Religious variety reflected the composition of the population. The Jews led their own religious life within their ghetto (200 houses and a synagogue), whose two gates were shut every night until 1796. The three Christian denominations of the Holy Roman Empire were all prominent, though in different ways. It was popularly said, that in Frankfurt, the Catholics had the churches, the Calvinists had the money, and the Lutherans had the power.
Certainly the Lutherans were in the great majority, the other two denominations mustering between 2000 and 3000 each, and, as the established religious party, had the monopoly of the civic administration. There were two religious houses for Protestant lay women but the sober and unadventurous orthodoxy of the city’s twelve Lutheran pastors and the absence of a parochial structure, encouraged the formation of more enthusiastic private groups — none however as extreme as the Herrnhut Pietist community at nearby Marienborn.
Goethe tells us that the curious young found more of interest in the Catholic than the Protestant services, and in the customs of the Jews. The Catholics themselves, partly lower-grade artisans and partly wealthy southern immigrants, represented the religion of the Emperor not only with the cathedral (then known simply as the church of St. Bartholomew) but with three substantial local foundations, houses of six eternal monasteries, and four different orders (the Dominicans, with both men and women), and palaces of all three ecclesiastical princes, the Archbishop Electors of Trier, Cologne, and Mainz, the last of whom had ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Frankfurt’s Catholics.
Paradoxically, therefore, there were even more active Catholic clergy in Frankfurt than Protestant, and though Catholic parish life made no public impression, the splendor of an imperial election coronation (such as that of Joseph II as King of the Romans in 1764 when Goethe was fourteen) was largely of Catholic making.
The Calvinists by contrast, mainly the immigrants Dutch and Huguenot merchant families, had no religious rights within the city walls, and had on Sundays, to drive out in a procession of magnificent carriages to the village of Bockenheim, a demonstration of the worldly benefits of predestination which only confirmed the Lutherans in their refusal to make any concessions to these dangerous competitors. It was among the Calvinists merchants, cut off by the city’s constitution from public affairs, at the Masonic movement principally established itself, Frankfurt’s first lodge being founded in 1742.