Oldersum (Niedersachsen, Germany)

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Oldersum, a village in East Friesland (East Frisia), Germany, situated on the Ems, south of Emden (coordinates: 53° 19′ 43.58″ N, 7° 20′ 25.63″ E), was during the Reformation the seat of Wiard von Oldersum. In 1494 Ulrich von Dornum married Essa, Wiard's daughter. Thus Ulrich obtained half of the castle of Oldersum and some property. He became not only a staunch promoter of the Reformation but also a protector and sponsor of the Anabaptists and spiritualists. The co-owner of the Oldersum castle, Hero, shared his views. Ulrich sponsored a disputation at Oldersum between the Catholic Dr. Laurenz and Jürgen Aportanus, a Protestant minister of Emden, and had the report published in Wittenberg in 1523. In 1530 he wrote to the reformers of Strasbourg regarding the Reformation.

Edzard and Enno, the counts of East Friesland, were strongly influenced by Ulrich. In the controversy as to whether East Friesland was to become Reformed or Lutheran, he followed an independent course and made Oldersum a refuge for the persecuted. When Melchior Hoffman arrived in East Friesland in May 1529, i.e., prior to his association with the Anabaptists, he was in touch with Ulrich von Dornum at Oldersum. During the following year Hoffman dedicated two of his writings in Strasbourg to Ulrich. During the same year Karlstadt found refuge with Ulrich at Oldersum and dedicated one of his writings to him. Because of these contacts Karlstadt was enabled to spend some time and do some work in East Friesland. He was still writing to Ulrich von Dornum from Basel on 10 December 1530, sharing with him his views and problems. In May 1530 when Hoffman reached Emden to start the Anabaptist movement, his former contacts with Oldersum were of help to him, although there seems to be no indication that Ulrich supported him in a special way.

Peter Janss reported that he was baptized by Menno Simons at Oldersum in 1536, which would indicate that Menno Simons found shelter in Oldersum soon after his withdrawal from the Catholic Church in Witmarsum early in 1536. According to tradition Ulrich von Dornum granted Menno shelter for a longer period. Whether that was in the castle (the last part of which was torn down in 1954) or in one of the villages is not known. However, it is likely that Menno Simons had shelter here even after Ulrich's death in 1536. Christoffer van Ewsum, who married Ulrich's oldest daughter and lived in the province of Groningen, was also referred to as a "Mennonist," but this is an overstatement. However, Ulrich's daughter Essa married an Anabaptist.

According to Kochs, Anabaptists continued to find refuge at Oldersum under Hero after Ulrich's death. Even Sebastian Franck had followers at Oldersum. Johan van Bekesteyn of Oldersum visited Franck in Basel in 1541/42. On this occasion Franck wrote a letter to the Christians of Oldersum who "live like sheep among wolves," admonishing them to seek Christ within themselves and not in creeds and churches. This writing was likely addressed to the Reformed members of the church who had difficulty in maintaining their identity under the influence of Lutherans. Leenaert Bouwens performed baptisms in Oldersum in 1580. Hendrick Derks (d. 1652) was an elder of this congregation, which belonged to the Groningen Old Flemish branch. By 1700 it had either died out or merged with a neighboring congregation.


Groningsche Volksalmanak (1919): 139 f.

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

Kochs, E. "Die Anfange der ostfriesischen Reformation." Jahrbuch der Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst und Vaterländische Altertümer zu Emden 20 (1920).

Krahn, Cornelius. Menno Simons (1496-1561). Karlsruhe, 1936: 36.

Ohling, Gerhard. "Aus den Anfangen der Reformation. Ein Brief des Sebastian Franck . . . an die Oldersumer Gemeinde." Ostfriesland (1954): 111-115.

Ohling, Gerhard. Junker Ulrich von Dornum. Aurich, 1955.

Author(s) Cornelius Krahn
Date Published 1959

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MLA style

Krahn, Cornelius. "Oldersum (Niedersachsen, Germany)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 28 Sep 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Oldersum_(Niedersachsen,_Germany)&oldid=144520.

APA style

Krahn, Cornelius. (1959). Oldersum (Niedersachsen, Germany). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 September 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Oldersum_(Niedersachsen,_Germany)&oldid=144520.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 53-54. All rights reserved.

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