Archbishopric of Magdeburg

The Archbishopric of Magdeburg was a Latin Catholic archdiocese (969–1552) and Prince-Archbishopric (1180–1680) of the Holy Roman Empire centered on the city of Magdeburg on the Elbe River.

Prince-Archbishopric of Magdeburg
  • Erzstift Magdeburg (German)
  • Archiepiscopatus Magdeburgensis (Latin)
Coat of arms of Magdeburg
Coat of arms
Prince-Bishoprics of Hildesheim, Halberstadt and Magdeburg (violet), about 1250
Prince-Bishoprics of Hildesheim, Halberstadt
and Magdeburg (violet), about 1250
Common languagesEastphalian
Historical eraMiddle Ages
• Archbishopric founded
   by Emperor Otto I
• Conquered Jüterbog
1157 1180
• Gained immediacy at
   breakup of Saxony
• Subdued Halle
• Albert of Brandenburg
   elected archbishop
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Duchy of Saxony
Duchy of Magdeburg

Planned since 955 and established in 968, the archdiocese had de facto turned void since 1557, when the last papally confirmed prince-archbishop, the Lutheran Sigismund of Brandenburg came of age and ascended to the see and the Magdeburg Cathedral chapter had adopted Lutheranism in 1567, with most parishioners having preceded in their conversion. All his successors were only administrators of the prince-archbishopric and Lutheran too, except the Catholic layman Leopold William of Austria (1631–1635). In ecclesiastical respect the remaining Catholics and their parishes and abbeys in the former archdiocese were put under supervision of the Archdiocese of Cologne in 1648 and under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Vicariate of the Northern Missions in 1670.

In political respect the Erzstift, the archiepiscopal and capitular temporalities, had gained imperial immediacy as a prince-archbishopric in 1180. Its territory comprised only some parts of the archdiocesan area, such as the city of Magdeburg, the bulk of the Magdeburg Börde, and the Jerichow Land as an integral whole and exclaves in parts of the Saalkreis including Halle upon Saale, Oebisfelde and environs as well as Jüterbog and environs. The prince-archbishopric maintained its statehood as an elective monarchy until 1680. Then Brandenburg-Prussia acquired Magdeburg prince-archbishopric, and after being secularised, transformed it into the Duchy of Magdeburg, a hereditary monarchy in personal union with Brandenburg.

The 1994-founded modern Diocese of Magdeburg is a diocese of the Latin Church of the Catholic Church located in the German states of Saxony-Anhalt (bulk), Brandenburg and Saxony (smaller fringes each).


After the wars of the years 940 and 954, when the Polabian Slavs, as far as the Oder, the Magyars had advanced so far into Germany, that Augsburg was threatened. At the Battle of Lechfeld in 955 they were defeated and repelled. Immediately in 955 Otto the Great set to work to establish an archbishopric in Magdeburg, for the stabilisation through Christianisation of the eastern territories. He wished to transfer the capital of the diocese from Halberstadt to Magdeburg, and make it an archdiocese. But this was strenuously opposed by the Archbishop of Mainz, who was the metropolitan of Halberstadt. When, in 962, Pope John XII sanctioned the establishment of an archbishopric, Otto seemed to have abandoned his plan of a transfer. The estates belonging to the convents mentioned above (founded in 937) were converted into a mensa for the new archbishopric, and the monks transferred to the Berge Convent. The archiepiscopal church made St. Maurice its patron, and in addition received new donations and grants from Otto.

Its ecclesiastical province included the existing dioceses of Brandenburg and Havelberg and the newly founded dioceses of Merseburg, Zeitz, and Meißen. Lebus was added in 1424. The new archdiocese was close to the unsecured border regions of the Holy Roman Empire and Slavic tribes, and was meant to promote Christianity among the many Slavs and others. Then, on 20 April 967, the archbishopric was solemnly established at the Synod of Ravenna in the presence of the pope and the emperor. The first archbishop was Adelbert, a former monk of St. Maximin's at Trier, afterwards missionary bishop to the Ruthenians (Ruthenia), and Abbot of Weissenburg in Alsace. He was elected in the autumn of 968, received the pallium at Rome, and at the end of the year was solemnly enthroned in Magdeburg.

The archdiocesan area of Magdeburg was rather small; it comprised the Slavonic districts of Serimunt, Nudizi, Neletici, Nizizi, and half of northern Thuringia, which Halberstadt resigned. The cathedral school especially gained in importance under Adalbert's efficient administration. The scholastic Othrich was considered the most learned man of his times. Many eminent men were educated at Magdeburg.

Othrich was chosen archbishop after Adalbert's death (981). Gisiler of Merseburg by bribery and fraud obtained possession of the See of Magdeburg, and also succeeded temporarily in grasping the Bishopric of Merseburg (until 1004). Among successors worthy of mention are the zealous Gero (1012–23); Werner (1063–78), who was killed in battle with Henry IV; St. Norbert, prominent in the 12th century (1126–34), the founder of the Premonstratensian order.

Political territory of the Prince-Archbishopric (lacking Jüterbog exclave) by 1648, over present-day Saxony-Anhalt

Archbishop Wichmann (1152–92) was more important as a sovereign and prince of the Holy Roman Empire than as a bishop. Wichmann sided with the emperor in the Great Saxon Revolt and was rewarded by recognising the archepiscopal and the cathedral capitular temporalities as a state of imperial immediacy within the Holy Roman Empire, thus Wichmann was the first to add the title secular prince to his ecclesiastical archbishop. Albrecht II (1205–32) quarrelled with Otto II, Margrave of Brandenburg (1198–1215), because he had pronounced the pope's ban against the latter and this war greatly damaged the archbishopric. In 1208 he began to build the present Cathedral of Magdeburg, which was only consecrated in 1263, and never entirely finished; Günther I (1277–79) hardly escaped a serious war with the Margrave Otto IV, who was incensed because his brother Eric of Brandenburg had not been elected archbishop. The Brandenburgers succeeded in forcing Günther I and Bernard III (1279–1281) to resign and in making Eric archbishop (1283–1295).

Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg (1513–45), on account of his insecure position, as well as being crippled by a perpetual lack of funds, gave some occasion for the spread of Lutheranism in his diocese, although himself opposing the Reformation. It is not true that he became a Lutheran and wished to retain his see as a secular principality, and just as untrue that in the Kalbe Parliament in 1541 he consented to the introduction of the Reformation in order to have his debts paid. His successors were the zealous Catholics John Albert of Brandenburg-Ansbach (1545–1550), who however could accomplish very little, and Frederick IV of Brandenburg, who died in 1552.

Administrators who were secular princes now took the place of the archbishop, and they, as well as the majority of the cathedral chapter and the inhabitants of the archdiocese, were usually Protestant. They belonged to the Hohenzollern House of Brandenburg, which had adopted Calvinism in 1613. Christian William was taken prisoner in 1631, and went over to the Catholic Church in Vienna. At the time of the Peace of Prague (1635), the Archbishopric of Magdeburg fell to August, Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels. In the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), the expectancy to the archbishopric was promised to Brandenburg-Prussia upon the death of August. When the Saxon prince died in 1680, the archbishopric was secularised by Brandenburg and transformed into the Duchy of Magdeburg.

The remaining Catholics in the area were under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Vicariate of the Northern Missions between 1670 and 1709, and again from 1780 to 1821. Between 1709 and 1780 the Apostolic Vicariate of Upper and Lower Saxony was the competent Catholic jurisdiction. In 1821, the area was transferred in Catholic respect to the Diocese of Paderborn. In 1994, the Diocese of Magdeburg was founded in the area.

Archbishops and administratorsEdit

Archbishops of MagdeburgEdit

1180: Gained Imperial immediacy on breakup of duchy of Saxony

Prince-archbishops of MagdeburgEdit

1480: Prince-Bishopric of Halberstadt administered by archbishops of Magdeburg

Prince-archbishops of Magdeburg, administrators of HalberstadtEdit

1566: Archdiocese ruled by Lutheran administrators

Administrators of MagdeburgEdit

1680: Prince-Archbishopric secularised to duchy

Ecclesiastical Province of MagdeburgEdit

Ecclesiastical Province of Magdeburg (in green) amidst other provinces in Central Europe.

The archbishop of Magdeburg was the metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Magdeburg (de facto dissolved in 1648), with the archbishops also holding – besides the archbishop-elector of Mainz – the honorary title Primas Germaniae. The suffragans of Magdeburg were:


Residences of the Archbishops of Magdeburg were:

See alsoEdit


  • Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Magdeburg" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Magdeburg". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.