Monday, August 29, 2016

Our Czechs were NOT all Catholic

Guest Post by Lukáš Svoboda, author of Kulanův rodopisný blog

If you have Czechs among your ancestors, the probability that they were not all Catholics but Protestants is quite high, especially when they were living in Bohemia. Of course we are talking about times before Bílá Hora, that turning point which changed the course of not only Czech, but all European history.

Understandably, contemporary statistics and reliable sources of confessional affiliation in the 16th and early 17th century are missing. But the estimations of the confessional environment suggest that by the end of 15th century there were about 70% Utraquists (Hussites) and 30% Catholics. Since 16th century there has been a significant influence of German Protestantism (Lutherans) and Calvinism, as well as other Czech Protestant denominations, such as the Jednota bratrská. At the dawn of the 17th century the contemporaries estimated the share of Catholics in Bohemia were between 1/30 and 1/7 (that is between 3-14%). The situation in Moravia was a bit better (from the Catholic perspective), though for example about 3% of Moravian population were Anabaptists. (More information here in Czech.)

After Bílá Hora the position of non-Catholics changed. Both the Catholic Church and the secular administration of the Czech Kingdom made concerted efforts to ensure a prominent position for Catholics (a position which has been long since lost in the modern Czech lands). The non-Catholic nobility could sell their property and leave the country, except for certain nobles who were punished by confiscation for participating in the anti-Habsburg rebellion. Non-Catholic clergy were ousted and/or persecuted. And the non-Catholic serfs were threatened by seizures of their property/possessions or increased demands from the estate officials to persuade them into religious conformity.

In Moravia, the situation was slightly better for the developing recatholization process as there were more Catholics than in Bohemia: almost one half of the parishes had Catholic priests and there were a number of functional cloisters and monasteries. On the other hand, in Silesia there were many Lutherans and Calvinists among the nobility who had to be attracted to Catholicism step by step.

Even despite all these efforts, many people were not willing to renounce their faith. As the situation more than 150 years later revealed, there was substantial part of the population which proclaimed their non-Catholic faith after the release of the Toleranční patent (Patent of Toleration) in 1781. During those 150 years there were between 4 to 6 generations who could not openly profess their beliefs. They gathered secretly together and used old books of their grandfathers. Sometimes they were supported by pastors and books from abroad, but generally they were left to themselves, their families and neighbors.

But this post should not be about religious situation of the Czech Lands during the 17th century and following years, especially after Bílá Hora. It should rather present sources and archive collections which allow you to get at least partially into the heads of your ancestors and find out what their conviction and religion - their faith - really was.

I have tried to choose such sources that are better available for overseas researchers, some of which are online, some of which have modern editions. You can ask for a look up on one of the Czech genealogy forums or even find them in overseas libraries. And even if your ancestors were not secret Protestants striving to evade the suspicious eye of Jesuit missionaries, keep in mind that some of the sources mentioned also have general significance for all genealogists interested in Czech research.

Soupis poddaných podle víry: Register of Subjects According to Their Religion

Even after the end of 30 Years War, despite the great efforts of recatholization, there were a lot of non-Catholics in Bohemia. Some of them were still openly professing their faith, others already had to hide their true beliefs. By the end of 1650, České místodržitelství, the highest office representing the Czech King and Roman Emperor, decided to perform a nationwide survey and list of all people, both serf and free. It was supposed to incorporate all families with names of all members, their ages, and above all, information about whether they professed Catholic faith or another religion.

Not only did this list need to enumerate all serfs, but also the all nobility, burgers, and officials. It was to be prepared by the estates and their administration. There was a standard form prepared, covering name, status (serf or free), profession or standing, age and confession. The non-Catholics also had indications by their names if there was a chance to convert them to Catholicism. Unfortunately, some estates followed later instructions and prepared only summary information with total number of Catholics and non-Catholics, which is a big shame for us genealogists. You can imagine what a treasure the intact list would be!

Here is one example from my ancestors’ history. In the village Bobnice, the estate of Poděbrady, in the Central Bohemia, where secret Protestantism was very deeply rooted even in the late 18th century, there were 74 persons and 15 families listed in total. From those 74 inhabitants, only 7 people were listed as Catholics. The rest professed as non-Catholics, even though the author of the register made a cross at many names as a symbol that there is a hope for Catholic conversion. Of these 7 Catholics, only three were farmers/possessors of farms, and all of them had wives of non-Catholic belief. We can only assume that their Catholicism was result of conformity rather of real inner persuasion.

In the same estate in a village not far away named Činěves, there were many more Catholics: about half the population, or even slightly more. But there, the significantly majority of farm holders were also already Catholics.

Other villages in the area also had a similar non-Catholic character.

More information about the register here.

The originals of this survey are kept in the Collection Stará manipulace in the National Archive. Modern editions are published from 1993, covering 9 districts.

Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Rakovnicko Praha: Národní archiv, 2007

Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Berounsko Praha: Národní archiv, 2007
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Boleslavsko Praha: Národní archiv, 2005
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Plzeňsko-Klatovsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 2003
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Chrudimsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 2001
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Hradecko-Bydžovsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 2000
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Čáslavsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1999
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Kouřimsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1997
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Bechyňsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1997
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Žatecko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1997
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Rakovnicko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1996
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Berounsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1995
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Boleslavsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1994
Soupis poddaných podle víry z roku 1651. Loketsko Praha: Státní ústřední archiv, 1993

They are available in Czech archives and you can ask easily for look up for example here.

Zpovědní seznamy – Easter or Confessional registers

These were lists compiled before Easter and they cover all persons performing the confession and those who avoided such sacrament. The oldest registers predate Bílá Hora, but they became a significant tool of recatholization. Confessional registers for the Prague Archbishopric are well preserved, and have been published in a modern edition with the title Zpovědní seznamy arcidiecése Pražské : Consignationes paschaliter poenitentium.

I. (díl 1)
Boleslavsko, Kouřimsko
Historický spolek
sv. 2
Chrudimsko, Čáslavsko
Historický spolek
II. (sv. 1)
Historický spolek
II. (sv. 2)
Historický spolek
II. (sv. 3)
Historický spolek
Historický spolek
IX. X. (díl 3 sv. 1)
Plzeňsko a Loketsko
Historický spolek
XI. (díl 3 sv. 2)
Historický spolek
XII. (díl 3 sv. 3)
Historický spolek
Rakovnicko, Praha s okolím, Kladsko
Historický spolek

Not only are these editions extremely useful tool for identifying jurisdictions of villages to parishes (and parishes to vicariates) and their changes during times when many churches still had vacancies due to lack of Catholic priests, but they also present the numbers of people living in the parish.

Those who did not attend the Easter confession were listed by name and labeled as absent (Negligens). Seeing the same names absent across the years on these lists indicates that they were either a lukewarm Catholic or, more likely, a principled Protestant. Also listed are those who were considered by the parish priests to be heretics (Haeretici).

Toleranční přihlášky – Toleration Applications

The most valuable and telling source for trying to learn about the inner faith of our Czech ancestors is the so-called Toleration Applications.

After the Toleranční patent was released the public was shocked by the unexpected response. Though the patent was not meant to be proclaimed publicly, the secret Protestants spread the word and dozens and dozens of them started to organize themselves to come out after 150 years of non-Toleration. The seeming religious homogeneity of society began to crumble. The response of public administration was exactly as you would expect from an authoritarian government of the enlightenment era: they started to produce decrees regulating the newly arisen problem. Very soon there were rules governing how to become a Protestant, and with those rules came the records called the Toleration Applications.

All those who listed themselves on the proclamations delivered to estate administrators were to appear again at a special commissions where they were interrogated and had to confirm and explain their decision to renounce Catholicism and confess themselves Protestant. But, imagine the dialogue between an educated priest and a wholehearted convinced believer of a faith he knew only from his parents and neighbors! They were often persuaded, ridiculed, and sometimes threatened by the commissioners. Still, they usually held firm to their beliefs, and afterwards they were left to themselves.

Among other things, they had to decide whether they were Lutherans or Calvinists, i.e. if they followed the Reformed or Augsburg Confession. For almost all of them these were unknown terms. However, as the organization of secret Protestants spread the word as soon as they learned about such request and possible consequences, the majority of them opted for Calvinism.

There are reports from these commissions across the country. They are a unique source of information about those who maintained the beliefs of their fathers in secret for generations. They often bring information only about name, age, and nearest family members, but some of them also give very detailed records of what was said at the hearing with the commissioner.

Here is one example of a hearing of one of my distant relatives (the original is published in Toleration Application for Beroun district, p. 69):

13th April

thirty-first family
1. What is your name, etc.
1. Martin Šnajberk, master shepherd from Chvojen, etc.
2. What is your religion … ?
2. Helvetian, I proclaim the truth in front of the God that I was born in this religion.

[Latin amendment: Also his parents and he were interrogated for crime of heresy ]
3. Thus what doubts you have about Cath.[olic] Christian Faith?
3. That the Lord's Supper is not served with breaking of the bread and drinking the Chalice of the Lord, there are not more than two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper; [that] there is not Purgatory after death, it [the Purgatory] has long been carried on the World, [that] to venerate pictures of the Saints is idol worship, [that] to ask Saints for Intercession is useless thing, [that] I hold nothing about Holy Mass, the same about indulgences, [that] Eucharist under the species of bread is the body of Christ without blood; I don’t pray the Rosary, how the Cat[holic]. Church prays, I say ten times the Lord's Prayer and once Hail [Mary], I know nothing more. Yet it seems to me that the Antichrist is already in the world.

[Latin amendment:] After explaining the truth of the Catholic Faith and refutation of heresies he remained most intransigently with his sect.
4. Do you want in accord with here explained Truth to return to the one true Chri.[stian] Cath.[olic] faith?
4. I humbly beg, that I already just so stay as I  have declared.
5. How many children you have and what is their religion?
5. From those, who are with me at home and of the same religion, I have Jakub 24 years, Martin 21, Václav 19 years. All that, what I have said, I confirm by signature of my own hand.

Martin Šnajberk

The applications are being published in a modern edition by Veritas, the Historical Society for Updating the Legacy of the Czech Reformation.

They are available here, for these districts so far:

· Land Bohemia, region 5 Litoměřice
· Land Bohemia, region 8 Beroun
· Land Bohemia, Prague Towns
· Land Bohemia, region 4 Mladá Boleslav
· Land Bohemia, region 14 Tábor
· Land Bohemia, region 15 Hradec Králové

The second editions (Jihlava, Znojmo, Olomouc, Rakovník, Kouřim) and remaining districts (Čáslav, Nový Bydžov, Chrudim, Brno, Přerov, Uherské Hradiště) are in being prepared for publication.

Ferdinand Hrejsa Czech heretics twenty years before reformation

Ferdinand Hrejsa published an article named "Čeští kacíři dvacet let před reformací," that is, "Czech Heretics Twenty Years before the Reformation," in the book Reformační sborník: práce z dějin československého života náboženského. Praha : Blahoslavova společnost, 1921.

It compiles reports from 1762 of parish and vicariate offices on more than 110 pages. They cover the year 1762 and about previous 20 years. It brings names of heretics convicted and/or suspected from 1740. The lists are sorted by vicariates and then by parishes.

It is a very valuable source of information from times before Patent of Tolerance and it is held in some American and Canadian Libraries.

Gruntovní knihy – Land records

If you are lucky and if you are observant enough, you find tiny pieces of information about religious convictions of your ancestors in the land registers. For example, in one entry of my ancestors’ farm in the above mentioned village of Bobnice (the area with strong groups of secret protestants), I found the following brief note of annual payment:

Ao 1769 d[ne] 21. 9br[is] Franc Barton pol[ožil] grunt[ovních peněz] po Jirží Bašteczkým Annie wdowie posléz za Pavla Žerta a po ní Rozině do Uher zběhlé.


A[nno] [D]o[mini] 1769 on the 21th day of September Franc Barton paid sum to Anna widow of Jiří Baštecký, later wedded to Pavel Žert and after her [death] to Rozina [who has] deserted to Hungary.

The key is short mention of Hungary, though it should refer more correctly to Sedmihradsko (in German, Siebenbürgen) or in English, Transylvania. Transylvania was a region where the confessional homogeneity was already disrupted and where during the reign of Maria Theresia “incorrigible individuals” were deported. But besides those who were sent there as punishment, there were also a significant number of those who opted to go there voluntarily. Why a person would choose to journey to an unknown land situated on the periphery of the Austrian empire on the unstable borders with Ottoman Empire was clearly for this reason: to profess their beliefs freely.

Soupisy duší - Lists or Inventory of Souls - Libri status animarum

These lists were compiled by the parish priests. They were usually organized by village, and within the village, by houses. They covered all people living in the house: all members of household (including little children as well as adults), and all people living there (including servants, workers, travelers, etc.) The entries also state the age of the people. They were often updated by additional remarks and changes.

Beside the obvious valuable genealogical information, they also listed relevant information for the Catholic Church administration.

For example, this is a heading of the Inventory from parish of Čížkov from 1795. It lists the following information for each of the person in the inventory:

· Does he attend the Christian teaching?

· Is he trained enough in Catholic faith?
· Does he attend divine service?
· Does he receive sacraments?
· Is he suspected from heresy and why?
· Are some of his people in non-Catholic country?
· Does he socialize with non-Catholics and does he accept their ambassadors?
· Were there heretic book found by him?
· Various notes

Of course this list was compiled after the Toleranční patent, but still it is very relevant as far as revealing inner beliefs.

Less informative is the list from the same parish 30 years later. It shows only the following information:

· Confession and communion

· First Confession
· Confirmation

These lists are usually archived in the collections of the parishes in the district archives.

A page from the Inventory of Souls from the parish of Čížkov (1785)

As you can see, with careful scrutiny of available sources, it might be possible for you to know the true religious convictions of your Czech ancestors.

And they were most certainly not all Catholic!