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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Walk in the Footsteps of the Anabaptists

Walk in the Footsteps of the Anabaptists - Markus Rediger, Erwin Rothlisberger I purchased this book in Switzerland, but since I was there as part of an organized tour group I didn't have the freedom to roam around the country visiting the sites mentioned in this book. However, it appears that it could be a very helpful guide for tourists in their own car who are interested in Swiss historical sites related to Anabaptist/Mennonite history.

For readers of this review who may not be familiar with the term "Anabaptists" I suggest this Wikipedia article. In summary, they believed that the matter of one's choice of religion is a personal issue that shouldn't be decided by the state (my wording admittedly is influenced by Enlightenment thinking).

It's ironic how time has changed things. For centuries Switzerland banished, killed, persecuted and denied civil rights to Anabaptists. Today the country welcomes tourists such as myself who are descendants of those who were banished.

An example of a recent change in attitude among the Swiss is illustrated by a historical marker located in Zurich, Switzerland on the banks of the River Limmat which indicates the location where Felix Manz was executed in 1527 (the first Swiss anabaptist martyr). Back in 1952 when the Mennonite World Conference was held in Bettingen, Switzerland, permission to install a similar marker was denied because it would reflect poorly on Swiss history. In 2004, fifty-two years later, the Evangelical-Reformed Church of Zurich received permission to install the plaque as part of their public recognition of the mistakes of the sixteenth century and their requesting forgiveness from descendants of those first Anabaptists. Here's a LINK to a photograph of that plaque.

The Swiss National Tourist Office now provides subsidies for development of sites that may be of interest to those interested in anabaptist history and will encourage tourism. My wife and I (together with a tour group) were able to visit such a site which was the farm homestead of Hans Haslibacher who was the last Anabaptist to be executed in the Canton of Bern on October 20, 1571. His homestead is unique because the property was not confiscated from the family as was the usual practice because his son and family promised to remain good members of the Swiss Reformed Church (and they remain so today). The family living at the homestead today are thus distant descendants of Hans Haslibacher. They have prepared a one room museum on their farm that contains interesting artifacts from that era including Haslibacher's Bible (Z├╝rich, 1553), with many underlinings showing typical Anabaptist emphases. The words to a 32-stanza poem about the persecution and death of Hans Haslibacher were posted on the wall (it's also in the Ausbund hymnal used by Amish today). Also on the wall was a family tree showing how the today's family living on the farm is related to Hans Haslibacher. Our tour group was able to listen to a ten minute talk (in German) by a resident family member about Hans Haslibacher. Visitors to this museum are charged 3 Swiss Franks cover charge. Here's a LINK to an article with more information about Hans Haslibacher. We also visited the Castle of Trachselwald where Hans Haslibacher (and others earlier) was held prisoner prior to being sent to the City of Bern for execution.

Our tour group visited the "Cave of the Anabaptists" near Baretswill which is not too far from Zurich. From this book I have learned that there is also another "Anabaptist Cave" in the Jura region near Geisskrchlein. I didn't realize before that there were two such caves. Now when I speak to others who have visited the cave I will need to clarify which one they are talking about.

Also located in Jura region are the ruins of the so called "Anabaptist Bridge." According to this book every two years (alternating between the bridge and the Jura cave) memorial services are held at those sites.

I wish there was a travel guide similar to this book for anabaptist historical sites in the Alsace, France and Palatinate, Germany regions. My ancestors spent time in those areas as well. Our organized tour group visited current Mennonite communities, churches and historical sites in those regions as well. But I know there are more sites of interest that could be compiled into a travel guide if somebody would take time to do it.