Grisons (Switzerland)

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Canton Grisons
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Grisons (German: Graubünden; Italian: Grigioni; Romansh: Grischun), a canton in southeast Switzerland, the largest canton, with 2,774 sq. miles and 187,920 inhabitants (2006). During the Reformation it showed many indications of a rapidly growing Anabaptist movement, which was, however, violently suppressed. This was especially true of its capital Chur. Two Grisons Anabaptists played an important role in the first Anabaptist congregation in Zürich, Georg Blaurock, and Andreas Castelberger. They are considered the fathers of the Anabaptist movement in Grisons. At the end of April 1525, expelled from Zürich, they returned to their home with Felix Manz. In mid-May they were in Chur and its vicinity; the Reformed took note of their activity and prepared for the conflict. In three months the conflict was on. The Anabaptists had had great success and had been supported by the Catholics. Comander, the reformer of Grisons, was anxious, and on 8 August 1525 urgently appealed to Zwingli for help. The Chur authorities now took a hand. Manz was imprisoned and then expelled; Blaurock escaped from prison. In spring 1526 Anabaptists in the area of Maienfeld and Fläsch were suppressed.

At first they refused to be converted; but when the use of the rack was threatened they recanted. A leader escaped the authorities. Salzmann, the Reformed teacher in the city school of Chur, wrote to Vadian, 13 March 1526, "Wolff Ulimann fled because of pestilence, else he would have been punished. He was fined three pounds." This notice may have been of interest to Vadian (see St. Gall). Nothing more is known of the work of Ulimann in Grisons. Supposedly the judges saw in him one of the most dangerous false teachers, who had made himself noticed in the Rhine Valley in Chur.

At Easter 1526 Salzmann complained to Zwingli that the Anabaptists were backsliding (from Anabaptism), but this seems to have been a brief flicker. At the Bundestag at Davos in May 1526 religious freedom was granted only to the Catholics and Reformed; the Anabaptists and other sects were strictly forbidden. E. Camenisch, the church historian of Grisons, estimates "that the Anabaptists at the beginning of 1526 formed a compact separatist brotherhood, differing from the other two creeds by a special concept of faith." After 1526 there were only isolated traces of the brotherhood; the Anabaptists had been robbed of their leaders and threatened by severe edicts of the government, the Reformed Church had been firmly established, and won an equal status with Catholicism. In 1528 the "Catabaptists," led by Castelberger, again stirred in Chur, causing Comander great concern. Then Castelberger disappeared from the scene. Conrad Grebel, who was probably about to begin his work in Grisons, was at the gateway to Grisons in the summer of 1526. He died at Maienfeld of the plague. Felix Manz was drowned in Zürich, 5 January 1527, Wolfgang Ulimann was executed in Swabia in 1528, and Blaurock died at the stake at Clausen in Tyrol, 6 September 1529. The twelfth of the theses announced by Comander for the disputation planned for Easter Monday 1531 at Chur, which could, however, not take place because of war, read, "Anabaptism is an error and a seduction against God's Word and teaching." This indicates that there were still Anabaptists in the country, but their traces become more scarce.

Martin Seger, magistrate of Maienfeld, in a letter of 16 September 1533, requests Bullinger to send him the book he published against the Anabaptists in 1530. It is not clear whether the reason for this request is renewed Anabaptist activity or the memory of their earlier appearance in Fläsch and Maienfeld. After 1542 the immigration of Italian refugees sets in, among whom there are elements that oppose the Reformed creed and who are called Anabaptists in memory of the doctrines and activities of the Anabaptists in the 1520s; a more accurate name would have been "anti-Trinitarians." They played an important role in the history of the Reformation in Grisons, but they can be only touched upon here. In the conflict between Frell and Gantner (1570) we note a mixture of Anabaptism, anti-Trinitarianism, and Schwenckfeldianism.

From the darkness of the period 1530-1570 emerges the figure of a noble Anabaptist, Leopold Scharnschlager, the schoolmaster of Ilanz.  He came from Tyrol, had owned a farm in Hopfgarten near Kitzbühel, but as an Anabaptist had to flee in 1530 with his wife and daughter. Perhaps, like many of his brethren, he had set out for Moravia. In 1535 he was probably no longer there. Pilgram Marpeck, whose acquaintance he had meanwhile made, forwarded letters to him. It can be assumed that, like Pilgram Marpeck, he had ventured to return to his home. It is known from a letter written by his son-in-law, a Moravian Anabaptist, that after 1538 his stay in Tyrol was short. In 1544 he was supposedly in Augsburg, for there it is known that Scharnschlager and his wife were fined 40 guilders in Bavaria. Scharnschlager also cooperated in writing the Verantwortung über Caspar Schwenckfelds Judicium (published in 1928 by Johann Loserth). He is named second in the list of authors after Pilgram Marpeck. The epistle to Caspar Schwenckfeld, which precedes that Verantwortung, is dated 1 January 1544. In 1546 Scharnschlager and his wife suddenly appeared in Ilanz in the Oberland of Grisons, where they at last found a quiet place of residence. Their neighborhood did not learn of their Anabaptist faith. Having studied at a Tirolean monastery school or in Innsbruck, Scharnschlager was able to head the country school here. A considerable inherited fortune made him independent of the trifling salary. But his connections with the Brethren in Upper Germany and Moravia he quietly continued. He also put all his strength at the disposal of the brotherhood. In 1558 he copied a book (perhaps the Verantwortung) and wrote an epistle "Vom Gericht." The Brethren in Augsburg thanked him in a letter signed by Valentin Werner (26 August 1559). They asked him to continue to serve them with the treasures of his spirit, but "they do not want to overburden his honorable age." In March 1563 Scharnschlager died; his wife soon followed. The lawsuit that developed from their estate (not settled until 1566) furnishes these important notes on this Anabaptist leader.

The letter of 1559 by the Augsburg Brethren is addressed to the beloved brethren in Grisons, especially to Leopold Scharnschlager. Thus it is known that there was an Anabaptist congregation in Grisons at that time, which existed in secret. The few notes from the following decade merely say that in the lawsuit mentioned above a tawer of Chur, Sebastian Neudorfer, is named, "who carried messages down into the country."

The Chur pastor Johannes Fabricius Montanus had to dispute before the council with an Anabaptist in January 1560, and evidently used Bullinger's book against the Anabaptists. In the following year the Anabaptists again required his thought. In November 1561 several held meetings in the house of a citizen and baptized two citizens of Chur. Two outsiders in Chur said to the Anabaptists, Ferdinand had the Anabaptists so severely persecuted with fire and sword that they wished they were in Grisons. Fabricius remarks in a letter to Bullinger of 28 November that they must act quickly. He had held a disputation and had been the victor. Both the Anabaptists have been imprisoned: one of them, a butcher who had learned his trade in Zürich or had long served there, Tardy by name, was to be expelled (but the sentence was not carried out). With the other, a Chur bookseller and bookbinder, Georg Frell, Fabricius had spoken, but without results; Frell referred to the Paraphrases of Erasmus. The successor of Fabricius, Tobias Egli, wrote in 1570 that Frell had added Schwenckfeldianism to his other errors. In the negotiations of 1570 and 1571 there is repeated mention of books by Schwenckfeld that Frell had in stock, and of Schwenckfeldian doctrines that he defended. They mentioned the Fastnachtsbüchle or Vermanungsbüchle that was distributed in Chur and Prättigau. Egli has shown that at a disputation held on 19 May 1570 Frell took his ideas opposing Zwingli's teachings from Hubmaier's writings. There is here probably an adulteration of Anabaptism that has only occasional contacts with Scharnschlager's type.

The fight about Frell took on larger dimensions when Johannes Gantner, Egli's colleague, took sides with Frell. He opposed the persecution of heretics on the basis of the parable of the tares, but in other points as well he touched Anabaptist doctrine; e.g., the statements of the Old Testament are not valid, for we are a new people; he who has conscientious scruples against injuring a foe, whom Christ says we must love, even in the greatest distress of the native country should not be compelled to do so; one should not swear, but letting yea be yea and nay be nay is sufficient (concerning the further developments see Chur). Frell came back to Chur later and conversed with Gantner openly, but there was no profound movement. The butcher Tardy, who was also expelled, remained for a time in Ilanz, the residence of Scharnschlager ("where he attacked everybody"), but was then permitted to return to Chur, and here committed a murder.

On 9 May 1573 he stabbed his stepson on the marketplace; but he escaped and did not reappear.

The last instance of Anabaptism in Chur extends into the 17th century. Stephan Gabriel, who served as pastor of Ilanz from 1593 to 1618 and from 1626 until his death in 1638, stated in 1605 that he frequently sought Anabaptists in the great crowds in Ilanz before the Bundestag, convinced them of their error, and converted them. He was even summoned to the Catholic valley of the Lugnez to dispute with two Anabaptists before a great crowd of people, in the presence of six priests. He boasts of being victorious. The town of Ilanz was thus for a long time an Anabaptist center.

In the area of Veltlin, Bormio (Worms), and Chiavenna (Kläven) the Reformation had also gained entry. In these Italian-speaking regions, as well as in the Grisons valleys of Bergell and Puschlav, the Protestants fleeing from the Inquisition found a field for work. On the whole their work was fruitful. Only the appearance of several, anti-Trinitarians brought confusion and in Chiavenna led to a long-drawn-out church quarrel, involving the congregation there, the Grisons synod, and the Zürich clergy. The principal leader of the radicals, Camillo Renato, strongly emphasized the authority of the Spirit as above the written Word of God; he questioned the value of the sacraments, rejected infant baptism as a superstitious ceremony, without meaning; salvation, he said, is accomplished not by a historical fact, but by sudden illumination by the Spirit, bringing rebirth.

In the midst of these disputes comes the so-called Anabaptist Council of Venice in 1550. (It was probably rather an anti-Trinitarian meeting, to which some Anabaptists were invited.) The invitations had been issued orally by messengers, who first sought out the churches in Upper Italy, then in Grisons and northern Switzerland as far as Basel and St. Gall. Sixty Anabaptist (?) leaders had assembled in Venice, including 20 or 30 from Switzerland. Unfortunately those from Grisons are not named (il Nero is not Franciscus Niger; see Schiess, Korrespondenz Bullingers I, p. LXI, note 5). Titianus, an anti-Trinitarian, had of course worked in the subject cantons (Untertanenlanden) and later, in 1554 (Schiess, pp. XXI f.) disputed in Chur with the Grisons reformer Gallicius; he was driven out with lashes. But he cannot be considered the representative of the Grisons Anabaptists. There may therefore have been some of Scharnschlager's type there. The moderate wing left; hence their representatives were not named.

The above-named difficulties in the subject cantons now made it essential for the synod to set up a Confession of Faith and church regulations. In 1552 Philip Gallicius was assigned this task, and he formulated them at once. In April 1553 the Confessio Raetica was sent to Bullinger for his perusal, and after it had received his approval and been signed by the Grisons clergy, it was presented to the Bundestag and confirmed by the delegates of both creeds. Of this confession Article II (On the Sacraments) expressly states that baptism is not itself purification and sanctification. Article 18 (On Infant Baptism) says: "It is just as Christian among Christians as circumcision was considered pious by the Israelites." Article 19 says: "He who has once been baptized by a preacher of the Word of the triune God shall not be baptized differently or anew." From the church regulations, articles 37, 40, and 65 should be mentioned: Baptism shall be performed by none but the clergy, since Jesus conferred the office of baptism only on those who have the office of preaching. As the place for baptism the church is designated, and baptism at home is granted only for emergencies. The clergyman shall perform the baptismal ceremony standing, under the appropriate support of the witnesses. "On the other hand, we forbid baptism to be performed seated in barns or in open fields or woods or other unsuitable places as the godless Anabaptists do." All baptisms are to be entered into the church books, as had often been decided before.

When Bullinger worked out the second Helvetian Confession die Grisons Church adopted it without invalidating their own. It was rather considered cantonal law, and with its aid the remnants of Anabaptism and anti-Trinitarianism were wiped out.


Benrath, Karl. "Wiedertäufer im Venetianischen." Theologische Studien und Kritiken (1885): No. 1.

Benrath, Karl. "Geschichte der Reformation in Venedig." Schriften des Vereins für Geschichte No. 18 (Halle, 1887).

Camenisch, Emil.  "Die Confessio Raetica." Jahresbericht der Historisch-Antiquarischen Gesellschaft von Graubünden (Chur, 1914).

Camenisch, Emil. Bündnerische Reformationsgeschichte. Chur, 1920.

Doornkaat Koolman, J. ten. "Leopold Scharnschlager und die verborgene Täufergemeinde in Graubünden." Zwingliana (1926): 329 ff.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 157-159.

Rageth Ragaz. Stefan Gabriel, der Prädikant und Dichter: Ein Lebensbild aus Graubündens schwerster Zeit. Chur: Sprecher, Eggerling & Co., 1928: 27.

Rosius de Porta, P. D. Historia reformations ecclesiarum Raeticarum. Curiae Raetorum, 1771: I.

Schiess, T. "Aus dem Leben eines Hanzer Schulmeisters." Bändner Monatsblatt (1916): No. 2.

Schiess, T., ed. Bullingers Korrespondenz mit den Graubündnern. XXIII-XXV of Quellen zur Schweizer Geschichte. Basel, 1904-1906.

"Verantwortung über Caspar Schwenckfelds Judicium," Züricher Zentralbibliothek (Ms B. 72); in the appendix to the former Valentin Werner's letter to Scharnschlager, 489b-92b and a note about the origin of the book, 495 f.

Author(s) J. ten Doornkaat Koolman
Date Published 1956

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Doornkaat Koolman, J. ten. "Grisons (Switzerland)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 29 Sep 2023.

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Doornkaat Koolman, J. ten. (1956). Grisons (Switzerland). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 September 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 584-586. All rights reserved.

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