N Eur. country at E end of Baltic Sea; includes part of medieval Livonia (see Estonia, 12). Area: ca. 24,700 sq. mi. Language: Latvian (or Lettish), akin to Lithuanian, belongs to Baltic branches of Indo-Eur. languages.
Acc. to Adam* of Bremen (Gesta IV 16), Sweyn II (Sweyn Estrithson; Sven Estridson; d. 1075; b. Eng.; king Den. 104775) helped a Dan. merchant build a ch. in Latvia ca. 1045. Some missionaries of the Russ. Orthodox Ch. appeared in tribal kingdoms; in the 12th c. a few Orthodox chs. were built at Gersika (Gerzike; Jersika) on the Dvina (Daugava; Düna; Southern Dvina; Western Dvina; Zapadnaya Dvina). For hist. of Ger. colonization see Estonia, 1.
For 7 cents. (13th20th) Latvians lived under for. rulers (Ger., Poland, Swed., Russ.). Until the 16th c. the ruling class did not provide for popular educ. Few chs. and no schools for children were built in Latvia before the 16th c. In 1522 A. Knöpken* and S. Tegetmeyer* began preaching ev. sermons in Riga in the early 1520s. Walter (or Wolter) von Plettenberg (ca. 14501535), grand master Teutonic Knights (see Military Religious Orders, c), assured Lutheranism complete freedom 1525. E. J. Glück* promoted schools and pub. of religious and educ. books.
Ca. the end of the 19th c. Latvian teachers and pastors, educ. U. of Dorpat (Tartu), est. 1632 by Gustavus* II* Adolphus, initiated religious revival among their own people. K. Irbe* was invested Luth. bp. Latvia by N. Söderblom* 1922; resigned 1931. T. Grinbergs* succeeded him 1932 and was immediately named abp. In 1935 the total no. of Ev. Luths. in Latvia was ca. 1,000,000 (including ca. 61,000 Ger. Luths.) or ca. 56% of the pop. Of the Luths., those of Latvian origin constituted ca. 93%.
Latvia, which became an indep. rep. 1918, was occupied by the Union* of Soviet Socialist Reps. 1940, by Ger. forces 194144; retaken by USSR 1944/45. Under subsequent severe strictures the ch. in Latvia declined. By the end of WW II the abp. and more than 100 Latvian Luth. pastors, followed by ca. 100,000 or more Latvian laymen, fled from their homeland, many to the US and Can. Other countries with Latvian congs. include Argentine, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Den., Fr., Gt. Brit., W. Ger., New Zealand, Norw., Swed., and Venezuela. Under leadership of abp. K. Kjundzins they formed a fed. of Latvian Luth. congs. AL
A. Svabe, F. Balodis, E. Blese, O. Silis, and V. Korsts, Latvia on the Baltic Sea (n. p., 1946); A. Bilmanis, The Church in Latvia, The Augustana Quarterly, XXIII (1944), 291310.
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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