Jan Kilian, Poet and Rebel

Jan Kilian
Pastor, Poet, Emigrant
by Trudla Malinkowa

We all know Jan Kilian was the first pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Serbin. But he was much more than the long-time shepherd of the Wendish colony in Texas.

Kilian was orphaned at age 10. He used the small farm he inherited to put himself through school. He started his pastoral path in a very ordinary way, first as assistant pastor of his home congregation in Hochkirch, Saxony and then succeeding his uncle, Michael Kilian, as pastor of the nearby congregation of Kotitz. But in the quiet little dorf (village) of Kotitz, incredible things began to happen.

Kilian had major concerns about the State Church in Saxony and nearby Prussia, especially related to the Wends. One way Kilian the poet addressed these concerns was through writing and translating hymns into Wendish. He not only wrote the words, but often the music. The Wends loved to sing and Kilian wrote the words and music that connected with the Wends. These hymns were designed to be “a form of instruction and exhortation.” His hymns were published several times in Germany and three of them are staples of the Sorbian (Wendish) Catholic hymnal today.

In the process of moving from Kotitz to Weigersdorf and Klitten in Prussia, his poetry output declined as Kilian, the rebel, became more dominant. Kilian was very active in the Revivalist Movement that wanted to return to the Old Lutheran doctrine, which no longer had a significant role in the state churches of Prussia and Saxony.

Kilian was the key player in the Kotitz petition that was presented to the Saxony Legislature with 11,706 signatures.

At first in Prussia, the Old Lutherans had no standing, but as restrictions were starting to lessen, Kilian was willing to be pastor for the Weigersdorf and Klitten congregations in 1843. This bold action did not set well with neighboring state pastors who were able to block his move from Saxony to Prussia. It was five years before he was able to make the move, even though he ministered to Wendish Old Lutherans in a wide area. In 1854, he was temporarily delayed in joining the almost 600 Wends coming to Texas as he was charged with inciting emigration.

Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) organized an incredible celebration of Kilian’s 200th birthday in Germany that featured various programs, presentations and exhibits. Are you disappointed you missed out on all this? Well, Trudla has you covered. She compiled a book in German and English that contains the presentations given by George Nielsen, David Zersen, Jan Mahling, and others.

Do you wish you could hear the music and lyrics Kilian wrote? Do you wish to hear the German hymns that Kilian translated into Wendish? Would you like to follow along with the Wendish hymns in Wendish or English?

Trudla has put together a CD just for you! Would you like to avoid having to order it from Germany, paying in Euros and paying expensive shipping? We have the book and CD at the Wendish Museum. The price per book (492 pages) is $26 and the CD (with a 92-page insert) is $20. Shipping and handling is $7.00 per order. Our supply is limited, so come by or send your check in soon.

1 Response

  1. February 28, 2015

    […] Wends organized the journey under the leadership of their Pastor, The Reverend Jan Kilian. Rev. Kilian was a scholar and prolific writer who translated from German into Wendish many books, […]