Michiels, Alfred (1813-1892)
Alfred Michiels was a French literary historian who achieved fame in the second half of the 19th century by his important works on the history of art in Flanders, on the relations of France with Alsace-Lorraine, on the Franco-Prussian War, etc. He was born in Paris in 1813, the son of a Flemish mother and French father, studied law in Strasbourg, made a foot tour through Germany, journeyed to England and Belgium, and finally settled as a librarian in Paris.
On his travels Michiels became acquainted with the Mennonites in the Vosges, and dedicated to them a book with the title, Les Anabaptistes des Vosges (Paris, 1860) which went through several editions. It is a charming account, written from the point of view of a Catholic Frenchman, of a segment of Mennonite life in the Vosges. As a metropolite Michiels feels himself transported into a legendary world, when he finds on the plateau of the Salm a group who, "hostile to luxury, exciting pleasures, vanity, and ambition, lead a peaceful, happy life." Conversation with their elders and preachers revealed that they are well informed on their history: they treasured the old Anabaptist writings; excerpts from Menno Simons, theMartyrs Mirror, and the Dordrecht Confession are "alive in them in every respect." This loyalty to tradition went so far that they patterned their customs entirely on Biblical examples. Not without some inward merriment Michiels tells his Parisian friends about the marriage customs of the group. When a young man wished to marry he went to the deacon, who performed the suit like Eliezer of the Old Testament and had the nickname "Steckelmann". He swung himself upon his horse, rode to the girl's home, and asked her for a drink of water from a well. If she granted the request the Steckelmann entered the house and asked for the hand of the daughter for the young man.
If these and similar customs seemed peculiar and incomprehensible to the author and to the modern reader, the positive aspects of Mennonite separation from the world so impressed him that he presented them as exemplary for community life: their simplicity, their wholesome, solid way of life, especially their mutual aid in cases of adversity. One who suffered misfortune through no fault of his own experienced the substantial help of the brotherhood. Only if it was apparent that he was incompetent, he and his wife had to work in subordinate positions, but their children were well provided for by the brotherhood. "Honneur done aux Anabaptistes!"
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon., 4 v. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: III, 129.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 672. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Quiring, Horst. "Michiels, Alfred (1813-1892)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 19 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M5120.html.
APA style: Quiring, Horst. (1957). Michiels, Alfred (1813-1892). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M5120.html.