I am ready to suffer my head to be struck off, much rather than apostatize from my faith. ~ Hans Haslibacher
This quote comes out of the Martyrs Mirror, an extensive collection of stories about the the persecution of the Anabaptists, who were the forerunners of the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites. This book can be found in nearly every Amish home and I heard or read many of these stories as a child and young woman.
There are several claims on just when the Anabaptist movement started, but the most popular belief is that it stemmed from the Swiss Brethern Movement, which was led by Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock. Reportedly, on January 21, 1525, Grebel baptized Blaurock, and then Blaurock subsequently baptized other followers. Felix Manz is claimed to have been the first martyr in the Swiss Brethern/Anabaptist Movement.
Because of the connection between church and state in Europe at the time, many people who strayed from the established churches were tortured and killed for their beliefs. Contrary to the church authorities' intentions, the martyrs only brought more converts to the faith. There were thousands more in subsequent years. Four hundred years after these martyrs gave their lives for their faith, and in a far distant land from their homelands, I sat in many church services in which the preacher would begin his sermon with a common sentiment among the Amish, "This morning, as we made our way here, our neighbors gave us half the road, and they did not follow us here to try to keep us from worshiping God as we see fit, which is what happened to our ancestors. So many of them had their faith tested when they were forced to lose their lives or recant. We should ask ourselves whether we would be able to stand for what we believe in, if our lives depended on it." If the preacher really wanted to drive home the point, he would look around the room and say, "How many of us would be found among those who could not withstand the test?" And he might suggest that our ancestors were fortunate to have had the test, while we can only hope that our faith would be strong enough to do what they did. In this way, the Amish culture is very much a martyr culture.
In 2006, as David (my husband) and I were driving through the Emmenthal Valley in Switzerland, we were discussing giving up a leg of our planned trip, so that we could spend more time in the other areas. We thought about giving up our trip to Lake Geneva. David said, "But, I was really looking forward to seeing the castle there. I would like to see one nice castle." Wouldn't you know, as we rounded the next bend, there is Castle Thun on the horizon, in all its glory.
We stopped and visited the castle, including a climb to the top of the towers. In the castle were several ominous sharp objects made of iron of all shapes and sizes, and I knew they were instruments of torture. Suddenly some of the romantic feelings I've always had of castles turned into imagining the possible horror that many of my ancestors endured within those walls. I can only imagine that Anabaptists were among those who were tortured, given the fact that the Emmanthal Valley was home to them for a period. This just didn't match the breathtaking view from the top of one of the towers.
Getting a glimpse of the morbid alongside the beauty reminded me of how we as humans have such an enormous potential to do incredible good in our world, just as we have the potential to do incredible evil. I've had other reminders of this in the past, but perhaps never in quite so stunning and stark a manner.
David and I loved Switzerland and Germany overall, and we would love to return there to visit the places we missed in our last trip, including Lake Geneva and a boat ride on the Rhine and Mosel Rivers.
My next post will be about Christmas and how we celebrated it within our community and family. Feel free to send me your comments or questions.