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Dompelaars, a Dutch word meaning "immersionists" or "Dunkers," was the name of a small branch of the Mennonite Church at Hamburg-Altona, which led to a division of the congregation in 1648. The name indicates Dutch origin. It has been assumed that the Collegiant brotherhood, which had been formed in Holland in 1619 and which required and practiced immersion, was transplanted to Hamburg, with momentous consequences to the Mennonite congregation there. But it is more likely that Abraham de Vosz, who had apparently been a Baptist in Colchester, England, and who joined the Flemish Mennonites in Hamburg, caused the division. He won two preachers and 15 laymen to his side, who now demanded the practice of immersion and feetwashing before communion, and that communion services should be held at night with unleavened bread. In 1628 the Mennonite church board of Hamburg explained the difficulties which had arisen in the congregation concerning baptism by immersion in a 13-page letter to the Flemish congregation "bij 't Lam" at Amsterdam (Inv. Arch. Amst. I, No. 567). Most of the congregation, led by Gerrit Roosen, opposed this innovation. From 1648 on the two parties held separate services in the Mennonite church. After a violent quarrel the Dompelaars were forced out and thus the formal division ensued in 1650 which lasted 100 years.

In 1661 Bastiaan van Weenigem, on a visit to the Mennonite church at Hamburg-Altona, preached a sermon against the Dompelaars. When he returned to Hamburg two years later the Dompelaar preacher handed him a document which he was to refute. This he did in nine letters which he published with the title, Maniere van Doop, in 1666. It was answered by Joan Arents (probably the Dompelaar preacher) in 1668 in Eindelycke verklaringe der gedoopte Christenen with an "Appendix by Antoony de Grijs." Thereupon van Weenigem published Antidotum ofte Tegengift in 1669.

The first church of the Dompelaars at Altona was a small, dark building below street level, on Reichengasse. Baptism was administered in a pond at Barmbek near Wandsbek. On 5 November 1670, they secured permission from Christian V of Denmark to hold religious services. Noted separatists like Jakob Taube and Christian Hohburg preached here for a while. On 28 April 1708, they were given permission to build a church; it was erected almost altogether by money given by the merchant Ernst Goverts. Here the last Dompelaar preacher, Jakob Denner, preached. When he died (1746) the Altona Dompelaar congregation became extinct. The church, which belonged to Denner's heirs, was later used by the Moravians.

The Krefeld Mennonites also had a Dompelaar movement, but it was without any great significance, though the Krefeld Dompelaars were described in the records of the Cleve Synod (1717-1720) as "particularly dangerous." In 1700-1730 adherents of the "noble mystical enthusiasm," represented by men like Ernst Christoph Hochmann and J. Dippel, were deeply stirred by the question of the baptism of believers by immersion. In 1714 six men of the Reformed congregation in Solingen, who had close contacts with the Krefeld Dompelaars, were baptized by them in the Wupper, and after three years in the prison at Düsseldorf were subsequently condemned to life imprisonment in Jülich where they spent three additional years at hard labor, until they were released 20 November 1720 at the intercession of the General States of Holland. They were also visited by Mennonites from Krefeld, among them Hubert Rahr (of whom Goebel records that as a zealous Mennonite, a friend of Tersteegen, he publicly reproved the Reformed preacher Pull in Krefeld for several harsh statements after the funeral sermon for George Heshus), Jahn van Jurath, Jan Crous (from 1716 to 1724 preacher of the Mennonite church at Krefeld), Wilhelm von der Leyen, and Gosen Goyen, a Mennonite preacher who had himself been immersed in the Rhine in 1724. J. Crous was Goyen's opponent on the question of baptism. In a sermon on 5 April 1716 he advocated baptism by pouring.

In 1719 a part of the Krefeld Dompelaars and other like-minded persons in the county of Wittgenstein (Schwarzenau)—about 200, led by Christopher Seebach—immigrated to America, where they have since been known as Dunkers. In Ephrata, Pennsylvania, they founded a monastic brotherhood with complete community of goods and work, which in 1739 consisted of 60 unmarried persons. About the same time as in Krefeld some difficulties concerning immersion (dompeldoop) arose in the Dutch Mennonite congregation of Leeuwarden. Here in 1714 the deacons favoring immersion were in the majority. In 1715 a baptistery for immersion was installed in the church. But the opponents of immersion appealed to the city magistrates, and the baptistery disappeared in 1720 (Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 1874, 63 ff.). This immersion movement at Leeuwarden may have come from pietistic influence from Germany. In a few other Dutch congregations, as Amsterdam, Leiden, Rotterdam, Schiedam, and Surhuisterveen, as a result of Collegiant principles, baptism was sometimes performed by immersion during the 17th and early 18th centuries.

See Immersion and Baptism


Bolten, J. A. Historische Kirchen-Nachrichten von der Stadt Altona und deren verschiedenen Religions-Partheyen von der Herrschaft Pinneberg und von der Grafschaft Ranzau. 1790.

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Goebel, Max. Geschichte des christlichen Lebens in der rheinisch- westfälischen evangelischen. Kirche Coblenz : In Commission bei Karl Bädeker, 1849-1860: 234.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff.Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 458.

Nieper, Friedrich. Die ersten deutschen Auswanderer von Krefeld nach Pennsylvanien : ein Bild aus der religiösen Ideengeschichte des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts. Neukirchen, Kreis Moers : Buchhandlung des Erziehungsvereins, c1940.

Renkewitz, Heinz. Hochmann von Hochenau. Breslau, Maruschke & Berendt, 1935.

Roosen, Berend Carl.Gerhard Roosen : weiland Prediger der evangel. Mennoniten-Gemeinde zu Hamburg und Altona, geboren 1612, gestorben 1711 : den evangelischen Mennoniten-Gemeinden geschildert. Hamburg : In Commission in der Agentur des Rauhen Hauses, 1854.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1956

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MLA style

Neff, Christian and Nanne van der Zijpp. "Dompelaars." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 24 Sep 2023.

APA style

Neff, Christian and Nanne van der Zijpp. (1956). Dompelaars. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 September 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 81-82. All rights reserved.

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