Protestants in the Goriška region

Protestants in the Goriška region
Protestantism oz. Lutheranism in the Goriška region today is practically just a concept from (church) history. The Protestant movement, which developed under the leadership of Martin Luther in Germany in the first half of the 16th century, spread rapidly throughout Europe. In the second half of the 16th century, Protestantism was also widespread in the Goriška region, but at the end of the century the Protestant movement in our country practically died out.

A new impetus in the 19th century

Protestant church in Gorizia in Diaz street. Photo (c): Renato Podbersič
The Protestants of Gorizia received a new impetus in the 19th century. But it was not mainly the Protestantism of the indigenous population, it was stamped by the immigrant German noble family Ritter von Zahony.
Johann Christoph Ritter (1782–1838) was a German merchant born in Frankfurt. Economic development led him first to Trieste and then to Gorizia. He was a devout Protestant and a successful businessman. In 1829, the Habsburg Emperor Franz I granted him the noble title of von Zahony. His work was continued by his sons Ettore (Hector) and Giuseppe.
Until 1857, preachers from Trieste came to Gorizia from time to time. After the branch was established, dr. Hermann Adelberg, who until then had been a home teacher at Hector von Ritter.
Members of the Ritter von Zahony family have become synonymous with business success in the Goriška region. In Stražice ob Soči, today a part of Gorizia, they set up the largest spinning mill for silk production in Austria, theirs was the first Gorizia spinning mill and cotton weaving mill. In the middle of the 19th century, they employed over six hundred people, mostly women. Due to a shortage of skilled technical labor, workers were brought in from Germany and Switzerland.
The newcomers were in the majority of the Protestant faith. Around 1860, there were around 170 Protestant believers in and around Gorizia, cared for by a pastor from Trieste. The enterprising Ettore Ritter made great efforts with the authorities to establish an autonomous church community in Gorizia. In 1861 he succeeded and the new church community included Gorizia, Gradež (Grado), Tržič (Monfalcone), Ajdovščina and Tolmin.
In 1863, they started next to the hospital in the former Alvarez Palace in Gorizia, which was managed by the monks of St. John of God or the Merciful Brethren, to build a new evangelical church that still stands today in Via Diaz. It was very solemnly opened the following year. The financial burden was borne mainly by the Ritter von Zahony family with the help of German Protestant associations. Although the Protestants in Gorizia did not represent a numerically strong community, in 1880 there were 229 out of a good 20.000 inhabitants, they were very successful and influential in the socio-economic field. They even founded their own mixed primary school with a German language, which in 1873 numbered 102 pupils. Of these, a third of the students were from Catholic families, two even from Jewish ones.

394 Protestants

In 1894, the Protestant church community in Gorizia numbered 394 believers, and their preacher was Ludwig Schwarz of Nasswald. Immigrant state officials and soldiers, as well as officers from the Gorizia garrison of the Austro-Hungarian army, predominated among the members. As in other evangelical communities, various societies operated in Gorizia. Most important was the local society Gustav-Adolf-Stiftung, founded in August 1861. The purpose was to support churches and other aid needed by Protestants, and any member of the evangelical community who contributed something could become a member.

The Great War

Evangelical Church in Gorizia during the First World War. Source: Soča Front Society 1915-1917.
The First World War deeply affected this religious community, which practically did not recover after it. Today, Protestants in Gorizia represent a few dozen believers who are divided among individual Protestant communities. The Protestant church in Via Diaz is run by the Methodist community (Chiesa evangelica metodista), the service is every Sunday at 10.30.

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Renato Podbersič

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