Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn

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Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn (oil painting, 1586), unknown painter, Martin von Wagner Museum

Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn (born March 18, 1545 in Mespelbrunn , † September 13, 1617 at the Marienberg Fortress in Würzburg ) was a German Roman Catholic theologian, cathedral dean and politician. From December 4, 1573 until his death he was Prince-Bishop of Würzburg . He is considered a great builder and administrative reformer. He was an important representative of the Counter Reformation , which went hand in hand with the expulsion of Protestants, the re-Catholicization of the Diocese of Würzburg and the re-establishment of the University of Würzburg in 1582. Echter was elected Prince-Bishop of Würzburg on December 1, 1573, shortly after the death of his predecessor Friedrich von Wirsberg .

Family and origin

Coat of arms of Julius Echter, with the Echter coat of arms (3 horse rings), the Franconian rake (as Duke of Franconia ) and the Würzburg lance flag
Peter Echter von Mespelbrunn and his wife Gertrud, parents of Julius, depicted on the portal in the inner courtyard of the moated castle Mespelbrunn

Julius Echter was the second son of Peter Echter von Mespelbrunn (* 1520, † January 21, 1576 in Mainz), Electoral Mainz councilor and bailiff for Stadtprozelten and Dieburg , and his wife Gertraud, née. von Adelsheim (* 1525, † 1583 in Wiesentheid). He had four brothers and four sisters:

  • Adolf (April 30, 1543 - 1600), Dr. iur. utr., Kurmainzischer Rat, bailiff of Stadtprozelten, successor of the father as lord of the castle of Mespelbrunn (tomb in the Würzburg Cathedral), married to Clara von Frankenstein since 1566
  • Sebastian (March 8, 1546 - November 7, 1575), councilor of the Electorate of Mainz, bailiff of Orb and Hausen, married to Sophia von Seckendorf
  • Valentin (May 21, 1550 - September 24, 1624), Würzburg bailiff of Aschach , Kissingen and Volkach and Reichshofrat (builder of Aschach Castle and the parish church of Gaibach , where he is buried), married to Ottilia Rau von Holzhausen (12 Children)
  • Dietrich (1554–1601), princely councilor and bailiff of Rothenfels (buried in the parish church of Büchold ), father of canon Julius Ludwig (1578–1609)
  • Margarethe (February 4, 1549 - 1611), married since June 13, 1564 to Hans Heinrich von Ehrenberg (mother of the later Prince-Bishop of Würzburg Philipp Adolf von Ehrenberg )
  • Maria (November 21, 1552 - 1553),
  • Magdalena (May 15, 1556 - 1598), married since 1574 to Hans Fuchs von Dornheim zu Wiesentheid and Mainsondheim (mother of the later Bamberg prince-bishop Johann Georg II. Fuchs von Dornheim )
  • Kordula (October 8, 1559 - 1597), married to Stephan Zobel from Giebelstadt zu Darstadt and Messelhausen since 1581 , councilor and bailiff in Arnstein (tomb in the pilgrimage church of Maria Sondheim )


He spent his childhood at Mespelbrunn Castle , where he was tutored by private tutors. In 1554 he became a collegiate student in Aschaffenburg . From 1557 he was a canon in Würzburg , where he attended the cathedral school. In 1559 he became a cathedral student in Mainz and then went to the Jesuit high school in Cologne . Studies followed in 1561 at the University of Leuven , 1563 at the University of Douai , then in Paris , Angers and Pavia . He concluded his studies with a licentiate.

Church career

“The College of the Würtzburg University of Applied Sciences”, completed in 1591
The Marienberg bishopric with gable gables , copper engraving by Johann Leypolt (1603)

On November 10, 1569, Julius became a real cathedral capitular in Würzburg, in 1570 in Mainz , and in 1571 in Bamberg . As early as 1570 he became cathedral scholar and councilor of the episcopal government chancellery , and on August 4th of the same year cathedral dean . On December 1, 1573, after the death of Friedrich von Wirsberg , who died on November 10, 1573, he was elected Prince-Bishop of Würzburg. He was ordained a priest on May 20, 1575; the episcopal ordination followed two days later.

After the death of Archbishop Daniel of Mainz (March 22, 1582), Echter, who had remained canon in Mainz, was considered a promising successor. In the first ballot on April 19, 1582 he received 12 votes, provost Wolfgang von Dalberg 11. Echter waived before the second ballot on April 20, and Dalberg was then elected unanimously. Attempts to become Archbishop of Mainz in 1601 and 1604 also failed.

Julius Echter's most important enterprise was the implementation of the Counter Reformation in the Hochstift Würzburg, which included the promotion of the Catholic League . He became known as the founder of the University of Würzburg in 1582 and of the Juliusspital in 1579, a hospital for the poor and orphans that still exists today as the Juliusspital Foundation .

Court library

Immediately after taking office, Echter began converting and building his seat of government, the Marienberg Fortress, into a representative palace. There he also set up his new court library. The old library was destroyed in a fire in 1572. Echter had new publications acquired at the book fairs, which were delivered as printed sheets and bound by the respective court bookbinder on site. Most of the court bookbinders came from Saxony, and so the Saxon binding style was characteristic of the Würzburg bindings, especially those of the court library. At least until 1590, their bindings were made of light pigskin, which was decorated with the embossed and colored prince-bishop's coat of arms as a supralibros. There are three versions, round, angular and angular with an additional frame, which integrated the ancestral coats of arms into the decorative Renaissance ornamentation. On the green front cut of the larger volumes, the title, name of the owner ("Julius Dei Gratia Episcopus Wirceburgensis Et Franconiae Orientalis Dux") and the year of binding were stamped in gold letters. The court library, which could have contained around 3,000 volumes, was spoiled by the Swedes in 1631 when Würzburg was conquered. Today around 1,600 volumes can still be identified, of which around 1,200 are in the Uppsala University Library , which King Gustav II Adolf (Sweden) had given them as a gift. The rest are scattered all over Europe, a larger collection is in England, 43 real volumes in the University Library of Würzburg , another five in the State Library of Bamberg .


The Juliusspital around 1700

In the renaissance buildings he initiated , Gothic elements were often deliberately integrated. This style is therefore also known as Real Gothic and True style or Julius style called and is a form of Nachgotik .

The Juliusspital (1576) and the Julius University, completed in 1591, including the church (founded in 1582) are the first secular monumental buildings with extensive building areas. The building complex of the Juliusspital, completed in 1588 based on a design by Georg Robin , was replaced by new buildings in the 17th and 18th centuries. Julius Echter had the castle of Marienberg Fortress partially destroyed by fire in 1572 (the prince-bishop's residence) rebuilt and renovated.

The construction of numerous churches (with the well-known real towers ) and schools, the renewal of the state legal system and an administrative reform, which, coupled with strict austerity and the inclusion of secular and spiritual assets, led the diocese out of debt without taxes, were also great achievements to increase.

Political activity

Julius Echter's role in the so-called Fulda trade was very controversial in the Catholic Church and in the empire . After the prince abbot of Fulda Balthasar von Dernbach had been forced to abdicate by the Lutheran knighthood and the Fulda chapter, the Würzburg prince-bishop Julius Echter was elected administrator of the monastery. Pope Gregory XIII threatened to be banned from church if he did not return Fulda. Balthasar von Dernbach tried to regain power in Fulda through petitions to the Pope and to Emperor Maximilian II . After a lawsuit before the Reichshofrat, which lasted 26 years, Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn had to return the Fulda Abbey on August 7, 1602, and also had to pay damages and pay the legal costs. These events became known as the Fulda Handel .

Julius Echter's counter-Reformation measures meant that Protestants unwilling to convert had to emigrate on a large scale. Echter stated the number of converts in 1586 as 53,000, while those of emigrants were only 34. The Jesuits speak of 62,000 converts. After Rome, Echter had the number 100,000 reported in 1590 (the year of the new, princely-absolutist, Würzburg city order) at the end of his Counter-Reformation.

A three-page anti-Catholic pamphlet published in Tübingen in 1616 accused Julius Echter of wanting to see witches burn “all Tuesday”. This led to the assumption that there had been an above-average number of witch trials in Würzburg under his rule , and to the assertion that Echter had placed himself “at the head of a mighty witch hunt”. Recent source studies refute this representation for the beginning of his reign:

“According to the current state of knowledge, no executions for witchcraft are known from the first 27 years of the reign of the Prince-Bishop. The procedural documents that have been handed down show a similar course of proceedings: Denunciations from the village were countered with an orderly procedure that ended with acquittal or, in one case, expulsion from the country. From 1573 to 1600, according to the current state of knowledge, the Würzburg bishopric was free of litigation and execution. "

- Robert Meier: The early witch trials of Prince-Bishop Julius Echter.

Other researchers came to the view that Julius Echter had systematized the witch hunt and thus also laid the foundation for further witch trials after his death in 1617. One year after Julius Echtes death, the Thirty Years War broke out, a catastrophic climax of the “Age of Faith Wars ”.

Echter built the Juliusspital on the site of the former Jewish cemetery. The Jews who had to flee under Echter protested against the bishop's affront.

Echter's tomb, made by Nikolaus Lenkhart, is in the Würzburg Cathedral. His heart rests in a modern stele in the new church .


In the Juliuspromenade (before the middle of the 19th century Grabenweg ) in Würzburg is the " Julius-Spital " , built in 1576, and the Prince-Bishop-Julius-Echter monument. It was created by the well-known Munich sculptor and academy professor Max von Widnmann (1812–1895) and ceremoniously unveiled on June 2, 1847. In the same year, King Ludwig I of Bavaria , the founder of the bronze monumental statue, had a history thaler minted for this. The university founded by him in 1582 is also named after him as "Julius University (zu Wirtzburg)" (later Julius Maximilians University). The architectural style of the real Gothic , which emerged during Julius Echter's reign, was also known as the Julius style or the real style .

In Elsenfeld in the Miltenberg district, the Julius-Echter-Gymnasium is named after him, in Erlabrunn and Lauda-Königshofen there is a street. The city of Volkach dedicated Julius-Echter-Platz to the bishop, in Gerolzhofen there is Julius-Echter-Straße, in Traustadt the Julius-Echter-Ring. In Iphofen there is the Julius-Echter-Berg single vineyard . In 1840 Johann Baptist Scholl made a bust for the Walhalla memorial . With Julius Echter , a beer specialty was also named after the prince-bishop.

In 2017, the Diocese of Würzburg is celebrating a commemorative year for Prince Bishop Julius Echter on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his death.


Non-fiction books and specialist articles

  • Johann Nepomuk Buchinger : Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn: Bishop of Würzburg and Duke of Franconia. Voigt and Mocker, Würzburg 1843.
  • Wolfger A. Bulst: On a rediscovered representation of the university's founder Julius Echter. In: Peter Baumgart (Ed.): Four hundred years of the University of Würzburg. A commemorative publication. Neustadt ad Aisch 1982 (= sources and contributions to the history of the University of Würzburg. Volume 6), pp. 47–76.
  • Damian Dombrowski, Markus Maier u. Fabian Müller (Ed.): Julius Echter. Patron of the arts: contours of a prince and bishop of the Renaissance. Deutscher Kunstverlag, Berlin, Munich 2017, ISBN 978-3422074088 .
  • Rainer Leng : Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg. Published by the Mainfränkisches Museum , Würzburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-932461-35-4 .
  • Rainer Leng, Wolfgang Schneider, Stefanie Weidmann (eds.): Julius Echter 1573–1617. The controversial prince-bishop: an exhibition after 400 years. Sources and research on the history of the diocese and monastery of Würzburg. Echter Verlag, Würzburg 2017, ISBN 978-3429043261 .
  • Markus Josef Maier: Würzburg at the time of Prince-Bishop Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn (1570–1617). New articles on building history and the cityscape (= publications by the Würzburg City Archives. Volume 20). Schöningh, Würzburg 2016, ISBN 978-3877178577 .
  • Gottfried Mälzer: Julius Echter. Life and work. Echter Verlag, Würzburg 1989, ISBN 978-3429012557 .
  • Robert Meier: Julius Echter as a witch saver. A polemic based on processes from Neubrunn . In: Würzburg diocesan history sheets. Volume 77, 2014, pp. 287-296.
  • Robert Meier: The early witch trials of Prince-Bishop Julius Echter. With a review of Lyndal Roper's "Hexenwahn". In: Würzburg diocesan history sheets. Volume 79, 2016, pp. 145–156.
  • Robert Meier: Julius Echter, 1545-1617. Echter Verlag, Würzburg 2017, ISBN 978-3-429-03997-4 .
  • Robert Meier: witch trials in the Würzburg monastery. From Julius Echter (1573–1617) to Philipp von Ehrenberg (1624–1631) . Echter-Verlag, Würzburg 2019, ISBN 978-3-429-05382-6 .
  • Michael Meisner: Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn. Prince-Bishop between triumph and tragedy. Stürtz, Würzburg 1989, ISBN 978-3800303588 .
  • Friedrich Merzbacher (Ed.): Julius Echter and his time. (Commemorative publication on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the election of the founder of Alma Julia as Prince-Bishop of Würzburg on December 1, 1573). Echter Verlag, Würzburg 1973.
  • Götz Freiherr von Pölnitz: Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn. Prince-Bishop of Würzburg and Duke of Franconia (1573-1617) (= writings on Bavarian national history. Volume 17). Munich 1934.
  • Barbara Schock-Werner : The buildings in the Principality of Würzburg under Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn. Structure, organization, funding and artistic evaluation. Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 2005, ISBN 978-3795416232 .
  • Alfons Schott: Julius Echter and the book. Philosophical dissertation in Würzburg 1953.
  • Wolfgang Weiß (ed.): Prince-Bishop Julius Echter: adored, cursed, misunderstood (= sources and research on the history of the diocese and bishopric of Würzburg. Volume 75). Echter Verlag, Würzburg 2017, ISBN 978-3-429-04371-1 .
  • Wolfgang Weiß (Ed.): State rule and denomination. Prince-Bishop Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn (r. 1573–1617) and his time (= sources and research on the history of the diocese and bishopric of Würzburg. Volume 76). Echter Verlag, Würzburg 2018, ISBN 978-3-429-04448-0 .
  • Angelika Pabel: Julius Echter's bookbinders: their works in the single-binding collection of the Würzburg University Library. In: Mainfränkisches Jahrbuch für Geschichte und Kunst. Volume 39, 1987, pp. 58-65.
  • Angelika Pabel: The round renaissance binding for Prince-Bishop Julius Echter: the new highlight of the Würzburg binding collection. In: Binding Research . Volume 20, 2007, pp. 27-36.
  • Helmut Engelhart: The liturgical prints for Prince-Bishop Julius Echter. Echter Verlag, Würzburg 2017 (= sources and research on the history of the diocese and bishopric of Würzburg. ) ISBN 978-3429044107 .


Web links

Commons : Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Stefan Kummer : Architecture and fine arts from the beginnings of the Renaissance to the end of the Baroque. In: Ulrich Wagner (Hrsg.): History of the city of Würzburg. 4 volumes; Volume 2: From the Peasants' War in 1525 to the transition to the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1814. Theiss, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-8062-1477-8 , pp. 576–678 and 942–952, here: pp. 588 and 605 f.
  2. Angelika Pabel: Books from the court library of the Würzburg prince-bishop Julius Echter (1573-1617) in the Bamberg State Library. A subsequent contribution to the real year . In: Binding Research . Issue 42, April 2018, ISSN  1437-8167 , p. 11-19 .
  3. Willy Schmitt-Lieb, Wilhelm Engel : Würzburg in the picture. With a foreword by Mayor Franz Stadelmayer . Wisli-Mappe, Würzburg 1956, p. 13.
  4. Stefan Kummer : Architecture and fine arts from the beginnings of the Renaissance to the end of the Baroque. In: Ulrich Wagner (Hrsg.): History of the city of Würzburg. 4 volumes; Volume 2: From the Peasants' War in 1525 to the transition to the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1814. Theiss, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-8062-1477-8 , pp. 576–678 and 942–952, here: pp. 588–596.
  5. http://www.ijon.de/echter/biogra05.html
  6. ^ Wilhelm Engel in: Willy Schmitt-Lieb, Wilhelm Engel: Würzburg in the picture. With a foreword by Mayor Franz Stadelmayer . Wisli-Mappe, Würzburg 1956, p. 13.
  7. Thorough narration of how the bishop of Würtzburg started the witch burning in Franckenlande. Contained in: Zwo Hexen-Zeitung. Tubingen 1616; printed in Wolfgang Behringer (ed.): Witches and witch trials in Germany. dtv documents, Munich 1993, pp. 246–248.
  8. Lyndal Roper : Witch Mania. Story of a persecution. CH Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-54047-9 , p. 44.
  9. ^ Robert Meier: The early witch trials of Prince-Bishop Julius Echter. With a review of Lyndal Roper's "Hexenwahn". In: Würzburg diocesan history sheets. Volume 79, 2016, pp. 145–156.
  10. http://archivalia.hypotheses.org/61008
  11. http://www.geschichte-im-kloster.de/julius-echter/julius-echter.html
  12. Olaf Przybilla: The diabolical prince-bishop. Retrieved August 5, 2017 .
  13. ^ Bruno Rottenbach: Würzburg street names. Volume 1, Franconian Company Printing Office, Würzburg 1967, p. 9.
  14. ^ Sybille Grübel: Timeline of the history of the city from 1814-2006. In: Ulrich Wagner (Hrsg.): History of the city of Würzburg. 4 volumes, Volume I-III / 2, Theiss, Stuttgart 2001-2007; III / 1–2: From the transition to Bavaria to the 21st century. Volume 2, 2007, ISBN 978-3-8062-1478-9 , pp. 1225-1247; here: p. 1228.
  15. ^ Würzburger Hofbräu .
  16. Prince-Bishop Julius! 1617 2017
predecessor Office successor
Friedrich von Wirsberg Prince-Bishop of Würzburg
Johann Gottfried von Aschhausen