In many localities in Moravia, especially in the southern part of the country, there are subterranean passages and rooms made by human hands, called "lochy" by the Slavic population. They are, however, by no means peculiar to Moravia; for similar ones are known in western Slovakia, in southern Bohemia, and also in Bavaria and Alsace. They are especially common in Upper and Lower Austria where they are called "earth stalls" or "earth holes."
The interest in these subterranean buildings continued for more than half a century (to 1950) and the results of investigation to clarify their origin, the time of their creation, and their purpose has been written down in numerous essays and in two separate volumes. The greatest credit in the investigation of these holes in Austria and Moravia is due P. Lambert Karner, a Benedictine monk of Lower Austria, who investigated personally nearly all the more important ones known in his time, and described, measured, and sketched them minutely. More than 25 years of his life he devoted to this strenuous study; he wrote the results in the comprehensive work, Die künstlichen Höhlen aus alter Zeit. For future investigation Karner's work is of special value for its exact and very detailed descriptions.
But this is not the case with the conclusions which Karner deduced from his information and experiences. Scholarship, in this case represented by the noted archaeologist Oswald Menghin, has shown Karner's views on the age and purpose of these passageways to be wrong. In opposition to Karner, who considered the holes as prehistoric or at least very early historical places for a mysterious religious cult, Menghin believes that they are medieval or modern creations, which served the populace as a hiding place in times of war and distress.
This sober view, which is shared by M. Hörnes, R. Much, and the Moravian archaeologist J. L. Cervinka, has since been adopted by nearly all scholarly investigators. Nevertheless the romantic view of these holes has persisted to the present, especially through the efforts of Franz Kiesslinger, who, in his work Ueber das Rätsel der Erdställe, goes even further than Karner. Kiessling thinks them to be the work of a prehistoric race of dwarfs inhabiting Central Europe.
But even the sober view of the subterranean passages can be criticized. Menghin and his followers explain their origin by the assumption that they were built by the people for security in times of war. But it has been shown that the Moravian, Austrian, Bavarian, and Alsatian passages agree in their general layout as well as in typical details, so that one can speak of a unified system. It is hard to assume that people living so far apart would have built hiding places which agree even in measurements. On the other hand some of the holes are by no means primitive creations, but give evidence of greater knowledge, imagination, and skill than can be attributed to the medieval peasants. Contrary to all previous explanations of the rise, origin, and purpose of these passageways it can be said with assurance that at least those in Moravia were made by the Hutterian Brethren, who appeared there as early as the second third of the 16th century, lived here nearly a century, remnants maintaining themselves there until almost the middle of the 17th century. More than any of the religious brotherhoods in Moravia at that time, they were persecuted because of their religious faith. The first great persecution, which was to banish them, indeed to eliminate them from the country, was begun at the command of King Ferdinand, and was so severe that nothing was left for them but to flee into the mountains and forests or in the truest sense of the word to disappear below the earth into the holes they had created as a shelter.
For this idea there are evidences in their chronicles in which I shall cite only several of the more important which can be found in the books by Rudolf Wolkan (Geschicht-Buch), Joseph Beck (Geschichts-Bücher), and Zieglschmid (Chronik). Thus in the description of the persecution of 1548 it is said that the Brethren "made holes and pits in the earth like foxes for their home. However hard it is for a person to endure, they would have accepted it with great thanks if it had only been permitted and granted them. But they could not stay for any length of time, they were spied out and pursued." In Popice (near Auspitz), "where they also stayed below the earth in pits, there came godless persons who made a fire before the hole and wanted to suffocate them with the smoke or smoke them out. But they were driven away and prevented. Especially around the Meyberg (in the Pollau Mountains in south Moravia), they had in many places pits and holes in which they stayed for a while with their children; also in the clefts of the rocks ... of the Meyberg, and also in other localities in the country where they were able" (Wolkan; Beck). During the persecution of 1550 the lord of Liechtenstein learned that "the Brethren were living in caves and holes on his land" in his Nikolsburg domain. But while he was preparing to get them out they vanished (Wolkan; Beck). Another place in the Hutterian chronicle states that during the six years of the persecution they lived in "holes of the earth" (Beck), which is confirmed by other chronicles. In later times, when the Hutterites already had many established settlements, even as late as the first decade of the 17th century, thus not long before their exile into Slovakia, enemies attacking their houses discovered their "concealed holes in the earth" (Wolkan). These references prove that during the persecution in Moravia the Hutterian Brethren built subterranean hiding places which they described as "holes in the earth," pits, and "secret archways" (the holes really are arched).
It would be difficult to deny the great probability that these passageways are identical with the modern "lochy," as the name "Locher" suggests. But in addition there is a tradition still current among the people which connects these holes with the Anabaptists. The individual volumes of the topographical Moravian geography published in Brno show that the inhabitants of Syrovin assert that the "lochy" were hiding places of the Anabaptists. Also the holes in Lanzhot (Landshut) as well as in Nykolcice (Nikelschütz), where the holes exist precisely at the places where the Hutterites had their Bruderhofs, and also in Tynec (Teinitz) tradition calls the holes Anabaptist. In Tvrdonice (Turnitz), where the people still relate that the persecuted Anabaptists had lived in long cellars, some of which still exist, these cellars are doubtless holes. Hence local tradition completely corroborates the Hutterian chronicles.
If we then assume that the Anabaptists were the originators—-this does not mean of all the holes—we can explain much that has hitherto defied explanation. For instance, knowing that the Anabaptists did not meet the enemy with a weapon, not even when their life was threatened, we can more easily understand the complicated and sometimes apparently irrational plan of the holes. Thus when a passage keeps changing its direction and when a pit is interrupted and continues on a higher level which can be reached only by a special tunnel and when the same passage in a great arc returns to its original point of entry, all of this serves to give time to the victim to escape from his pursuers, and obviously to confuse the opponent.
The assumption of an Anabaptist origin for these passages explains a number of particulars of the internal arrangement, such as the various chambers in which the passages always end, the niches for watchmen and lights, and especially the clever foresightedness with which these passages were planned and executed. It is known that there was among the Hutterites a concentration of skilled craftsmen and highly intelligent personalities. Since we know that the Hutterian Brethren had a strongly centralized organization which regulated every activity according to unified lines, we understand the source of the unity of the subterranean passages. And these passages occurring from Alsace to Slovakia are located in precisely those places where the Anabaptists had their settlements for a long time.
These explanations by no means constitute a complete solution of the problem of the subterranean passage called lochy or earth stalls and earth holes, but they bring concrete evidence of Anabaptist origin for at least the Moravian holes, and thereby point to possibilities which may yet lead to the final solution of this interesting question.
Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967: 184, 186 f., 191.
Cernohorsky, K. "Novokrtensky puvod moravskych lochu" (The Anabaptist Origin of the Moravian Holes). Lidove noviny (Brno, 27 September 1934).
Cervinka, J. L. "Loch." umole, jeskyne na Morave in Casopis morav. musea zemskeho (Periodical of the Museum of Moravia in Brno), 1905: V, 266-278.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: II, 679-682.
Karner, L. Künstliche Höhlen aus alter Zeit. Vienna, 1903.
Kiesslinger, F. Ueber das Rätsel der Erdställe. Vienna, 1923, 2d ed., 1925; discussed by H. Motefindt in Wiener Prähistorische Zeitschrift, 1924: XI, 154.
Menghin, O. "Ueber das Alter der Erdställe und Hausberge." Wiener Prähistorische Zeitschrift (1916): III, 101-110.
Wolkan, Rudolf. Geschicht-Buch der Hutterischen Brüder. Macleod, AB, and Vienna, 1923: 249, 561 f.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder: Ein Sprachdenkmal aus frühneuhochdeutscher Zeit. Ithaca: Cayuga Press, 1943.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 382-384. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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