Carinthia (Kärnten), a province of Austria (area 4,460 sq. mi.; pop. 474,000 in 1955; 559,000 in 2001). Long after the Anabaptist movement had reached the other parts of Austria, it came also to Carinthia; but its spread here was less extensive than in Tyrol or elsewhere. There is only sparse information regarding the Carinthian Anabaptists of the early 1520s. Any strong propaganda for the movement was made as difficult here as in Styria, mainly because the Protestant estates zealously prevented its penetration into this duchy, and thus aided the (Catholic) Habsburg government. But it seems very probable that there were a large number of Anabaptists there, for the general mandates and other orders against Anabaptists, issued in Lower and Upper Austria, were also published in Carinthia.
It may be assumed that the Anabaptist movement entered Carinthia from the Puster Valley of Tyrol in the late 1520s. The chronicles of 1531 state that Brother Balthasar Mayer, a cooper and preacher at Wolfsberg in Carinthia, was one of three seized and beheaded there. "All of them testified to the truth with their blood." Unfortunately there is no indication as to whether Mayer had been preaching at Wolfsberg for some time, or had been merely passing through when seized.
Special regulations to stop the spread of the movement in Carinthia were issued in the 1530s. A mandate of King Ferdinand I issued to the governor Veit Weltzer on 7 May 1532 and the orders sent out by Weltzer to all the authorities of Carinthia to track down the Anabaptists, to take them prisoner, and to punish them in accord with the orders issued for all five countries of Inner Austria (the two Austrias, Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola), show that the Anabaptist movement had taken firm roots in Carinthia, too. Three years later the government had the mandate of Ferdinand I against the spread of "the new deceptive sects" of 15 February 1535, also published in Carinthia. It is very probable that here as in Styria the older general mandates were frequently repeated, in order to ferret out the Anabaptists. Since the situation in Carinthia was not different from that in Styria, we refer to an opinion that the Styrian vicegerent Michael Meixner delivered in 1537: "For forty years church and government have been failing, to the advantage of the Anabaptists and other sects."
But even though there were Anabaptists in Carinthia, their teaching had not taken such deep roots as in Tyrol. In the next few years only isolated references to Anabaptists are found. On 16 April 1538, two brothers, Matthäus Peckh and Jakob Tanferer, recanted before Vice-regent Francis of Tannhausen and were pardoned. On Wednesday before Christmas 1538 Hans Seidl of Murau and Hans Donner of Wels were seized and soon afterward put to death.
In St. Veit, the former capital, a strong movement for ecclesiastical reform was apparently in progress. Book dealers who sold "heretical" books in this line were given prison sentences. The county clerk Hans Knysler sent a report to the king, inquiring what should be done with the Anabaptists and their books. Friends of the new movement were found even among the city councilors. In Villach Anabaptist activities are also reported.
The most outstanding of the Carinthian Anabaptists was Antoni Erfordter, whose farewell letter, the Urlaubsbrief of 1538, deserves particular attention. It is a sermon calling to repentance from the immorality and spiritual poverty of his contemporaries. In lurid colors he portrays the soil in which Anabaptism tries to take root. "Don't be surprised that scarcely two God-fearing men can be found here in Klagenfurt, St. Veit, and Völkermarkt, indeed perhaps in the entire country." That is why he cannot bear any longer to remain in Carinthia. He went to Moravia where he was made Diener des Wortes. In 1541 he died; it is uncertain whether at Schäkowitz or at Pausram near Auspitz, where the largest brotherhoods were located.
It is known that in 1540 Anabaptism was still active in Carinthia. From a letter of that year by Hans Amon, who succeeded Jakob Hutter as head of the entire brotherhood, we learn that Lamprecht Kreutztaler and Kaspar Schmidt were working for the Lord in Carinthia, and that also Michel Schneider and Hansel Coll were in their home town in that country.
The Anabaptists had a strong brotherhood in Ortenburg led by Michael Madschidl or Kleinmichel. The chronicles relate that he was seized in Ortenburg with his wife and a cobbler named Hans Gurtzham. A deacon and the parson of Villach put forth much effort to convert them, but were worsted by the superior Biblical knowledge of the defendants. The prisoners were then taken in chains to Oberdrauburg via Spittal, and on across Styria to Vienna. In prison they met Hans Staudach and three other brethren, "who were led to the slaughter after St. Matthew's day. . . . They were firm as a stone wall." Gurtzham commemorated their death in a song. Madschidl, in prison, remained true to his faith. He wrote to the brotherhood in Moravia that they would continue to be true to the Lord until death. But he was destined to have a peaceful end. Three years after his imprisonment a fire broke out in Vienna. During the tumult he escaped with his Liesel through "the providence of God" and the aid of a citizen, and reached the church in Moravia. After another year in prison Gurtzham was drowned in the Danube on 27 June 1550. Madschidl died as an "elder of the church and an apostle of Jesus Christ and of the church after suffering much tribulation and imprisonment" in 1553 at Altenmarkt in Moravia. A summary list of martyrs of later origin lists ten Anabaptists executed in Carinthia: seven at St. Veit and three at Wolfberg.
After the 1550s little is heard of Anabaptists in Carinthia or in the other two cantons of inner Austria. The religious peace of Augsburg of 1555 had recognized the right of only one Protestant church in the Holy Roman Empire, namely, the Lutheran, which then dominated political and military affairs. Though they were themselves merely tolerated in Austria, yet they considered it their duty to keep all other Protestant branches out of the country. In this they cooperated with the Catholics. Hence no Calvinist and no member of the numerous Protestant sects was tolerated any longer.
Beck, J. "Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer in Kärnten." Archiv für vaterländische Geschichte und Topographie (1867): 101-136.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 465-468.
Loserth, Johann. "The Anabaptists in Carinthia." Mennonite Quarterly Review 21 (1947): 235-247.
Cite This Article
Loserth, Johann and Robert Friedmann. "Carinthia (Austria)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 21 Aug 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Carinthia_(Austria)&oldid=145153.
Loserth, Johann and Robert Friedmann. (1953). Carinthia (Austria). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 August 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Carinthia_(Austria)&oldid=145153.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 517-518. All rights reserved.
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