Paul's Lutheran Church
St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Odessa:
a brief chronology, from 1803 to the present day
Friedrich Bienemann’s Geschichte der evangelisch-lutherischen Gemeinde zu Odessa provides a detailed history of the St. Paul community for the period 1803-1890. Except where noted, the information in this chronology is from that source. Its author was the son of Herbord Bienemann, who was pastor from 1868-1890.
|1803-1829: The Early Years|
The Odessa German community had its beginnings at the turn of the nineteenth century. The Odessa Protestant congregation sought its pastors from the University College of Theology in Dorpat, Estonia.
The first Protestant pastor to be appointed to Odessa was Johann Heinrich Pfersdorff. Besides serving as pastor for Odessa, he also served a number of German colonies in the Odessa region, an area that turned out to be much too large for one pastor. When the pastor’s house in the village of Großliebenthal was completed in 1806, he relocated there in order to be at the geographical center of the area. In 1811, when a pastor was specifically appointed to the city of Odessa, Pfersdorff stayed on in Großliebenthal as pastor for its congregation.
new pastor for the city of Odessa was Carl August
Böttiger. At that time, the Odessa congregation
still worshipped in a rented house, as they had
no church. Money was raised to build a church
and pastor’s house, but the building project
was placed on hold until the mid-1820s because
of the Napoleonic wars, wars with Turkey, and
repeated episodes of the plague. With no house
or church building in sight, the situation became
untenable for the pastor, and he left in 1814.
Meantime, it came to the attention
of Tsar Alexander I during a visit to Odessa
that there was a need for a new consistory in
South Russia. The Tsar gave his support to the
formation of the new consistory, which was to
have its seat in Odessa. The region included
Kherson, Tauria (Crimea), Yakaterinoslav, Kiev,
Chernigov, Poltava, Kharkov, Volhynia, Podolia,
Bessarabia and the Caucasus. At the same time,
a new consistory was similarly formed in the
Volga region, with its seat in Saratov.
|1818||Carl Böttiger returned to Odessa to accept the new position of Superintendent of South Russia.|
|1820||Under Böttiger’s guidance, Johann Ambrosius Rosenstrauch became pastor. He stayed for two years, then left for Kharkov.|
his way to the Caucasus to be a missionary preacher,
Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Fletnitzer stopped in Odessa.
While sojourning there, he was offered the position
of pastor for Odessa, with responsibility for
the Church school, and also assistant to the superintendent.
He stayed on at St. Paul’s for forty years.
St. Paul’s Church school
was started. Within two years, enrolment had
grown to 211 children from nine countries: 105
boys, 106 girls.
was made to the city building committee for a
building site for a church, and the Odessa German
colony made available a vacant lot for that purpose.
Money was raised from community contributions
and support from the Tsar. The building was designed
by Francesco Boffo, architect of a number of well-known
buildings in Odessa as well as the Potemkin steps.
In 1824, the foundation stone was laid and the
building completed in 1827. The dedication ceremony
was held on 9th October, 1827. This date is regarded
as the founding of St. Paul’s.
|1828-29||Odessa was again hit by an outbreak of the plague, causing the church and school to close for a time.|
1830-1869: The Fletnitzer Years
Friedrich Fletnitzer was chosen by the congregation
as the new pastor to succeed Carl Böttiger.
The Tsar approved the choice, and from that time
on, the Tsar would give his final approval for
new pastoral appointments.
Prior to 1830, church records
were not kept systematically. Realizing the
importance of church records, including church
registers, Fletnitzer set about establishing
good record keeping practices from that time
|1831-36||Odessa was hit by a cholera epidemic, followed in 1833 by crop failure. Both had a significant effect on the economy of the city for some years. People were poor, and contributions to the church insufficient to cover expenses, which resulted in the pastor not receiving his full salary in 1836. A sizeable loan had to be taken out in order to complete needed repair work on the church.|
A new set of laws for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia was drawn up, which was to remain in force until the monarchy came to an end in 1917. The South Russia and Volga consistories were dissolved and subsumed under the St. Petersburg and Moscow consistories respectively.
adoption of the new laws would also have repercussions
for the Odessa congregation in the years immediately
following. Until then, the Lutheran and Reformed
denominations in Odessa had worshipped together
in the same church, but because of the new Church
laws, the Odessa church became known as the
Evangelical-Lutheran church. That move was to
result in the Reformed Church members breaking
away and forming their own separate congregation
|1833||Several improvements were made to the church, including fencing of the property, planting of trees and shrubs, and building of an organ.|
|1835||Fletnitzer started a fund for the poor, which would eventually lead to a shelter for the old and poor members of the congregation.|
|1839||A new hymnbook was created. Two bells were cast. The cemetery was laid out in an orderly fashion, and trees and shrubs added.|
|1841||Work was started on a house for the pastor and on a confirmation classroom. Building was completed in 1846.|
|1844||Fletnitzer became provost.|
home was built for the poor, aged, and disabled
members of the church community.
A community school was started,
and upper-level classes added. The upper-level
classes were placed under the authority of the
Imperial Ministry for Volksaufklärung (“Education
of the People.”)
A plan was drawn up for a larger building to house the poor.
The Crimean War (1854-1856) had a devastating effect on the community, as the British and French fleets on the Black Sea blockaded the port. The children were sent to outlying colony schools for safety. Teachers were let go for lack of funds.
|1858-64||The school building was enlarged. A new name was approved for the school: “Deutsche Realschule St. Pauli.” 1858 is regarded as the year in which St. Paul’s Realschule was founded. Enrollment grew. By 1863, there were 718 pupils of various religious denominations.|
|1866||1866 Gas lighting was installed in the church, as gas had just been introduced to the city of Odessa. Fletnitzer sought support to create an orphanage for boys.|
|1867||1867 Provost Fletnitzer had a stroke, and had to resign his position. His duties relating to the school were assumed by Moritz Oertel, and a second pastor was sought to assist with the pastoral duties (Provost, ministering in Lustdorf, Güldendorf, and the Annenthal congregations, as well as in the Quarantine Harbor and the Young Ladies Institute, plus committee work.) Herbord Bienemann was appointed as assistant to the Provost.|
1868-1890: The Bienemann Years
Bienemann became Fetnitzer’s successor
|1872||The school was rebuilt, and a cistern was built in the courtyard. The home for the aged was expanded. It accepted women of any denomination, and was supported by contributions from church members.|
years after the founding of St. Paul’s,
the congregation celebrated its Golden Jubilee.
An oil painting to commemorate the occasion was
made by the art teacher, Herr Langhaus, and lithographs
of the painting were produced. On Sunday, 9th
October, the Jubilee celebration was held. The
interior of the church was decorated with flowers
and plants. Provost Bienemann preached the sermon,
based on Psalm 84. Musical performances were given
by the choir and orchestra.
That year, the Frauenverein (“Ladies Group”) was founded. During the Russo-Turkish War, members spent one day per week volunteering at the new Military Hospital.
In December, a new pastor, Guido Hesselbarth,
arrived to assist the Provost and assist with
The school gymnasium was built.
Provost Bienemann envisioned a German Protestant Hospital in Odessa to serve the Black Sea region. Over the next few years, donations for the building project were received from within the community, from the Queen of Württemberg, and the German Kaiser.
new hymnbook was introduced.
The Realschule was expanded to seven grades.
400th anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth
was celebrated with musical performances, under
the direction of Dr. Hans Harthau.
|1886||Pastor Gustav Becker was appointed as rector of the community’s charitable institutions.|
|1887-88||A church office, a new home for the elderly, and a girls’ school were built.|
1890-1914: Turn of the Century: a New Church Building
As a result of its strategic position on the Black Sea and its deep harbours, Odessa had by this time become a flourishing seaport on the south coast of Russia and grown into a lively cosmopolitan city of international renown; a city known for its wide avenues and beautiful architecture, whose residents included people of diverse ethnic backgrounds from within the Russian Empire and European countries. In Odessa: A History, 1794 -1914, Patricia Herlihy writes:
The original St. Paul’s church, built in 1827, was demolished in 1895 to make room for the new building, which provided seating for 1200 people. The dedication ceremony was held in 1897. St. Paul’s was the third largest Lutheran church after St. Petersburg and Moscow.
The church is located on German Hill, 200 ft. above sea level and about two blocks due west of Sobornaya (“Cathedral”) Square and the city center. The exterior dimensions of the 1897 church were 50 m. by 22 m. (Schnurr 394-395)
The bell tower was 48 m. In height and was apparently visible from the sea. From the bell tower, looking northeast, one would therefore be able to see all the way along Dvoryanskaya Street (formerly known at various times as Witte Street, Petra Velikago (“Peter the Great”) and Kominterna Street) and over the rooftops beyond towards the port, which is just under a mile away.
A comparison of these two historical site plans shows how the use of the church buildings changed over time. Plan one shows the original 1827 church with its portico entrance (c.f. pictures Schnurr 394.) Plan two shows the 1897 church, with its elongated nave, in which the apse is much closer to the buildings behind the church than was the case with the 1827 building. Both plans show the church and the property surrounding it that used to belong to the church.
On the lower left of the left-hand page is a fractional scale based on the Faden, an old German unit of measurement. According to the explanation given on the lower right of the same page, one Faden is equivalent to 7 English feet. This may or may not be accurate. A check of several print and online dictionaries indicates 6 feet as the approximate equivalent. However, to complicate matters further, those sources reveal that the length of the Faden itself varied from one German-speaking country to another.
The site plan lacks a north arrow, which would give an indication of the lay of the land, the buildings and surrounding streets, and may have given rise to later confusion about the orientation of the church building. In his landmark work, Die Kirchen und das religiöse Leben der Russlanddeutschen, Evangelischer Teil (395, para. 2), Joseph Schnurr states that the three windows of the apse let in the light from the east. This presupposition is based on the tradition of orienting churches towards the east. However, the Wagner & Debes maps of Odessa found in Baedeker guides to Russia (published in a series of editions over a period of years until 1914 as well as in various languages) show clearly that the main entrance to the church is on Novosielskogo, facing NE. It can therefore be concluded that the church is oriented approximately NE to SW, with the apse facing SW. The reader may wish to verify this on Google Earth (earth.google.com), even though the apse is no longer standing.
On the right-hand page are two keys to the site plan: the first is a list of numbered church buildings showing their functions and years in which they were built; the second shows how those same buildings were being used in 1890. Also indicated are the size of the original lot, indicated by the dotted vertical lines ab and ef that pass through the buildings/ garden to the left and right of the church; the entrance to the courtyard until 1869 (g); the newer entrance (c); and a corridor (h) that was built on to building V.
The church property is bounded by:
The following four maps provide a wealth of historical data for the time period c. 1892 – c. 1929, changes of street names, and transliterations of Russian into English, French and German.
|1906||The parish of St. Paul numbered 5200 souls, including 450 in Lustdorf and 1200 in Guldendorf. (Schnurr 215)|
1914-1937: Gathering Storm and Final Days
|1914||Following the outbreak of World War I, Germans in Russia were declared enemies of the state. The German language was no longer allowed as the primary language in Lutheran schools, nor was it to be used as the language of the church. That meant that sermons, hymns and the Bible were to be in Russian, which caused great difficulties for many German-speaking communities.|
War I and political upheaval in Russia brought
about the demise of imperial Russia and its transformation
into the Soviet Union, creating profound socio-political
change that permeated the entire country. It was
time for change within the Lutheran church in
Russia, and the process of working out a new order
for the church based on the model of the synod
was begun. (Schleuning 106; Roemmich 30-33)
However, the process was interrupted by the October Revolution of 1917 and the Civil War, which resulted in major political reforms and legislation for the separation of church and state, together with the confiscation of all church property. Shortly thereafter, church schools were taken over by the state. (Schleuning 107; Roemmich 33)
1924, the number of Lutheran clergy in the whole
of Russia had decreased from 198 in 1914 to
81. (Schleuning 112)
The 1927 photograph appears to have been taken in order to record the church interior and decorations in honor of the St. Paul’s centennial celebration. A cropped version of it may be seen in Schnurr’s Die Kirchen und das religiöse Leben der Russlanddeutschen, Evangelischer Teil. That version is missing some detail on the right side, the significance of which is discussed below.
The enlargement of the central section of the 1927 photograph of the interior reveals many details that are obscured on the original photograph:
The sun streams in through the central window of the apse, which faces approximately southwest, indicating that the photograph would have been taken in the late afternoon. Other sources of light include lighting fixtures and, possibly, additional lighting used by the photographer.
The irregular shaped edges of the pictures on either side of the centre aisle are probably caused by garlands draped around the edges.
The picture attached to a pillar on the left is almost certainly the 1827 building (see the pictures in the 1927 section of this Chronology, above, and Schnurr 394.) Yet another picture of the 1827 church is available at the following website: http://www.zimdocs.btinternet.co.uk/fh/index.html . To view the postcard, select the link at the foot of the page: <Postcards of Odessa circa 1900>, then <Lutheran church>. (Many other historical postcards of Odessa are displayed on the website.)
view the postcard, select the link at the foot
of the page: <Postcards of Odessa circa 1900>,
then <Lutheran church>. (Many other historical
postcards of Odessa are displayed on the website.)
Also located one on each side of the center aisle are two hymn boards. On the left, the board is in the shadows on a wall decorated with tiles to the left of the pulpit; on the right, it is on the corresponding wall across the centre aisle. Both boards display the same hymn numbers: 32, 12, 21, 13, from the edition of the Lutheran hymn book in use in St. Paul’s at the time.
|1928-34||For churches across the whole of the Soviet Union, the situation was deteriorating fast. During this time period, pastors and lay clergy were targeted and systematically arrested, shot, or sent to labor camps. By 1934, the number of pastors remaining had dwindled to forty one.|
|1937||St. Paul’s was closed down and remained closed until after the fall of the Soviet Union. Pastor Karl Vogel was arrested and sent to labor camp, where he died in 1943.|
|1941||Theophil Richter, former music director of St. Paul’s, and father of Sviatoslav Richter, world-renowned pianist, was arrested and shot. (Smirnov 187; Stricker 22)|
On 9th May, the 1897 church building was largely destroyed in a fire. (Schnurr 394)
Present Day: Postcript
The pastor's house was rebuilt next to the ruined church
If you have information to add to the history of St. Paul's, or comments about these pages, please contact Michael Miller Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu
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Web pages prepared by Ella Melik