Reformbedarf und Reformen an der norditalienischen Peripherie. Der Deutsche Orden in Venedig und in Venetien (14.–15. Jh.)

Marie-Luise Favreau-Lilie



Needed Reform vs. Effected Reform on the North Italian Periphery. The Teutonic Order in Venice and its “Terraferma” (14th–15th centuries)

This article examines manifestations of decline in the Bailiwick of Lombardy ("Lamparten") that ultimately affected the lives of brothers in all commanderies within the dominion of Venice. It discusses the problems ensuing from the transformation of ecclesiastical property into free benefices and the attempts of the Venetian government to seize control of all appointments of all offices and prebends. A strict control of the conditions in the North Italian commanderies could have been achieved by regular and frequent visitations. These inspections, however, were not instigated until the second half of the 14th century and only occurred – perhaps for financial reasons – in long intervals. Whether or not there were specific reasons for dispatching visitors can no longer be determined. The underlying cause of the problems in most commanderies was the extremely low membership in the individual houses: nowhere did the number of brothers in the Teutonic Order suffice to achieve the minimum number required by the established Rule to lead a conventual life. It was easy, therefore, to ignore – whether by accident or design – any regulations. The sources only report the most spectacular cases also involving secular jurisdiction. The Teutonic Order was only affected by transformation of church property into free benefices in the diocese of Treviso. However, the ecclesiastical prebend politics in the area of study was so inconsequential that the Order never even protested. Of much greater danger to the Order was the politics of Venice: since the 1360s, the Venetian government had seized control of all ecclesiastical offices and benefices. The Order saw its autonomy seriously threatened when the Venetian Senate began, in the early 15th century, to focus not only on the secular church but also the established religious communities in Venice and its mainland possessions, including the religious military orders. Sources document that the Teutonic Order, in order to protect itself against all interference in its internal affairs by the Venetian state, cooperated with the Knights Hospitallers. They were equally threatened, but their networking in Venice gave them more influence. The joint protest of both religious military orders caused the Venetian government to retreat. The Senate’s order was not enforced and the Teutonic Order retained its autonomy.

One typical example of the Order’s problematic conduct can be observed in its holdings in Astian / Stigliano (Diocese of Treviso), where it gravely neglected its responsibilities as patron of the small church there. The Order even allowed the Diocese of Treviso – before the Council of Constance – to divert income from church property designated to pay the local resident priest, as a pure prebend to support underpaid clergy at the cathedral chapter of Treviso. Not until the reform debates at the Council of Basel was the Order – more precisely: the German Master (“Deutschmeister”) responsible for Italy – reminded of its patronage rights in Stigliano. At the end of July 1435, the Order and the Diocese of Treviso agreed to a compromise in which the vicar of the (at the time) vacant see of Treviso recognized the Order’s presentation right as patron of the church. The Order acquiesced in the transformation of the ecclesiastical property in Stigliano into a free prebend to support the clergy of Treviso, thereby quite pragmatically consenting to the personnel-political schemes of the church of Treviso. Already by the mid-1430s, the Teutonic Order’s financial situation in the Bailiwick of Lombardy was so acute that it was unable to fulfill its responsibilities attached to the church patronage in Stigliano or even to maintain the church building. Later, this became even more difficult – or better, impossible – when the commanderies faced accumulating financial obligations. From the mid 15th century, the Bailiwick of Lombardy was unable to raise even the smallest portion of the financial means necessary towards the maintenance and regular repairs of St. Nicholas Church in Stigliano. The reason: the enormous extra contributions demanded by the Grandmaster of the Teutonic Order, deeply in debt because of the unsuccessful war against Poland. Even though the Order was entirely incapable of performing its duties as patron of this small church, it still refused to relinquish its patronage.

 English translation by Cornelia Oefelein


Military Orders; Teutonic Order; Order’s Reform; Late Middle Ages; Venice; North Italy

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ISSN (online) 2391-7512

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