Monday, May 22, 2006

Simultaneum in the Churches of the Alsace

Paul wrote,

You wrote: this village had a "simultaneous church" from 1687 to 1937. The "simultaneum" refers to the situation where Catholics and Protestants (Lutheran and/or Reformed) shared a common church. The worships were held at different times, e.g. Protestants from 8 to 10 am, and Catholics from 10 to 12 am. Only the Catholics could use the choir.

Me: This really is interesting. The Revocation of the Treaty of Nantes was in 1685. Yet the simultaneum began in 1687. Does that mean that protestants were again welcome to worship as they chose? Or was Alsace even part of France at that time?

Was this practice common in Alsace? In France/Germany/Switzerland and other places?

Etienne's answer:

Alsace was part of the German Empire at the time of the Protestant Reform (early 16th cty). Alsace was a complicated mosaic of various lordships and possessions (I can send a scanned map to those interested). After the Peace of Augsburg (1555), the people in each lordship had to adopt the confession of the lord or owner, according to the rule "cujus regio, cujus religio".

The major part of Alsace became French after the Treatises of Westphalia (1648), however some territories and towns did so later (Strasbourg 1681, Mulhouse 1799). The French King Louis XIV thought it was better "not to touch to Alsatian affairs", even though he favored the Catholics wherever he could and the Protestants were subjected to much vexation and injustice (but no real persecution as in "old" France). Even though Alsace was French in 1685, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes had no dramatic effects in Alsace, apart of course that many French Huguenots crossed Alsace to flee to Germany and many of them even settled down in Alsace (especially Bischwiller and Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines).

The "simultaneum" was introduced in every Protestant parish where lived at least 7 Catholic families. The church was shared by the two confessions at different time schedules. The authorities encouraged Catholic families to settle down in majorily Protestant villages, so as to reach the number of 7 families. The simultaneum was experienced by Protestants as an injustice and it gave rise to conflicts and trials, sometimes riots. Between the 17th century and 1850, the simultaneum was introduced in up to 150 villages, majority in the northern part of Alsace. After 1850, it was suppressed in many places, mostly because Catholic parishes built their own churches, thus avoiding much troubles. There were about 60 simultaneous churches in 1900 in Alsace and about 50 today.

Sources: B. Vogler, Histoire des Chrétiens d'Alsace, 1994; Le Partage de Dieu, Saisons d'Alsace # 102, 1988 (this book gives a brief outline of each village where simultaneum was introduced at some time)

As far as I know, simultaneum is typically Alsatian. After being a notorious injustice, it became gradually a sign of tolerance. Here what one of the most famous Alsatians, Dr Albert SCHWEITZER, Peace Nobel Prize 1952 wrote about it (my translation):
The church of my village, fraternally used by Catholics and Protestants, taught me tolerance. My childish heart already found it beautiful that in our village, Catholics and Protestants would worship in the same church. Now, I feel penetrated of joy every time I pass over its sill. I wish that every church in Alsace that is common to both confessions remains as it is, like a token, for future, of the religious concord to which our expectations should tend if we are true Christians.
May genealogy exchanges also act for mutual understanding!

Later post from Etienne, used by permission:

Having checked in literature, I confirm that the simultaneum existed in some places in Germany and Switzerland, but never as systematized as in Alsace after 1648, where it was part of the integration into France, where Catholicism was the state religion. It existed in rare places which belonged to two lords, a Catholic and a Protestant. This also was the case in Alsace before it became French, e.g. in Neuwiller-les-Saverne since 1563. By googling "simultaneum", several
examples out of Alsace are found.

However, - and that's why the Alsatian situation is very typical - the French authorities generalized the simultaneum and used it as an attempt to marginalize the Protestants and make them come back to the Catholic church.

Another interesting fact: when the simultaneum was generalized in Alsace, only Catholics benefited from the situation, as they obtained the permission to celebrate in the choir of Protestant churches. As a consequence, the Protestant community remained in charge of the church, despite the

Yet another question: what about Lorraine? Here it should be recalled that the Protestant Reform was not introduced durably in this region, at least in the Duchy of Lorraine.

Regards from Alsace
Thank you to Paul and Etienne for permission to quote, and Etienne for so generously sharing his knowledge. The map scans are available at .

The mosaic of lordships in Alsace at the end of the Thirty Year War, 1618-1648. Extracted from Dollinger P. & Oberlé R., 1985. L'Histoire de l'Alsace, de la préhistoire à nos jours, Ed. SAEP.

The Protestant territories at the same time, extracted from Vogler B., 1994. Histoire ds Chrétiens d'Alsace, Ed. Desclée.

Simultaneum, from: (collective). Le partage de Dieu. Saisons d'Alsace # 102, Decembre 1988

Etienne further suggests the following sources for more information:
  • EPP R., LIENHARD M. & RAPHAEL F., 1992. Catho>liques, protestants, juifs en Alsace, Alsatia.

  • VOGLER B., 1994. Histoire culturelle de l'Alsace, La Nuée Bleue.

  • VOGLER B. (editor), 1991. L'Alsace, une Histoire, Oberlin.

  • DOLLINGER P. (editor), 1991. Histoire de l'Alsace, Privat.
The Strasbourg University Library (BNUS) also gives the ref of many books and articles:

Finally, another site about Simultaneum:

Nice photo of the church at Lembach, which was simultaneum between 1716 and 1909:

All great truths begin as blasphemies. - George Bernard Shaw


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