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Fritzlar, a small German town (pop. 14,000) in northern Hesse, 160 km north of Frankfurt, with a storied history. It can reasonably be argued that the town was the birthplace both of Christianity in Germany (north and east of the Roman Limes) and of the German nation as a political entity.
The town has a medieaval center ringed by a wall with numerous watch towers. 37 meters high, the Graue Turm ("Grey Tower") is the highest remaining urban defense tower in Germany. The city hall, first documented in 1109, with a stone relief of St. Martin, the town's patron saint, is the oldest in Germany still in use for its original purpose. The Gothic church of the old Franciscan monestary is today the Protestant parish church, while its other buildings have been converted into a modern hospital. Many houses in the town center, notably around the market square, date from the 14th to 16th centuries and have been carefully maintained or restored. The town is dominated by the imposing Romanesque-Gothic cathedral from the 12th-14th centuries in the center of the old town. (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bild:Fritzlar_dom_st_peter.jpg)
Thor's Oak and German Christianization
The cathedral stands at the site where the Anglo-Saxon missionary St. Boniface, apostle of the Germans, in 724 A.D. erected a chapel from the wood of an oak dedicated to Thor and sacred to the local German tribe, the Chatten/Chatti (ancestors of the Hessians). A year earlier, in 723, Boniface, then still known under his original name Winfrid, had Thor's Oak, one of the most important sacred sites of the Germans, felled to prove the superiority of the Christian god over Thor and the Germanic deities. This event marked the beginning of the Christianization of the Germans. Boniface established the first bishopric in Germany on a hill (Büraburg) across the Eder river, but after the death of Witta in 747, its first and only bishop, the bishopric was incorporated into the diocese (later archdiocese) of Mainz by Lullus, the disciple and successor of Boniface as archbishop of Mainz. The Benedictine monastery founded by Boniface in Fritzlar in 724 gained prominence as a center of religious and worldly learning under its abbot St. Wigbert who built the original stone basilica of 732 at the site of Boniface's wooden chapel. The monastery was converted into a canonic college (Chorherrenstift) in 1005, its members no longer living in monastic union and simplicity, but maintaining their own, and generally rather well-to-do, households. Several imposing stone residences (Curias) built by wealthy canons during the 14th century survive to this day in the old part of the town. The canonic college was dissolved only in 1803.
Birthplace of the German Empire
Located at the crossroads of several important trade routes and site of an imperial residence since Charlemagne, Fritzlar was a frequent site of royal visits and of assemblies and synods of the German princes and church leaders during the early middle ages. Undoubtedly the most important of these was the Reichstag of 919 when Henry I ("Henry the Fowler"), duke of Saxony, was elected King of the Germans to succeed Charlemagne's Frankish successors on the throne of what had become known as the East Frankish Empire. This event marked the end of bitter rivalry between the two large German tribes of the Franks and the Saxons and the beginning of the German Empire that lasted until the Napoleonic wars. King Conrad I, duke of Franconia, had died in December 918 without a son and urged his brother, margrave Eberhard, who was to succeed him as Duke of Franconia, to nominate Henry as king, although they had been at odds with each other from 912 to 915 over the title to lands in Thuringia. Conrad's choice was respected by the Reichstag of 919, where Henry was elevated to king by the leaders of the Franks and Saxons. Duke Burkhard I of Swabia quickly swore allegiance as well, but Duke Arnulf of Bavaria did not submit to Henry until the latter advanced with an army into Bavaria in 921.
In 1079 Fritzlar ceased to be be a crown possession when it was gifted to the archbishop of Mainz by Emperor Henry IV in the aftermath of his submission to the Pope at Canossa. It thus became a pivotal pillar in the long-lasting feuds between Mainz and the landgraves of Thuringia and Hesse for territorial supremacy in northern Hesse.
Located in the border area between Frankish and Saxon territories and, following Martin Luther's Reformation, a Roman-Catholic enclave owned by the Archbishop of Mainz in the midst of protestant Hesse, the town was frequently embattled, by Saxons and Franks, by Protestant and Catholic princes, and repeatedly sacked and rebuilt.
The first major devastation occurred in 774, during Charlemagne's Saxon Wars . While the king was in Italy, the Saxons invaded Hesse and besieged Büraburg, where the population of Fritzlar had sought refuge. Failing to take the fortress, the Saxons destroyed Fritzlar, but not St. Wigbert's stone basilica. This gave rise to the legend that two angels had appeared to chase away the invaders and protect the church.
The next happened in 1079. Emperor Henry IV, who frequently resided in Fritzlar, was faced with an insurrection led by the pretender king Rudolf of Swabia (Rudolf of Rheinfelden), who had been supported by the Pope. Having submitted to the Pope at Canossa in 1077, Henry had gone to Fritzlar. A papal legate was not able to arrange an end to the dispute, and in early 1079 an army of Saxons, partisans of Rudolf, attacked Henry in Fritzlar. He fled, and town and church were sacked and destroyed. Between about 1085 and 1118, a new and larger basilica was built at the site of St. Wigbert's church. It was the site of the imperial synod of 1118 at which the papal ban of Henry V was announced and ratified and where St. Norbert of Xanten, founder of the order of the Premonstratensians (Norbertines ) and later archbishop of Magdeburg, successfully defended himself against charges of heresy. At the same synod, prince-bishop Otto of Bamberg was suspended for having remained loyal to Henry V during his quarrels with the papacy.
This second basilica was radically reconstructed between 1180 and 1200, essentially in the form in which it is still found today, although a number of smaller additions and alterations have been made throughout the centuries since then. During the same period, from 1184 to 1196, the town was fortified by the construction of the first wall around its periphery.
The next devastating blow was the sack of the town by Thuringian landgrave Conrad in 1232, when much of the population was killed and the town plundered. Mainz responded by immediately rebuilding and further fortifying the town, adding numerous towers to the walls and building seven watch towers and fortified refuges on strategic hills in the surrounding countryside.
In the early 13th century, the Franciscans (Friars Minor) established a monastery in the town. They obtained permission to build their church and quarters directly up against the town wall, thereby obliterating the watch walk on the inside of the wall that was crucial for quickly moving defenders from one part of the wall to another. In exchange they had to agree to defend their part of the town's fortification in the event of a siege. The Franciscans were forced to leave when the Lutheran Reformation was introduced in 1522. Following the Counterreformation, Jesuits moved in in 1615, followed by the return of the Franciscans in 1619. The monastery was dissolved in 1811. Its splendig Gothic church, completed in 1244, today serves as the parish church for the town's Protestant Christians who purchased it in 1817/1824.
The Thirty Year War (1618-1648) inflicted serious damage on Fritzlar and the neighboring villages, culminating with an outbreak of the black plague. During the Seven Year War (1756-1763) the town was occupied by French troops and parts of its fortifications were destroyed, along with the vineyards on the steep slope above the Eder river.
In the early 18th century, the order of Ursuline nuns established a nunnery and school for girls.
In 1803, when all eccelesiatic states in Germany were abolished, Fritzlar was incorporated into the Electorate (principality) of Hesse-Kassel (Kurhessen ), where in 1821 it became the administrative center of the district (Kreis) Fritzlar. Hesse-Kassel in turn was annexed by Prussia in 1866, following the Austro-Prussian War in which the Elector had sided with Austria. In 1932 the district was merged with the neighboring district of Homberg to form the district of Fritzlar-Homberg.
In 1974, the three districts of Fritzlar-Homberg, Melsungen and Ziegenhain were combined into the new district Schwalm-Eder, with its administrative seat in Homberg/Efze . Today, the town is a service and market center for the surrounding area, with schools, hospital, and a sizeable military garrison with airfield.
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