Livonia the largest of the Baltic provinces of Russia; area 18,158 sq. m.; pop. in 1882,1,173,951. The Germans, who chiefly live in the towns, number about 64,000 inhabitants; the remainder are mostly either Letts (a branch of the Slavi. kindred to the Lithuanians) or Esthonians, who are of Finnish descent. Christianity was first introduced at Riga about 1180 by merchants from Bremen. The great missionary was the Augustinian monk Meinhard, who in 1186 established the first church at Wexkiill, on the Duna, and in 1191 was consecrated bishop of Livonia. His successor, abbot Berthold, of Loccum, endeavored to accelerate the conversion of the Livonians by force of arms, and in 1198 fell in a victorious battle of the Crusaders. Bishop Albert, of Apeldern, in 1202 founded the Order of the Knights of the Sword, and gradually overcame the persistent opposition of the Livonians to the enforcement of Christianity. After his death (in 1229) the see of Riga was separated from the ecclesiastical province of Bremen, and in 1246 made an independent archbishopric. The union of the Order of the Sword with the Teutonic Knight secured the subjection and Christianization of Livonia, but involved the bishops in long-protracted conflicts with the order, which hastened the decay of the Church. The army-master, Walter of Plettenberg (1494-1531), adopted the doctrines of the Reformation, and converted Livonia into a secular duchy under Polish sovereignty. The center of the reformatory movement was in Riga, where the Hussite Nicolaus Russ, of Rostock, had, from 1511 to 1516, prepared the way for a religious reformation. Among the first promoters of the Lutheran Reformation were Andreas Knipken, a Lutheran schoolteacher from Treptow, in Pomerania, who arrived in Riga in 1521, and Sylvester Tagetmeier, from Hamburg, who arrived in the following year. Both were appointed preachers by the town council, in spite of the remonstrances of the archbishop. In Wolmar and Dorpat, Melchior Hoffminnn labored so violently in behalf of the Reformation that he created dissatisfaction even among the friends of the movement. and had to leave Livonia. Luther's epistle of congratulation and exhortation (1523) to the congregatons of Riga, Revel, and Dorpat shows that at that time the Reformation had made considerable progress. In 1524, the archbishop, Caspar Linde, of Riga, died, deeply mortified at the utter failure of his zealous efforts for saving the Catholic Church. His successor, John VII Blankenfeld, previously bishop of Dorpat and Revel, was no longer recognized by the town council of liga as sovereign, and in 1525 he was even made a prisoner. Under the archbishop Wilhelm, margrave of Brandenburg, who in 1539 succeeded Thomas Schonnig, the Reformation spread throughout Livonia; the archbishop himself became favorable to the new doctrine, and at the time of his death the Catholic Church in Livonia had almost ceased to exist.
Johann Briesmann (1527-31), who was called from Knoigsberg to Riga, drew up in 1530 the first agenda. The liturgy for Revel appeared in 1561, but had in 1572 to yield to that of Courland. The Esthonian catechism and the Livonian hymn-book of Mathias Knopken were likewise published in 1561. In the same year the army-master Ketteler concluded a treaty with Poland, by virtue of which Livonia was placed under the sovereignty of Poland; it was stipulated, however, that the Lutheran Church of Livonia should not be interfered with. In violation of this treaty, the Jesuits at once began their agitation for the restoration of the Catholic Church, but the Swedish rule again secured the predominance of Protestantism, and greatly strengthened it by establishing the University of Dorpat. A new liturgy was introduced in 1632, a new agenda in 1633; at the same time, a Lettish and Esthonian translation of the Bible was published. In the 18th century the religious life of the province suffered greatly from the fact that most of the preachers, being called from Germany, were unable to preach in the native languages. The spiritual destitution of many country districts attracted the Moravians, who continued their zealous labors even when, in 1743, their meetings had been forbidden. For a long time they confined themselves to the Lutheran Church; but the large attendance at their meetings led them (since 1817) to separate from the Lutheran Church.
The latter therefore began, in 1843, to engage in a vigorous contest with the Moravians, invoking the stipulations of the peace of Nystadt (1721), in which Sweden had ceded Livonia to Russia, while the latter confirmed the privileges of the Lutheran Church. The Russian government supported the Lutherans against the Moravians, but, on the other hand, began (1841) to make great efforts to prevail upon the Lettish peasants to join the Greek Church. Several thousands of Letts and Livonians succumbed to the pressure brought upon them by the government, and, after having once joined the orthodox Greek Church, they were forbidden (as many soon desired) to return to the Lutheran Church. All the children born of mixed marriages (Lutheran and Greek) must be educated in the Greek religion. In 1863, the Lutheran bishop Walter, who vigorously stood up for the defense of the rights of his Church, had to yield to an intrigue, and not until 1868 was the rigor of the Russian government against the Lutheran Church somewhat relaxed. These conflicts have awakened a general interest in the religious community, to which the re-establishment of the University of Dorpat (1802) has been greatly instrumental. The number of Roman Catholics is about 5000, that of Greek Catholics is estimated at 143,000; the remainder are Lutherans. (A.J.S.)