Grüningen (Hinwil, Zürich, Switzerland)

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Grüningen, a town in the Hinwil district of the canton of Zürich, Switzerland. In 1467 Hinwil had a population of about 2,200. The county of Grüningen, of which the town was the capital, was the part of the canton of Zürich in which the Anabaptist movement found its strongest expression. It can be said that in the years 1525-1528 the movement developed here into a real movement of the people. The soil had been truly prepared for it ever since this territory had been incorporated into the canton which had been a center of opposition for those who favored economic autonomy and self-government by the peasants over against the centralization which the city of Zürich was promoting. The opposition was particularly strong against the activity of the district magistrate (Landvogt).

The Reformation stirred up this oppositional movement anew. Many preachers complained against their manorial lord, the abbott of Rüti, and in line with the radical wing of the Reformation demanded the abolition of the tithe, grounding their demands in the Gospel. The ferment was so strong, that in April 1525 the peasants attacked and plundered  the Rüti monastery. They now added new religious demands to their previous economic and legal requirements: choice of the pastors by the congregations, dissolution of the clerical endowments, secularization of the monasteries, in the hope that the money realized by these measures could be used for the purchase of their freedom from Zürich. The Zürich council promised to examine their complaints, but the peasants were not satisfied. Consequently the government decided, on the advice of the magistrate Jörg Berger, not to yield any further to the demands of the peasants, although they had made concessions to the peasants in other districts. The demand for ecclesiastical autonomy, which had often been advocated by Zwingli, was also not granted. These refusals must have created a strong sense of disappointment in the territory. The people must have felt that they were robbed of their rights in every respect

It was in such a situation that the Anabaptist movement entered Grüningen. The assertion by Bullinger (Reformations-Geschichte I, 261) that the disturbances in the Grüningen territory were caused by the escaped Anabaptists from Zürich I consider untrustworthy. The escape occurred in March 1526 according to the documents. Actually the causes of the peasant movement extend much further back; their immediate motivation, namely, the preaching of the radical preachers, begins at the latest in 1524. These preachers, especially Hans Brennwald of Hinwil, for the most part rejected the Anabaptist ideas. In my judgment the Anabaptists are not responsible at all for the peasant troubles. On the other hand, their teachings concerning the inner conversion, personal sanctification, along with the rejection of all outward forms, the rejection of force (which means the government which was so hated right in Grüningen) found a ready hearing among the peasants. By putting these ideas into practice they could hope for a realization of their earlier demands. We see this in the decision of one of the leaders of the peasants, one called the "Girenbader," to join the Anabaptists in January 1526.

The earliest record of the presence of Conrad Grebel in the territory is found in July 1525. He was the first Anabaptist preacher here and preached in Hinwil and Bäretswil. Probably sensing the mood of his hearers he emphasized that "he had appealed to imperial justice, the divine justice, and also civil justice, but in no case was he given any justice." He claimed to know that Zwingli had advised that the peasants would be brought to the city and shot down. Such statements certainly kept alive the revolutionary mood against the authorities. In autumn the Anabaptist movement grew rapidly. Much information concerning this is contained in the letters of magistrate Berger to the Zürich council. On 20 September 20 he reported concerning two refugees from Waldshut, Ulrich Teck and Jakob Gross, who had been expelled because they refused to carry arms; they had baptized 30 persons before being arrested. They had to pay a fine of five pounds. However, the people stood with them and demanded that the council arrange for a disputation with the Anabaptists.  Soon thereafter Blaurock and Grebel appeared. The people of Hinwil refused to arrest Blaurock; so the magistrate and his assistant had to act alone. The crowd followed him, assembling in an open field to listen to Grebel and Manz preach. The leaders must have had an extraordinary influence among the people. Grebel was arrested, but Manz escaped. At the suggestion of the magistrate the court arranged for a trial. The magistrate proposed a disputation, to which 12 impartial men from the district should be invited who would then be able to witness concerning the result of the disputation. The Zürich council agreed to these proposals from Grüningen and arranged for a disputation with the Anabaptists on 6 November 1525.

In spite of the fact that the real leaders were now in prison in Zürich, the Anabaptist movement continued in undiminished strength in Grüningen. Natives of the territory themselves continued the agitation. Both before and after the disputation such charges were raised as that Zwingli would not let the common people speak. The Anabaptists would not admit defeat in spite of the declaration by the 12 representatives that the Anabaptists had been given sufficient opportunity to speak. The representatives sought to work out a compromise between the Anabaptists and the government, but without success. At an assembly of the district legislature 90 Anabaptists remained steadfast in their position, while 13 yielded to the authorities. The magistrate finally succeeded in having a decree adopted to the effect that all persons who would not obey the decisions and mandates of the authorities following the disputation of 6 November but would still continue in their Anabaptism would be incarcerated in the tower or prison on bread and water. But the imprisoned Anabaptists succeeded in escaping out of the tower on 30 December. It is worthy of note that Berger recognized the religious needs of his people and tried to do something about them. He proposed a mandate to the effect that each escaped Anabaptist should pay a fine of ten pounds along with the cost of his imprisonment and give a bond for 100 pounds as well as renounce Anabaptism. He proposed granting the common people their request which they had made so often to be allowed to read out of the Gospel for themselves, this in true Reformation spirit.

The Anabaptist movement was much discredited by radical elements. For instance, "Uoli" flung into the face of the magistrate that rebaptism is right. From the pulpit in Hinwil he repeated the charge that the Anabaptists had not received a hearing in Zürich. He moved about the country with a gun and once during the sermon he shot a charge into the roof of the church. At a meeting in a forest in May 1526, 15 Anabaptists were arrested, among them two leading men of the district, Jakob Falk and Heini Reimann. Falk was already in July 1525 a listener to Grebel's preaching and also took part in the disputation of 6 November 1525. Both men had gone to Appenzell in January 1526 after their escape out of the tower in Grüningen. In the summer of 1526 we find traces of Blaurock and Manz. In December 1526 both were arrested by Berger. On 5 January 1527 Felix Manz was put to death by drowning in the Limmat, while Blaurock was beaten with rods and driven out of the city.

The Anabaptist prisoners in Grüningen were not at all impressed by this execution. Falk and Reimann were strongly determined to hold fast to their convictions in spite of the threat of the death penalty. So at the Landtag of 23 May 1527 the council demanded that both Anabaptist leaders should be punished according to the existing mandates. The Anabaptists brought out against this demand the point that they had not been heard at the disputation and demanded that Zwingli should defend himself in writing on the basis of God's Word. The Landtag decided that it recognized the disputations and the mandates of the council but reserved the right to show mercy to the accused. Against this the council claimed a legal right to try the accused before its own court in cases where the Landtag would not execute the mandates. The officials of Grüningen did not want to recognize this right as claimed. The result was a long litigation, which was finally decided by Bern in favor of Zürich.

Why did the Grüningen officials protect the Anabaptists? They agreed with the Zürich government in principle, and only sought moderation of the punishment. It would be wrong to infer from their action a fundamental recognition of the Anabaptists. Their motivation had two further grounds: on the one hand consideration for the many friends and relatives of the Anabaptists, on the other hand a maintenance of their autonomy in criminal trials over against the tendency of the Zürich council to undermine such rights in favor of the centralization of authority. The prisoners were granted the privilege of written defense. As a result their ideas were recorded in a long petition to the Landtag, which is now an important document of the Zürich archives. The contents of this description is briefly as follows: The governmental mandates are contrary to the Word of God and the command of Christ. We must obey God more than man and must baptize according to the will of Christ. Christ calls baptism "a righteousness" and a "counsel of God," a baptism which is to be performed only after repentance and only for believers. It cannot be given to children. Christ gave believers no other disciplinary power than the ban since believers walk in the will of the Spirit. The fruits of the spirit are love, peace, kindness, etc. "Those who walk therein are the church of Christ and the body of Christ and the Christian church. Now we trust you are convinced that we are in the true church. Now they want to force us out of the true church into a foreign church." Circumstance cannot be a ground for baptism. As Abraham was obedient to God, so we now who do not belong to the covenant of Abraham desire to be obedient to Christ. At the end of the petition comes the following proclamation: "Now everyone would really understand from their charge that they call the baptism of Christ rebaptism and for this there is no ground in the Holy Scripture. Now, however, we trust . . . that the baptism which we practice is the baptism of Christ and that infant baptism is re-baptism."

Further noteworthy is the confession of Jakob Falk. He refused to disclose those whom he had baptized and thus deliver them over to persecution. Rebaptism, as they call it, he considers to be right, while infant baptism is not right. Whoever would come to him and request baptism, such a one he would baptize. For this he was willing to suffer death. "So then when he was asked who had strengthened them and given them help and comfort he said nobody except alone the Son of God who had redeemed him, this one would not forsake him." After the outcome of the trial the two Grüningen leaders were handed over to the authorities and drowned in the Limmat on 1 December 1528. The remaining persons were to acknowledge infant baptism and then would be set free. If they would not do this, they would remain in prison and live on bread and water. Among those who swore to abandon Anabaptism were Heini Karpfis from the territory of Grüningen and Hans Herzog from Stadel. Both, however, rejoined the Anabaptists, were again arrested, and were likewise drowned on 23 March 1532.

The fate of these martyrs broke the power of the movement in Grüningen. In so far as there is further documentary evidence for the later period, only scattered Anabaptists appear in the valley of the Töss. After 1560 some persons living in the Haltberg near Wald are mentioned several times. The pastor of Wald complained that these people never went to church. According to Bergmann the movement gathered renewed strength toward the end of the century under the influence of missionaries sent from Moravia and Holland. In 1601, 15 persons publicly confessed their adherence to the Anabaptists. Many others supported their cause privately and they had so much support among the people that the lesser officials hesitated to take strong measures against them. Again the authorities sought through disputations to suppress the movement. One of these took place on 3 March 1613, in Grüningen. Magistrate Hozhalb gave consideration to the complaints of the Anabaptists. He attempted, to improve the clergy and as a result received promise of attendance at the church services. He forbade the public to scoff at the Anabaptists and to offend them. On 29 August 1616 three Anabaptists from the Grüningen district were sentenced to six years' galley service. During the Thirty Years' War the movement grew further since it received little attention from the authorities. But with the beginning immigration to the Palatinate and Holland from 1641 on, the last Anabaptist congregations disappeared from the territory of Zürich.


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Map:Grüningen (Switzerland)

Author(s) Leonhard von Muralt
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Muralt, Leonhard von. "Grüningen (Hinwil, Zürich, Switzerland)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 7 Dec 2023.,_Z%C3%BCrich,_Switzerland)&oldid=146456.

APA style

Muralt, Leonhard von. (1956). Grüningen (Hinwil, Zürich, Switzerland). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 7 December 2023, from,_Z%C3%BCrich,_Switzerland)&oldid=146456.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 604-606. All rights reserved.

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