Schaffhausen (Switzerland)

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Canton Schaffhausen, Switzerland
Source: Wikipedia Commons

Schaffhausen, city and canton in the north of Switzerland almost entirely surrounded by Baden, Germany. Dr. Sebastian Hofmeister is found very early in Schaffhausen working for the Reformation. He was a close friend of Zwingli's and was one of the presidents of the religious disputation held in Zürich in October 1523. Hofmeister must have been a very ready debater. The favorable outcome of this disputation encouraged Hofmeister to take further steps in introducing the Reformation into his home town. At the third Anabaptist disputation held in Zürich (6-8 November 1525) he was one of the four presidents; and in the Anabaptist disputation held at Zofingen, 1-9 July 1532, he was one of the leading preachers who debated with the Anabaptists.

In September 1524 Balthasar Hubmaier of Waldshut, who later became an Anabaptist leader, came to Schaffhausen. His influence here was not very great, however, for he left the city after a few weeks and returned to Waldshut on October 19.

Anabaptist refugees who had been expelled from the canton of Zürich came to Schaffhausen in 1525 hoping to win Hofmeister for their cause. Johannes Brötli, who baptized many in Hallau in the canton of Schaffhausen, as well as Wilhelm Reublin, came to Schaffhausen. Obviously their work here was not without success. Brötli even wrote that Dr. Sebastian agreed with them in the matter of baptism. The rumor was spread that Schaffhausen would arrange a disputation on the question of baptism. In Zürich there was much concern about it since there were some doubts whether the matter of baptism would be solved in agreement with their ideas in Schaffhausen. But the council of Schaffhausen assured the people of Zürich in reply to a question that had been raised by Zürich: "We are also of the mind to baptize our young children and not to desist from this practice at this time."

Also Conrad Grebel had come to Hofmeister in February 1525 in the hope of influencing his opinion in the matter of baptism. But although Hofmeister at the beginning doubted the genuineness of infant baptism, he finally accepted it, certainly under some influence of Zwingli. As already mentioned, Hubmaier was also in Schaffhausen though without any great results. After he had been baptized by Reublin in April 1525, he worked with full conviction for baptism upon confession of faith and in this matter of baptism he also corresponded with Hofmeister. In his book published in 1526, Der uralten und gar neuen Lehrer Urteil, dass man die Kinder nicht taufen solle, Hubmaier reports that Hofmeister had written to him how they (the Anabaptists) publicly rejected infant baptism before the council; if Zwingli confirmed it he would not be walking according to the truth of the Gospel (ML II, 335). In this matter, Hubmaier writes, he has Hofmeister's own handwriting. This is proof for the assertion that Sebastian Hofmeister not only doubted the Scripturalness of infant baptism but even repudiated it.

Map of Schaffhausen (Switzerland)
Source: Wikipedia Commons

On 8 February 1525, the Zürich council wrote to the authorities of Schaffhausen that there had been "error and dispute about infant baptism," wherefore a public religious debate had been arranged in which it was recognized, "that infant baptism is not anything wrong." Thereupon a mandate was issued ordering young children to be baptized. At the same time it was stated that the theologians of Zürich had recognized the Anabaptist teaching as false and that Zwingli would very soon publish a writing clarifying the matter of baptism, Vom Touf, Wiedertouf und Kindertouf. This was the occasion for a definite reversal in Hofmeister's doctrinal opinions. The entire course of the development shows a strong dependence of the city of Schaffhausen on Zürich in religious matters. On 11 February 1525, the Schaffhausen council issued a mandate "that young children shall be baptized."

Whereas in the city an impasse was reached, in the country, at least in Hallau, under the work of Brötli, Anabaptism made some progress. Most of the inhabitants were baptized. Brötli mentions in a letter that he and his companion Wilhelm Reublin had come to Hallau and then had gone "toward Schaffhausen and found our dear brother Conrad Grebel there." When the authorities of Zürich heard of Brötli's successful work, they at once wrote to Schaffhausen to warn them against this deceptive dangerous mission. The letter dated 4 April 1525 is new evidence of the concern felt in Zürich in behalf of Schaffhausen; it had a decisive influence there. In consequence, the council of Schaffhausen ordered Brötli's expulsion from Hallau; the Hallau people, however, refused to comply.

While Conrad Grebel was in Schaffhausen, Wolfgang Uolimann of St. Gall also came, to receive instruction and baptism from him. Uolimann had met Grebel in Schaffhausen and become a convert; he did not want to have the customary basin of water poured over him, "but was pushed down naked into the Rhine by Grebel" (Kessler).

After the Peasant Revolt (1525), when the matter of the Reformation was somewhat dubious in Schaffhausen, Hofmeister himself had to leave; he was accused of having preached from the pulpit that the Sacrament of the Mass, the baptism of young children, and also the confessional were the work of the devil. "Hofmeister," writes Bächtold, "did not promptly learn to distinguish between Reformation and Revolution or between intellectual religious rebirth and political and social regeneration."

An event of great importance for all of Anabaptism was the Synod of Anabaptist leaders held in the territory of the canton of Schaffhausen on 24 February 1527, at Schleitheim. The Chronicler Rüegger speaks of it in his Chronicle: "At the time of the Reformation the enemy did not neglect always to build a chapel in these places beside the churches of Christ with the weeds of the seditious, quarrelsome, and obstinate Anabaptists," and that they had worked out their confession of faith there and published it with the title Christenlichen Gloubens-Bekantnus der Kinderen Gottes zu Schleitheim am Randen (i.e., the "Brüderliche Vereinigung").

In August 1527 the worried authorities of Zürich issued a warning that Hans Denck, the well-known Anabaptist leader, was thinking of traveling to Schaffhausen, Konstanz, and Augsburg and that they should be careful that he does not sow tares.

In the meantime, since the Anabaptist movement was increasing more and more and Zürich and the other Protestant cities were applying sharp measures of violence against the Anabaptists, the council of Schaffhausen also let itself be persuaded to apply severe means to dam up Anabaptism. In the Abschid (Resolution) des Gehaltenen Tags zu Zürich der nachfolgenden Often, Zürich, Bern, Basel, Schaffhausen, und St. Gall, on 8 September 1526, the penalty for Anabaptism was decided upon. With satisfaction Zürich learned that the delegates "of our dear confederates of Basel and Schaffhausen ... did not have less displeasure in such Anabaptism and the following of the same." The initiative for opening common consultation among the evangelical cities in their struggle against Anabaptism was taken by Zürich. Schaffhausen was also invited to the common Concordat against the Anabaptists of 12-14 August 1527, at Zürich (ML II, 542). From this time on fines of money, imprisonment, and expulsion were the order of the day.

This conference of the evangelical cities resulted in a mandate published by the council on 13 September 1527: "We the mayor and the council of the city of Schaffhausen proclaim to our citizens and to our people everywhere in our canton: since it is known that at present all kinds of tramps, rascals, Anabaptist preachers and the like who have been expelled elsewhere and are not allowed to stay in their fatherland are now keeping themselves in our city and canton ... preach to the common and simple people and thereby mislead and confuse them the more rather than bring them to the true faith ... so that henceforth no one shall lodge such or that kind of vagabonds ... no one shall listen to their preaching, but shall arrest such people and commit them into our hands."

In this period occurred the first death sentence imposed in Schaffhausen, carried out on 13 November 1527, against Hans Rüeger. He was charged with plans for a political revolt in addition to his Anabaptist faith, but there is no evidence for any revolutionary deed. On 14 April 1529, the second death sentence was pronounced against Jakob Schuffel from the Schufelberg. The records of the charge reveal that he had to give his life "on account of Anabaptism which cannot by any means be maintained with the Holy Scriptures and Christendom but is everywhere being rooted out of Christendom and is considered erroneous and heretical." Schuffel had been imprisoned in Zürich for one year and 18 weeks on account of his Anabaptist faith. On account of his "unchristian conduct" he was executed with the sword. It is reported concerning him: "he died firmly in his faith and rejects infant baptism which is not valid and states that his baptism is right and good and firm."

Numerous Anabaptists including some women were imprisoned in 1530 who were to be visited by the clergy in order "to lead them to the right way." Verena Mayer, also called Häckerin, the sexton's wife, who "had seen her error," was dismissed from prison upon payment of a fine of a silver mark; she also had to swear an oath not to return and had to stand in the pulpit of the cathedral and recant before the assembled congregation and ask for pardon. In spite of her public recantation she again went to the Anabaptists and was arrested. Since this imprisonment and the repeated visits of the clergy were fruitless, she was tried in the criminal court on 25 February 1531, and sentenced by expulsion from the country. Because of her loyalty to her faith she was not permitted to come within four miles of the territory of Schaffhausen, otherwise "she should be executed in life and body." In this year "a series of obstinate subjects of my gracious lords" appeared before the council on account of Anabaptism. Most of them came from Hallau and were fined. While the strictly moral Anabaptists were treated thus, a frivolous life was quite noticeable in the masses of the people.

From the year 1532 there is extant a Memorial der Geistlichen in which the offensive conduct of the populace is reproved. In conclusion this document says: "From these above-stated articles it follows that the Anabaptists take a reason to separate themselves from us and make secret meetings in the city and canton saying that no improvement is noticed among us and that all vices are increasing; and because they do not have an understanding of the Scriptures they err grievously in some articles for which error we give them reason with our offensive living." This document of the clergy was not without its effect upon the "gracious lords." This is shown by the mandate of July 29 against gambling, cursing, drinking, etc., and finally against Anabaptism. After a lengthy warning against this "Anabaptist sect," persistence in the Anabaptist faith was threatened with punishment "against body, life, and property."

In 1535 Anabaptism seems to have reached its climax in Schaffhausen since the records of the council mention Anabaptists 41 times. The council saw itself compelled to issue a new mandate against the Anabaptists on March 31. They declared that such schismatics should be summoned before the council and warned. If that didn't do any good, they must emigrate. Further it is commanded with sharp threats of punishment: "because the Holy, divine Word is the true food of the soul, therefore in the future all who live in our city and canton . . . old and young shall at least once a week come to the true worship service and submit to the sermon." A letter written by an Anabaptist to the council has a somewhat ironic tone. It says that to be sure the papacy had been eliminated but one could still see no fruits of the true teaching. The strife over communion "had only given offense. . . . The Father enlightened others so they have recognized your mischief, but those you will not endure. But if you had remained in Christ's teaching you would be Christ's disciples, then your light would have shown so that men would have been reformed." Their position to Christ, the letter continues, and to His people is like that of the wolf to the sheep (Sirach, Chapter 13). One of the most important Anabaptist leaders of Schaffhausen was Martin Weniger, also called Lincki. He was one of the principal speakers on the Anabaptist side in the disputation of Zofingen in July 1532. There is extant a document written by him, Rechenschaft marti Weningers gen. Lingki's, us was ursachen sich die Töufer von unserer Kirchen, Gottesdienst and Predigten absöndern. Lincki applies to the clergy in this document everything uncomplimentary found in the Bible about the scribes and Pharisees. He saw in the Protestant church the "world" which walks in darkness. In conclusion he points to the persecutions of the Anabaptists and says: "If the Lord were not with us, they would have devoured us alive so that none of us would be left over. Our protection and shield is God. Overcoming by the faith and patience of Christ we overcome our enemies according to the example of Christ. All praise and honor only be to God and to his church in Christ Jesus." Lincki had to answer before the criminal court, was kept in prison for some time and then it is stated concerning him: "Because Martin Lincki has desisted from the Anabaptist faith he shall recant upon both pulpits, swear an oath not to fall back; then he may dwell in my lord's city and canton." The records of the Anabaptist disputation in Bern on 11-17 March 1538, mention the backslidden Lincki; also a Heinrich Wininger of Schaffhausen is named as a representative of the Anabaptists.

Beginning with 1536 the movement visibly declined. The sharp measures of the government succeeded in subduing the fire. The Anabaptist mandates were from time to time confirmed and renewed. In the 1570's and 1590's a powerful immigration to Moravia took place, and the congregations in the canton of Schaffhausen soon were dissolved. Bächtold gives them the testimonial that he cannot find in the records the least trace of "madness or fanatical childishness."


Bächtold, C. A. "Die Schaffhauser Wiedertäufer in der Reformationszeit." Beiträge zur vaterländischen Geschichte. Schaffhausen, 1900.

Füsslin, J. C. Beiträge zur Erläuterung der Kirchen-Reformations-Geschichten. Zürich, 1741.

Geiser, S. Die Taufgesinnten-Gemeinden. Karlsruhe, 1931.

Strasser, G. "Der schweizerische Anabaptismus zur Zeit der Reformation." Berner Beiträge zur Geschichte der Schweizerischen Reformationskirchen. Bern, 1884.

Author(s) Samuel Geiser
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Geiser, Samuel. "Schaffhausen (Switzerland)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 29 Sep 2023.

APA style

Geiser, Samuel. (1959). Schaffhausen (Switzerland). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 September 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 439-441. All rights reserved.

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