Michelsburg (Bruneck, Südtirol, Austria)

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Michelsburg (not Michelsberg, as is often found in Loserth and Wolkan), a castle in Tyrol, Austria, near St. Lorenzen in the Puster Valley, about 3 miles (5 km) from Bruneck, in a district of the same name, which, though small, played a significant part in the Anabaptist movement.

As early as 1527 we hear of confiscations of the property of Anabaptists who fled the country. In December 1527 the warden of Michelsburg received orders from the Brixen authorities, who held the castle in lease, to be on the lookout for Anabaptists coming from the region of Venice, since there were some among them "who preach Anabaptism in corners." A year later the judge of Michelsburg searched for Anabaptists, who apparently escaped. The Brixen authorities ordered them pursued, and on 27 April 1529 the Michelsburg warden, Balthasar Gerhard, managed to arrest five Anabaptists, including the leader in the district, Gregor Weber of Pflaurenz, preacher and trusted friend of Jakob Hutter. Soon afterward eight additional brethren and sisters fell into his hands, whom he delivered to Brixen for trial. Thus an exchange of correspondence took place between the authorities in Innsbruck and the authorities of Brixen. Innsbruck considered it an infringement on its rights for Brixen to try these important cases, but finally granted that in case of emergency it would be permissible. Later dispute arose concerning the property confiscated from Anabaptists in Brixen territory, which Innsbruck thought should be turned over to the national coffers. Brixen usually had to yield.

The cross-examination of the Anabaptists arrested at Michelsburg revealed that there were numerous other Anabaptists there. Some of them escaped, but Kaspar Mayrpaulle, Wilhelm Sambsfeuer, Marx in der Au, a Rader woman and three other women fell into the hands of the authorities. Weber, Mayrpaulle, and the Rader woman were burned at the stake on 17 June, and Sambsfeuer beheaded. A great crowd watched the execution, including two brothers of Weber; the widow of an earlier martyr took the occasion to become an Anabaptist and have herself arrested. The others were kept for months in a vile dungeon full of vermin waiting to hear from Innsbruck whether they should be taken there for trial, Innsbruck having said Brixen should pass sentence on its own Anabaptists. The prisoners were taken back to Michelsburg and released upon promise to leave the district.

In December again two men and four women of the Anabaptists were arrested. The warden Gerhard wished to deal leniently with them, but was reprimanded by Brixen, blamed for the spread of the Anabaptist movement, and ordered to spare neither money nor effort to wipe them out. Thereupon Gerhard arrested so many that the new prison in the Michelsburg overflowed, and some had to be sent to Bruneck for trial, though the sentence had to be passed in Michelsburg. After several had been executed, some declared themselves willing to return to the church; they were required to recant from the pulpit on three successive Sundays, and promise not to leave the district for three years and never to leave Tyrol. Some were also apparently converted by the pastor of St. Lorenz, among them a sister of Jakob Hutter. But other Anabaptist missionaries and preachers continued to appear. To gain control of the situation Gerhard assessed each person who gave them lodging a fine of 50 florins. Innsbruck, however, objected to his taking the money for himself, and reduced the fine by half.

The struggle with the Anabaptists was taken up with new vigor when Christoph Ochs became the judge of Michelsburg in 1531. He received the highest praise from the local as well as the Innsbruck authorities, and was frequently called to give reports or advice on the situation. He made special efforts to seize backsliders, and dealt most severely with them. Two of these, Georg Schräffl of Rungen and his servant, were executed in the summer of 1531, and other "simple-minded folk" were released after they recanted. In January 1532 Gerhard was reprimanded for negligence; this led to the arrest and probable execution in February of Michel Ebner and his servant.

The records give a graphic account of the activities of Jakob Hutter, Hans Amon, and Georg Fasser at this time in the region. A surprise visit by Ochs and his henchmen to Huber's home at Getzenburg on the evening of 21 February found only children in the house, but food cooked for many people. Likewise a few days later, of 40 persons assembled for "the breaking of bread," only seven were seized, the rest, including Hutter, escaping. In June Innsbruck demanded more strenuous efforts, for it was learned from the confession of Friedrich Brandenburger, who had meanwhile been executed, that Hutter was staying near by with a peasant "called Pirker in the castle of Michelsburg," and had held meetings. In addition, migrations to Moravia were increasing.

Then Ochs began to use spies, one of whom succeeded in gaining the confidence of the Brethren so completely that they took him to a meeting at Getzenberg and even offered to baptize him. But before he was able to notify Ochs, most of them had fled, only five falling into his hands. One of these, Ottilie Luckner, was released on the ground of many petitions sent in for her; but she at once returned to the Brethren and was again arrested by Ochs with four others. Of these at least one, Andreas Zimmerman, was put to death, and perhaps others also. The court records again give a clear picture of the fearless work of the missionaries from Moravia. While the above were still on trial, Ochs surprised six Anabaptists in a gorge and seized three of them. It was reported that they met in droves at Getzenberg. One of their preachers, Jorg Fasser, preached to groups of as many as thirty. During October Ochs often lay in wait on the Kniepasshof next to the forest, where Hans Amon had spent a day in hiding with 20 brethren and sisters and even held a meeting. But again Ochs arrived an hour too late! Nevertheless he succeeded in seizing four brethren, one of whom, Christoph Schubknecht, was the son of Andreas Zimmermann, who had been executed shortly before. He and two of his companions and Valentin Luckner, who had been arrested before, were beheaded after 20 October 1532.

All of these measures were unavailing, though one of Och's spies was a pretended Anabaptist. In December 1533 Brixen reported to Innsbruck that the entire district was full of Anabaptists. The people, instead of obeying the edicts against sheltering them, assisted them and their missionaries. Even the warden of Neuhaus was protecting them. But when Gerhard and Ochs arrived to make arrests, the Anabaptists, who had been freely going in and out of Neuhaus, had fled. Very few were added to the four brethren in the dungeon of Michelsburg in February 1534.

Michelsburg was not again mentioned in the court records until 1536, the year of the great persecution. Ochs arrested the daughter Anna of the judge of Schöneck, who was the wife of a prominent citizen. He held her under arrest in his home because of her station, then on government orders, "that there be no murmuring among the people," put her into the castle. At her trial she was at first steadfast, but then on her father's plea recanted. She was pardoned at her own request and because of feminine "silliness."

A Moravian missionary, Kasper Huber, seized in early 1537, stated that Offerus Griesinger was considered the leader of the Anabaptists of Tyrol and established many contacts between the Tyrol and Moravia. In the same year Hans Grünfelder died, who had formerly gathered and cared for the Anabaptists in Michelsburg. The government notified Gerhard that there were many Anabaptists in the Puster Valley. In spite of increased watchfulness Offerus came to the Puster Valley in June 1538 to gather a group for Moravia. When Ochs discovered this, he had all the bridges and passes guarded while his men searched the countryside. Offerus escaped, but Martin of Villgraten and Kaspar Schuster were caught and beheaded in Michelsburg.

In 1538 Bernhard, Cardinal of Trient, ordered the pastor of St. Lorenzen to devote all his energy to the eradication of the sectarians. Just at this time an exciting incident occurred in Michelsburg. Agnes von Waldhofen, a widow belonging to an old noble family, took all her cash and jewels and her little daughter to join the Brethren in Moravia. In spite of all precaution by local and higher authorities to prevent her leaving the country she apparently made her way successfully to Moravia. But in the region of Lüsen, Ochs arrested the wife of the Anabaptist leader Lienhard with two others. The government put an increased number of men at the disposal of Ochs to reach the most outlying parts of the district. The records of Ambras of 1540 tell of three Anabaptists of the Puster Valley who were condemned to serve on the galleys, but recanted and were pardoned.

The greater the pressure of persecution, the greater became the wish of the steadfast brethren to emigrate to Moravia. In April 1544 orders were given by Brixen to guard the roads and bridges, especially at night, in order to prevent the entry of missionaries. The orders were not too strictly obeyed, for in September a group of Michelsburg citizens was arrested in Bavaria en route to Moravia. In 1548 some left from Mühlbach, in 1553 from Bruneck. Four years later a transport from this region fell into arrest at the end of their journey on the Danube. But the movement continued in Michelsburg. In 1561 Gregor Prunner confessed that he had "gone about in the forest" and gathered his brethren.

In 1582 a mandate of Bishop Johann Thomas again complained about the increase of the Anabaptists in the Puster Valley. In August 1591 it became the scene of an execution. Georg Wenger, "one of the most active of the Anabaptists," had been seized in St. Lorenzen and tried after 30 days' imprisonment. The authorities were determined to find out who had sheltered him. But he refused to give any information, saying that he would not betray even an enemy, much less a friend. On 27 August he was delivered to Michelsburg. Here he was racked so badly that the wounds were visible for 13 weeks. After two weeks he was lodged in a vermin-infested cell in Brixen. He had to keep his head covered to protect it from the scorpions. But he defied all force as well as the attempts of the clergy to convert him. He was executed at St. Lorenzen on 5 August 1592.

The list of martyrs of the Hutterian chronicles records a total of 48 executions in the Puster Valley, half of them at Michelsburg.

Still the communications between Michelsburg and Moravia did not cease. In 1602, on the basis of statements made by a brother seized on his return to Moravia, a search was made in the valley for those who had lodged him, and in 1604 several persons were arrested on suspicion of being Anabaptists.


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Author(s) Paul Dedic
Date Published 1957

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MLA style

Dedic, Paul. "Michelsburg (Bruneck, Südtirol, Austria)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 28 Nov 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Michelsburg_(Bruneck,_S%C3%BCdtirol,_Austria)&oldid=144392.

APA style

Dedic, Paul. (1957). Michelsburg (Bruneck, Südtirol, Austria). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 November 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Michelsburg_(Bruneck,_S%C3%BCdtirol,_Austria)&oldid=144392.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 668-670. All rights reserved.

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