The Moravian Church and the Dissemination of Written Latvian in 18th Century Livonia

Pēteris Vanags (University of Latvia and Stockholm University)

The religious and cultural life of Livonia in the 18th century has changed with the appearance of the Bohemian Brethren in the 30’s, the establishing and growing of their communities between the Latvian and Estonian population of Livonia. In 1743 the Moravian Church was officially forbidden by the Russian Empress Elisabeth, nevertheless the movement and communities continued to exist and develop. The Moravian Church was officially allowed again in 1817 by Emperor Alexander. The church played an important role not only in the religious life, but also in cultural and economic development of Latvians. E.g. at the end of the 18th century the literacy among the Latvians in Livonia was ca. 65 %, but in the districts with strong influence of the movement it was even higher – ca. 80-88%. An important role in the history of the Latvian literature and written language in the 18th and early 19th century played also writings of Bohemian Brethren. Alongside with printed books existed also a wide handwritten literature of the brethren in Latvian. The authors were ordinary people – farmers and craftsmen, men as well as women. This kind of literature included several types of texts – speeches or sermons, psalms, biographies of well known brethren, historical essays. Most of these texts survived in copies from the 19th century. But there is a kind of texts preserved also from the 18th century – letters written by brethren and sisters in Latvian to their German brethren in Herrnhut. These letters mostly also are copies with translations into German, but nevertheless they are important documents for the history of Written Latvian. These texts allow us to find out to what extent traditions of Written Latvian alongside with local dialects were already established among the brethren in the second half of the 18th century.

Keyword: Peteris

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