The conversion of Poland

To the north of Bohemia lay Poland, that region whose absence of clearly defined geographic boundaries has rendered it the tragic victim of its strong neighbours. Here, as in Bohemia, Christianity entered partly under pressure from the Germans. Also, as in several of the lands which we have noted, its progress was associated with the growth of centralized political control by a king and was opposed by those local magnates who wished to preserve their independence and who associated it with the pre-Christian order.

We do not know exactly when the first conversions were made among the Slavs of the region which we know as Poland. In the second half of the tenth century a Slavic prince who ruled over part of the area accepted baptism, perhaps through the influence of his wife, the sister of Boleslav II of Bohemia. He was forced to recognize the overlord-ship of Otto I, In 968 a bishopric was created for the Poles at Poznan (Posen) and its first two incumbents were Germans.

The great growth of Christianity in Poland was under a son of this prince, Bole-slaw Chrobry ("the Brave"), who reigned from 992 to 1025. Boleslaw brought together one of the largest states of the Europe of his day and sought to strengthen the royal authority at the expense of the local magnates. He encouraged missionaries. When Adalbert was martyred by the Prussians he had the body brought to Gniezno (Gnesen). That city was soon (1000) made the seat of an archbishopric, the brother of the martyr was put at its head, and three suffragan sees were created under it. Thus the Church in Poland was given a hierarchy, even though that might be inadequate for so large a realm. The creation of these bishoprics was at the initiative of the imaginative young Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III, grandson of Otto I, but the suggestion may have come from Boleslaw, for the act made the Polish Church almost independent of that of Germany.

After the death of Boleslaw what might have been anticipated took place. A revulsion set in against the royal authority and the faith which was so closely associated with it. For a time the Kingdom of Poland broke apart. Churches and monasteries were burned and bishops and priests were either driven out or killed. While the work of Boleslaw was never completely undone, for several generations the Christianity of the country was on a low level. Bishops were too few and their dioceses too large for adequate administration.

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