Bern (Switzerland)

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Canton of Bern
Source: Wikipedia Commons

1955 Article


Bern, in area the second most populous (798,294 in 1950) and second largest canton of Switzerland. In the very earliest period Anabaptism obtained a foothold in Bern and has maintained itself to the present in spite of severe persecution. The original home of many of the Mennonite families of South Germany and in turn many families who immigrated to America both in the 18th and 19th centuries is in the Emmental area of Bern. During the Middle Ages Waldenses were found in Bern. In 1399, for example, 130 persons of Waldensian "unbelief" were living in this area. It is possible that they prepared the soil for the rise of Anabaptism; but there is no direct connection.

Beginnings of Anabaptism in Bern

It is evident from a letter written by Bullinger to Heinrich Simler in Bern that Anabaptists were there already in 1525. Berchtold Haller wrote of the rapid spread of Anabaptism in Bern in his letter to Zwingli dated 29 November 1525. On 13 January 1526, the city council took up the case of a woman who had been rebaptized at Zofingen. And Jakob Gross of Waldshut was arrested for Anabaptism in Brugg.

There was much correspondence between the Zürich and Bern reformers on the subject of Anabaptism. In general Haller was a disciple of Zwingli but differed with him on the matter of the persecution of the Anabaptists. Haller felt that the occasion for the spread of Anabaptism was to be found in the low moral and spiritual condition of the masses, and he could not bring himself to favor the death penalty for Anabaptists. Officially the Protestant Reformation was inaugurated in Bern by a mandate dated 7 February 1528. The attempt was made to reform by law. The following regulations are of 21 April 1529: If a man curses he shall throw himself down and kiss the ground, and if anyone refuses to do this, he shall pay a fine of a pound or go to jail. Drinking to one's health was to be punished by a fine of a pound; drunkenness by a day's imprisonment. All gambling was proscribed whether by cards, dice, or otherwise. No dancing on communion days. Irregular customs at weddings shall cease (de Quervain, p. 114). As a whole these regulations accomplished little. Enforcement was lax, and sin persisted in high and low places. In contrast with this, the Anabaptists lived an earnest Christian life, seeking to follow Christ faithfully as His disciples. This manner of life was effective in winning converts to Anabaptism, especially in the rural areas. To stop this the government soon turned to such severe measures as imprisonment and capital punishment.

In 1527 eight Anabaptists came from Basel to Bern. A copy of a confession of faith was taken from them, which Haller sent to Zwingli with the request that he refute it. This was the Schleitheim Confession, and Zwingli's attempted refutation is found in his Elenchus. Six of the eight arrivals were convinced of the errors of Anabaptism, but two remained firm, Hans Hansmann, a treasurer from Basel, and Jakob Hochrüttiner, son of Lorenz Hochrüttiner, who were then banished.

The First Anabaptist Mandates

On 14 August 1527, the cantons of Bern, Zürich, and St. Gall issued a combined mandate ordering that the Anabaptists be admonished to desist from the vice (Laster) of Anabaptism; those from abroad who disobey shall be banished; if they do not obey this order they shall be drowned. A resident shall be given a double fine if he reverts to Anabaptism. Ministers and those escaping from prison shall be drowned. Since many innocent persons have been misled, the punishments may be lessened on occasion.

Canton of Bern
Source: Mennonite Encyclopedia v. 1, 288

The above mandate remained in force until 31 July 1531, when a new one was written. This 1531 mandate required the populace to attend divine services each Sunday in the recognized church of the city or of the nearby village. Each citizen shall receive communion from a regular pastor. Warnings shall follow disobedience, and then banishment on oath or equivalent vow. A second banishment was provided for offenders, but the penalty for a second return was drowning. Those who gave up Anabaptism following banishment were to be received with open hand.

Eight Anabaptists appeared at the great disputation held at Bern 7-26 January 1528, which disputation resulted in the introduction of the Protestant Reformation. The eight were George Blaurock of Chur, Hans Hansmann of Basel, Hans Pfistermeyer and Heini Seiler of Aarau, Ulrich Isler of Bitsch, imprisoned at Basel, Hans Töblinger of Freiburg in Uechtland, Thomas Maler of Mörstadt in the Palatinate, and Vincenz Späting, member of the great senate of Bern. These eight were not admitted to the sessions, however, but were kept in prison and watched carefully. Finally on the 17th day of the disputation they were taken to the city hall where Zwingli interviewed them. Only Späting was persuaded to recant. The others were banished under threat of drowning if they returned.

On 24 May 1529, the first Anabaptist trial was held in Bern. The government representatives were Judge Crispinus Vischer, pastors Berchtold Haller and Caspar Grossmann, and Diebolt von Erlach. The Anabaptists were Heinrich Seiler and wife of Aarau; Veit Oettli of Rheinfelden and his wife Vrena Meyer; Barbli with the wooden leg; and Margareta N. of Sigriswyl. The final sentence for them all was that unless they recanted they should be banished under threat of drowning if they returned.

In spite of various executions the Anabaptist movement spread. (See de Quervain, 125-129.) The senate decided to hold a disputation in an attempt to persuade the Anabaptists to return to the church. The Zofingen disputation took place 1-9 July 1532, with 23 Anabaptists present. The government had the minutes of the disputation printed in booklet form in the hope that this would help suppress Anabaptism. But it had the opposite effect; the Brethren were more active than ever, especially in Sumiswald and Dürrenroth. Consequently the government had to issue fresh orders to deal with the Anabaptists. Those who began to preach were to be imprisoned without mercy.

On 2 March 1533, the Bernese senate issued another mandate, lamenting the continued spread of the Anabaptists, and calling upon them to receive instruction from the official clergy. If they refused to hear the clergy, they were at least to keep quiet and keep their faith to themselves. If they did so, they would be under the care and protection of the government. But if they refused, they would be imprisoned and fed on the income from their property as long as it lasted; thereafter the government would feed them on bread and water until they died or recanted. On 4 April 1533, however, the government began to demand of those who applied for protection that they obey the mandates, that they go to the state church services every Sunday, and that they have their children baptized.

On 8 November 1534, another sharp mandate appeared against "the Anabaptists and the papists." Three times each year, said the mandate, the communion service will be held. Anyone who does not attend for conscience' sake shall report to the pastor or elder. Pastors shall perform all marriages. Those who cannot subscribe to these regulations by oath shall leave the country at once. An appendix was added to this mandate on 13 March 1535, providing that Anabaptists and papists should be imprisoned for eight days in Bern to give them opportunity to consider taking the oath. If they refused, they were to be led to the frontier and threatened with execution if they ever returned, the men with the sword, the women by drowning.

Nevertheless Anabaptism continued to grow. The constable (Weibel) of the Emmental was paid six pounds for locating Anabaptists; in Trachselwald the constable got two pounds, and in Signau eight pounds for "hunting" (jagen) Anabaptists. It was reported that there were 300 Anabaptists in Rued.


The Bernese government spared no means to root out Anabaptism. The Martyrs' Mirror contains a list of 40 Anabaptist executions in Bern (pp. 1129, 1130). Research has demonstrated the reliability of this list (Fluri: Berner Heim, 1896; de Quervain, 150-58), which had been questioned by Ernst Muller (Berner Tauter). (See Neff's list of Bernese martyrs, Mennonitisches Lexikon I, 171.) Executions were not the only means of coping with the Swiss Brethren, however; the government also employed severe fines, total confiscation of property, long imprisonments, fearful torture, and banishment from the country. The occasion for these extreme measures was not fear of riot or revolution—that is not mentioned. It was rather zeal for the unity of the church. Pastor George Thorman of Lützelflüh describes the Swiss Brethren in his Probierstein ... des Täufertums (Bern, 1693). He reports that the Anabaptists do not attend the state church services because of the many sinners in the church; they will not participate in the communion services of the state church; they set up their own church; do not baptize their children; refuse all oaths; desist from litigation; do not participate in war; accept no governmental offices; wear no lace collars or ornamentation, which they regard as a sign of pride; speak slowly and sing softly; shun taverns, and baptism and marriage celebrations; go to market but little, and do not trade and barter much .... Indeed Thorman upholds the Anabaptists as models of piety and conduct for his own Reformed people to follow.

The Bernese Swiss Brethren were simple believers who accepted the Bible at its face value, although they placed the New Testament above the Old. They held that the true church is separate from the world, and that those who live in sin are to be excluded from the church. Christians must live lives of penitence. No compulsion may be employed in matters of faith. Christians make no use of the police. The church has the right to choose its ministers by voting and the use of the lot, and to ordain them. The model which they strove to follow was the apostolic church, a free church not allied with the state but made up of personal followers of Jesus. The Bernese government, on the other hand, was determined to maintain control over the religious faith and life of its subjects, regulating everything so as to effect the unity of the church and the salvation of the masses. This was the basic reason for compulsory infant baptism, oaths, the emphasis on the sacredness of the state offices, and finally for the persecution of the Anabaptists. Hence the reason for the oppressive measures taken against the Anabaptists was religious, not political.

Disputation and New Mandates

A great disputation between the Reformed and the Anabaptists was held in Bern in March 1538. Many of the participants from the latter group bore names which are still common among the Mennonites: Vogt, Neuenschwander, Salzmann, Aberli, Sutter, Gerber, Hunziker, Schneider (full list, ML I, 172 f.). Thereafter the Anabaptists from outside Bern were to be conducted to the border and threatened with death if they ever returned. A particularly sharp mandate is dated Sept. 6, 1538. In view of the continued increase of the Anabaptists, the elders, preachers, teachers, readers, and ringleaders shall be executed with the sword with-out mercy. Those in prison who refuse obedience shall be asked "with the rope" (this of men only however, not women). On Nov. 28, 1541, the

Bernese senate was again struggling with the Anabaptist question. A certain magistrate named Hans Franz Nägeli made a lengthy address in which he set forth the major causes for the spread of Anabaptism, namely, the religious indifference of the masses, the unbecoming and stupid conduct of the pastors, and especially the disunity of the church on the doctrine of the Lord's Supper. That very day the senate mitigated the severity of the mandate then in force. Steps were provided for restoration to fellowship in the state church; those who refused were to be punished as thought best.

No new mandates appeared until 16 February 1564, when it was announced that the regulations should be more strictly enforced in the Emmental. A decree was to be read from the pulpits of the districts of Signau, Trachselwald, and Brandis, proclaiming a fine of ten pounds for holding to Anabaptism, and if it was not given up punishment in goods and body would follow. Two years later severer measures were provided by the regulation of 28 April 1566. Anabaptism was punishable by banishment, and those who violated the oath were to be put to death. The citizens were registered, house by house, and were ordered to the church where they had to answer one by one whether they would be obedient to the government. Those who said yes were turned to the right; those refusing, to the left, where the oath of banishment was read to them.

On 30 December 1579, another mandate was issued, threatening further imprisonment and even death for Anabaptists. The public was called on to aid the authorities in the apprehension of the Brethren. Nevertheless the program of persecution failed. Therefore the government decided to appeal to the clergy of the state church for counsel (Blösch I, 306). They advised to cease invoking capital punishment because martyrdom tended to make a favorable impression upon the common people, resulting in the increase rather than the decrease of the sect. The clergy therefore recommended that the preachers or ringleaders should be sentenced to the galleys or condemned to life imprisonment, where they would be supported by the confiscation of Anabaptist property. Stubborn Anabaptists who were not preachers should be banished. The state church clergy also recognized the moral turpitude in their own members and made suggestions as to how to remedy the situation. The date of the recommendations of the clergy was 3 September 1585. The mandate which was then issued first called for improvement in the lives of the members of the state church. The citizens should keep watch for those who do not have their children baptized, and who do not attend the services of the church, and admonish them. If they have no success they shall report them to the authorities. They in turn shall lead the unrepentant to the border; if any return unconverted they shall be punished "in goods and body." Those who associate with the disobedient but are not members of the sect may accompany them out of the country but may not take along their property. Banished preachers who return shall be put to death. He who makes a house or barn available for Anabaptist meetings shall be fined 100 Bernese pounds (see Blösch I, 107).

The Swiss Brethren submitted a memorandum to the Bernese government on 18 December 1585, containing the following points: (1) The Brethren have the true faith and do not belong to any sect. They desire the Holy Spirit to be their judge. (2) The mandate which has been issued against them is contrary to the mandate of Christ and His Gospel, because no one shall use force upon another person in matters of faith. (3) They want to be obedient to the government as far as their conscience allows; but they want to leave to others the matter of fighting for their fatherland. (4) They reject infant baptism, but not without reason. (5) According to the institution of God they hold to marriage, the ban, and the Lord's Supper, just as Christ commanded, and request that they be allowed to hold to their faith.

Another sharp mandate appeared 29 July 1597, calling attention to the poor attendance at church services, and the declining participation in the Lord's Supper. Civil authorities were called upon to support the clergy in raising the moral level of the clergy. This mandate was issued because of the complaints of the Anabaptists against the clergy for their immoral life.

The persecution of the Anabaptists in Bern led many to emigrate to Moravia in search of peace. This led to a mandate dated 15 April 1592, calling upon the Bernese officials to imprison the Moravian emissaries. The property of those who left Bern was to fall to the government. On 3 April 1610, the senate felt compelled to try to stop the secret exodus to Moravia. On 6 March 1690, the children of Anabaptist marriages which had not been solemnized by the state clergy were declared ineligible to inherit anything from their parents; the estate was to go to the government.

Another measure adopted to suppress Anabaptism was the office of censor. In 1691, for example, a New Testament which the Anabaptists had had published in Basel was confiscated because it was a "falsified and dangerous translation." On 30 September 1692, another mandate reported that a number of Anabaptist books were in circulation, such as one called the Ausbund, another, Confessio by Thomas Imbroich, and a third, the confession of faith of the Dutch Mennonites (probably the German translation of 1664 or 1691 of the Dordrecht Confession of 1632). The mandate also supposed that a book by Burghausen of Lauperswil, Wahrhaftige Erscheinung des Engel Gottes (1562) was an Anabaptist book (it is today unknown).

On 26 October 1641, a mandate called for a stricter enforcement of the law; "looking through the fingers" was to cease. On 11 April 1644, the senate called for the arrest of several Anabaptist preachers by name. The mandate of 26 December 1644, set forth the policy of arresting, imprisoning, and teaching the Anabaptists. Those not accepting instruction were to follow the old mandates: be con-ducted to the border and made to vow (not swear) never to return under threat of death.

Establishment of the Anabaptist Commission

After the Bernese Peasants' War, in which the Anabaptists took absolutely no part, Anabaptism spread rapidly. At a meeting of clergy on 16 May 1654, complaints were made about this spread. On 6 June orders were issued to all officials to ascertain in secret what Anabaptists could be apprehended, who they were, and the names of their preachers and where they lived; they should then report back without delay. The authorities decided to build a penal building or "orphans' house" in Bern to serve as a prison for the Anabaptists. The first victims were imprisoned here on 27 June 1657, before the building was entirely completed. Orders were issued on 20 December 1658, to the officials of Thun, Burgdorf, Langental, and Brugg to arrest the Anabaptist preachers and bring them to Bern to be imprisoned in the orphans' house. The Anabaptist Commission was set up on 10 February 1659. Among the charges listed against the Anabaptists in that year are the following: (1) They preach without the authorization of the government. (2) They baptize without governmental authorization. (3) They exercise church discipline contrary to the statutes of the government. (4) They do not attend the services which are held on Sundays and days of prayer (in the state church).

The mandate of 9 August 1659 was another effort to get all the people lined up for the state church. All officials, state and ecclesiastical, were called upon to live the right kind of life. The government officials were called upon to find and arrest the Anabaptist preachers in valleys, mountains, forests, and desolate places and deliver them up. The clergy were asked to make a house-to-house investigation twice a year to ascertain by name who was and who was not attending the services of the state church and receiving the holy sacraments. A distinction was made between preachers or those who lead astray, and the followers or those who are misled. The leaders were to be brought to the orphans' house at Bern at once, and their goods confiscated. Those not accepting instruction were to be conducted to the border and made to vow that they would never return. If they broke their vow they were to be publicly beaten with rods and again conducted to the border.

Dutch Intervention

At this point the Dutch Mennonites made an effort to help their persecuted brethren in Bern. On 24 October 1659 Hans Vlamingh of Amsterdam wrote a comprehensive letter to Christoph Lüthard, professor of theology in Bern and a member of the Anabaptist Commission, reporting that he had received letters from the Palatinate, from Alsace, and from other places informing him that the Bernese government had imprisoned eight Mennonites whom he did not hesitate to call brethren. It was also reported, wrote Vlamingh, that these people were not imprisoned for their faith but for disobedience to the government, for assuming the pastoral office by their own will, for holding church services at night, etc. But the charges cannot be sustained, declared Vlamingh. If they choose their ministers and deacons they do so in conformity with the Scriptures. They hold their services at night simply because they are not allowed to hold them by day. And they must obey God rather than men in these matters. Furthermore the Reformed Church in Holland has shed its blood for the principle of freedom of conscience; it is therefore not right to persecute these humble believers in Switzerland. The Mennonites and the Reformed are agreed on the major points of the faith: their difference relates to the swearing of oaths, to the waging of war, and to infant baptism. The first point the Mennonites hold to is simple obedience to Matthew 5, and they keep their Yea as well as others do their oaths. Although they do not go to war they are obedient to their government otherwise. In not baptizing infants they are simply following the New Testament which gives no command or example of infant baptism. Why should anyone persecute such harmless followers of Jesus?

Vlamingh wrote a similar letter to Wilhelm von Diessbach, chairman of the Anabaptist Commission. At the same time Abraham Heidanus, professor of theology in Leiden, at the request of the Dutch Mennonites also wrote a letter to Prof. Lüthard, pleading that the Swiss Mennonites should not be martyred. Also the pastors and elders of the Walloon Church in Amsterdam wrote to their Reformed friends in Bern on 29 February 1660, requesting them to intervene on behalf of the Mennonites with the government of Bern, to stop confiscating their property, etc.

On 11 June 1660, a man named Adolph de Vreede delivered in person a number of letters of intercession to the government in Bern, written by the burgomaster of Amsterdam, by the city of Rotterdam, and by the Dutch States-General (Martyrs Mirror Dutch 830 if., English 1132 ff.). De Vreede also submitted six other documents, namely, (1) the decree of 26 January 1577 in which Middelburg granted the Mennonites exemption from the oath; (2) the decree of William of Orange, dated 16 July 1570 granting the Mennonites certain civil liberties; (3) a confirmation of this edict by Maurice of Orange, 4 March 1593; (4) a rebuke given the city of Aardenburg for not giving the Mennonites full religious liberty, 1 May 1615; (5) a repetition of this order, 16 November 1619; (6) a decree from the States-General validating marriages performed by Mennonites as had been the custom for 60 years.

As a whole the intercession was a failure. Bern replied on 15 June 1660, explaining its obligation to maintain the evangelical Reformed faith pure and clear, justifying its efforts to rid the country of its stubborn and unconverted people, etc.

Banishment from the Country

Bern at once began to take further measures to cleanse its land of this Anabaptist "weed." De Vreede, however, was given permission to visit the Mennonite prisoners in the orphans' house; but he did not go alone—the Anabaptist Commission accompanied him. He offended both the Commission and the government by his fraternal attitude and by his remarks. On 27 August 1660, since the Mennonites in the orphans' house were still determined to cling to their faith, they were put into a boat, taken to Brugg, and on to the border, whence they were undoubtedly sent to Holland. Bern not only expelled Mennonite leaders from the canton, but made it impossible for them to take along what possessions they had. The Dutch States-General appealed to the Bernese government on this point. On 10 September 1668 a third letter followed in behalf of Swiss refugees. On 31 December Bern replied, rejecting the appeal and stating that the Bernese Mennonites were not to be compared with the Dutch Mennonites. In contrast with the rich Dutch Mennonites, the Swiss Mennonites were poor, tax-free people who refused to take up arms in defense of the fatherland.

All efforts of the Dutch Mennonites and of the Dutch government to help the Swiss Mennonites were futile. Bern continued its relentless persecution. The high point of the oppression was reached in 1671 when the Mennonites were sought out, brought to Bern, and imprisoned there. The ministers were flogged, branded on the back, and sent over the border. The mandate of 8 September 1670 provided for taking the Mennonites from their homes, and notifying them that they had 14 days to get out of the country. Those who did not comply were to be given eight days' time to consider the matter, after which they were to be scourged and led across the border. If anyone returned once, he was to be branded; if he came back a second time, he could expect more severe measures. And these were no idle threats but were carried out fully. Consequently the Bernese prisons were filled with Mennonites. A catalog of the prisoners in the orphans' house on 31 August 1671 reveals that the prisoners there were in three classes: (1) the aged and infirm, 70 or 80 years of age, who were to be kept in jail incommunicado; (2) those who are not yet aged, but who are too poor in health to be sent to the galleys or to be sentenced to other work, who are to be transferred to Tittliger tower; (3) those able physically are to be sent to the galleys at the earliest opportunity. The orphans' house also contained a number of women who held to the Mennonite faith.

Emigration to the Palatinate

Mennonites settled in the Rhenish Palatinate soon after the close of the Thirty Years' War. We learn from a governmental order of the Palatinate, dated 26 July 1651 that there were Mennonites in the country holding secret meetings. Two years later an appeal was sent to Karl Ludwig, the electoral prince, requesting permission to settle in the Palatinate, signed by Hans Mayer and Hans Körber, "together with the Mennonite brethren." In 1653 the Dutch Mennonites also sent aid to their brethren in the Palatinate (Müller, 206). The electoral prince of the Palatinate issued his Mennonite Concession of 4 August 1664 granting limited toleration to the Mennonites whom he allowed to settle in his land. In 1671, the year of climax in persecution in Bern, a steady stream of exiles went down the Rhine to the Palatinate. Jakob Everling of Obersülzen (Palatinate) sent letter after letter to the Dutch Mennonites, reporting the miserable condition of the refugees, arriving as they were with their aged, 70, 80, or 90 years of age, and with families of children, 8, 10, or 12. On 2 November of that year Everling reported the arrival of almost 700 Bernese Mennonite refugees. On 1 January 1672 Valentine Hüthwohl of Kriegsheim sent to Hans Flamingh a list of all the Mennonites whom he and George Lichti, a preacher formerly of Bern, had been able to register in a four-day journey. The emigration of Bernese Mennonites to the Palatinate continued for many years. Also contacts with the home country of Bern continued. For example, in the years 1762-1766 Swiss ministers were called three times to the Palatinate to arbitrate disputes; and when an elder named Jakob Zysset silenced four preachers, an act which led to much dissension in the brotherhood, peace was finally made at Immelhäuserhof near Sinsheim (Baden) in 1782 with the help of the following from Switzerland: Peter Ramseier, Benedict Wälti, Hans Lehmann, Hans Steiner, and David Baumgartner.

The persecution of the Bernese Mennonites meanwhile continued. Fresh mandates were issued in 1691 and 1693. The Bernese government was determined on nothing less than the extermination of Anabaptism, root and branch. Severe measures were taken to assure the removal of the plague of Anabaptism, including threats of the galleys, branding, etc. A mandate of 1695 added that people who were too old to be banished should be imprisoned for life. Additional mandates were issued in 1707, 1708, 1722, and 1729.

To the Galleys!

In 1616 Bern rejected the galleys as a punishment for the Swiss Brethren, stating this attitude in a letter to Zürich. By 1648, however, Bern was threatening to send a Mennonite named Hans Stentz to the galleys. And on 25 February 1671 Bern finally made the decision to send the "best" Mennonites to the galleys. A dozen Mennonites were confronted with the new policy of galley-slavery. Two promised obedience thereafter, and four others promised to quit Bern for good; these were not sent away to the galleys. But six were taken to Italy in the care of a Lieutenant Gerig, where they were put to the oars for a two-year term. Their new masters were kind enough to allow them to wear their beards. In spite of the horror which this severe treatment occasioned in Bern, the government was adamant in continuing the program. In 1714 four more Mennonites were sentenced to the galleys, men 40, 50, even 54 years old. A fifth brother, a preacher from the Palatinate, was also seized on a visit to Bern and received the same sentence. Even the protest of Reformed clergy was of no avail. The protest of the Dutch States-General "on behalf of the Mennonite prisoners and those sold into galley slavery" accomplished more. The Dutch letter was dated 22 June 1714. Bern did not reply until 27 March 1715. Meanwhile the brethren had not yet reached the oars but were being forced to hard labor until spring, when they were to be put on the boats. Strenuous efforts were made by Dutch and Palatine Mennonites as well as non-Mennonite Swiss citizens on their behalf. Indeed a Swiss was actually jailed for his efforts to help the Mennonites, and following his release on the payment of large fines was banished from Bern for life. But the pressure proved too great even for Bern and the government made efforts to have the Brethren released from the galleys. By that time, however, two of them had died. Financial help came from Holland and Krefeld, and even an English archbishop deposited money in a Bernese bank to help in the matter. On 16 September 1715, the three brethren wrote a touching letter of gratitude from Palermo to the brethren in Holland. Once again in 1717 Bern sentenced more Mennonites to galley slavery, but the intervention of the Dutch States-General on this occasion released not only the four sentenced to galley slavery, but the 40 others who had been sentenced to prison. So far as is known, this was the end of galley slavery for the Bernese Mennonites.

A Compulsory Emigration Plan That Failed

After almost two centuries of struggle with the Bernese Mennonites, the government finally decided to deport the entire group. On 17 May 1699 the senate addressed a letter to the president and directors of the East India Company in Amsterdam informing them of their plan to send the Bernese Mennonites to an East Indian island so that they could not return. Apparently the East India Company did not reply. Meanwhile the Bernese prisons were bulging with ever more Mennonites. A brother from Mannheim managed to slip into a Bernese prison and sent a catalog of the prisoners' names to Amsterdam. A letter of 1709 written by Nicholas Moser to Holland reports the treatment of the Bernese Mennonites. Children were forced to deliver over their parents, and parents the children. A man who hid his Mennonite wife was fined 300 pounds; another who hid his son, 500 pounds. This money went to the "Anabaptist treasury" (Täufer-Kammer).

Bern next planned to send Mennonites to America. A man named Ritter in Bern who planned to make a trip to America was interested in taking along some poor Bernese families, also some Anabaptists. Bern was prepared to pay him 45 Taler for every Anabaptist he actually got to America. He was to take them to "Carolina." Correspondence was entered into with Great Britain in connection with these plans. All was to be in readiness for the beginning of the journey which was to be made on 18 March 1710. All the necessary passes for the journey down the Rhine had been secured, all except Holland's, that is. And the Dutch were just as firmly decided not to assist in this evil enterprise as the Bernese were determined to carry it out. Bern was told outright that when a man set his foot on Dutch soil he was free. The Bernese ambassador wrote home telling his government how different matters were in Holland from Bern. In Holland, he explained, the Mennonites were influential and beloved. He declared that he would rather fight with all the ministers of the allied powers, England excepted, than with the Mennonites alone. In addition, the States-General addressed a letter to Bern, warmly defending the Mennonites.

Meanwhile the boat with 56 Bernese Mennonites started down the Rhine. Because of sickness and infirmities 32 of them were allowed to disembark at Mannheim. In Nijmegen the remainder left the ship, and turned back to the Palatinate, to Alsace and to Switzerland, to hunt for their wives and children. Travel was difficult for some of them in view of their imprisonment, especially for those whose feet had been in irons during the cold of the previous winter. Nevertheless they were in good spirits. Included in the group were one preacher and two teachers. The men were accustomed to a rough life, wore untrimmed beards, spoke the rough Swiss dialect and understood others with difficulty who did not speak the Swiss. They preferred to sleep on straw, rather than on beds, and since many of them had for a year or two eaten only bread and water, they were not able to eat meat and stronger foods. They desired nothing else than to get back to Mannheim in the Palatinate as soon as possible. They stayed in Kleve over the weekend, and one of them preached. The Dutch Mennonites aided them liberally, sending them 1,200 guilders on 2 May 1710.

Second Major Emigration of the Bernese Mennonites

The attempt to deport Bernese Mennonites to America evoked repercussions in Bern. The Dutch Mennonites indeed spared no efforts to help the Bernese Mennonites. In vain did the Dutch appeal to the queen of England for help; they also appealed to the English Baptists (Müller, 287). A deputation of eight influential Dutch Mennonites accompanied by four Swiss Mennonites went to The Hague to ask the States-General to renew their efforts on behalf of the Mennonites of Bern. The Bernese ambassador, Saphorin, did all he could to hinder their work, repeatedly calling attention to the refusal of Mennonites to fight for their country. In an attempt to overcome this point the Dutch Mennonites went so far as to offer to furnish troops or to raise funds to compensate for a failure to bear arms. Saphorin replied that Bern had no system of substitute military service or of release for fee, and ventured the prophecy that the Mennonites would never be able to maintain their faith in Switzerland. On two subsequent visits the Mennonite deputation sought in vain to accomplish two aims: (1) to get permission for the wives and children of those who had been sent on the abortive deportation to America, to leave Bern without difficulty; (2) to obtain kind treatment of those recently imprisoned, and permission for them to emigrate; and to put an end to tracking down Mennonites. The Bernese members of the deputation also left a statement vindicating their faith for the archives at Amsterdam. In the end the Dutch Mennonites succeeded in having the States-General ask the Dutch ambassador Runckel in Bern to intercede with Bern for the Mennonites to the end that the severe measures against them be abolished, that they be allowed to worship God undisturbed, and that they be permitted to stay in the country where they had already lived for more than a century. If these requests were not granted, they should at least be given a few years' time to dispose of their property and then be granted the freedom to emigrate.

Runckel pursued his assignment with vigor. But he reported that his obstacles were enormous. No one would admit that an error had been made in dealing with the Mennonites; everything bad about them was believed. The best one could do, thought Runckel, would be to find a refuge for them so that they could all leave Bern as a body. There were opportunities for those Mennonites to locate elsewhere who were artisans and tradesmen, but most of the Mennonites made their living on the farm and with cattle. At this very time 23 Mennonites lay in prison in Bern.

That the Mennonites should leave Bern seemed clear to everyone. But where should they go? King Friederich I of Prussia was willing to take them in with open arms, offering them amazing economic advantages, with the privilege of settling anywhere in his realm, putting at their disposal comfortable homes, farm equipment, etc. But he wanted them all, the rich and the poor, not just the poor. But the Mennonites could not become enthusiastic about the plan; they feared the plague which had broken out there; also the feudal system was still in vogue in Frederick's realm. Runckel proposed settling them all on two large swampy areas of Bern. But the Mennonite leader, Brechbiehl, opposed the plan, and it was dropped when an engineer made an unfavorable report. Other plans were dropped also, so that in the end only one place of refuge remained, the Netherlands. The Dutch Mennonites worked hard to make this possible, and collected 50,000 guilders to help them. They wrote a comforting letter to the imprisoned Mennonites, 52 in number, which the latter answered on 8 January 1711. On 11 October 1710 Runckel reported that the prisoners were being treated tolerably well, they were granted the use of the Bible and a few other books, and they had adequate food and drink, though sleeping accommodations were rather bad. A few weeks later Runckel was able to send a list of 295 additional Mennonites in Bern, apart from those in prison.

On 10 December 1710 Runckel made the following appeal to the Bern government: (1) to give the Swiss Mennonites the choice of Prussia or the Netherlands as their refuge; (2) to publish a general amnesty so that all Mennonites could come out into the open and dispose of their property; (3) to permit them to appoint agents to dispose of any property left behind after their exodus; (4) to release at once those in prison; (5) to permit Reformed partners who were married to Mennonites to emigrate with their spouses and children; (6) to exempt them from the emigration tax which had until then been in force against them.

In response to this appeal the Bern government issued the following amnesty on 11 February 1711: "All efforts up to this time to cleanse the land of Anabaptists have proved fruitless, and the sect has increased. They refuse to swear the civil oath of allegiance, and to bear arms. It appears that the reason for their not leaving the country thus far is that they have been unable to find any country where they would be free to enjoy religious liberty. Therefore through Ambassador Bondeli and through Secretary Runckel we have entered into an agreement with His Majesty in Prussia and with the States-General of the Netherlands respectively to receive these so-called Anabaptist persons into their lands. They will travel to Holland, but if they wish they can locate in Prussia. Free emigration does not apply to those who have already been judicially banished with the confiscation of their goods. Those now in prison will be released on bail. The emigration period with exemption from emigration tax expires the end of June. The trip shall be paid for by those emigrating. Reformed spouses and children may emigrate and take along their property, yet with loss of citizenship. All property taken out of the country must be declared. That which is not declared promptly to the Anabaptist Commission will be confiscated. Meanwhile Anabaptist meetings are forbidden under heavy fines, and the severest penalties will be meted out to those who return to the country after emigration." These concessions were accomplished by the pressure of Prussia and the Dutch States-General. Bern issued a series of mandates in quick succession to expedite the emigration of the Mennonites: 20 February 1711; 17 April; 19 April; 11 May; 2 June; 22 June; and 24 June. The task of leading the emigration was assigned to George Ritter, who was to have led them out the previous year.

Ritter had all kinds of difficulties to overcome. The Ammann-Reist division of 1693 was still so bitterly fresh in the memories of the two groups that they did not want to get into the same ship. One brother, Hans Gerber, refused to emigrate and was sentenced to galley slavery. Others did not want to take the vow never to return to Bern. (Some did return and were sentenced to life imprisonment.)

The date for the departure by ship was set for 13 July 1711. The value of the emigrating Mennonites' property was set at 600,000 pounds. (They had with them 14,000 guilders of their own, plus 18,135 which Runckel had received to give them.) The Anabaptist Commission sent 28,500 guilders to the Dutch Mennonites in payment of the property of the emigrating Mennonites. On the specified date, 13 July, boats were loaded with Mennonites at both Bern and Neuchatel; the boats met at Wangen and continued on their journey to Basel, which they reached three days later. (One Mennonite escaped at Wangen, his vow notwithstanding.) At Basel the party took on two Mennonites who had been given a life sentence for returning to Bern, and who had been released for emigration through the efforts of Runckel. The party, although less than the 50 anticipated, sailed down the Rhine in four boats. Ritter, the leader, was assisted by the Mennonites Daniel Richen and Christian Gäumann (names of passengers in Müller, 307-13). In Mannheim most of the Reist party escaped, many of them to settle in the Palatinate; some to return to Bern, where they were imprisoned for life upon being apprehended.

Finally on 3 August what was left of the original emigrants from Bern, mostly of the Amish Mennonite group, arrived at Amsterdam. For 14 days they were cared for. So eager was the public to visit their quarters that police had to be assigned to the place. Gifts from the public amounted to 1,045 guilders. Of these Bernese Mennonites, mostly Amish, 126 settled in Groningen, 116 in Deventer, 87 in Kampen, and 26 in Harlingen (names listed in Müller, 320-22). The effort to colonize Prussia was for the most part a failure. The Swiss preferred to migrate to America. However, a small settlement was made in Neuchatel, also in Valagin, Swiss border regions under Prussian rule.

In Groningen, Sappemeer, and Kampen the immigrants built independent congregations which flourished for a time before becoming merged with the local Mennonites. Most of those who settled in Deventer moved to Kampen. In Harlingen, where the settlers were mostly of the Reist party, it was decided to return southward and locate in the Palatinate. But the Swiss families who remained in Holland ultimately attained favorable recognition, e.g., the Meihuizen family.

Anabaptist Bureau (Kammer) and Anabaptist Hunters

The very fury with which Bern persecuted the Mennonites made friends for them. The masses were moved to sympathy and helpfulness by the severe measures undertaken toward their annihilation. Loserth points out that in Tyrol the common people were strongly attracted to the Anabaptists, giving them food, clothing, and shelter; never betraying them to the authorities; warning them of the coming of officers, etc. The same behavior of the common people was to be witnessed in Bern. To carry out its mandates more thoroughly Bern created a special department of state, really a branch of the Commission for Anabaptist Matters, composed of five members (not of the clergy). In the first instance this bureau was charged with caring for the confiscated Mennonite property. But the bureau also was vested with authority to capture, banish, and pardon Anabaptists and in general to see to the enforcement of the Anabaptist mandates. The Anabaptist Bureau was set up in 1699 and dissolved in 1743.

As early as 1663 the government of Bern felt the need of special assistance in hunting out the Mennonites and delivering them over to the authorities. These special officers were to be independent of the sheriff (Landvogt) and free to cross cantonal frontiers. Thirty Kreuzer was to be paid for each Anabaptist turned in, the money to come from the possessions of the one arrested, or from confiscated Anabaptist properties, or even from the government itself. For the most part these special officers, later called "Anabaptist hunters," were coarse men, of poor character, and much despised by the better citizens of the land. The Bern government had altercations with local townships (Gemeinden) which did not co-operate fully in turning in their Mennonites. A drive for Mennonites (Täuferjagd) in the Emmental in 1702 failed through the warnings of the populace, blowing horns, shooting, shouting, and similar signs of the coming of the posse. This happened many times. In 1714 in Sumiswald the Mennonites who were already in the custody of the "hunters" were forcibly released by a mob of 60 or 70 irate citizens. Even disputes between cantons arose as in 1726 when Anabaptist hunters trespassed on Lucerne territory to seize three Mennonite women. Furthermore the local sheriffs were often irritated by the Anabaptist hunters.

Along with all this unhappy spectacle went numerous mandates with their endless penalties; e.g., the mandates of 30 September 1711, and 11 December 1711. The latter stated that any Anabaptist who failed to emigrate, or who returned to Bern, was to be imprisoned either with or without chains until he died or conformed to state church standards. This was made still more severe in the mandate of 24 May 1714 in which the Mennonite preachers were notified that if arrested they would be sent to the galleys or to life imprisonment; this applied also to those who had once been banished and who had returned. The remaining Mennonites were to be again banished, and if they returned, those able to work were to be sent to the galleys, and those too old or feeble were to be given a punishment of similar severity. In an effort to find its Mennonites Bern soon offered a reward of 100 talers for every Mennonite preacher turned in, and 50 talers for everyone who gave testimony in the Mennonite services and for every deacon (Zeugnisgeber und Almosenpfleger). The reward for an ordinary lay member was to be 30 Kronen and for women, 15 Kronen.

The service of the book censor was again invoked. A New Testament containing a "Mennonite version," printed in Basel in 1702, was put on the list of forbidden books. Even the Zürich Froschauer Bible was proscribed. Furthermore a list of Mennonite books was to be prepared so that bookbinders could be put on oath not to bind them. Special efforts were also made to prevent the holding of Mennonite church services, and to make it difficult for a Mennonite to secure employment. Since Mennonites married by their own ministers were not legally married, declared Bern, the children have no rights of inheritance. Furthermore, a later mandate provided that if the children of Reformed parents became Mennonites, the parents had the right to disinherit them; but if such children returned to the Reformed Church, they could get their inheritance back, but without interest. The money received from confiscated Anabaptist properties was to be divided into thirds and be assigned to the following three causes: Anabaptist Bureau, city council, and the officials "for their encouragement and their vigilance" (edict of 19 February 1715). This was changed in a mandate of 17 March 1729 which assigned such property to the state church treasury for school and church purposes. (The Mennonite properties were set up as landed properties earning income for the state church, but no money could be spent without the permission of the Anabaptist Bureau.) The Anabaptist Bureau was also responsible to dispose of Mennonite requests for property left behind when they emigrated. In general these requests were denied. In 1720 permission was given for Mennonites to take along their property if they made a solemn affirmation never to return to Bern. If any returned they were to be given life imprisonment. It was decided as early as 1695 not to allow any Mennonite to be buried in a church cemetery or any other recognized burial ground.

One of the chief occasions for tension between Bern and its Mennonites was the matter of their nonresistance. In 1737 plans were made to send these conscientious objectors to the silver mines at Roche, but this was apparently never done. In 1745 a fine of 20 to 30 talers was prescribed. In 1780 the nonresistant Mennonites were threatened with banishment. Other threats were also made. The Mennonites offered to donate a month's labor each year to help build and maintain foot bridges over the Emme, Ifiis, and Trub rivers, but the council would not accept this proposal (1786). A milder policy began to be evident in Bern from about 1750, however. The Anabaptist Bureau was abolished in 1743. The Anabaptist hunters also disappeared.

Toleration of the Mennonites in Bern

One of the results of the French Revolution was the abolition of governmental intolerance and the persecution of religious dissenters. Switzerland became a French republic (Helvetic Republic). Article 6 of the Helvetian constitution of 12 April 1798, stated: "Freedom of conscience is unrestricted. However, public statements of opinion on religious matters must not disturb the concord and tranquillity of the people. Every form of divine worship is permitted if it does not disturb the public peace and if it does not demand domination or advantage. Every divine service is under the scrutiny of the police who have the right to ask that the doctrines and duties preached be submitted to them...." The important Edict of Toleration of 12 February 1799 revoked all Swiss laws against religious beliefs and sects. All penalties for religious nonconformity were abolished. All disfranchised Swiss were to be restored to citizenship if they lost it for religious nonconformity. Provision was even made for the banished citizens, or children or grandchildren of banished citizens, to file notice of their banished status on religious grounds, and they were to be welcomed back to their fatherland.

But Bern was not yet ready to stand by this Swiss law. Pressure continued to be exerted against those who would not have their infants baptized. In 1810 a marriage performed by a Mennonite preacher was declared invalid. That same year the Langnau Mennonites petitioned the government for full religious liberty in conformity with the Swiss law of 1799. This petition contained five points: (1) The Mennonites believed in the obligation to show honor to the government so far as conscience allowed. (2) Baptism signifies admission to the church, and faith must precede it. (3) Mennonites observe a holy communion in their brotherhood and practice the excommunication or church discipline. (4) Mennonites are content to have the state church pastors perform the marriage ceremonies of their unbaptized young people; but their own ministers must marry those who are already church members. (5) Their church has the right to choose and ordain ministers by the laying on of the hands of their elders. To this petition the government replied on 30 December refusing its requests. The law of 1799, said the government, did not apply in this case. Baptism in Switzerland, said they, was not merely a religious symbol but also involved church records of significance in family census data and citizenship records. Similarly weddings have civil significance because of inheritances, etc. The petition of the Mennonites was therefore rejected completely. Furthermore the Mennonites were ordered to bring their children to the state church for baptism, and their marriages were likewise to be performed publicly by state church clergymen. However, since the Mennonites had the testimony of living a quiet life, never disturbing anyone, and made no effort to spread their doctrines, they were not to be disturbed by anyone.

On 15 March 1811, 27 children of Mennonite parentage who had not been baptized since the French Revolution were baptized by force in the Langnau Reformed Church. Mennonite children were also taken to catechetical instruction in the Reformed Church by police force. Parents of children who reached the age of 16 years without being baptized were to suffer the loss of the rights of citizenship.

In 1815 the bishopric of Basel was united with the canton of Bern. This placed the Jura Mennonite congregations under the Bernese government. They therefore appealed to the government for the continuation of the toleration which they had enjoyed before the union. They particularly desired to have their own ministers baptize their converts and perform their weddings, and they wished for continued exemption from the oath and from military service. (Art. 13 of the Articles of Union, dated 3 November 1815 guaranteed the perpetuation of their former rights.) The Emmental Mennonites also wished the same privileges as their Basel brethren. The church council of Bern issued a statement of their attitude on 3 August 1816 in which they proposed that the Mennonites wear a distinguishable garb, that the state church clergyman should at all times have access to their services, and that specimens of all their books of doctrine and edification should be deposited with the superior magistrate (Oberamt). On 19 April the church council sent to the Lower Council of Bern the final draft of their proposed Mennonite ordinance. The latter, however, regarded the proposed ordinance as an official recognition of the sect, and in the end no Mennonite ordinance was adopted. An official letter was issued to the superior magistrates of Courtelary, Münster, and Langnau, dated 22 November 1820 stipulating: (1) that every Mennonite register officially with the state church clergyman the birth of his infant child within the first three weeks of its life; (2) that an affirmation (Gelübde) was to have the same legal significance as the oath. On 4 December 1824, the church council complained of this "unduly tolerant" official letter which had enhanced materially the standing of the Mennonite sect. They now were able to hold their meetings without interference, they had their own ministers who called themselves servants of the Divine Word, and who were free of every governmental control and inspection! "Up to this point such freedom has never been granted the Pietists, nor the Moravians, nor the Separatists."

Following a number of complaints fresh regulations were made to apply to the Mennonites. An official letter of 18 July 1823, (1) called for a census of all Anabaptists in every district (Oberamt); (2) specified that Art. 13 of the Articles of Union between the Bishopric of Basel and Bern applied only to those who then were Mennonites and to their descendants, not to those who had since united with them; (3) demanded a listing of each Anabaptist meeting, giving time and place, to be submitted to the Oberamt, who would issue permission for such meetings; (4) provided heavy penalties for winning "proselytes" to the sect, requiring Mennonite preachers to report any persons who wished to unite with them, so that the state officials and the state church clergyman could examine them and dissuade them; (5) declared all future proselytes of the Mennonites liable for military service, etc., as before.

Fear that the Mennonites would multiply and endanger the state kept them from receiving full toleration for a long time. Yet the police interference finally did stop as inconsistent with the then current concept of toleration. Certain difficulties occurred in the Jura in connection with the marriages of excommunicated Mennonites who were required by the state either to return to the Mennonites or to unite with the state church. Mennonite ministers were obligated to report all persons who were partially or wholly excommunicated from their brotherhood, so that such persons could be punished by the police, and so that their children could be provided with religious instruction.

A division occurred in the Emmental Mennonite congregation during the period 1832-35. The new party was led by a young man named Samuel Fröhlich, founder of the Apostolic Christian Church, called in Europe "Neutäufer," and often known in North America by the appellation "New Amish" by outsiders.

The federal government of Switzerland took over the control of the army from the cantonal governments in 1850. The Swiss general assembly immediately passed a law regulating the army and listing categories of persons exempt from military service. The Mennonites were for the first time in the history of the new Confederacy not exempted. They made an official plea, but to no avail. However, no action was taken to induct them and the Mennonites continued free from military service for the next 25 years. In 1874 a new federal constitution was put into effect, which made all Swiss citizens liable to military service. Within the years immediately following, the first Swiss Mennonites found themselves in Swiss army uniform. They have been permitted from that time to the present to serve in the medical corps.

Large numbers of Bernese Mennonites have immigrated to the United States, particularly in the 19th century. During the 18th century only a few scattered families of direct Bernese origin were among the large number who settled in Eastern Pennsylvania, in the Franconia and Lancaster settlements. The first Bernese came to Pennsylvania in 1717 under the leadership of Benedikt Brechbill. In the 1750's a smaller group followed directly from the Bernese Jura. However, many of the Palatinate Mennonites who came to the Franconia-Lancaster region were of original Bernese origin, having immigrated to the Palatinate 1650-90. The Amish settlers in Eastern Pennsylvania 1738-60 were all of Bernese origin as their names and culture clearly indicate. (See C. Henry Smith, Mennonite Immigration to Pennsylvania.)

During the first half of the 19th century (1817-60) a large number of Bernese Mennonites left their Jura and Emmental homes and settled in Ohio and Indiana. Large congregations composed of the descendants of the immigrants are located in the Sonnenberg and Crown Hill communities in Wayne County, Ohio, the Bluffton-Pandora community in Allen and Putnam counties, Ohio, the Berne community in Adams County, Indiana, the Fortuna community in Moniteau County, Missouri), and in the Salem-Silverton community in Oregon. Occasional families continued to come until into the 20th century, some settling also in the Wayland, Iowa, community.

The following is a list of the mid-20th century Mennonite congregations in the canton of Bern (Bulles lies in Bern and Neuchatel) together with their membership: Bulles, 150; Chaux d'Abel Kapelle, 100; Chaux d' Abelberg, 50; Cortebertberg, 50; Emmental (Langnau), 350; Grosslützel (Courgenay), 100; Kleintal (Moron-Perceux), 250; Pruntrut, 150; Sonnenberg (Jeangisboden-Fürstenberg-Les Mottes), 450; Biel, Emmenholz bei Solothurn, and Reconvilier are not independent congregations; hence their membership is counted elsewhere. -- Christian Neff

1989 Update

Bern, Switzerland is the capital of the canton of Bern and, since 1848, also of Switzerland. It was founded in 1191 on the site of earlier Frankish (Merovingian) settlements.

The Reformation came later in Bern than in Zürich. Images and the mass were abolished only in 1528. Monasteries and other ecclesiastical establishments, of which there were 12 in the city, were secularized and became the property of the town government. Endowment and other property gifts were not returned to the original donors, which led to considerable resistance to the new faith and, possibly, to greater receptivity to Anabaptism. Troubling memories are associated with the old city: Jews were persecuted here long after they had received toleration in other areas; here also the Anabaptists suffered imprisonment and persecution.

Documents in the Bernese state archive hear witness to the depth of Bern involvement with Swiss Anabaptism. Several places where Anabaptists of the 16th century gathered are located near the city. Bernese nobles can also be found among the Anabaptists. Prominent 17th-century leaders in the Ammann-Reist schism lived in the area; for example, Niclaus Balzli, Durs Rohrer, and Ulrich Balzli of Bolligen and Habstetten near Bern.

According to the documents, the following are some of the detention centers, dungeons, and prisons in which Anabaptists were incarcerated: the Chorhaus near the cathedral; the Frauengefängnis or Wyberchefi (women's prison) in the tower of the West Gate to the city (a Mennonite congregation was founded nearby in 1959); a house called Hohliebe, used particularly for the imprisonment of Anabaptist women, located near the present university buildings; the Inselspital, and the Täuferhaus (the fact that it was actually called an "Anabaptist House " indicates its use); the Obere Spital, located near the present Heiliggeistkirche; the Kreuzgasse, a cross street to the main city thoroughfare, located below the cathedral, mentioned numerous times in connection with judgment of Anabaptists; the Predigerkloster (Dominican monastery), used not only to incarcerate Anabaptists, but also to lodge those who came for the disputation of 1528; the Ratshaus (city council chambers), which presumably also included the Täuferkammer (Anabaptist room); the Schallenhaus, or Schallenwerk, a disciplinary institution for dangerous criminals mentioned several times in connection with Anabaptist men and women. The Schiffländte, or Schifflaube was the harbor from which the Anabaptists were deported. The Waisenhaus was used as a kind of penitentiary in 16th-17th century. Numerous Anabaptists are mentioned in connection with this location. There were 20 towers in the city of Bern in the 16th century, many of which were used to interrogate Anabaptists. These interrogations usually involved torture. The Kafigturm (cage tower) is the only one still standing in the 1980s.

The Bern congregation in 1986 consisted of ca. 150 members, most of whom moved to the city from the Emmental and the Jura areas. The congregation had a full-time pastor, an elder who preaches once monthly, and a team of deacons, including three women. -- Isaac Zürcher-Geiser


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Archival Records

Various documents and materials from the Staatsarchiv Bern.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Isaac Zürcher-Geiser
Date Published 1986

Cite This Article

MLA style

Neff, Christian and Isaac Zürcher-Geiser. "Bern (Switzerland)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1986. Web. 13 Apr 2024.

APA style

Neff, Christian and Isaac Zürcher-Geiser. (1986). Bern (Switzerland). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 13 April 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 287-298; vol. 5, pp. 70-71. All rights reserved.

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