16th Century Life:
A life dominated by the union of…
Church and State
Cologne Cathedral
Tower from 12th century
symbolized by Cathedrals and Castles
Bacharach, Germany
St. James Cathedral
Innsbruck, Austria
pipe organ
Strasbourg Cathedral
Rosetta Window
Church and State
St. Gallen’s
Thun Castle
Cathedrals and Castles
Church tower at Ulm (786 steps)
Steinsburg Castle
Paid for by Taxe$ and Tithe$
Alcase region of France
“If I had been a peasant in the 16th century I think I too might
have joined the “Peasant’s War” or become an Anabaptist.”
Pallatinate in southern Germany
The Swiss Anabaptist Movement
Swiss Alps
…started in the city of Zurich, Switzerland
Limmat River, Zurich
The city of Reformer
Ulrich Zwingli
(Note that he is holding both
Sword and Bible)
In the Grossmunster (Large Church)
…Zwingli led a Bible study
with a group of young radicals
One of them was Conrad Grebel who lived in this house
January 21, 1525
Grebel baptizes
George Blaurock in the
upper room of this house…
…and a movement is born
The consequences…
Blaurock is driven out of town … Grebel and others are imprisoned
Felix Manz is drowned
In the Limmat River
…becoming the first Anabaptist martyr
Those who remained fled to the hills
Despite and because of
persecution the movement
spread to the Alsace region of
France, The Palatinate of
Germany, Austria and Moravia,
and eventually to North America.
The German / Austrian
Anabaptist Movement
Achenpas, view from Germany to Austria
The very same day that Conrad Grebel was baptizing in Zurich,
another young man, Hans Denck, was being kicked out of the
town of Nuremberg in southern Germany for similar radical
“No one can truly know Christ
unless they follow him in life.”
Conrad Grebel, Hans Denck and many other early Anabaptist
leaders were dead before they reached the age of 30.
“The more beautiful the countryside the harsher the persecution.”
-John Sharp
Austrian Alps
The home of a unique Anabaptist leader:
Pilgram Marpeck, engineer and lay theologian
Marpeck was a prominent citizen when he became an Anabaptist.
At one point about 2/3 of the people in the Inn Valley were Anabaptist,
but in 1528 there was a crackdown and numerous executions.
Pilgram Marpeck disappeared.
Inn River
Marpeck later reappeared in Strasbourg and then
Augsurg, continuing his Anabaptist leadership as
well as civic leadership.
Ruins above Rattenberg
60+ Anabaptists were
martyred in Rattenberg
Helena of Freyburg was
another prominent
German Anabaptist
who hosted a
church in a
Jakob Hutter was executed
in the castle of Emperor Maximilian I,
now a trendy and thriving public market
in Innsbruck, Austria
Inside the castle…
The market square
The plaque in his memory
The tower
Jakob Hutter
was imprisoned
The execution site
(note plaque below)
The “Golden Roof” of the
emperor’s veranda where
he and his attendants
could watch festivities,
including executions.
Although the Hutterites
grew to 20,000+ by the
end of the 16th century,
persecution was so
severe and effective in
this area that virtually
all Anabaptists were
Only about a dozen
followers of Jakob
Hutter remained at the
end of the 17th century.
The Dutch Anabaptist Movement
Anabaptism came to the Netherlands later than to
Switzerland and Germany, but it found a fertile soil.
Rural countryside in Friesland
At the time, Menno Simons was a priest in the town of Pingjum…
and later in nearby
Witmarsum, his
home town.
Some distance away in the
City of Munster…
…the Anabaptist Movement was going horribly awry.
Some leaders who thought themselves prophets and kings
called on followers to take up arms (and wives) in
preparation for the End Times.
A sculpture in Munster:
(Note: apocalyptic images, a walled
Munster and tools of violence.
The same sculpture with the
“Apocalypse” under his left
arm… Perhaps contemplating
the horrors of apocalyptic
It was not long and the powers of church and state
put down the revolution as violently as it arose .
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Hall of Westphalia
The 3 main leaders were executed and their remains
hung from the tower of St. Lambert’s Cathedral in
3 cages which hang there to this day.
The day I visited Munster
and saw the cages,
my tears mixed with the rain
as I wept for the cycle
of violence which was
perpetuated on that day
in the name of Christ.
Jesus absorbed and abolished
violence centuries earlier
The same sculpture as seen earlier
The example of Christ and the events of Munster so impacted
Menno Simons that he left the comfort of the priesthood and
became an Anabaptist leader.
At the Menno Simons monument near Witmarsum
where he apparently preached his first evangelical sermon
Menno’s Motto
on his monument
As a leader of the Anabaptists, Menno was constantly
on the run, often preaching and worshiping in secret.
The “Hidden Church” at Pingjum
Dutch Anabaptists became known
as Mennists or Mennonites.
Persecution and migration caused
them to scatter along the coast to
northern Germany and Prussia
[Poland] with the majority eventually
migrating to Russia [Ukraine] at the
invitation of the czar in 1789. Most
of the Mennonites from there found
their way to North or South
America beginning in the 1870’s and
especially following the Bolshevik
Revolution and the great wars in
Germany and eastern Europe in the
20th century.
Painting (Circa 1824)
Hanging in Witmarsum Meetinghouse
If the Anabaptist movement had an icon it might be this picture
and this story of Dirk Willems from Martyrs Mirror
Dirk Willems was captured
as an Anabaptist and
imprisoned in this church
tower in Asperen,
He escaped and was crossing a pond of thin ice when
his pursuer fell through. Instead of, “Hallelujah!
God saved me!” he turned around to rescue his
Of course his pursuer was grateful and
wanted to save his life but the Magistrate
would have none of it. He was later
executed on this spot at the Leerdam
River just outside Asperen in 1569.
How do we respond
to our salvation?
Stairs leading away from the site
Reflections on the
Anabaptist Movement
What is it that sets people free?
Entrance to Dachau Concentration Camp
Dachau Concentration Camp is a few centuries away from the
Anabaptist Movement but there are some related theological
themes. As with Munster, here too was the deadly brew of
“Christianity” mixed with exclusive and fervent nationalism.
Yet the essence of the Anabaptist Movement was about a
church free from the violent powers of the state.
“All the terrible things the Nazi’s did would have been impossible
were it not for the silence, complicity and passivity of the state
church in Germany at the time.”
(John Sharp)
Sadly, it has happened again.
What about the peace witness of the church today?
Jesus brought peace…
destroying the barriers
and the dividing
walls of hostility…
His purpose was to create
one new humanity…
to reconcile all people
to God through the cross.
(Ephesians 2:14-16)
A small sculpture in the Roman
Catholic chapel at Dachau
May we be a witness to that peace today.
Bench in The Hague at International Court of Justice and Peace Park
The Anabaptist Movement is now
global with 1.9 million participants
in 1000’s of churches in 70+
countries on 6 continents.
Strasbourg, France, home of Mennonite World Conference offices
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