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  • John Adler

A Concise History of the Ancestral Village and Church of the Adler Family in Viernheim, Germany

“The name of Hesse, now used principally for the grand duchy formerly known as Hesse-Darmstadt, refers to a country which has had different boundaries and areas through history. The name is derived from Hessi, which was a Frankish tribe. The earliest known inhabitants of the country were the Chatti, who lived here during the 1st century A.D., and whose capital, was burned by the Romans about A.D. 15. The Chatti and the Hessi were identical in race and language. In the 8th century, the country came to be named Hesse, after the early inhabitants.

“Early Hesse was part of the Frankish kingdom both during Merovingian and during Carolingian times. The Hessegau district was the headquarters of Charlemagne during his campaigns against the Saxons. The Hessians were converted to Christianity through the efforts of St. Boniface. Their land converted to the archbishopric of Mainz. Religion and culture were kept alive among them largely due to the foundation of the Benedictine abbeys of Fulda (burial place of St. Boniface) and Hersfeld.” (Source:

The village of Viernheim grew out of a Carolingian king’s court. Viernheim had its first mention in 777 in the Lorsch codex, the Lorsch Abbey’s book of documents. Viernheim continuously suffered from ongoing strife concerning its ownership as well as submissive changes of religion, which occurred seven different times due to the "Religion Peace Contract of Augsburg" in 1555. According to this contract, all citizens had to take the religion of their regional rulers.

Viernheim was not spared from war and conflicts concerning claims of power. Viernheim was seized multiple times to equal out debts. During the Thirty Years War from 1618-1648 (a German civil war between Catholics and Protestants in this area and part of a much larger European conflict), the first Adlers appear in the church records of die Marienkirche (Saint Mary’s Church) in Viernheim.

Viernheim stayed with the archbishopric of Mainz and became a part of the duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1803. Until the end of the 19th century, Viernheim was a farming village. Bad harvests and widespread hunger in 1852 led to 458 inhabitants emigrating in this year to North America. They were financially supported by the community. It was during this year that Mathias Adler sailed for New Orleans followed by his younger brother, Nicholas Adler, in 1853. Their sister, Juliana Adler, arrived in New York City in 1857. All of them joined up in Gibson and Vanderburgh counties in Indiana in the years before the American Civil War.

The Ancestral Church of the Adlers

Die Marienkirche (Saint Mary’s Church) in Viernheim was the starting point of my ancestry quest to find the origins of the Adler family in Germany. It is known by the locals as “the old church” since a chapel has stood on the site since the year A.D. 350.

A parish church was in place before 1600. The present structure was consecrated on November 5, 1660, the Sunday before the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours. This day has long been a great holiday in Germany and marks the end of the harvest, similar to our Thanksgiving holiday. It was a seat of the archbishopric of Mainz.

Alterations were made to the church in 1753 that resulted in the present proportions and a second consecration took place on September 13, 1753. The ever-growing number of Catholics required a larger church, die Apostelkirche (Church of the Apostles), to be built down the main road in 1900. By 1940, it became necessary to divide the two churches’ congregations. Die Marienkirche became a parish church again. The seat of the bishopric was given to die Apostelkirche.

Die Marienkirche is constructed in the local baroque style and underwent renovations in 1960 and 1969/70. The baroque high altar and the priceless statue of Mary were made in the 18th Century in the workshop of Paul Egell (1691-1752) in Mannheim. The high altar was dedicated to the Holy Trinity in 1753, as were the side altars to Saint Joseph and Saint Catherine. The wooden pulpit was moved to its present position in the 1960 renovations.

A new organ was installed in the old baroque casing in 1953. Five large bells were

installed in the church tower in 1956. Holy Mass is celebrated at 10:00 AM on Sundays.

This material was shamelessly compiled, copied, stolen, plagiarized, and purloined from several sources by John Adler in November 2013.

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