How the Amish Came By their Name

On February 12, 1644, Michael Ammann and his wife Anna nee Rupp, had their infant son, Jakob, baptized in the village church in the town of Erlenbach in the Simmental Valley in the Canton of Bern. Jakob was their third child. They would have had no idea that their son would grow up and become a member of the Swiss Brethren and reject the idea of infant baptism. Nor could they have known that he would become a prominent leader of that group who would prompt a schism and that he would become the namesake for the group that followed him — the Amish.

There is a wonderful summary of Jakob Ammann’s life and the schism that happened in the Swiss Brethren movement in 1693 on Wikipedia, so I won’t go into too many details here.

In my last post, I mentioned that I decided not to go all the way down to Montreux on the Golden Pass Line. When I realized that I was going right by the town where Jakob Ammann was born, I knew I had to get off in Erlenbach and take pictures and get a feel for the place. Unfortunately, when I tried getting off the train on the way south, the button in my train car wasn’t opening the door. By the time I got to another door, the train was moving again. So I traveled down to Zweisimmen, and then waited there for the next train going north. This time, I did step out of the train in Erlenbach. I had to walk up a steep hill to the middle of town, and there I took photos of the church and the surrounding countryside.

As I was walking up the hill to the church, I was thinking about how thirsty I was. I had a water bottle with me, but it was empty. I came around a bend, and there was cool, clear spring water, running into a trough. I filled my water bottle and drank, and then refilled my bottle for later. Oh, that water tasted good!

Photo by Saloma Furlong

I continued further up the hill, where I found the church. And what a beautiful church it is! I have looked up the history of the church on Wikipedia, and it is very likely that this is the church where Jakob Ammann was baptized. I wish I had thought about going into the church, especially once I saw pictures of the murals painted on the walls that date back to somewhere between the 13th and 15th centuries. (See link to Wikipedia above). I have a feeling I will be returning to Erlenbach, and I will be sure to visit the inside of the church then.

Photo by Saloma Furlong

There was a wooden covered stairway going up into the church. I didn’t notice until I looked at this photo days later, that there is something carved into the beam at the top. It reads D. T. B. (a symbol I can’t read) 1816.

Photo by Saloma Furlong

Just below the stairway was a bubbling brook. There was a water theme going on in Erlenbach. I’m not sure what that means, but I noticed it.

Photo by Saloma Furlong

I stopped in to a little grocery store where I bought a few postcards. I asked the person at the cash register in German whether she was aware that Erlenbach is the place where the Amish started. She said, oh yes she is, that there are sometimes busloads of Amish who come to Erlenbach. I was surprised by that, but then when I thought about it, I realized I shouldn’t be. There are Amish who go on a pilgrimage to their “Mutterland” and of course Erlenbach would be part of that.

I took lots of photos of the mountains around Erlenbach, and wandered about the town until it was time for the train, and then I descended back down the hill. Below are several of the photos I took.

Photo by Saloma Furlong

Photo by Saloma Furlong

Photo by Saloma Furlong

Photo by Saloma Furlong

Photo by Saloma Furlong

I just realized that I was in Erlenbach right around the time of year when Jakob Ammann was born. I was there on February 10, and he was baptized on February 12. I had no idea when I started out from Luzerne on Friday morning, that I would be visiting the town where he was born. I felt like the places I visited chose me, rather than me choosing them.

I found out on my train trip back in the direction of Luzerne from a Dutch woman who now lives in Erlenbach, that the train ride between Zweisimmen and Montreux is breathtakingly beautiful. It was one of those times when I wished I could be in two places at once. And since Erlenbach chose me, I am thinking that I am meant to discover Montreux with David someday. I hope so.

In my next post, I will be making a connection between the owner of the farm Hockboden (the farm I was visiting earlier) in the time of the Anabaptists, and Jakob Ammann.

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18 thoughts on “How the Amish Came By their Name”

  1. Saloma, your photo’s are breath taking. It must of seemed so surreal being there. What a beautiful country. Reading this blog has me more convinced then ever that you should write a book about your experiences and what you came away with on this trip, photo’s included. You had my attention from the first line.

    1. Surreal is a good way of describing the experience of visiting Erlenbach, especially because I didn’t think of visiting the village until I was already close to it on the train. Thank you for your keen interest in my travels, and for your encouragement to write a book about my pilgrimage. I believe this is to be continued later this year when I return to Europe. I will be gathering more materials then. Always so good to hear from you, Pamela.

  2. I almost feel like I was a mouse in your handbag, and was with you! THANKS so much for taking us along, with you. I am learning to love this type of travel, as I age, and surely appreciate your pics and stories!
    Such a beautiful country, and so much history of our people! As we walked the streets of Zurich, years ago, I wondered if I was walking in my relatives’ footsteps? (As well as when in the Trachselwald Castle, and then again while staying in the Alsace area of France). Only wish I had started checking all of this out when I was 20 years younger! THANK you SO much, for sharing, Saloma!!

    1. From now on, I will have to remember not to do away with a mouse if I find one in my handbag :-) Thank you for your keen interest in my travels.

      Carol, it is my pleasure to bring you along… especially with such enthusiasm! I know, it is humbling to imagine that I could be walking in the footsteps of my ancestors… sometimes as long ago as 400 years.

      I, too, wish I had thought about doing this at a younger age. But I will do what I can in the years I have remaining and be grateful for it.

      I hope to make it to the Alsace area during my next trip to Europe. So glad you got to go there!

  3. Saloma, again, thank you for the time you took to write and post your adventures. I feel intrigued at the symbol in the stairway to the church…when/if you go back and go into the church, if you learn what that is about, I’d be interested!

  4. Hi, Saloma! I found this on

    “The lowest cross beam of this imposing construction carries the initials of the local carpenter and the date of construction: DTB (David Tschabold) IM 1816.”

    I hope this helps! It’s strange, that picture of the stairs leading up to the church looks so familiar! I am certain I’ve seen the same stairs on another blog; also certain it was an Amish or Mennonite family doing their own pilgrimage to Erlenbach. How exciting you got to see all this! And I love your comment about the places picking you…funny how our own intuition leads us sometimes.

    1. Shana, thank you so much for that information… how very cool! Other readers will find this information helpful as well.

      The picture of the stairs is very much like that of the stairs leading up to the Trachsalwald Castle. It must have been common to cover walkways in those days.

  5. Hi Saloma, I’m catching up on your blog right now and mistakenly figured you would be writing about a relocation to Ohio or even Maine by now. Ha! How equally fascinating to read about your next book and see such wonderful photos of Switzerland. I’m truly excited for you. What a beautiful country. I often see ads for those trips to the historic sites aimed at plain people. What I find interesting is not that they make the pilgrimage, but that after the trip is over, the tourist group often continue to get together for yearly reunions. I guess they make many close friends during the lengthy tour and then want to keep in close touch. Anyway, blessings on your future project. It’s an innovative idea and perfect for you.

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