The Anabaptists: Part I

Our families’ shared history converges in Switzerland because of the the Swiss Anabaptist movement.

Our Anabaptist forebears were not so popular. They denied the state’s right to dictate religious identity through baptism and to compel military participation. In other words, when Christian nationalism was the unquestioned status quo, they not only questioned, they resisted. These were not the “quiet-in-the-land” Mennonites that followed them. These people preached their resistance. Loudly.

And they paid for it. The authorities hunted them down and sometimes imprisoned them in places like Trachselwald Castle:

David, contemplating the experience of religious persecution in one of the cells:

Some of the beautiful carvings on the outer doors reminded me of the Pennsylvania Dutch folk art of my grandparents’ Lancaster County community where they decorate kitchenware, quilts, and tourist souvenirs. Here, similar designs are a sharp contrast with the dark prison cells, cold stone walls, and chains just feet away:

This “execution ballad” tells the story of Hans Haslibacher who was killed in Bern in 1571.

Among its lyrics:

His head when struck off would spring into a hat and laugh aloud;

The sun would turn blood-red;

The town fountain would spew blood.

Anabaptists might eschew the practice of violence, but they certainly didn’t seem to mind some bloody storytelling.

Our little Anabaptist group met a much warmer welcome at the castle than our predecessors. We found lots of familiar contemporary names and communities etched in the walls: Yoder, Miller, Beachy; Goessel, Kansas, Goshen, Indiana. The caretakers of the castle have, it seems, have recognized the power of material culture to keep stories alive and to connect contemporary actors with a meaningful past.

After touring the castle we enjoyed a lovely arts-and-crafts festival on its grounds and even bought some souvenirs.


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