The history of the contemporary Czech Republic is full of events that had influence on the continuity of social and cultural development. The Christianization of the country is one of those aspects, with roots in the period of the Great Moravia. In 863, its leader named Rostislav decided to send messengers to Byzantium to request the sending out of a Christian mission. The arrival of the Byzantine missionaries Constantinus and Methodius was a turning point in the cultural development of the territory. They introduced a literary Slavonic language, which influenced the liturgical language.

Before the foundation of the Premysl state, Bohemia was an area under influence of the Salzburg archbishopric, the bishops in Regensburg and Passau (in Germany), and later during the Great Moravia, too. Secular landowners applied their laws in the churches and cloisters built on their land.

In the 9th and 10th century Bohemia was a part of the bishopric diocese Regensburg. The foundation of the bishopric in Prague between 973-976 had importance for the state sovereignty. The Prague bishopric was submitted to the archbishopric in Mainz (Germany). The new bishopric was also founded in Olomouc (Moravia) in 1068.

In the 10th and 11th century the majority of churches were founded by the Prince or his vassals near castles, and later in the countryside. Different affairs, such as masses, baptisms, funerals, and feasts took place there.

In 1150-1200, with the support of landowners, churches became more independent and started to create parish areas as known to us nowadays. The relationship of secular owners was slowly changing into a position of donators and churches, and priests started to be managed by a bishop. The right of the investiture of the Prague bishop was forwarded from an emperor to the Czech king already in 1197, but definitely it was confirmed when the Golden Sicilian Bull was issued in 1212.

In 1222 the Czech King Premysl Otakar I issued the chart confirming judicial exemption of clergy and declared that church land and inhabitants living on church land belonged to the Church. Nevertheless, a long time passed before this declaration became a reality. First it became valid on the royal dominions. On dominions of the Czech aristocracy the special right was applied (called "patronatni pravo"). The point of this right was to supervise church property, but an owner was not allowed to appoint a priest. He was allowed only to recommend him to a bishop who confirmed or abolished a person in the position. At the end of the 13th century dioceses were subdivided into deaneries as a level between priests and the bishop. Priests voted a dean who took care of orders, discipline, announced church resolutions, and collected the "tenth" (a kind of tax). In 1344 the Prague bishopric was promoted into the archbishopric, supervising the bishopric in Olomouc and Litomysl.

At the beginning of the 15th century, reformatory ideas influenced some clerks. At the starting point were the ideas of John Wickliff, Milic from Kromeriz or Matej from Janov. Their studies were explored and floated by other well-known scholars like Jan Hus, Jeronym Prazsky, Jakoubek from Stribro and Mikulas from Dresden (Germany). High criticism was focused against church indulgences and contemporary society. It had a very important influence on the Hussite Movement (1419-1434).

In 1420 a new bishop was elected in Tabor. This town became a centre for the new Church, which was independent of the Catholic Church. The Prague Archbishop converted to reformatory ideas in 1421. Catholics considered this an archbishopric vacancy so that the Prague diocese was lead by the Prague Chapter House.

After the Hussite Movement people were allowed to profess the Catholic religion, with a centre in the Upper Consistory (Horni konzistor), or the Calixtin religion (Kalisnicke vyznani), a centre in the Lower Consistory (Dolni konzistor). From the thirties of the 16th century Calixtins were influenced by Lutheran ideas, but some of them inclined to Catholicism. The Catholic Church was strongly supported by Jesuits who came into Bohemia in 1556. In addition, recovery of the Prague Archbishopric in 1561 supported the effort to restore a national unity on behalf of the Catholic religion. Until 1567 it was a centre for Catholics and Calixtins, but some Calixtins longed for their independance.

The turning point was the Diploma of the Emperor Rudolf II (Rudolfuv majestat), issued in 1609, providing guaranty to freeedom of religion. The Estates were allowed to establish members of the Lower Consistory without permission of the Czech king. New Utraquists (Novoutrakviste) and the Unity of Brethern (Jednota bratrska) shared it as an administrative centre. The Lower Consistory took over responsibility for the establishment of church administration (parish, deanship, and archdeanship offices).

The basic unit in the Unity of Brethern was the community. A priest was the highest authority in a community. All communities had representatives in the highest assembly, called the Assembly of Communities. This assembly elected a senior / bishop. Four seniors used to be elected since 1500, as well as a judge, usually the eldest senior. The assembly also elected 14 members who had a fuction similar to the Lower Consistory.

In 1621 the Lower Consistory was abolished. All priests, except Catholic ones, were expelled from the country. The Diploma of the Emperor Rudolf II was abolished and forced re-catholization was applied there. We talk about the Counter-Reformation. It was a political movement in the baroque period, which came into being as reaction to the Reformation. The movement was especially enforced after the final defeat of the Czech Protestant Estates in the Thirty Years´ War (1618-1648) and was already supported by the Council of Trident in the 16th century.

Emperor Charles V convoked the Council of Trident in 1545 and its discussion prolonged until 1563. The Council focused to the reformation of the Catholic Church and decided to accept several dogmas to reinforce Catholic influence. The problem of kepping vital registers was also discussed. Bohemia preserved some vital registers, which have an origin in the second half of the 16th century (Cheb, Kutna Hora, Praha, Slany), usually kept by non-Catholic priests. After the Thirty Years´ War, only Catholic priests kept registers. Alas, a lot of registers were destroyed during the war. Records of baptism, marriage, and death were recorded in one register, but in 1784 the Emperor Joseph II ordered registers kept separately.

As part of his reformatory activities, the Emperor Joseph II, declared the Edict of Religious Tolerance (Tolerancni patent), published on Oct. 13, 1781. This edict gave religious freedom to the followers of Lutheran, Calvinist (Helvetics), and Orthodox religions. About 45,000 Protestants were not allowed to return to the old ideals of the Unity of Brethern. Many pastors of Slovak and Hungarian origin came over and helped to establish the Czech Protestant church. Henceforth, the Catholic Church had dominant influence in the church and school affairs. Calvinists and Lutherans kept vital registers from 1782, but supervision of Catholic priests was abolished in 1849.

After 1781 Lutherans and Calvinists were allowed to perform private services, not public ones. Their communities were established in areas where at least 100 people professed the religion. Communities supported schools and built churches that did not have the shape of a church with the official name "meeting-house". Due to a lack of non-Catholic Czech pastors it was necessary to ask foreign communities in Silesia, Hungary and Germany to provide them.

Czech Lutherns and Calvinists had authority centres in Vienna (2 consistories). The Lutheran Consistory had an origin in the consistory which was removed from Tesin. Members of both consistories were established by the state and had a common presidium, led by Catholics. The highest representative was a superintendent, one for Lutherans and one for Calvinists. Bohemia and Moravia were devided into several administrative districts (senioraty). Lutheran districts were devided into German and Czech ones in Bohemia and districts called Silesia, Brno, and Suchdol in Moravia. Calvinist districts had local names like Praha, Podebrady, and Chrudim in Bohemia, then eastern and western ones in Moravia. Communities were allowed to establish pastors if they could support their expenses, but final decision was forwarded to the consistories. Catholic priests kept non-Catholic vital registers. Non-Catholic pastors were permitted to keep only nonpublic registers, which became public ones in 1829. The charter from 1861 declared equal rights to Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists.

As the supervision of Catholic priests became weaker, other churches or religions were allowed to keep vital registers out of authorities of the Catholic Church: from 1868 Jews, 1877 Old Catholic Church, 1920 Czech Brethern, 1923 Czech Orthodox Community, etc.

A special group of non-Catholic inhabitants were Jews. Those from Bohemia and Moravia pertained to the central Europian and east Europian cultural region. Some settlements were founded about the 11th - 13th century in Praha, Brno, Litomerice, Jihlava, Olomouc, and other administrative and merchant centres. At the beginning they were supplied with special status of free people or guests who founded their merchant colonies in main centres, but since the 13th century they started to lose these rights. They became subjects submitted to the Royal Chamber (financial authorities).

Soon many people found Jews unwanted competition and asked for their expulsion from royal towns in the 15th and 16th century. A lot of organized public pogroms were held against them and the state tried to expel majority of Jews several times (e.g. 1541, 1557, 1744-1748). Despite this, Jewish inhabitants settled also in non-royal towns. A rabbi led their congregations. He was a teacher, head of rabbi court of justice, and authority in the Jewish law. The higher institution was the Prague Jewish Community with a superior rabbi. Moravian communities were more independent and they did not have only one administrative centre. The spiritual centre was established in Mikulov. The Family Act (Familiantsky zakon) of 1726 limited the number of Jewish families in Bohemia to 8,541; in Moravia to 5,106. Only the eldest son was permitted to marry. Other sons had to stay unmarried or to leave the country. In addition, Jewish inhabitants were allowed to live in restricted suburbs, and out of churches.

Since 1781 Jews did not have to care a special symbol on clothes and were permitted to visit schools and universities or to practise a different trade. In 1784 their judicial activities were abolished, but still solved the internal problems of Jewish religion. In Prague there was an administrative centre for all communities, consisting of 5 council members council led by the Prague rabbi. The Prague synagogue founded the Jewish spiritual school. A very controversial order changed Hebrew surnames to new German ones in 1787. German became the main active language. A release happened after 1848 when many restrictive laws were abolished.
World War II broke hundreds of years of lasting Jewish roots in the Czech Republic.

Today, after 40 years of communist rule when people were limited to practise their chosen religion, the Czech people are trying again to find a connection to old roots and habits.

Published in "Koreny (Roots)", Vol. 8, No. 4, September 2004, Page 17-19