Sunday, March 17, 2013

An Introduction to Strasbourg

I am an American. While this brings with it many benefits, it also carries with it a number of weaknesses. For example, the fact that I can drive for a couple of thousand miles from my home without needing to speak another language means that I have never learned to speak another language. Our sheer size and location between two oceans and two friendly neighbors means that world news is generally relegated to page three or four of the newspaper. Most Americans would have a hard time naming the heads of a half-dozen foreign countries. While my interest in missions has broadened my horizons, the reality is that I had never heard of Strasbourg until someone asked if I would be interested in taking a sabbatical there last year. Like many people, when I heard the name I assumed that the city was located in Germany. And I would have been almost right. It has been in Germany. Several times.

Confused? I was. Here's the story.

First Roman...

Strasbourg started out as an outpost of the Roman Empire in 12 BC. The Romans called it Argentoratum. As a base on the frontier of the Roman Empire, it suffered a variety of battles and was finally overrun by the "barbarians" in the fourth century.

...Then German...

The Cathedral in Strasbourg
By the 10th century, the town had become known as Strasbourg and had become a part of the Germanic Roman Empire. While Christian worship had been taking place in the city for centuries, work on the city's crown jewel, the Cathedral, began in earnest in the 12th century. When completed in 1439, it became the tallest building in the world. Shortly thereafter, Johannes Gutenberg invented Europe's first movable type printing press in the city and the first  modern newspaper was published in Strasbourg in 1605.

The 16th century saw Strasbourg as influential center of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Bucer agreed with the teachings of Martin Luther and the city's printing industry helped the intellectual movement of the reformation flourish. Worship in the Cathedral became Protestant. For several years the great Swiss theologian John Calvin took refuge in the city.

...Then French...

The Cathedral as a
"Temple of Reason"
during the French
While Strasbourg was neutral during the Thirty Years War, it was suddenly annexed by the French in 1681. The French at the time were not tolerant of Protestants, but Strasbourg and the region of Alsace enjoyed a special status. The Cathedral was returned to the Catholics and Catholicism was promoted, but Protestants enjoyed relative freedom in the area.

The French Revolution brought many changes to Strasbourg. Many churches were destroyed and the Cathedral lost many of its statues. In 1794 there was serious talk of tearing the Cathedral's spire down because zealots thought it represented ideals contrary to Revolution. Creative citizens quickly built a giant Phrygian cap (a symbol of the Revolution) and put it on the tower, thus saving this incredible building.

Saint Maurice Church
 near our apartment

...Then German...

The middle of the 19th century brought the Franco-Prussian war to the area and the siege of Strasbourg in 1870 destroyed many of the city's finest collections in a bombardment. Ironically, destruction came as a result of a poorly done French map that had been captured by Germans. The map erroneously labeled the city library as the city hall. At the end of the war, Strasbourg became German once again. A ring of fortifications was built around the city and are now popular destinations. Two beautiful churches were built to serve the German troops. The Catholic church, Saint Maurice, is across the street from our apartment and its bells are a constant reminder of the presence of God.

President Wilson

...Then French...

At the end of World War I the Treaty of Versailles returned the region to the French. One of President Wilson's Fourteen Points read, "All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia  in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all."

...Then German...

That security was short-lived. At the start of WWII, Hitler "liberated" Strasbourg and the Alsace region from the French. Many of young men who lived in Alsace were forced to serve in the German army at the Russian front. Robert Heinrich Wagner was installed to rule Alsace. His nickname "The Butcher of Alsace" sheds light on the conditions under the Nazis. Thousands died at his direction.

...Now French and a Symbol of Unity

Allied bombing damaged much of the city before French troops entered it once again in 1944 and it has remained French to this day.

The Alsatian city of Strasbourg, with its long history of French and German influence has become a symbol of unity in Europe. In 1949 it became the home of the Council of Europe with its Court of Human Rights. In 1951 the European Parliament began meeting in Strasbourg and named the city its official seat in 1991. 

It is also the home of Trinity International Church, a church that welcomes people from all nations to join together in worshiping and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.

So there you have a brief introduction to the history of the this wonderful town, where every person has a story and every corner has a cafe in which to tell it.

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