French-Speaking Mennonites

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This 1950s article addresses only French-speaking Mennonites in Europe.

Very early there were French-speaking Anabaptists. In the south of Flanders and in South Brabant there were in the first half of the 16th century many Anabaptist congregations. Severe persecution drove a mass of refugees north; some fled eastward where their traces are found in Metz, Strasbourg, and Geneva.

Among the martyrs many French names are found, such as Jacques d'Auchy, Adriaen Olieux, Charlo de Walle, Claudine le Vettre, Daniel Calvaert, and Guillaume of Rebais (Roubaix). Many French Mennonites came shortly after 1600 as refugees to the Netherlands, with such family names as de la Faille, de Fremery, and Hennebo, de Neufville. In Hamburg there was a Francois Noe. In Leiden, Dutch province of South Holland, there seems to have been a congregation of Walloons in the early 17th century; in Haarlem sermons were also preached in the French language (Doopsgezind Jaarboekje 1840, 65).

The Flemish who fled to Strasbourg, not feeling quite at home with their German-speaking brethren, lost some of their number to Calvin's French congregation. Among them was Calvin's wife, Idelette van Buren, the widow of the Anabaptist Jean Stordeur.

In later periods, chiefly 1700-1750, the German-speaking Swiss Mennonites in their flight-like migrations frequently came in touch with French language and people. Many Swiss refugees settled in the French-speaking parts of Switzerland (Jura) and Alsace-Lorraine and with varying success maintained their German. In the Jura German-language schools have helped to maintain the German, and only in the towns did French come in.

In the 1950s the French congregations of Hang and (half of) Saarburg, and the Swiss of Pruntrut, Courgenay, Kleintal, Sonnenberg, Cortébert, Chaux d' Abel, and Les Bulks, and Le Locle-Brussels, though located in the French-speaking regions, retained the German, although Les Bulks was rapidly becoming French. In former Alsace-Lorraine German was maintained, but in Montbéliard and in inner France the Mennonites became exclusively French-speaking in the first half of the 20th century.

New French-speaking congregations were established at Brussels (1953) and Paris (1955) through the work of American Mennonite (Mennonite Church) missionaries.

Maintaining the German language in a French environment was less difficult for the Mennonites in the canton of Bern, Switzerland, for the cantonal government favored the German; they were able to set up their own schools and appoint their own teachers. In the canton of Neuchâtel, on the other hand, French influence was stronger; here the cantonal government did not support the Mennonite use of German.

The originally German-speaking congregations in France were in a very difficult position. They were too weak and scattered to maintain their own schools. They tried faithfully to teach their children German, though they themselves were unable to read or write it properly; the teachers they found were not much better qualified. Teaching materials were also lacking. Often the old family Froschauer Bible with its antiquated text, served as the only reader. More fortunate children were sent to Alsatian relatives. The Franco-Prussian War (1870 f.) was the turning point in the use of the French language. Those parts of the French-speaking churches that became politically German received German schools; but those who remained French found it difficult to maintain connections with those in Alsace. By the end of the century they were using the French exclusively. In the meantime, however, great damage had been done by their tenacious clinging to the German language. Many members no longer understood the German sermons, and many learned their Dordrecht Confession in German by memory without understanding a word of it. In consequence many young people lost interest and became worldly. The language difference finally led also to a division of the congregations in France into (1) the Conference of French-speaking Mennonites and (2) the Conference of Mennonites of Alsace. By the 1950s the French-speaking Mennonites have gone far toward overcoming the ill effects of the language transition.

German family names have in many cases been adapted to the French. Some were simply translated; Kaufmann became Marchand, and Schweitzer, Suisse; but most changed their spelling to approximate the original; Bächer became Bacher or Pecheur; von Känel became Fonkennel or Kennel; von Gunten became Fongond; Schräg became Gérard; Balzer, Pelsy; Krähenbühl, Krépille; Luginbühl, Lugbull, etc.

The French Mennonite writings are not numerous. There are several translations of the Dordrecht Confession, and one of the Zweibrücken Catechism, to which a collection of prayers and several hymns was appended. This booklet was called Confession de foi chrétienne des Chrétiens sans défense and was published in 1771 (without name of place), Nancy 1862, Baccarat 1898, and Montbéliard 1922; to the last a brief Mennonite history was added. The first edition of the Dordrecht Confession and the translations by Virgile de Las are very rare. From 1907 to 1914 a monthly church paper, Christ Seul, was published, which printed a Formulaire pour les différentes cérémonies du culte (1922) and Précis d’ histoire des Eglises mennonites (1914), and then published them separately, the latter being reprinted in 1937. It was resumed 1927-1941, and again in 1945.

A number of classic Mennonite writings by Menno Simons and Dirk Philips have been translated into French; in 1626 (n. p.) a translation of Dirk Philips Enchiridion by Virgile had appeared, followed by some tracts by Menno Simons: Enchiridion ou Manuel de la Religion Christienne, avec plusieurs autres traitez touchant la doctrine Euangelique faites par Menno Simonis et autres Autheurs. It also contains the story of the martyrdom of Jacques d'Auchy and three writings of Matthias Jurien (Thijs Jorriaensz), Henri Alevin (Hendrik Akwijnsz), and Jaques le Chandelier (Jacob Keersgieter). A French translation of Obbe Philips' booklet Bekentennisse was published under the title Obbe Philippe Recognaissance . . . (Leyden, 1595). In 1711 a French book appeared, Confession de foi Christienne, containing the Dordrecht Confession, translated from the German into the French, a number of hymns and prayers, and a sermon. There was also a French edition of the Jan Cents Confession of 1630, Brieve Confession de Foy (1684, n. p.); of Galenus Abrahamsz’ Apologie there is a French edition Apologie pour les Protestants qui croyent qu’ on ne doit baptizer que ceux qui sont venus a un age de raison, followed by (same author) Articles contenant les fondements de la Doctrine des Protestants, qui croyent . . . Amsterdam, 1704). A separate edition (Leiden, 1685) of the Jan Luyken etchings used in van Braght's Martyrs’ Mirror, with French captions, was likely not intended for French-speaking Mennonites, but for the art-loving public in France and elsewhere. It carried the title, Theatre des Martyrs.


The most important French works on the Mennonites are the following:

Guy de Bres, La racine, Source et fondement des Anabaptistes ou Rebaptisez de nostre temps. 1645.

Hortensius, Lambertus, and François Catrou. Histoire des Anabatistes ou Relation curieuse de leur doctrine, regne & revolutions, tant en Allemagne, Hollande, qu'Angleterre, où il êt traite de plusieurs sectes de Mennonites, Kouakres, & autres qui en sont provenus. Paris: Charles Clouzier, 1695

Catrou, François. Histoire Des Anabaptistes : Contenant Leur Doctrine, Les Diverses Opinions qui les divisent plusieurs Sectes. Amsterdam, 1699.

Catrou, François. Histoire des Anabaptistes. Paris: Claude Cellier, 1706.

Bastian, Frédéric. Essai sur la vie et les écrits de Menno Simons. Dissertation, Strasbourg, 1857.

Beck, Charles-Auguste. "Essai sur les Mennonites : thèse... soutenue... le 27 avril 1835... pour obtenir le grade de bachelier en théologie." Strasbourg : impr. de F. C. Heitz, 1835.

Brumder, Jean George. "Sur les causes qui ont adouci et amélioré le moeurs des anabaptistes, d'abord fanatiques et turbulentes : thèse d'histoire ecclésiastique ..." Dissertation, Strasbourg, 1836.

Bussierre, Marie Théodore Renouard. Les Anabaptistes: histoire du Luthéranisme, de l'Anabaptisme et du règne de Jean Bockelsohn a Münster. Paris: Sagnier et Bray, 1853.

Grandidier, Ph. A. "Les Anabaptistes d' Alsace." Revue d' Alsace (1867).

Hauth, Louis. Les anabaptistes à Strasbourg au temps de la réformation : thèse ... Dissertation, Strasbourg, 1860.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 687 f.

Mathiot, Charles. Recherches historiques sur les Anabaptistes: de l'Ancienne Principauté de Montbéliard, d'Alsace et des Régions Voisines. Belfort: La Mission Intérieure Lutherienne de Montbéliard, 1922.

Michiels, Alfred. Les anabaptistes des Vosges. Paris: Poulet-Malassis et De Broise, 1860.

Röhrich, G. E. Essai sur la vie, les écrits et la doctrine de l'Anabaptiste Jean Denk. Strasbourg, 1853.

Ramseyer, C.-Auguste, and Ruben Saillens. Histoire des Baptistes: depuis les temps apostoliques jusqu'à nos jours. Neuchâtel: E. Revel, 1897.

Weill, Alexandre. Histoire de la guerre des anabaptistes. Paris: Dentu, 1874.

There are in addition many articles in magazines, yearbooks, and encyclopedias, one of which is Annuaire statistique du department du Mont tonnerre pour l'an 1810; Christ Seul, (1910): Nos. 4, 5, and 6; also Mennonitischer Gemeinde-Kalender (1916): 122-126: Almanach du Cinquantenaire (Montbeliard, 1950); issues of Christ Seul, especially the December numbers, 1951-1955;

Author(s) Pierre Sommer
Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

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Sommer, Pierre and Nanne van der Zijpp. "French-Speaking Mennonites." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 10 Aug 2020.

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Sommer, Pierre and Nanne van der Zijpp. (1956). French-Speaking Mennonites. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 10 August 2020, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 392-394. All rights reserved.

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