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By E.L. Skip Knox


 The conversion of the Wends to Christianity was not a continuous process, but rather it developed in two phases. These corresponded chronologically to the two phases of the conquest of Slavia discussed in the previous chapter. In the first period the power of the German State was only rarely deployed in the furtherance of Christianity. Instead, the state sought primarily to defend the faith and to avenge it when attacked. In the second period the state frequently preceded the Church. In addition, it used its power to coerce the pagans into baptism and to help create an ecclesiastical structure within the Wendenland. The first period was characterized by missions, the second by crusades. As long as Church and State worked together only rarely, the Church was too vulnerable to be permanently successful. once the two powers united in the twelfth century a powerful expansive force was created, with it own internal driving forces, goals, and justifications.

The aim of every Christian mission to the Wends was both to uproot the heathen religion and to plant in its place the true faith. The Church was for centuries unable to make much headway in Slavia for much the same reasons that the German state was unable to expand eastward: ideas about how to conduct the expansion, the paucity of resources, and the lack of a strong central government all conspired to limit actions in the Wendenland. The Church, in its own terms, had reason prior to 1066 to believe it was succeeding. Slavia had been brought within the Church, at least administratively, in the tenth century. Although successive revolts sent clerics and monks fleeing back across the Elbe River, by the mid-eleventh century there nevertheless had been important victories. Norway and Denmark, two bastions of fierce paganism, had been converted, as had Poland. With in Slavia the Church was slowly edging its way among the heathens once more, and could proudly point to the fact that the ruling family of the Obodrites was Christian. These advances lacked secular support, however, and the revolt of 1066 demonstrated anew how easily they could be swept away; for the Church in Slavia had no parish system and only a handful of bishoprics in the extreme west of the land. Far from enjoying the support of the German state, so necessary to its protection in a hostile land, the Church suffered the indifference of the emperor and the open enmity of the Saxon dukes. These conditions assured that Christian successes in the Wendenland would be only temporary. An examination of the religion of the Wends will help to explain why this was so.

The Wends were scarcely more united religiously than they were politically. Beyond the fact that each tribe had its own gods, there were other variations. The Bardi, for instance, were Christian from the tenth century onwards at least.1 The fact that they lived in the shadow of Lüneburg, stronghold of the Billunger dukes, probably accounts for their constancy.2 Prince Pribislav (Heinrich), on the other hand, became a Christian, and at least one historian sees in this a shrewd attempt to protect the freedom of the prince's pagan people.3 Niclot and Pribislav, the Obodrite leaders of the 1150's, converted in a deeply cynical spirit, simply in order to win privileges for their tribe.4 What is more, certain Wendish tribes had close ties with Scandinavian pagans, and their religion was influenced by that contact.5 It is reasonable to discuss the characteristics of Wendish religion, but we must remember that local customs caused variations, and we ought not to expect all Wends to behave similarly toward their own gods or toward the Christians.

The pagan gods were, above all, tribal gods, gods of a particular people. The whole tribe worshipped the god together, under the direction of the flamen. In return the god gave to the tribe the two fruits without which it could not survive: bounty and victory. These were in no sense universal gods.6 Even the most widely respected of their gods were not seen as having universal power or existence. Redigast, though revered and consulted by all tribes, was still the god of the Redarii, and his demise in 1067 had no theological ramifications for other gods, save that Svantovit thereafter was the most powerful of the Wendish deities. Only the god's own tribe was obligated to worship him, and in return the god had to bestow favor on only that one tribe.

Just as every god had had a tribe, so every god had a temple. For local gods this could be as simple as a sacred grove closed off from casual access by a fence.7 With greater gods (or wealthier tribes) there were buildings and idols, with attendants, such as Arkona for the Rugiani and Rethra from the Redarii. For a god to give oracular responses an abode was required that was appropriate to his power. There was always a physical place, whatever its form, and that sacred place served as the center of the tribe, its strongest link with the supernatural. Without the temple, the tribe would literally lose contact with its god.9

The flamen was the priest of the temple. He conducted the auspices and forecast the outcome of events both public and private. He served as officer of the sacrifice and interpreter of signs; that is, it was he who divined the god's will. He was, therefore, a powerful political force within the tribe.11 The chieftains were primarily war leaders, and had little to do with matters not directly connected with making war. The result was that the flamen and the chieftain shared the governance of the tribe between them.

The Wends judged their gods by signs and omens, by outward manifestations of power alone. This is why prophecy was so important to their religion; signs were almost the only way of discerning the god's will on a matter. "It is the way of the barbarians to seek after a sign," said Adam. To discover the god's will, the Wends cast lots, consulted the flight of birds, and observed the movements, neighing and snorting of horses, who were sacred animals.l3 The most prized gift of a god to the tribe was victory, the surest sign of his power and his favor. Victory in battle was due to skill and bravery, but a wrathful god could render skill and bravery worthless and could inflict disaster as he chose. Gods ruled also the harvest and the weather, and could bring bounty or catastrophe with either.

The Christian writers, in speaking of Wendish religion, often used words like superstitiones or ritus, which evoke its character nicely. Wendish religion was the amalgamation of gods, rituals, superstitions, customs, practical beliefs, wonders, and spirits. The sum of these was, in a real sense, the very essence and existence of the tribe; they were what distinguished one tribe from another. The religion was fully integrated into the social structure, pervading every part of it. This was in contrast to the Christianity of Saxony, Denmark and Poland, where at the popular level pagan survivals formed an important part of society. Another important contrast with Christianity was the lack among the pagans of a unified system of belief, of a theology. This was particularly significant in that most of the churchmen who preached to the Wends had more or less completely left behind traces of pagan beliefs. They were educated and well trained in their faith, so that the similar religious past of the two peoples was scarcely evident in the monks and clerics who were seeking to baptize the Wends. These differences only became greater as the reform movements of the eleventh and twelfth centuries took root among the Germans and Poles. In religion, even more than in politics and society, the Wends and Germans began with much in common but took diverging paths.

The Wends readily recognized the deus christianorum, who was also called deus Teutonicorum. This was the religious analogue to terms like dux Pomeranorum or princeps Obodritorum. Both sets of phrases reflect an understanding of the world - slowly dying out in Christendom, but still strong among the Wends--that was centered on the people, the V _ . It would have been inconceivable for a tribe, a people, to have no god, just as it would have been inconceivable for it to have no chieftain or prince. The Christian god's existence did not have to be proven to the wends. Since the Christian god was the god of their implacable enemies, though, the missionaries faced the formidable task of convincing the Wends to embrace the enemy god to the exclusion of all others.

Not only was the Christian god alien and hostile, he was also strangely weak. His people were great warriors from wealthy kingdoms, yet the evidence of weakness was undeniable. Most notable was the fact that he had let his own savior son be crucified.l4 Also, most of the missionaries to the Wendenland were monks dressed as good, pious monks were supposed to dress. The pagan Wends greeted these ragged emissaries of a foreign god with derision and contempt. If his priests were so poor, then surely he could not be a god of great power; certainly not greater than their own tribal god, as the missionaries were trying to argue.l5 Yet the Germans were respected warriors. This contradictory situation may have accounted for the divisions within the Wendish tribes. The Obodrites, for instance, had a Christian faction within the tribe from the tenth century on.l6 Perhaps they simply did not know what to make of Christianity.

The question of a god's efficacy was of great importance to the pagans, as we have already seen. The cruel deaths meted out to the priests in the eleventh century rebellions were clear indications of this. The tortures were grim indeed, and caused outrage among the Christians. 7 The tortures served a specific purpose, however, and that was to demonstrate before the tribe the impotency of the enemy god. In the 1018 rebellion some sixty priests had crosses cut in their heads, were bound and driven through town after town by their captors, being beaten as they went, until they had all perished. These sixty (all the others were killed immediately), Adam tells us, "were kept for mockery." A very similar fate was dealt to Bishop John of Mecklenburg during the 1066 rebellion. He was "held for a triumph" by the pagan rebels, "beaten with cudgels . . . and led in mockery through one city of the Slavs after another." As he still held to his faith, the pagans at Rethra cut off his hands and feet and threw them in the road, then cut off his head, "fixed it on a spear and offered it to their god Redigast in token of their victory.''19 The wife and family of the murdered Obodrite prince Gottschalk were also discovered in the city and were turned out naked. As it was the middle of November, this could well have been intended as a way to kill them in a degrading manner. In both revolts the purpose of the tortures was "mockery." The Christians were not merely killed, they were humiliated. The rebel pagans were allowed to mock them, which included physical and verbal abuse.20 m is was a clear demonstration, in the eyes of the Wends, of the power of their own gods over that of the Christian god. It is in this sense that the word "victory" must be interpreted in the 1066 example above. There is no evidence that a military action was fought at Mecklenburg. The victory was over the Christian god, for the pagans had humiliated and killed his priests. If the god of the Christians was powerless to protect his own priests, the rebels would have had every reason to believe that their cause would triumph. on the battlefield as well.

Finally, the Christian faith itself must have been rather incomprehensible to the Wends. As long as they were free to be "bad" Christians, they could adopt Christ and God into their pantheon without disturbing their traditional beliefs. The Christians, however, could not allow that -- they had to destroy paganism utterly. This must have seemed abhorrent to the Wends, if not outright mad, and they acted violently whenever their religion was attacked.22 In abandoning the old gods the tribe ran the risk of bad weather, bad harvests, and defeat in battle. The new god claimed to give bounty and victory, but who could tell? The new god demanded much in return for his doubtful gifts. The pagans had to give up their "superstitions," give up piracy, and suffer the destruction of their temples. These actions were a direct threat to the tribal leaders, the chieftain and the flamen. They also threatened to undercut the heads of families and clans, who performed military and religious functions at the level of the kin group.23 Thus, it is not surprising that the Wends were reluctant to adopt the god of their enemies. Much of the antagonism between Germans and Wends can be ascribed to various atrocities committed in the name of the one or the other religion, but even without those there were fundamental, perhaps irreconcilable differences. "We have nothing in common with you," the Pomeranians told the missionary Bishop Otto of Bamberg. "The laws which we have inherited from our fathers we will not give up, we are content with the religion we have."24 This sums up the basic problem well, for it speaks of the reluctance of the Wends to take on a new religion, and of their refusal to destroy the customs of their tribe for its sake.

The Church recognized clearly the powerful forces arrayed against its attempt to convert the heathens. This was the main reason why evellere was such an important part of the attempt: the "plantation" of the faith could never be secure until paganism had been torn out by its very roots. Evellere meant first and foremost the physical destruction of the groves and temples of the pagan gods. In every case in 31avia where we have anything more than the barest record, the destruction of temples formed a major part of the spread of Christianity.25 This "rooting out" was violent by its very nature, causing hostility almost from the outset of a mission.26

The second half of a mission to the heathens was plantare. It is customary to refer to the "conversion" of the Wends, but this term must be carefully defined. It cannot be understood in the way that conversio was normally used in the Middle Ages, as the conversion of a Christian from the worldly life of a layman of cleric to the spiritual life of a monk.27 Conversion, moreover, was not a single act but at least three acts: rejection of pagan ways and beliefs, instruction in the true faith, and baptism. once a Christian, of course, a whole new set of obligations encumbered the convert: paying tithes, building churches, avoiding pagan practices. It was quite possible to be a "bad" Christian, like GottschaIk's father, Udo.28 once baptized, if a person continued pagan practices, he remained a Christian. If he repudiated his faith, as Gottschalk did, he became an apostate, not a pagan. When Gottschalk returned to his faith, there was no need for a second baptism--that, indeed, was forbidden by canon law.29 The goal of a mission, then, was more than individual conversions. It was to "plant" the faith, by instructing and preaching, by baptizing, and by building churches. The spread of the faith was a territorial concept; it proceeded diocese by diocese rather than soul by soul, incorporating pagans and Christians alike.

Accounts of missions in Slavia are very rare. In fact, good histories of missions to the pagans in the central Middle Ages in general are few. The missions of St. Ansgar3 and of Bruno of Querfurt31 are two of some importance. The best and most detailed account, however, is contained in the three Vitae of Bishop Otto of Bamberg.32 This we, not a "typical" mission in purpose or inception, for it is apparent that new forces were at work in the 1120's, when Otto undertook his missions to Pomerania. It is, though, an intimately described mission, so that we can see how preaching and baptizing were actually practiced. It is also a clear instance of the importance of the state in making conversions permanent.

Otto's first mission to Pomerania came in 1124.33 m e mission itself was peaceful in intent, but the background was not. m e events leading up to the mission began in 1119 when Duke Boleslav III of Poland (1102-1139) defeated the ancient enemies of the Poles, the Pomeranians. Boleslav was a pious man, who firmly believed in the duty of the prince to promote the spread of the faith. m e conquest of Pomerania had political objectives, certainly, but it had also

spiritual objectives, as witnessed by the fact that Boleslav immediately turned to his bishops, asking them to go into Pomerania to convert the heathens and establish the Church there. The Polish clergy flatly refused.34 Why they refused is unclear, but one could not blame them for being reluctant; the subsequent missions showed how dangerous it was to preach the word in Pomerania. Having failed to enlist the support of his bishops, Boleslav turned to Rome. Pope Calixtus II chose a Spanish hermit by the name of Bernard to fulfill the mission. Coming to the pagans in simple clothes and bare feet in 1120, Bernard soon set about his work, preaching the word and smashing idols. m is infuriated the Pomeranians, who killed the hermit and sent the corpse back to the Polish border.35

The story even this far shows plainly the fallaciousness of simple statements about "church avarice" and "peaceful missions." It shows also some of the strengths and weaknesses of the reform movement as it was manifested on the eastern frontier. Like a good Christian prince, Boleslav made acceptance of Christianity one of the conditions for peace after he had conquered the Pomeranians, and then turned to the Church to do the work. That he was unable to get his own clergy to undertake the task shows how clerical independence kept Poland from creating a successful Drang nach Westen. The papal choice was what one would expect from one of the earlier reform popes: a monk, a hermit actually, who was chosen for his piety rather than his skills. Given the Wendish ideas about what a priest should look like and how he should behave, Bernard's death was almost predictable.

The following year, 1121, Boleslav again invaded Pomerania. This time he vowed to convert the pagans or destroy them ~ eos aut penitus elidere, aut ferro ad fidem christianismi conatus est impellere).3 Once again Boleslav won, and once again he demanded that the pagans become Christians. The duke turned this time to the German clergy and finally found his missionary in Bishop Otto. Thus, while Otto's mission was peaceful, it was born out of warfare and murder, and while the bishop showed saint-like restraint, the Pomeranians knew that Polish swords lay just across the Vistula River should they mete out to Otto the same fate as they had to Bernard.

Otto traveled to Pomerania from the Polish court with a retinue of priests and in full episcopal regalia. At the border he met Duke Wratislav of Pomerania who came with an escort of 500 men. Wratislav had already become a Christian, but his men had not, and the German priests quickly discovered the dangers of preaching to the heathen. While Wratislav and Otto met privately, the pagan warriors terrorized the poor priests. They pulled out "very sharp blades" and threatened to cut and stab the priests, and to bury them to their necks in the ground. soon, though, the duke returned. He told his men of the agreement he had made with Otto: they would be treated well and left in peace if they converted. The pagans rejoiced at this news, viewing the bishop as the man who would free them from captivity; that is, from the oppression of the Polish duke.37 Otto gave Wratislav a staff of ivory, with which the duke was much impressed. Wratislav in turn gave Otto safe passage through his realm.

Otto met with success at Pirissa, but at Kammin he met his first resistance.38 He had a church built there and invited the people of the town and surrounding countryside to come to a sermon. Among those coming from the countryside was a "rich and noble woman" who held Christianity in contempt, declaring that she would under no circumstances turn away from the ancient traditions of her fathers for the sake of a "new vanity."39 She refused to go into the church and prevented her followers--who were numerous, she commanding thirty horse and having a large family with many possessions--from entering. Her speech to her followers set out the pagan position clearly: Go, till my fields for me' . . . Do you not see what great good and how much wealth our gods have given to us? Of their largess, wealth, and glory we are made rich with an abundance of all things; wherefore to cease from worshipping them is no small injury. Go therefore, as I have said, to harvesting our fields, and, that you may not be afraid, prepare my car; lo; I myself shall go with you into the fields. . . . By a miracle the woman was unable to work the fields but was rendered immobile, "as if turned to stone." This, of course, was the cause of a number of conversions. The points made by the noble woman, though, were to be made again and again during Otto's mission.

At the city of Wollin Otto's mission nearly met with disaster. The people there wanted to kill the priests, but were prevented from doing so only by the protection accorded Otto by the Pomeranian duke. Even so, the pagans swore to kill the priests if they did not leave the town immediately, because the priests were blaspheming their gods. The city was surrounded by swamps and mud, which were traversed by wooden pontoon bridges. The pagans had promised not to kill the priests, but they lined up along the bridge to harass and mock the Christians as they left. As Otto passed through this gauntlet one pagan struck the bishop, knocking him off the bridge into the mud. The priests pulled Otto out, but now the pagans began beating them with sticks and poles. Protecting Otto with their bodies and hands, the priests ran out of the city, back to their camp, where they counted heads, praising God that no one was missing.32

For fifteen days Otto camped outside the walls, receiving emissaries from the city who apologized for the attack. Apparently that had been the work of hot-heads, and the city leaders feared reprisals. Otto, a man of the world who knew how to negotiate, reminded them that he was under Duke Boleslav's protection and hinted that the city would suffer if harm came to him or his party. The people of Wollin finally came to a consensus. They said that Stettin was the most ancient and noble city in Pomerania, and that it would be very wrong to admit the observance of a new religion which had not been strengthened by the authority of 3tettin.42

Stettin, then was the key to Pomerania. Otto proceeded there and discovered that the 3tettinenses were every bit as obdurate as the Wollinenses. Despite the presence of the son of Wratislav, who accompanied them to Stettin, the priests were fearful and approached the city by night. They were refused entry, and were only admitted after negotiation. After the Christians preached, the pagans replied in terms similar to the words of the noble woman of Kammin:

We have nothing in common with you: We shall not abandon the laws of our homeland; we are content with the religion we have. Among Christians . . . are madmen (fures), robbers (latrones), . . . and all manner of crimes and evils the Christian practices in Christendom. Far be such a religion from us'43 The situation was at an impasse for two months. Finally, the Christians decided to send back to the Polish duke, to see what he thought of the obstinacy of the city. Everyone was afraid that the pagans would be angry at this, so they said they would seek to obtain peace and alleviation of the tribute payments for the Pomeranians. The pagans sent their own legates with the Christians to Boleslav. While the delegation was gone, Otto made a few converts, but only a few, primarily on the strength of one family's conversion.44

When the delegation returned from the Polish duke it brought with it a treaty that promised "fir. peace" and "long friendship" to those Pomeranians who would become Christian. To those who would not he promised carnage and fire and eternal enmity. He warned them against relapse, told them to treat Otto well, then lightened the tribute.45 Hearing this, the people agreed to accept Christianity. In his sermon to the people after this Otto made a statement that sheds more light on the difficulties faced by missionaries. "I know," he said, "that you fear demons, inhabitants of the fanes and your idols, and that you do not dare to destroy them."46 He told them not to worry, that he and his priests would go with them and, protected by the cross, together they would destroy and burn the temples. When the deed was done, and when the pagans saw that nothing happened when the fanes were destroyed, they believed that their old gods had no power.47 With the conversion of Stettin, the rest of Pomerania soon followed.48

Otto's success was only temporary. Three years later he was back in Pomerania, this time with the added help of Lothar II (11251137), because the greater part of the Pomeranians had fallen into apostasy.49 Essentially the same process was followed. Otto met with initial hostility, the Pomeranians were threatened with invasion, and a miracle at Stettin helped convince those who were unsure.50 There were slight variations, but there is no need to go into detail with this second mission.

It is evident from the foregoing that the pagans did not hate Christianity so much because it was the religion of their conquerors, though that was certainly a factor, as it was because of the actions of those much-praised missionaries. Christianity was a nova religiona that, at best, could be allowed to co-exist with the ancient tribal religion, and co-existence was unacceptable to the Christians.51 They demanded that the pagans give up their own "laws" and live by new ones. Add to this the disdain brought on by the poverty of the priests who were trying to convert the pagans, and it becomes obvious that permanent success was impossible without coercion.5 It was military conquest that made the mission possible in the first place, and it was conquest and the threat of it, along with the inducement of a lowered tribute, that ultimately brought large numbers of Pomeranians to the faith and kept then there. The missionaries themselves recognized the need for lay support, and did not hesitate to use it to further their mission. Power, whether manifested in miracles or in wealth or in armies, was what convinced pagans to convert, and the need for coercion was accepted by most everyone.53 Otto's mission can be called peaceful only in that he and his party never personally struck anybody.

Bishop Otto, like other missionaries, left behind him churches, manned by one or two priests. In the wake of these first foundations, which served as successors to the pagan temples and as focal points from which the work of further rooting out and planting could be carried on,5 came more foundations, usually given by lay princes. It is difficult to say much about church foundation in Slavia before the twelfth century because the records for that period are very scarce. Many churches and monasteries were founded east of the Elbe, but nearly everything was lost in the successive waves of rebellion that swept through 51avia in the tenth and eleventh century. In fact, we possess only the foundation documents from the papacy for the archdioceses of Hamburg-Bremen and of Magdeburg. All other foundation charters are twelfth century or later. There is no need to discuss the motives for the earlier foundations in detail, for they were probably similar to the motives for foundations elsewhere in Europe. A monastery or church was almost a social necessity for a great family, for guardianship of one was one sign of a family's prestige.55 The founder usually was also moved by concern for his soul and wished to perform a pious act. This desire was not often clearly articulated in the charter. Typical wording can be found in the endowment charter of the monastery of Bosau, near Zeitz. Bishop Dietrich of Naumburg bestowed several villages on the monastery in the name of St. Hillary and St. John, "for the health and cure of our soul and of all our ancestors and successors."56

These personal motives are absent from the records dealing with the founding of sees. Hamburg's mission was to destroy the heathen religion in Slavia and in all the northern lands.57 When Adam of Bremen described the founding of Hamburg he added that it was to serve ". . . as the metropolitan see for all the barbarous nations."58 Later, Magdeburg was established for the "spread of the faith" and to serve as a "foundation for building up Christianity among the newly converted." It was also to "strengthen them in the faith.59 These three sources illustrate the three basic functions of the missionary: to root out and destroy paganism, to serve as an administrative and spiritual center for all the churches and peoples in the heathen lands, and to strengthen and nourish the faith of the converts.

Before about 1100 there is little evidence of collaboration between the laity and the Church in the spread of the faith. True, the king and emperor had a duty to defend and support the Church. It is not difficult to find emperors acting in that capacity, even in Slavia. Otto I is the obvious e~ pie, founding sees precisely in order to expand the limits of Christendom. Many other emperors and kings, however, were uninterested, being content merely to defend the Church without seeking to extend it. Kings and emperors, though, stood apart from all other humans. The rest of the laity was more or less outside the religious hierarchy.61 This began to change with the Peace of God movement in the early eleventh century, but that movement was long in penetrating northern Germany 62 Before the twelfth century secular pursuits and the missions coincided only by chance, or at the direction of the emperor. So far from promoting the spread of the faith, the Billunger dukes of Saxony sought to oppose it, for the archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen was one of their most potent political enemies.63 As we have seen, with the great internal strength of Wendish religion, the lack of lay support for the missions, and the hostility and derision with which the pagans regarded Christianity, the success of the faith was bound to limited and precarious. In the twelfth century there developed a new unity between Church and State in regard to converting the pagans. m e various historical forces that had been at work throughout the eleventh century came together in the form of the First Crusade. The powerful example set by it was soon imitated. Conditions in Germany were more complicated than in France, for the German Emperors had grave reservations about undertaking any project that was under the auspices of the Pope. Others, though, were not slow to see the potential of a crusade across the Elbe. Only thirteen years after Urban's sermon to the Franks, a call went out from Germany for a crusade into Slavia. The call came in the form of a letter from the prelates of Saxony--of Magdeburg, Merseburg, Meissen, Naumburg, Havelberg, and Brandenburg--and the lay princes of those areas, addressed to the laymen and churchmen of the lands immediately to the west: Halberstadt, Corvey, Paderborn, Minden, Cologne, Lorraine, Flanders, Aachen, and Lüttich. 5 After describing in gruesome detail the many horrible tortures inflicted upon Christians by the pagans, and after asserting that only the western princes could put a stop to them, the letter goes on to a flowery exhortation to arms, filled with Biblical phrases. The call ends by pointing out how rich the land was in 51avia and suggesting that the crusaders could not only save their souls but also win for themselves some choice lands.

This call was firmly in the tradition of the First Crusade. The authors of it expressly called upon their audience to imitate the Gauls who had won back Jerusalem: "Take example from good deeds and be also imitators of the Gauls . . . and like the Gauls prepare for the liberation of Jerusalem'"66 The enumeration of the atrocities of the pagans was in imitation of Urban's letters prior to the First Crusade, as was the implied promise of absolution of sins.67 The conscious unifying of worldly with spiritual motives was clearly expressed in this call, reflecting the growing conviction in medieval society that Christian knights could fight both for God and themselves at the same time.68

The call of 1108 came to nothing, largely because it did not have imperial or ducal backing, but the actions of Boleslav III in Pomerania show that the idea of a unified Christian society at war with paganism was growing. In 1134 King Eric Emun of Denmark also demanded that the Rugiani accept Christianity as part of the peace settlement after he had conquered them. 9 His failure to make the conversion stick was due to political upheavals in Denmark. When the Rugiani killed the priests and reverted to paganism, Eric's successor could do nothing to stop them.7

The most blatant use of armies to force conversion came with the Wendish Crusade in 1147. The occasion for the crusade was the fall of Edessa in Syria the previous year. Pope Eugenius III proclaimed the Second Crusade, and charged Bernard of Clairvaux with preaching it. In Germany, King Conrad III (1137-1152), after some initial reluctance, was finally persuaded by the great saint at a Diet at Frankfort. The Saxon princes, however, were adamant; they had no desire to go to the Holy Land, despite the papal promise of remission of sins.71 After a few days of stalemate, someone proposed that the princes be allowed to wage war against their pagan neighbors across the Elbe, who were much nearer and who had long troubled them.72 Bernard approved this idea. He issued a letter in which he urged all princes and bishops in Germany to invade Slavia and not to make any peace with the Wends, nor accept any indemnity or tribute from them until either the religion or the nation of the Wends be destroyed.73 Here we have the full expression of forced conversion, of the unification of conquest and conversion: the letter was addressed to both lay and ecclesiastical princes; both were to lead the armies and participate in the conquest; both were charged with the task of rooting out paganism by whatever means.74

The Wendish Crusade has been widely regarded as a failure, by contemporaries and by modern historians, yet the evidence indicates that it was not.75 True, there were no glorious victories, only embarrassing mistakes and inept stalemates. The crusaders themselves could not agree on the goals of the crusade. Adolf of Holstein thought the whole idea unfortunate and tried to sit it out.76 The Premonstratensians did not like it either, preferring the ideal of peaceful missionary work.77 One army, headed by bishops, headed for Stettin. Another set out to recover Rügen where, it was said, Lothar I (840-855) had given Corvey a monastery. The Danes hoped to put an end to pirates.78 Helmhold said that avenging the injuries done to Christians, especially to the Danes, was the principal goal.79 St. Bernard, of course, thought the aim was the conversion of the pagans. Some of the warriors decided that devastating lands that were to become their own was a bit ridiculous, and so turned to negotiations to effect a settlement. O With this variety of aims, one is hard-pressed to call the crusade a success or a failure. It was a pathetic war, to be sure, but it is misleading to declare that it destroyed the peaceful mission among the Wends. 1 The missions were not all that peaceful, and in any case the missionary work did not end.

The results of the Wendish Crusade were theses no land was taken, and the Obodrites received baptism--falsely, said Helmhold.82 A few oppida, such as Malchow, were destroyed, but no place of importance.83 The baptisms were indeed falsely received, and the piracy was not ended. Yet something happened. In the next twenty-two years all of Slavia fell to the Germans, save only Pomerellia, which fell to the Poles. After so many centuries, it is difficult to believe that the Wendish Crusade did not contribute in some measure to that success. The armies assembled were very large, and they campaigned for three summer months, destroying many crops. The effect on the Wends, though, was not as important as the effect on the Germans. The crusade brought together many of the men and the forces that, a decade later, were to overwhelm the Wends. Archbishops Frederick of Magdeburg and Adalbero of Bremen, Bishops Werner of Meissen, Wigger of Brandenburg, Anselm of Havelberg, Abbot Riball of Corvey, Albert the Bear of Brandenburg, the duke of Poland, the king of Denmark, the list covers virtually everyone involved in the later effort.84 It is hard to imagine that the Wendish Crusade did not provide invaluable experience for all of them.

The Wendish Crusade is significant in one other regard: it was a sign of the future in the Drive to the East. Livonia and Prussia were conquered not by the older methods but by crusades, by crusading orders in particular. The Brothers of the Sword in Livonia and the Teutonic Knights in Prussia were at once the conquerors, baptizers, and settlers of those lands. The Wendish Crusade marked the first time in the German east such a comprehensive task was undertaken. In the years after 1147, as the Wendish culture was collapsing before the onslaught of armies and settlers, the Church engaged not so much in missions as in the occupation of the land. In this the bishops and abbots were doing the same kind of thing as the lay lords, moving across the Elbe River, building churches and monasteries, and subjecting the surrounding countryside to their law and administration. In this period were founded most of the monasteries of the twelfth century. Between 1130 and 1150 there were two Cistercian and eleven Premonstratensian houses founded. Between 1150 and 1200 there were seven Cistercian and six Premonstratensian houses founded.85 They were founded often for political reasons, to help a German lord hold an area. Yet the monasteries must have had an effect on the Wends in their jurisdiction. Both Cistercians and Premonstratensians made extensive use of "lay brothers" (conversi) on their farms.87 While it is possible that this labor force consisted entirely of German immigrants, it is more likely that at least a portion was made up of dispossessed Wends seeking to escape subjugation by a German lay lord.88 Moreover, the presence of the monasteries and the parish churches, many of which were dependent upon monasteries, presented a model and perhaps an alternative to the Wends. Christians were no longer distant conquerors and bishops ruling from behind city walls. ''There were now Christian priests in innumerable villages and in two or three dozen monasteries. They worked in fields nearby. We probably can never trace the effect of their close and constant presence, but we shall not be too far wrong if we presume that presence was a major factor in the conversion of the Wends and the destruction of their pagan culture.


1. Helmhold, I, 16 and 25, pp. 35 and 48.

2. Tschan, trans., Helmhold, p. 85, n. 13; Robert E. Dickinson, Germany: A General and Regional Geography (New York: 1953), p. 515.

3. Kahl, Slawen und Deutsche, pp. 104-05.

4. Helmhold, I, 84(83), p. 161.

5. Palm, p. 17Q.

6. Walter Schlesinger, Kirchengeschichte Sachsens im Mittelalter, vol. 1 (Köln-Graz: 17ki2], p. 216.

7. Helmhold, I, 84(83), p. 159.

8. For the major known Wendish temples see the underlined sites on Map One, p. 22 above.

9. This is why the Rugiani were willing to pay an enormous tribute to protect Svantovit's temple from desecration at the hands of a Christian army. Helmhold, I, 38, pp. 74-77.

10. Adam, I, 7, p. 8.

11. Helmhold, I, 84(83), pp. 159-60.

12. ". . . cum barbari suo more signum quaererent." Adam, II, 35(33), p. 96.

13. Adam, I, 8, p. 9. The description Adam took from Einhard, but he says the Slavs and Swedes observed essentially the same rites.

14. Kahl, "Wendentum," p. 109.

15. "Deus christianorum vilior esset omnibus diis atgue inferior." Herbord, III, 3, p. 109. See also K. Schmalz, Kirchengeschichte Mecklenburgs, vol. 1: Mittelalter (Schwerin: 1935), p. 36. Adam (II, 26/23/, p. 85) makes the revealing comment that olinkar was successful among the pagan Danes because he was a nobleman and a native Dane: "Unde et facile barbaric quaelibet de nostra potuit religione persuadere."

16. Thompson, Feudal Germany, p. 421.

17. See the emotional listing of the crimes of the pagans in the call of 1108: Helbig and Weinrich, No. 19, p. 98.

18. Adam, II, 43(41), p. 103, Tschan, trans., Adam, p. 144.

19. ". . . captus servabatur ad triumphum . . . fustibus ces w . . . per singulas civitates Sclavorum ductus ad ludibrum. . . . quod pagan) conto prefigentes in titulum victoriae deo Redigost immolarunt." Adam, III, 51(50), p. 194.

20. For example, Bishop Otto's terrifying experience at Wollin in 1124: see Herbord, II, 23, pp. 76-77.

21. Like Udo, Gottschalk's father: Helmhold, I, 19, p. 39.

22. This was the cause of the 1018 revolt: Adam, II, 48(46), p. 108; Thompson, Feudal Germany, p. 408.

23. There is no direct evidence that clan and family heads actually performed these functions among the deeds, but given the general characteristics of the culture, it is a likely supposition.

24. Herbord, II, 10, pp. 59-60.

25. Adam, II, 48(46), p. 108; Helmhold, I, 84(83), p. 164.

26. Helmhold, I, 84(83), p. 161.

27. R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1970), p. 274.

28. Helmhold, I, 19, p. 39.

29. Helmhold, I, 19, p. 40.

30. Rimbert, Vita Anskarii auctore Rimberto, ed. George Waitz, MGH,

31. Bruno of Querfurt, Brunonis vita cinque fratrum, ed. Reinhard Kade, MGH, SS 15(2) (Hannover: 1888): 709L38.

32. See above, p. 55, n. 74. ~

33. For a discussion of Otto's career see Thompson, Feudal Germany, pp. 426-34.

34. Schmalz, p. 36.

35. Herbord, II, 3, p. 53.

36. Herbord, II, 5, p. 55. This is an important, and overlooked, predecessor to St. Bernard's famous phrase "ad delendas penitus, aut certe convertendas" delivered when preaching the dendish Crusade in 1147. See below, p. 78.

37. ". . . quia episcopo veniente ad nos dissolvet Dominus captivitatem nostram." Herbord, II, 11, p. 61.

36. Herbord, II, 14, pp. 62-64.

39. ". . . nullaque occasione vanitatis novae a parentum quorum veteri traditione declinare se velle dicebat." Herbord, II, 22, p. 74.

40. Herbord, II, 22, p. 75.

41. Herbord, II, 23, pp. 76-77.

42. Herbord, II, 24, pp. 77-80.

43. Herbord, II, 25, p. 80.

44. Herbord, II, 26-28, pp. 81-85.

45. Herbord, II, 29, pp. 85-86.

46. Herbord, II, 29, p. 87.

47. Herbord, II, 30, pp. 87-88.

48. Herbord, II, 36-38, pp. 96-loo.

49. Herbord, III, 14, p. 128.

50. Herbord, III, 10 and 18, pp. 121-23 and 132-33.

51. See the interesting compromise proposed by the Stettinenses in Herbord, III, 16, p. 130.

52. Herbord, III, 3, pp. 109-10. Duke Wratislav explicitly stated that Otto's priests were unsuccessful because of their poverty. He also told Otto to give up preaching to the poorest elements of the tribe and to concentrate on the rich and powerful. For another example of the importance of wealth in converting the pagans, see Adam, II, 50(48), pp. 111-12.

53. Helmhold, I, 69, p. 134.

54. Kahl, Slawen und Deutsche, p. 120.

55. The monastery performed other vital services for the founder as well. See Southern, pp. 228-30.

56. ". . . pro salute et remedio anime nostre omniumque antecessorum et successorum nostrorum." Helbig and Weinrich, No. 39, p. 172.

57. ". . . necnon etiam 51avorum aliarunque in aquilonis partibus gentium constitutarum . . . delegavit." Rimbert, c. 13, p. 35.

58. Adam, I, 16(18), p. 23.

 59. Quirin, No. 3d. The quotes are from Quirin's German translation. The original Latin was not available.

60. Tellenbach, p. 57.

61. Tellenbach, p. 56.

62. Carl Erdmann, Die Entstehung des Keuzzugsgedankens, trans. Marshall W. Baldwin and Walter Goffart, The Origin of the Idea of Crusade (Princeton: 1977), pp. 62-76.

63. Adam, III, 40(39), p. 181.

64. See above, p. 48.

65. Helbig and Weinrich, No. 19, p. 98.

66. ". . . de bonds sumite exemplum et Gallorum imitatores in hoc etiam estote . . . et sicut Galli ad liberatione Hierusalem vos preparate." Helbig and Weinrich, No. 19, pp. 98-100.

67. Bünding-Naujoks, "Imperium Christianum," Heidenmission, ed. Beumann, p. 91. Bernard used the phrase "hic poteritis animas salvificare." Helbig and Weinrich, No. 19, p. 102. Pope Urban was explicit: "pro remissione omnium peccatorum." See Bunding-Naujoks, "Imperium Christianum," Heidenmission, ed. Beumann, p. 91, n. 11. -~

68. Helmhut Beumann, "Kreuzzugsgedanke und Ostpolitik im hohen Mittelalter," Heidenmission, ed. Beumann, pp. 136-37; Bruno Schumacher, "Die Idee der geistlichen Ritterorden im Mittelalter," Heidenmission, ed. Beumann, pp. 371-72; Erdmann, pp. 334-44.

69. Saxo, XIV, 661.

70. The chronic internal instability in Denmark was an important reason why the Danes did not mount a successful drive eastwards until the reign of Waldemar I.

71. Quirin, No. 9b.

72. Bünding-Naujoks, "Imperium Christianum," Heidenmission, ed. Beumann, p. 96.

73. "Illud enim omnimodo interdicimus, ne qua ratione ineant foedus cum eis, neque pro pecunio, neque pro tribute, donec, auxiliante Deo, aut ritus ipse, aut natio deleatur." Bernard, Epistola 457, PL 182, p. 652. Bernard obviously had in mind the earlier practices of the Saxon dukes here.

74. It should not have to be added that the formula "convert or destroy" was quite in keeping with historical developments up to 1147. It was not a "hateful slogan" (Barraclough, Origins, p. 252), nor need we regard St. Bernard as "fanatical" or guilty of "bigotry" (Thompson, Feudal Germany, pp. 438, 434). The formula itself appears earlier (see above, p. 83, n. 36), and cannot be called Bernard 's. Moreover, it did not call for the actual extermination of the Wends, but only for their subjugation. See Hans-Dietrich Kahl, "Compellere intrare. Die Wendenpolitik Bruns von Querfurt in Lichte hochmittelalterlichen Missions- und Volkerrechts," Heidenmission, ed. Beumann, p. 238.

75. Hans-Dietrich Kahl, "Zum Ergebnis des Wendenkrenzzugs van 1147. Zugleich ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des sacheischen Fruhchristentums," Heidenmission, ed. Beumann, pp. 275-77.

76. Thompson, Feuda1 Germany, pp. 439~40.

77. Kahl, Slawen und Deutsche, pp. 238-30. Kahl is not entirely correct here. Bishop Zdik of Olomouc, the leader of the army that went to Stettin, was a Norbertine.

78. Ann. Magd., an. 1147, p. 188.

79. Helmhold, I, 62, p. 118; Ann. Palid., an. 1147, p. 188.

80. Helmhold, I, 65, pp. 122-23.

81. Especially the case of mistaken identity at Stettin. The crusaders, led by Bishop Zdik, set up camp around the city, preparing to besiege it. They were astonished to see, as they worked, the inhabitants of the town placing crosses along the walls. Presently, a delegation came out of the city, led by one Bishop Adalbert. Stettin, of course, had been Christian since its conversion nearly thirty years before by otto of Bamberg. The crusading army hastily negotiated peace and went home. This incident is related by Vincent of Prague in Vincenti Pragensis Annales, an. 1147, ed. Wilhelm Dattenbach, MGH, SS 17 (Hannover: 1861), p. - EE3. See also Bunding-Naujoks, "Imperium Christianum," Heidenmission, ed. Beumann, p. 95, n. 1 on this subject.

82. Helmhold, I, 65, p. 123.

83. Ann. Magd., an. 1147, p. 189.

84. Ann. Magd., an. 1147, p. 189.

85. Most of the founding dates for the Premonstratensian houses in Slavia can be found in R. van Waefelghem, ed., Répertoire des sources imprimes et manuscrits relatives à l'histoire et a la li-5ij-5iT5i: iSii~~]i5~~; l'Ordre de Prémontre (Brussels: 1930), pp. 25-26, 45, 97-100, 109, 115, 130, 137, 146, 156, 197, 203-05. This should be supplemented by Norbert Backmund, Monasticon praemonstratense, vol. 1 (Straubing: 1949) . For the Cistercians see Jedin et alia, Atlas für Kirchengeschichte. Die christlichen Kirchen in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Freiburg, etc.: 1970), p. 52.

86. Stella Maria Szacherska, "The Political Role of the Danish Monasteries in Pomerania, 1171-1223," Mediaeval Scandinavia 10 (1977): 122-55; p. 154.

87. Thompson, "Cistercians," pp. 76-78.

88. Thompson, "Cistercians," p. 89.

The Conversion and Destruction of the Wends
By E.L. Skip Knox



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