Founded as an episcopal see by Emperor Otto the Great in 968, the former Diocese of Zeitz was transformed into a collegiate parish, which kept the memory of its prominent benefactor alive throughout the entire Middle Ages. Residence of the bishops of Naumburg, Zeitz was an important capital in the late Middle Ages. The books bequeathed to it by the bishops of Naumburg and the canons of Zeitz formed the basis of one of the most important collections of historical books in Central Germany: Zeitz Collegiate Chapter Library. Julius von Pflug, last bishop of Naumburg and one of the most influential figures of the Reformation era, was active in Zeitz.
Zeitz had been the center of an original Slavic homeland in the early Middle Ages. Following the annexation of the territory between the Saale and Oder into the empire in the 10th century, Emperor Otto the Great established an episcopal see in Zeitz in 968 with the aim of missionizing and endowing this region with an ecclesiastical structure. A hitherto unparalleled event in the history of the empire occurred just sixty years later. Influenced by the Ekkehardine family of margraves, Pope John XIX and Emperor Conrad II decided in 1028 to relocate the episcopal see to the margraves’ new foundation in Naumburg. A collegiate chapter was instituted at the former cathedral in Zeitz in order to keep the memory of its benefactor Otto the Great alive.
Following the relocation of the episcopal see to Naumburg in 1028, the canons of Zeitz tenaciously fought to restore their church’s old rights. Primacy and the right to elect its bishop were bitterly disputed with Naumburg Cathedral Chapter for two hundred years until a compromise was reached in 1230 through the mediation of high church officials. Naumburg would remain the episcopal see and the cathedral chapter there would also continue to elect the bishop. In return, the provost of Zeitz Cathedral would be admitted to the Naumburg chapter and given the third electoral vote. What is more, the clergy in Naumburg were required to introduce memoria for Otto, the founder of Zeitz, in Naumburg Cathedral, too.
The See of Naumburg was facing a serious crisis at the end of the 13th century. Deeply in debt because of the cost of the elaborate new cathedral in Naumburg and the catastrophic consequences of a lengthy war between the Landgraves of Thuringia and the Margraves of Meissen, the bishops had to abandon their ambitious goal of grand independent territorial sovereignty. Moreover, they were beset by a cathedral chapter in Naumburg that was growing stronger and stronger. In 1285, Bishop Bruno abandoned his palace in Naumburg to settle permanently in Zeitz, thirty-five kilometers away. The bishops resided with their court in Zeitz Castle in the ensuing 280 years until the demise of the episcopal see. They visited the episcopal see in Naumburg only rarely in order to perform their liturgical duties or to be laid to rest in Naumburg Cathedral.
In 1547, Julius von Pflug ascended the episcopal throne in Naumburg as both the fortieth and last bishop. The episcopate unexpectedly flourished once again under this remarkable figure. A humanist polymath caught up in the maelstrom of the Reformation, he served Emperor Charles V as an important adviser in religious questions.
Pflug relied on a policy of reconciliation in the conflict with the Protestant reformers, with whose theological works he was extremely familiar. In his will, he bequeathed his unique library of scholarly works to the Naumburg Cathedral Chapter and directed that it be permanently housed in Zeitz. Pflug’s collection along with the medieval collections of the bishops of Naumburg and the canons of Zeitz formed the core of the historical Zeitz Collegiate Chapter Library, which houses one of Central Germany’s most important collections of rare books.
Another foundation was also established in Zeitz in 16th century under the last bishop Julius von Pflug. Zeitz Church Chest incorporated different former ecclesiastical estates that had fallen vacant in the wake of the Reformation. The revenues from these properties primarily flowed into Zeitz cathedral chapter school, the future cathedral chapter high school. The third foundation in Zeitz was the so-called Procuratorship. When Zeitz became the capital of the small Duchy of Saxe-Zeitz in 1657, the dukes strove to disband the old collegiate chapter once and for all but they merely managed to wrest a part of the revenues from the collegiate chapter, which went to the new Procuratorship. The foundation’s mission was to award scholarships to gifted boys from Zeitz and to provide for orphans.
Whereas Zeitz Collegiate Church of Sts. Peter and Paul had to be ceded to the dukes of Saxe-Zeitz as court chapel in the 17th century and never again returned to the collegiate chapter’s possession, Zeitz municipal parish church of St. Michael and the old Franciscan friary as well as other properties are still part of the Combined Cathedral Chapters’ holdings. Both churches still have rich architecture from the High Middle Ages and dominate the cityscape of Zeitz to this day. The parish church of St. Michael is additionally the center of active Protestant parish life.
The end of the last cathedral chapters still remaining in Central Germany appeared to be imminent when a large part of their Saxon territories devolved to Prussia after the Congress of Vienna of 1815. The Prussian government quickly realized, however, that the cathedral chapters’ administrative bodies had had been performing a wide range of sovereign duties, including administering justice and running churches and schools, for centuries. Instead of fully disbanding the antiquated ecclesiastical institutions, the cathedral chapters were placed in the service of the new Prussian provincial government but the chapters’ legal status remained unresolved for over a century.
A new and more modern means of existence was not established until 1930 when the institutions were transformed into nonprofit foundations. The three Zeitz foundations or funds (collegiate chapter, Church Chest and Procuratorship), which had been placed under the supervision of the Naumburg Cathedral Chapter beforehand, were also administered by the new Combined Cathedral Chapter formed in 1935. Since the hitherto formally independent foundations merged into a single corporation in 1994, the collegiate chapter, the Church Chest and the Procuratorship in Zeitz have been part of the Combined Chapters of the Cathedrals of Merseburg and Naumburg and the Collegiate Church of Zeitz.