Our third stop on our Friday morning tour (May 25, 2012) was to the village of Dielingen which sits on North Rhine-Westphalia’s border with Lower Saxony about 12.5 miles northwest of Hedem. In the 1970s Dielingen joined twelve other villages to form the town of Stemwede. St Mary’s (St Marienkirche), the church in Dielingen is the parish church for the four westernmost villages in Stemwede (Dielingen, Drohne, Haldem and Arrenkamp) and is part of the Lübbecke Evangelical-Lutheran circle. Also, most of the people in Stemshorn, a village directly north of Dielingen but across the border in Lower Saxony, prefer to worship in Dielingen even though they were once in different countries and today are in different states.
The original church where St Mary’s now stands was probably built in the 9th century, soon after Charlemagne defeated the Saxons and converted them to Christianity. The first two or three churches were probably made of wood and burned down before the present church was built in the early 13th century. The church is first mentioned in a document dated 1231 from the Bishop of Minden declaring the church to belong to the monastery in Levern (another village now part of the town of Stemwede).
St Mary’s was first built as a two-bay hall church in the Romanesque style but it is now more of a Gothic structure. The tower is Romanesque and there is a rounded arch in the church’s northwest corner. All of the other arches are pointed. The church has been remodeled many times over the centuries. North and south transepts were added in the middle of the 15th century, forming a “T” in the church floor-plan. The spire was added in the 18th century. Two of the interior treasures — the organ and the pulpit — are baroque and date back to the seventeenth century. The tabernacle and choir stalls are even older. The last major restoration was in the 20th century (1958 to 1963).
An order of devout Dielingen parishioners called the Society of St Matthew was formed shortly after the end of the Thirty Years War to bury those who died of the plague. This order still exists today and they still take part in funeral ceremonies. In 2004 a book was published on the history of the village and its church in honor of the 350th anniversary of this society.
Christian Theler left the family farm in Hedemer Buchholz in the early 1800s when Napoleon was flexing his muscles all over Europe. He found work in Meyerhofen in the Bishopric of Osnabrück and in 1813 he married Anne Marie Dinkelmann probably in her home church of Stemshorn but the marriage record was recorded in Dielingen. Their first child was baptized in Dielingen but when the Kingdom of Hanover took over Osnabrück in 1815 and allowed a Protestant church to be built in Hunteburg, the Theler family began to worship there.
The Congress of Vienna that gave Osnabrück to Hanover in 1815 also gave Westphalia to Prussia and young males who didn’t wish to serve in the Prussian army began to walk westward from border villages like Dielingen until they found themselves in the Kingdom of Hanover where no one really cared who they were or where they came from. So they made their way northward to Bremen to find a ship that would take them to the New World.
The exodus soon accelerated with the introduction of flax spinning and weaving machines that marked the end of the homespun linen industry in Westphalia. Then a series of crop failures further hastened the abandonment of the farms. About half of the people who left Westphalia received permission to leave. The others just walked away. Many of their neighbors in Osnabrück-Hanover joined them.
Next posting: St Matthew’s Church of Hunteburg.