of Minster (founded before 1256) and the following houses in what is now the Netherlands and Belgium: Leuven (1236), Mechelen (1242), Bruges (1250) and Maastricht (1254) and Engheim (1254-56). In what is now Switzerland there was a house in Freiburg before 1255.
In the years following the Grand Union of 1256, the first German Provincial and his successors promoted expansion, mainly but not exclusively to the west: Mainz (1260), Worms (1264), Cologne (1264), Speyer (about 1265) and Nurnberg (by 1265) and Erfurt (1265). The Order was in Regensburg before 1267. To the south new houses were founded, amongst others, in Constance (1260), Zurich (1270), Bern (1287) and Munich (1294), which was to become a key house in the later history of the Order.
Photos (at right)Picture 1: Augustinian profession ceremony, Germany. Picture 2: The Prior General and some German Augustinians. Picture 3: Augustinian convento at Weiden, Germany.
In the Netherlands new houses were founded in Ypres (1265), Dordrecht (about 1293), and Ghent in Flanders (1295), which was to become the most important of the houses in the region. By the end of the thirteenth century, thanks to a combination of strong Episcopal support and energetic activity by the Augustinians themselves, there were over eighty male houses in the German provinces of the Order. It is certain that Germany had four provinces in 1299: Bavaria including Bohemia, Austria, Croatia, Poland and further east), Saxony-Thuringia (including north Germany), Rheno-Swabia (including the German-speaking Swiss cantons and Alsace) and Cologne (including the present-day Belgium and Holland).
This Germanic expansion of the Order continued throughout the fourteenth century, which was the golden age of the Order in Germany and surrounding nations. New houses were founded in all German provinces, but most spectacularly in the east. In Hungary, where there were six houses in 1300, there were over twenty a century later. (See the Augnet page on Hungary.) By the time Martin Luther was expelled from the Order of Saint Augustine in 1524, the Order had many houses in Germany, distributed among four separate Augustinian provinces. They were affected by the consequences of Reformation. Firstly, a small number of German Augustinian houses closed as their members left the Catholic Church. Other priories were forcibly closed and confiscated by local princes who followed Martin Luther. Some priories that survived the initial shock wave of the Reformation were later closed through dearth of members or because of the lack of strong leadership in what was a destabilising period for both church and state. The priory at Erfurt, where Luther had joined the Order, remained operating, but under difficulty, until the friars were finally expelled in 1560 - thirty years after Luther had been resident there. The adjacent Augustinian Province to the city of Erfurt was the Province of Thuringia and Saxony. It also suffered much through the influence of Luther. By 1550 only three of its twenty-four houses remained. The Augustinian Rhenish-Swabian Province had fourteen houses taken by the Lutherans, and by 1543 had only fifty friars remaining. The Province of Cologne lost four houses. Slightly further away in southern Germany, the Augustinian Province of Bavaria lost nine of its fifty houses. Germany was subsequently reduced from four Augustinian Provinces to one Province.
The twentieth century was not kind on the Province of Germany. After the First World War, the Augustinians were as much affected by poverty as was the rest of the nation. To help alleviate their financial plight, German Augustinians were sent to positions with the Order in the United States. Soon after the year 1925, men were sent to administer a number of parishes in the United States, and by 1936 there were three houses of German Province there. After the year 1936, however, when the political situation in Germany increasingly hostile to the church with the rise to power of the Nazi party, as many Augustinians as possible were moved to the North America. By 1939 from the Province of Germany there were 46 priests, 13 religious brothers and eight German candidates for the Order in North America. They also moved into Canada for the first time in 1938. (See the Augnet page on the Order in Canada.)
Today there is one Augustinian Province in Germany. It has eleven priories, and about 110 members.
German Augustinians. Website. http://www.augustiner.de/de/index.html