Transylvania (German, Siebenbürgen), a country in Eastern Europe, which from 1621 to 1767 gave asylum to the Hutterian Brethren. Two thirds of the country is surrounded by the crescent of the densely wooded Carpathian Mountains. During the 16th and 17th centuries it was a semi-independent principality, larger than today's Rumanian province of Transylvania, as it then included a large section of Hungary. The population is mainly Rumanian, in religion Greek Orthodox; in the South, however, where the Brethren settled, there existed until 1945 a large German minority, the Transylvanian Saxons, who had since the 16th century been staunch Lutherans. In the North the population is mainly Magyar (Hungarian), traditionally attached to the Calvinist faith, while a certain Hungarian minority, the Szeklers, adopted the strict Socinian (Unitarian) faith. Only after 1691, when the country became part of the Hapsburg empire, did those who were dependent on the Hapsburg dynasty embrace the Catholic faith. Thus there were five very different religions, to which as a sixth religion is to be added the Anabaptist faith of the Hutterites. Until 1919 it belonged to Hungary and thereafter to Rumania.
After 1550 (when the Turks undisputedly dominated Eastern Europe), Transylvania became a principality tributary to Turkey. Both Turks and Hapsburgs tried to have a hand in the politics of that country; only after 1691 Turkey lost its influence there. The Hutterite Chronicle shows a real interest in Transylvania, in the first place because its princes made war against Austria together with the Turks (ca. 1600) and thus brought great misery to the Slovakian and Moravian Bruderhofs (see Salomon Böger). At that time Stephan Bocskay was the ruler. He was succeeded by the prince Bethlen Gabor (Gabriel Bethlem), 1613-29, who ended the war and brought glory and prosperity to his country. It was he — as the Chronicle reports in detail — who brought the Hutterites to Transylvania (to its southern part) to stimulate agriculture. He promised them full religious liberty besides many other privileges. In 1621 a group of 185 Brethren left Slovakia under the leadership of the preacher Franz Walter (see Walter family). This exodus is described in great detail in a song in the Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder 827-35, called a "Klagelied," of not less than 67 stanzas, the first word of each stanza together forming a remarkable acrostic. In 1622 Prince Bethlen gave the Brethren a charter and in 1625 an even more comprehensive Letter of Protection (or Privilege), published by Zieglschmid in 1940. Had it not been for exposure to a number of Turkish Wars, life would not have been too hard in Transylvania; the land was fertile and persecution was unknown until the time of the Empress Maria Theresa and the work of the Jesuits (after 1750).
The Hutterian Brethren settled first at Alwinz (Alwine). The real difficulties there were the lack of effective leadership and their isolation from other Brethren (the Turks, ruling in Hungary, were a block interposed between Slovakia and Transylvania). Johannes Waldner in his Klein-Geschichtsbuch lists the Vorstehers of Alvinc in 1621-68 (p. 193); hereafter the community began to decline and by 1690 communal life was being abandoned. In 1694 one of the Hutterite preachers and elders, Georg Geissy, turned Unitarian, a unique case, which brought great distress to the group, for it was now leaderless. The Brethren in Slovakia thereupon dispatched Johann Roth to re-establish the old order, but the former prosperity was gone for good. By 1750 no more than 19 souls had survived (the Kuhr, Zeterle, Stahl, and Wipf families).
See the articles Carinthia and Alwinz for an account of the nearly miraculous revival of this brotherhood by the Carinthian transmigrants of 1756 ff. Two more Bruderhofs were established in Kreuz and in Stein, two villages not far from Alwinc (1761-67). But the relentless schemes of the Jesuits (above all of Father Delphini) ruined all these hopes. In 1767, when the Brethren could see no chance of living in peace, they risked their great exodus across the mountains into Rumanian Walachia. It was an epic in itself to cross the steep, wooded pass by night, with children, sick, and lame. (See description in the Klein-Geschichtsbuch, Waldner himself having been part of the group.) Twenty-two families, however, stayed behind, of which three are still living there today. When, in 1937, two American Hutterites visited the place, they met a certain Joseph Kuhr, who knew all about them by family tradition even though nothing of the old organization had remained. Until World War II certain common patterns had been preserved and the group lived segregated as a unit. The visitors saw also the old church-fortress (Lutheran) where the brethren used to seek refuge in times of war. Also old books were said to be around but could not be seen. As to pottery, some jars, etc., made by their forefathers, were even for sale.
In none of the literature is mention made of another Bruderhof in Transylvania, which existed scarcely more than 17 years, but whose influence was felt long after. This was the Hof in Saros-Patak in the northern Magyar section. Its lot was an unhappy one. After the death of Bethlen Gabor, George I Rakoczy, a Calvinist, became the Prince of Transylvania (1631-48). He also wanted some Hutterite Brethren in his country, and thus sent a message to Slovakia (then belonging to Hapsburg Hungary) demanding such an establishment near his estate and threatening to use force if the Brethren refused to come voluntarily. Then a group of Brethren from Tschäskowitz (Castkovec) very reluctantly moved to the new place (1645) which in the Chronicle is named Bodtok (Magyar, Saros-Patak), situated on the river Theiss several miles north of the famous wine estate of Tokay. George II Rakoczy (1648-60) likewise patronized the Brethren, mainly because of their lovely fayence work (see Ceramics). The pottery produced in Patak was in great demand among the Hungarian nobles, and exquisite bowls, jars, plates, etc., of this shop are still to be seen in museums and private collections. The next Rakoczy, Francis I, turned Catholic in 1662, and the Bruderhof came to an abrupt end. He called in Jesuits, and most of the Brethren left the Hof, most likely for Slovakia. Some, however, remained and turned Catholic (now called Habaner), and continued their craft for perhaps another century. Some Magyarized their names; at least one former Hutterite by the name of Odler (once Adler) was knighted for his artistic work (see Habaner).
The Hutterites left Transylvania, but many of their most precious books had already been confiscated. Today these codices are found in two university libraries: Alba Iulia (formerly Weissenburg; library of the Batthyaneum), holding not less than 18 codices, and Cluj (formerly Klausenburg), with one codex. Two of these codices are extremely old, dated 1587 and 1596; the rest are of the 17th century. Four of these codices contain Hutterite chronicles of varying origin, four are collections of epistles and tracts, two are hymnals, four contain dogmatic tracts, two contain pedagogical writings, and two contain Bible exegesis, probably used for sermons. As far as is known these books have not been studied by any scholar, nor did the two visiting Hutterites of 1937 succeed in seeing them.
In the 16th century some Transylvanian noblemen gave refuge to learned Unitarians, one of whom was Franz Davidis (d. 1579). He was the leader of a group of left-wing Unitarians called Non-Adorantes because they refused to adore Jesus Christ as God. Davidis found followers among the many dissidents, who were descendants of medieval heretics like the Bogomiles. Some of them rejected infant baptism and practiced adult baptism on confession of faith. In 1567 Fausto Sozzini came to Transylvania to fight the Davidist group, but was not very successful. In the 18th century Transylvanian Unitarianism was oppressed by the imperial magistrates, but did not disappear.
Friedmann, Robert. "Anabaptist Pottery Called Haban Fayences." Mennonite Life XIII (1958).
Friedmann, Robert. "Hutterites Revisit Their Old Places in Europe; From the Travel Diary of David Hofer, 1937." Mennonite Quarterly Review XXXIII (1959).
Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder (Scottdale, 1914) 827-35.
Nowotny, E. Die Transmigration ober- und inner-österreichischer Protestanten nach Siebenbürgen im 18. Jahrhundert. Schriften des Instituts für Grenz- und Auslandsdeutschtum an der Univ. Marburg VIII. Jena, 1931.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder: Ein Sprachdenkmal aus frühneuhochdeutscher Zeit. Ithaca: Cayuga Press, 1943.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Das Klein-Geschichtsbuch der Hutterischen Brüder. Philadelphia, PA: Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, 1947.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. "Die ungarischen Wiedertäufer." Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte (1940): 363, note 47 (Schutzbrief Bethlen Gabors, 1625).
The Diaries of the Jesuit P. Delpini (Delphini), which contain most valuable information about his work in Alvinc, are in the Studienbibliothek of Hermannstadt (Sibiu), but have not yet been published. They would greatly increase our knowledge of those critical years after 1760. For further literature see Alwinz. The description of the Codices is to be found in remote specialized literature. A complete catalog is in preparation by Robert Friedmann.
Cite This Article
Friedmann, Robert. "Transylvania." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 28 Oct 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Transylvania&oldid=143510.
Friedmann, Robert. (1959). Transylvania. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 October 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Transylvania&oldid=143510.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 744-745. All rights reserved.
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