Religions and Confessions in the Polish Crown in the 2nd half of the 18th Century

Atlas Źródeł i Materiałów do Dziejów Dawnej Polski, 2016, no. 1
Bogumił Szady, Historical Geoinformation Laboratory, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin

B. Szady, Geography of religious and denominational structures in the Crown of Polish Kingdom in the second half of the 18th century, Lublin 2010.


The main and direct aim of this work is to present the territorial organization of religions and confessions in the Crown part of the old Republic of Poland. Because of the lack of systematic de- mographic sources for that period, it seems to be the best method to study the actual quantitative (statistical) and spatial (geographical) relations between the followers of all confessions existing in the Crown. The analysis comprised the territory of the Małopolska (Little Poland) and Wielkopol- ska (Great Poland) provinces within their borders from the second half of the 18th century, which was before the territorial changes caused by the fist partitions of Poland. The areas under lien or fief: Spiš and Drahim starostwo (crown land administered by and official called starosta) as well as the lands of Lębork and Bytów were also taken into consideration. Because both the sources and studies provide different administrative structures of the areas mentioned above, the collective statistics treat them separately, i.e. they were not included within any of the 23 crown voivodships. Warmia, which formally belonged to the Malbork voivodship, was also viewed separately. The total area considered in the present work comprised 424,358 square kilometres, including:

Ø Małopolska province – 304, 390 km2,

Małopolska – 57, 656 km2

(including Spiš area – 679 km2)

Crown Ruthenia – 235, 227 km2

Podlasie – 11,507 km2

Ø Wielkopolska province 119,968 km2

Wielkopolska – 59,842 km2

(including Drahim area – 651 km2)

Crown Prussia – 26, 452 km2

(including Lębork and Bytów areas – 1,857 km2 and Warmia 4,316 km2)

Mazowsze – 33,674 km2.

As for the scope of the present work, the analysis comprised sacral objects and units of territorial administration of all religions, confessions and liturgies that occurred in the area of the Crown and that created organizational structures considered in the sources. The group of Christian tem- ples included Catholic churches of three liturgies (Latin, Greek and Armenian), Orthodox. Lutheran (Evangelical-Augsburg), Mennonite, Calvinist (Reformed Evangelical) and the Unity of the Brethren (Bohemian Brethren, despite strong unification tendencies with Calvinists were treated separately). Among non-Christian religions, the most space and attention was given to Jewish temples. The number of Muslim mosques and Karaite kenesas was small.

The present work, due to the territorial and material scope, is based mainly on sources and studies providing systematic information on the structures and distribution of sacral objects of religions and confessions. A considerable effort was put into preparing the information and car- tographic materials for those confessions wherever such either did not exist (e.g. a map of syna- gogues and houses of prayer) or they were old (e.g. a map of Protestant churches). The state of knowledge on the centralized and well controlled Latin Church is without any doubt the most complete, mainly thanks to the preserved records of canonical visits, lists of benefices or other types of specifications necessary for efficient administration of the Church. Protestants communi- ties, which systematically prepared descriptions of their organizational state, which was shrink- ing more and more in the 18th c., were fairly well documented. Knowledge on the organization of Eastern churches presents a slightly worse picture although the key role here is still played by the exploration of sources. The third religious group – considering the number of churches – namely, Jews did not create – or they are not known – systematic descriptions of the state of their prop- erty. This results from a completely different organizational structure of those communities which were characterized by much greater decentralization in comparison to Christian religions. The first complete list of Jews’ organizations in the Crown and in Lithuania was an effect of the state’s undertaking from the second half of the 18th c. the aim of which was to change the tax system of this group of the population.

The analysis of the distribution of temples of all confessions and religions on a very large area together with strong regional differentiation required introducing an inner division making it easier to present the phenomenon. Narration according to particular confessions did not enable to fully use the comparative method. On the other hand, it was not justified to accept the criterion of the division of the Latin Church structures that comprised the whole territory of the Republic of Poland because the Greek-Catholic Church played a far more important role in the Crown Ru- thenia. Unintentionally, it created the danger of comparing other confessions to the Latin Church. Hence, it was considered the most proper to accept the division of the state administration (prov- inces and voivodships) within which the quantitative, structural and geographical analyses were made of particular confessions (chapter I: Małopolska province, and chapter II: Wielkopolska province). Chapter III (Religious and confessional regionalization of the Crown) is an attempt to exclude from a detailed territorial analysis the moments that identified and were characteristic of the confessional and ethnic space of both provinces. While formulating the main conclusions, a significant role was played by the methods of geostatic analysis. The present work made use of both the base of special data and geographic information systems as a set of instruments for a spe- cial analysis of the collected data. Both the method itself and instruments to use it create a chance to make a step further in relation towards the classic methods of cartographic presentations that are binding in historical geography. These are naturally to be found in the present work.

The first two chapters have the character of a systematic geographical and statistical analysis of the religious situation of each voivodship of the Crown. In addition to presenting the statistics and administrative divisions of confessions and religions, problems relating to the creation of borders of territorial administration as well as issues connected with the development and factors affect- ing the religious situation in particular regions were undertaken. The following elements were brought to the foreground: the range of the first Christianization of the Slav areas, the policy of state authorities and the international situation affecting the changes of not only political but also religious borders. In the modern times, of special importance was the Polish-Lithuanian union and, being the consequence of the latter, the Brest union, which changed the religious picture of the Crown through including the areas where Eastern churches had their structures. The Prot- estant reformation had a significant influence, especially in Wielkopolska and Royal Prussia. The development of kahal organization related to the processes of external and internal colonization affected the formation of Jewish self-government the central organ of which was the Council of Four Lands. Differentiation in the density of sacral objects was closely connected with the owner- ship and settlement structure in each voivodship as well as with the inner organizational regula- tions of churches and religions.

A geostatic analysis was made of totally 15,253 sacral objects, including 8,311 Uniate churches, 5,722 Latin churches, 841 synagogues and houses of prayer, 276 Lutheran churches, 35 Orthodox churches, 22 Catholic churches of Armenian liturgy, 19 Mennonite churches, 14 – Calvinist ones, 10 – belonging to Bohemian Brethren, 3 Karaite kenesas and 2 mosques. Basing on their distribution, an analysis was conducted of the range of confessions and religions, differentiation in their den- sity; besides, religious regionalization of the Crown was performed. Distinction of areas of varying degrees of religious heterogeneity (so-called religious fractionalization) proved especially interest- ing. In the social perspective, the phenomenon called “multi-religiousness” mainly concerned the towns, while in the geographical perspective it referred to the Latin-Uniate, Latin-Lutheran and Uniate-Orthodox borderlands. Viewing the problem in most general terms, the towns lying on the borderlands can be considered the most heterogeneous. There, the Latin Church was losing its dominating position: to the east – for the benefit of the Uniate Church, to the west and north – for the benefit of the Lutheran Church. The conducted geographical-historical analysis points to religious differentiation of the Crown and its division into two parts (Latin and Uniate ones) and three distinct borderlands (Latin-Uniate, Latin-Lutheran and Uniate-Orthodox ones). Consider- ing slight deviations in each province, which were affected by the factors described above, it can be said that in the cross-section of the whole analyzed area the geography of sacral objects adequately presents the religious situation in the Crown.

Translated by Hanna Grygielska-Michalak

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Data of the publication “Religions and Confessions in the Polish Crown in the 2nd half of the 18th Century”, authors and Institute for the Historical Geography of the Church in Poland is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.