Church and Parish of Durbe

Church of Durbe

When in the 14th century the stone castle was built in Durbe, it also embodied the Castle Church. It is known that in 1451 there was a church, because in the Museum of Riga Dom Cathedral there was a bell with the inscription of the year. In 1496 documents a Catholic priest was mentioned working in it. In 1525 a parsonage was established there. The decision of Provincial Assembly of Courland laid foundations to a new church building that was built with allowance of the Duke of Courland. It was finished with the parish funds and consecrated on 28th February 1651. The church was consecrated by Priest Herman Topiuss who was appointed to be Dean of Grobiņa.

A chandelier from 1609

In Durbe Church there are an altar retable with woodcarvings and a pulpit from the 18th century, a chandelier from 1609 and an antique font. The organ was built in 1834 and reconstructed in 1874. In the belfry there are two bells made in 1896. In 1903 a tower watch was installed there which worked until 1922, it was fixed in 1935. The antique clay floor-tiles have partially survived.

In 1770 the building of the belfry was finished. The church was expanded and repaired several times: in 1847, in 1872 and in 1908. Due to the rebuilding in the 19th century it lost its original slender tower. The vault above the altar was bricked up when the church was extended.

On the wall beside the pulpit there is a marble memorial plaque with the names of parishioners deceased in 1919 – during the Latvian War of Independence.

In 1872 a stone wall was built around the church. There was an old cemetery beside the church; a few graves have still remained. Priest Edmund Proctor is buried next to the church. Atis Kronvalds was a home tutor for Proctor’s family.

In old times the priests of Durbe served very wide region – from Aizpute (Hasenpoth) to the border of Lithuania. From 1573 Latvian and German inhabitants had different priests, but in 1857 the Parish was divided into independent Northern and Southern parishes. The church of Ilmāja (Ilmajen) belonged to Northern Parish, but St. Bartolommeo church (or the church of Ilzene (Ylse) or Bunka) belonged to Southern Parish. In 1857 the parsonage of the Latvian Parish was also built there, because the previous one burned down together with the church archive.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were approximately 6000 parishioners in each parish, but at the end of the century there were only around 1000.

From 2003 to 2005 the roofs of the tower and the main building were restored with the help of the United Courland Foundations in Germany (Vereinigte Kurländische Stiftungen), as well as von Bordelius family and Erfurt’s Parish of St. Thomas’ Church.


Northern Durbe

Johann Dimler 1557 – 1599

Heinrich Arends II 1599 – 1630

Adam Petzold (Betsoldus) II 1634 – 1636

Jakobus Lutter … – 1639

Mag. Hermann Toppius 1642 – 1655

Mag. Joachim Kühn 1656 – 1659

Herbert Ulrici 1660 – 1664

Johann Brockhusen I 1669 -1682

Jakob Meuter 1687 – 1712

Dietrich Stavenhagen 1713 – 1750

Adjunct: Joachim Baumann 1745 – 1747

Mag. Johann Wilhelm Hänselin 1752 – 1766

Adjunct: Paul Friedrich Reimer 1764 – 1766

Paul Friedrich Reimer 1766 – 1769

Johann Christoph Baumbach 1770 – 1801

Dr. Karl Christoph Schön 1802 – 1855

Karl Heinrich Edmund Proktor 1856 – 1865

August Friedrich von Johannsohn 1866 -1903

Adjunct: Oswald v. Johannsohn 1890 – 1891

August v. Johannsohn 1898 -1903

Christian Dexne 1904 – 1935

Southern Durbe

Mathias Neukirch 1581

Jeremias Hessing 1609 – 1611

Friedrich … 1624

Adam Petzold (Betsoldus) II 1624 – 1630

Johann Denniger 1634

Johann Petzold 1635 – 1639

Adam Prätorius 1639 – 1648

Wilhelm Reimer 1648 – 1703

Johann Friedrich Rhanäus 1708 – 1715

(Until 1742 the priest of German Parish served in the Latvian Parish, too.)

Johann Christoph Stavenhagen 1742 – 1779

Adjunct: Johann Bernhard Wolter 1770 – 1779

Johann Bernhard Wolter 1779 – 1809

Adjunct: Johann Friedrich Runtzler 1801 – 1809

Johann Friedrich Runtzler 1822 – 1844

Otto Bernhard Friedrich Runtzler 1822 – 1844

Ernst Ludwig August Bernewitz, Past. Designatus 1845

Dr. Hermann Ehrenfest Katterfeld 1846 – 1876

August Edmund Proctor 1877 – 1904

Robert Christoph Seezen 1905 –1934


From 1934/35 Latvian priests started to serve in Durbe Church: Teodors Aviks, Pēteris Auseklis Laiviņš, Jūlijs Martinsons (from 1938 to 1982), Pēteris Mednis. Later there were Juris Rubenis, Raivo Bitenieks, Ainars Jaunskalže, Atis Voickovskis, Juris Simakins, Jānis Pauļiks, and Pēteris Kalks. Now the priest of the Evangelical Lutheran Parish is Gints Kronbergs.


Durbe German Priests’ Contribution to Latvian Cultural History

Joachim Baumann (1712-1759)

He is known as an improver and a translator of hymns. In 1754 he published improved Courland Hymn Book. In Durbe period he published corrected Sermon Book by Georgius Mancelius.

Johann Christoph Baumbach (1742-1801)

He was an author and a translator of hymns and was fluent in Latvian language. He wrote for Latvian Annual issued by Matthias Stobbe, – the first magazine in Latvian. In 1800 he published Bible Stories “Small Bible”, where he retold the stories of the Old and the New Testament in an understandable way for peasants, adding counsels and short poems. He also worked on a Latvian – German dictionary, but it was left in a manuscript.

Dr. Hermann Ehrenfest Katterfeld (1797-1876)

He was interested in Latvian language and folklore. He collected the names of plants in Durbe area and folk songs. In 1835 he wrote a significant essay about Latvian folk songs. He wrote for the publication “Magazin der Lettisch-literarischen Gesellschaft” as well as for Latvian newspapers; he also wrote psalms. Katterfeld was a foster father of Atis Kronvalds, he took care of his foster son’s education.

Johann Christoph Wolter

He was born in 1773 in the family of Durbe Priest Johann Bernhard Wolter and received his first education there. His life was connected with Cirava (Zierau), where he was a priest. He made a major contribution to the promotion of education in his Parish and in entire Courland. He trained the first thoroughly educated teacher in Courland Andrejs Bergmanis, who in his turn taught teachers for other parishes. Wolter took a part in the organizing of Irlava (Irmelau) Teacher Seminary.

Dr. Karl Christoph Schön (1775 – 1855)

He served as a priest for 50 years. He studied natural sciences for his entire life and his library was one of the biggest private libraries of Courland.


Christian Dexne and Robert Christoph Seezen

They were the last German priests, who left Latvia in 1939 and died after the war in Germany leaving behind notes of recollections of their activities and life in Durbe at the beginning of the 20th century, which give us interesting evidences of past.