At the beginning of the second quarter of the 16th century Augsburg was the center of the Anabaptist movement in South Germany. In a single year (1526) the largest Anabaptist congregation in South Germany was formed here and from here the doctrine spread in all directions when persecution set in and scattered the members.
Among the earliest leading figures living here were Ludwig Haetzer, Hans Denck and Hans Hut. Haetzer had been here in the summer of 1524, but had returned to Zürich, where he joined the opponents of infant baptism. In January 1525 he had to leave the city, and returned to Augsburg, obtained a proofreading position with the printer Silvan Othmar (who later printed several editions of the translation of the prophets by Haetzer and Denck), and gathered about him a number of serious-minded men and women who were not satisfied with the conduct of the Protestant preachers. Though he was not baptized, he appears to have prepared the soil for Anabaptist doctrine. He became inconvenient to the Lutheran preachers, and on their instigation was banished from the city near the end of September 1525 ("with consideration of his position as the head of the sectarians, as an unclean, seditious person, hostile to the Gospel").
At this time Hans Denck came to Augsburg. In the winter of 1524-1525 at the instigation of the Lutheran preacher Osiander he had been banished from Nürnberg, where he had been rector of the church at St. Sebaldus, had stayed in St. Gall from Easter to autumn of 1525, and now tried to earn his living as a private tutor in Augsburg. It is very likely that he had received his education here and had friends in the city. He probably made advances to Haetzer's followers and unified them more closely.
In May and June of 1526, Balthasar Hubmaier, the reformer of Waldshut, who had been baptized as an Anabaptist by Wilhelm Reublin at Easter 1526, probably stayed here. Hubmaier persuaded Hans Denck to be baptized and probably performed the rite himself. This was the first adult baptism in Augsburg as far as is known. Thereby the foundation was laid for the Anabaptist congregation in Augsburg and for the spread of Anabaptist doctrine on German territory from the Alps to the Danube. Denck now became a propagandist for the group and baptized many. In May 1526 Hans Denck then won Hans Hut, whom he had met in Nürnberg. Hut was one of the first opponents of infant baptism in the Reformation period. During the three days of Hut's visit to Augsburg, Denck baptized him in his home, a little house near the Heilig-Kreuz gate. Hut now traveled with unequaled success through South Germany and Austria as an evangelist, returning to Augsburg in February 1527. Meanwhile violent opposition had compelled Denck to give up the leadership of the Augsburg congregation, as he had become inconvenient to the Lutheran preacher Urban Rhegius. Denck had to answer to the assembled preachers of the town, and was challenged to a public disputation, but he did not accept the invitation and left the city. At the end of October 1526 he arrived in Strasbourg.
At this time a group of prominent and earnest men had joined the Anabaptists in Augsburg, who became leaders in the congregation. Among them were Eitelhans Langenmantel, of an old patrician family, Jacob Dachser, a priest who had been a teacher in München, and Sigmund Salminger, a former Franciscan monk. All were baptized by Hut in February 1527. Hut remained in Augsburg only nine or ten days at that time; but in this short time he made new arrangements to strengthen the brotherhood. While a wild carnival was going on in the streets and the inns, he gathered the Anabaptists for the election of a directorate. Through the lot Sigmund Salminger was chosen as leader, and Jakob Dachser as his assistant. Relief of the poor was also organized. Lacemaker Huber was made guardian of the poor, and when he resigned, Hans Kissling, a mason from the neighboring Friedberg, and Gall Fischer took over the care of the poor in the congregation and supervision of the poor-funds. The church grew rapidly. Large numbers from all walks of life joined them, constantly augmented by immigrants from other places. An active spiritual life developed. The number of houses in which services could be held and baptisms performed increased. In order to lose the least possible amount of working time the members met for mutual strengthening at night or early in the morning.
In the summer of 1527 the Anabaptist leaders from nearly every country gathered here. On 20 August they held a synod in Augsburg, at which Hans Denck presided. No record has been preserved, and information of any kind is scarce. The differing views of the leaders, who rarely had an opportunity of discussing matters with each other, seem to have been harmonized; individuals subordinated themselves to the common goal. Thus Hans Hut declared himself ready, "in order that unity in genuine love might be found, not to speak to anyone except those who thoroughly agreed, about the mysteries of the Judgment Day, of the end of the world, of the resurrection, of the Kingdom of God, of eternal judgment." "Those who know," who already possess the "understanding of mysteries," were to have patience with the "ignorant"; on the other hand, the others were not to be vexed about matters for which they are too immature. The ideas of Denck probably predominated; it was probably due to his personality that the various views were so harmoniously adjusted. The keynote of the resolutions of the synod is expressed in his booklet, Von der wahren Liebe, which appeared in Augsburg at that very time. The result of the synod was the sending out of evangelists to South Germany, Switzerland and the provinces of Austria. They had been given no other commission, as Hans Hut said in his cross-examination, than to comfort the brethren and to preach. Peter Scheppach and Ulrich Trechsel were to go to Worms, Leonhard Spörle and Leonhard von Prukh to Bavaria, Hänslin Müttermeier of Ingolstadt and Leonhard Dorfbrunner to Austria (the latter to Linz), Jörg von Passau to Franconia, Eucharius Binder and Joachim März to the Salzburg region, Hans Denck, Gregory Maler, and Hans Beckenknecht to the cantons of Basel and Zürich. Ludwig Haetzer was sent to Meissen by way of Donauwörth. Hans Hut was to stay in Augsburg for the time being. These were hopeful assignments, but they were not to be carried out. It was the last general meeting of the leaders, for in a few years almost all had suffered a martyr's death; the conference is therefore known as the Martyrs' Synod.
In Augsburg the malice and fear of the Lutheran preachers did not permit the new congregation to get settled. The most violent was Urban Rhegius, whose sermons attracted scarcely any listeners; soon after the Martyrs' Synod a pamphlet of his appeared, entitled Wider den newen Taufforden, nothwendige Warnung an alle Christgläubigen (dated 6 September 1527). Meanwhile the council of Augsburg had proceeded with great severity against the Anabaptists. In August 1527 it had several of them seized and tortured; the jurist Dr. Konrad Peutinger was charged with the conduct of this investigation, for which he received a fee of 100 guilders. One of the first Anabaptists whom he cross-examined under torture was the guardian of the poor, Hans Kiessling; through him the council learned the names of other Anabaptists, who were arrested as soon as their lodgings were discovered. Among these was the assistant director of the group, Jakob Dachser, who was arrested on 25 August. On 15 September a Sunday, when a considerable number were meeting in the house of "the bell-ringer at the wall" the police appeared and arrested all the attendants, native and foreign, among them Hans Hut and Jakob Gross. In the following days further arrests took place; Eitelhans Langenmantel, who was sick at the time, was dragged from his house to the town hall on a cart. The baptized were ordered to vow under oath that they would not sell their property or leave the city without the knowledge and permission of the city council ("ohne Wissen und Willen des Rats Leib und Gut nicht zu verkehren"), that they would stay away from Anabaptist sermons, and that they would obey future summons. The prisoners who had not yet been baptized, but had attended religious services of the Anabaptists, had to pledge themselves "not to meet together, to avoid baptism, and to present themselves to the council upon request." Other "suspicious persons" were arrested on 18 and 19 September, including the leader Sigmund Salminger. Several of the arrested found it incomprehensible that they should be forbidden to converse with each other about God's Word. That was not entirely forbidden by the council; "two or three" were to be permitted to read God's Word and converse about it, "but they were not to undertake any meetings or crowds." Those who refused the required oath were to be banished from the city with the obligation never to return.
The leaders remained under arrest; they were Hut, Gross, Dachser and Salminger. The preachers of the city, Rhegius, Frosch, Agricola and Keller, were to convert them. On 21 and 25 September 1527 they disputed for hours with the prisoners, without success; for their efforts the city preachers each received four guilders per sermon, and Rhegius received an extra guilder for the sermon that he had delivered against the Anabaptists in the church of St. Peter. On 1 October the council had all the Anabaptists called in who had been released after their trial, and demanded of them the confession of their error and a recantation. The four city preachers lectured them on infant baptism and the oath. Burgomaster Rehlinger explained to them the disadvantages of holding to their position and had records read to them of proceedings against Anabaptists in other places. Four persons recanted, but nine remained steadfast, including the future leader Hans Leupold who was at once banished from the city. The rest requested three days to consider, which was granted. After this time 44 persons complied with the demands of the council and were dismissed with the obligation to appear later and receive sentence. The steadfast were banished, among them the future leader Burkhard Braun from Ofen, with wife and child.
A mandate followed on 11 October 1527, commanding that baptism be administered to children, that rebaptism be abandoned, that the people be satisfied with ordinary church sermons and flee "corner preachers," neither feeding nor lodging them. Anyone who transgressed one of these commands or acted suspiciously was to be "severely punished in body or life or possessions." On 7 October sentence was passed against five Anabaptists held in chains, Eitelhans Langenmantel, Endres Widholz, Gall Fischer, Hans Kiessling and Peter Scheppach, who confessed rebaptism to be an error; they were banished from the city. Two other Anabaptists, the guild-master Laux Fischer and the scissors-grinder Eckart, were fined. Left in prison were only the leading figures, Hut, Salminger, Gross and Dachser. Doctor Peutinger had all degrees of torture applied to Hut; while he lay unconscious after an application of torture his foot upset his candle, igniting the straw in his cell with consequent severe burns. Hut died eight days later. Nevertheless the trial was conducted as if he had been alive. The council condemned him to death at the stake; the corpse was burned on 7 December 1527, and the ashes thrown into the Wertach.
Voices were now heard in the council asking the death penalty for the other Anabaptist leaders, but the majority opposed such a course. On 22 January 1528, to make them more tractable, it was decided to hold them imprisoned longer, and to move them from the front prison (examining room) to the back prison (the actual prison or dungeon). Those who had recanted were also to receive sentence now. On 10 February 1528, they were informed that financially independent persons were to be fined the equivalent of a year's tax, the others were to pay 30 pfennigs to the Heilig-Geist hospital. The men had to abstain from voting for council members for five years; anyone holding city office had to resign. Those who would not recant were led out of the city, and any who would not "swear out" were "beaten out" with rods.
In spite of these severe measures the movement in Augsburg was not extinguished. The places of the imprisoned leaders were at once filled by others, and martyrdom won new converts. On the day the mandate was published, the weaver Augustin Bader invited over 20 fellow believers into his house to observe communion, and on the day after the burning of Hut's body a large number of persons were received into the congregation by baptism. Moreover, the church grew through the addition of persecuted refugees from Bavaria, Franconia and the Austrian regions.
The new Anabaptist preachers were very active. The busiest were Leonhard Dorfbrunner, who had been sent to Linz by the Martyrs' Synod, returned to Augsburg on 10 November 1527 and alone baptized about 100, and Georg Nespitzer, called Jörg von Passau, who had been sent to Franconia and had returned early in February 1528. They conducted a series of meetings, which were in part well attended. Thus on 14 April 1528, about 60 persons met in a cellar to observe communion, led by Hans Leupold and Georg Nespitzer. At this meeting two leaders were chosen, Hans Schliefer and Peter Ringmacher, who were sent to Regensburg to comfort the brethren there. In connection with this meeting, which lasted until five o'clock in the morning, a meeting of the leaders took place in the home of the goldsmith Laux Kreier to instruct the newly elected leaders, in order that neither should introduce any error.
But the days of the congregation were numbered. On 12 April 1528, Easter Sunday, the council struck the fatal blow. To celebrate the resurrection the congregation met at dawn on the Bürgergässchen, in the home of Susanna Doucher, the wife of the noted sculptor Adolf Doucher, who had gone on a journey to Vienna. The meeting again was conducted by Hans Leupold and Georg Nespitzer. The congregation, about 100 persons, had been warned of imminent danger and Leupold urged the weak to leave while there was time. Some left; 88 remained. Just as the hostess was on the point of serving those from the outside, at about seven o'clock, the police came and led away all the participants, "men and women, old and young, servants and maids, citizens and foreigners," chained in pairs, including the wives of Sigmund Salminger and Jakob Gross. The excitement among the citizenry was intense. The foreigners, 22 women and 22 men, were to swear not to enter the city within a six-year period; they left Augsburg on 13 April. A man and three women who would not swear were placed on the whipping post like ordinary criminals and on 14 April whipped out of the city; the council took the same steps on 15, 16 and 20 April with 16 men and 17 women, who had been in Augsburg for a longer time. Anyone who had opened his house for services was burned through the cheeks; this punishment was inflicted on four women and one man. One woman had her tongue cut out, because she had been guilty of "blaspheming the sacrament." The leader Hans Leupold, refusing to recant, was executed on 15 April.
All the Anabaptists who were not in prison now left Augsburg, and went especially to Strasbourg, Esslingen, Reutlingen, Kaufbeuren, Regensburg, Württemberg and Moravia. About 100 Anabaptists who had been banished from Augsburg were living in Strasbourg in the spring of 1529. An indescribable wretchedness overtook many families who had hitherto lived in peace and prosperity. The leaders who had fled or been banished fell into the hands of persecutors in other regions and were executed: Georg Nespitzer in Bamberg, Leonhard Dorfbrunner and Melchior der Reiter in Passau, Augustin Bader in Stuttgart.
The congregation in Augsburg never recovered from this blow. Assistance from outside the city was almost impossible. Every stranger was asked at the gate what business he had in the city, where he would lodge, whether he had been rebaptized or adhered to an untolerated group. Suspected persons had to stay outside or were put under oath. All inns were ordered not to accept Anabaptists. Anyone who notified the authorities of an infraction of this rule received a reward of one guilder, was exempt from punishment even if he was a partner in crime, and the fact that he had been the informer was kept secret. Anabaptist preachers now avoided the city, for religious services within the city walls were no longer possible. The remnant of the congregation met frequently in the woods of St. Radegundis near Wellenburg, and at one of these meetings about 70 persons, men and women, were present, according to the statement of a prisoner, Zirgkendorfer, in May 1528. They also assembled in a deep gravel pit in the field near Göggingen. In the summer of 1528 they met several times in the open, usually in the meadows near the fowling-floors. In mid-August the remaining brethren decided not to assemble again. The last leaders, George Schachner and Hans Greuel, both from Munich, turned their backs on Augsburg after Philipp Weber (Plener) had once more vainly attempted to hold a meeting.
The leaders who were still imprisoned, Gross, Salminger and Dachser, remained steadfast for a long time, but finally their powers of resistance were paralyzed. After three and one-half years of confinement in the dungeon, several days before Christmas in 1530, Salminger recanted (his wife recanted on 17 January 1531); on 15 May 1531, after three and three-fourths years in the dungeon, Jakob Dachser recanted, and on 22 June 1531, Jakob Gross.
About Pentecost of 1529 Josef Riemer of Homburg (Hesse) was chosen as leader; meetings were usually held in his house. A nonresident leader who had great influence was Hans Kendtner, a glazier from Haldenwang in Allgäu, who founded an Anabaptist congregation in Täferdingen, a village north of Augsburg. Both leaders appeared openly in Augsburg in 1531. On Sunday, 5 March, they preached with inspiring enthusiasm before a large crowd who had gathered in the church of St. Ulrich for regular services. The sermons created a deep impression. Finally the bailiff seized the Anabaptists; they could probably have fled, but refused to do so. Most of the prisoners, about 40, recanted; but Riemer and Kendtner did not do so until after a long imprisonment. In the week before Easter of 1533 the council made some further arrests, and banished the prisoners upon their recantation. The last recantations were made on 18 April 1535.
"The principal battles in this struggle," writes Friedrich Roth (Augsburger Reformationsgeschichte, II, 398), "had been fought and won by the city preachers in 1527 and 1528, by summoning all their forces with the aid of the council, which had offered them its powerful arm in its own interest." There is no evidence of the existence of an Anabaptist congregation in Augsburg after 1535, although there must have been individual Anabaptists resident in the city at various times. Among the latter was the outstanding South German Anabaptist leader Pilgram Marpeck, who resided here 1544-1556, serving throughout the time as an engineer in the employ of the city. His presence here unmolested is a mystery. Either the city council must have relaxed its proscription of Anabaptists, or Marpeck refrained from preaching and promoting the Anabaptist cause within the city, or his services as an engineer were so valuable that the authorities winked at his activities. Possibly all three explanations are partly true. On 16 July 1545 he was warned by the burgomaster, George Herwart. On 6 May 1560, on the basis of testimony that Marpeck had published a booklet of Anabaptist doctrine, the council decided to interview him and request a copy of the booklet. Twice more he was warned, once on 26 September 1553, and a year later on 25 September 1554, when the council actually decided that since they had learned that Marpeck was propagating his error, he should be told to earn his bread elsewhere. However, he continued on the pay roll of the city until his death two years later.
The modern Augsburg Mennonite congregation has no connections with the 16th-century Augsburg Anabaptists, being composed of families that moved into the area in the late 19th century from other Mennonite communities.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 92 ff.
Horsch, John. Mennonites in Europe. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1942.
Keller, Ludwig. Ein Apostel der Wiedertäufer. Leipzig: G. Hirzel, 1882.
Meyer, Christian. "Zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer in Oberschwaben." Zeitschrift des historischen Vereins für Schwaben und Neuburg 1 (1874).
Roth, Friedrich. "Zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer in Oberschwaben." Zeitschrift des historischen Vereins für Schwaben und Neuburg 27-28 (1900-1901).
Roth, Friedrich. Augsburgs Reformationsgeschichte. München, 1904.
Wenger, J. C. "The Life and Work of Pilgram Marpeck." Mennonite Quarterly Review 12 (1938): 137-202.
Cite This Article
Hege, Christian. "Augsburg (Freistaat Bayern, Germany)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 25 Jun 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Augsburg_(Freistaat_Bayern,_Germany)&oldid=103110.
Hege, Christian. (1953). Augsburg (Freistaat Bayern, Germany). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 June 2016, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Augsburg_(Freistaat_Bayern,_Germany)&oldid=103110.
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