Cathedral chapter historical

The first canons in Merseburg, Zeitz and Naumburg were small communities of clerics who provided choir service at the bishop's churches. They gathered several times a day and night to perform divine service in solemn chants and prayers in the cathedral choir. These early clergymen hardly appear at all in documents and chronicles. A complete list of chapters was first recorded for Naumburg in the late 11th century. In deliberate reference to the community of Jesus' disciples, it lists the names of twelve canons.

Self-confident corporation at eye level with the bishops

In the course of the High Middle Ages, the cathedral clergy became increasingly important in the administration and spiritual care of the dioceses. They became reliable partners of the bishops, which helped them to assume greater responsibility and increased prestige. This was also reflected in a new self-confidence of the canons and chapters. They had to be consulted on important decisions by the bishops, could issue their own statutes, sealed charters independently and gained access to independent property. During the 12th and 13th centuries, most canons gave up the common life (vita communis) in the buildings of the cathedral cloisters in order to build their own residential and business courtyards in the immediate vicinity of the cathedrals. These so-called curiae still form a unique architectural ring around the cathedrals in Merseburg and Naumburg. 

Noble ecclesiastical institutes

The increased importance of the cathedral chapters and the lucrative income of the clergy also made the canons' posts interesting for the nobility. It was above all the sons of the lower nobility who were born after them who were given the chance to be provided for in accordance with their status. In the course of the late Middle Ages, the chapters developed into self-contained noble institutions. Every candidate for a canonry had to prove his noble origin over four generations in the paternal and maternal line. Remarkable testimonies to this phenomenon are the collections of colourful Aufschwörtafeln that have been preserved in Merseburg and Naumburg. Another necessary condition for admission was the completion of a course of study. Many canons of the late Middle Ages were highly qualified jurists who served as advisors to important personalities such as bishops and electors. During their frequent travels, they had vicars stand in for them in the choir service of the cathedral churches.

Between Lutheranism and liturgical tradition

After the chapters in Merseburg, Naumburg and Zeitz had put up fierce resistance to the Reformation until well beyond the middle of the 16th century, they too had to face confessional and political realities. At least they managed to secure their existence and many traditional rights to their churches. A particularly remarkable phenomenon is the adherence to the old choir liturgy. The Latin Horen, which already formed the core of the canons' spiritual activities in the Middle Ages, were still cultivated until the 19th century.

Generals, admirals and politicians

With the transfer of the abbey territories to Prussia in the course of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the centuries-old profile of the canons also changed. Under the influence of the Prussian king as patron of the canons, high-ranking personalities from politics and the military were awarded the dignity of canon in the 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1904 to 1930, two former vice-chancellors of the German Empire, Karl Heinrich von Boetticher and Arthur Graf von Posadowsky-Wehner, served as deans of Naumburg. The last dean of Merseburg Cathedral and first dean of the United Cathedral Chapter was the famous Field Marshal August von Mackensen.

By the Thread in the GDR

After the end of the Second World War, a difficult time began for the United Cathedral Foundations, in which the future fate of the foundation and the chapter remained uncertain. Formally a foundation under the sovereignty of the GDR state, the representatives of the chapter repeatedly tried to refer to the ecclesiastical tradition of the foundations in order to avoid direct access by the authorities. At the same time, the potential to manage the small foundation assets independently reached an all-time low. Not only the properties, but above all the valuable churches remained without adequate restoration measures for many decades. The valuable art and library treasures were stored under catastrophic conditions. 

Turning point

After the collapse of the GDR, a phase of reorientation also began for the cathedral chapter. It was necessary to overcome the times of withdrawal and hermetic closure. A new generation of canons, some of whom had already had experience in foundation work in the old Federal Republic, set the course for a new beginning. With the reform of the statutes in 1994, some important changes came into effect. The foundations and funds, which until then had formally existed as individual foundations, were united into a single foundation. Another necessary measure was the overdue opening of the chapter to women. With the beginning of the 21st century, the cathedral chapter entered the third millennium of its existence.