Brixen (Italian: Bressanone) is a city and district in Tyrol (now part of Südtirol, Italy), was formerly (after 992) an independent prince-bishopric, in which there were large numbers of Anabaptists by 1527. On 23 December 1527 the prince-bishop had sent out the order to watch roaming agitators, "among whom there are said to be some who preach in corners about the new sect and rebaptism." These should be immediately imprisoned. The Innsbruck government sent the bishop the printed mandates on the eradication of the Anabaptists with the request that he publicize them in Brixen.
In the following years Anabaptists are found both north and south of the Brenner in constantly increasing numbers, and sharp edicts are repeatedly issued against them. Nor did the bishop escape criticism for proceeding "with too slight and lax sentences" against the Brixen Anabaptists. He should henceforth follow the mandates. For it was in the Brixen fief of Michelsburg that Anabaptism had taken root. Numbers of Anabaptists were taken from here to Brixen and sentenced to death, with the exception of those of whom it was said "that they were in general quite simple and of slight intelligence." Among those released was Agnes, the sister of Jakob Hutter of Moos, the founder of the Hutterian Brethren; among those executed was Gregor Weber of Pflaurenz, who was frequently mentioned in the Puster Valley, Hutter's most intimate friend and a preacher.
In spite of the severity emphatically demanded by the government and exercised by the authorities against the Anabaptists their numbers continued to grow; it was difficult to seize them, for they moved with great caution, assembled in remote places, placed guards, and were sometimes warned of imminent danger by friends. In order to capture the objects of their persecution in the woods and quarries, it was often necessary to combine the police force of two or three counties. We still have the oldest confessions of the Anabaptists in Michelsburg.
Here persecution raged most violently and here Jakob Hutter engaged in his frequently described work (Loserth,56 ff.). "Like monks" the Tyrolese from this district streamed into Moravia. There was strife between the bishop of Brixen and the Innsbruck government on the exercise of regional jurisdiction, but in the matter of persecuting the Anabaptists they were of one mind; hence there were many victims in Brixen. Mandate upon mandate was issued against them, and repeatedly there is censure for the negligence, carelessness, and laxity of the officials, without which the movement could not have become so deeply rooted. Henceforth captured Anabaptists should be tried with "severe questioning" (i.e., on the rack) and punished according to the mandates. Whoever would shelter them or intentionally conceal them should be imprisoned and likewise severely questioned. Instructions were given in minutest detail on methods of procedure, the questions to be asked, how the expenses of the persecution are to be met, and what to do with the possessions of those punished; and lax officials were called to account.
Nevertheless the Anabaptist movement was not stamped out of Michelsburg in the following years, and the revolution in Münster gave all the powers hostile to the Anabaptists a most powerful weapon; for now even those who had heretofore been less severe lost their sympathy. While the news was being spread in Moravia "that there are not many Brethren left in the higher lands," persecution also flared up in Moravia, and many of the Anabaptists, including Jakob Hutter, returned to their old home, where of course no better lot awaited them. Even though the execution of Hutter (1536), "who had given a good lesson in his death," weakened the movement in the bishopric of Brixen, others soon followed in his steps and in the same year Anabaptists were again reported in Michelsburg. All efforts to master the situation seemed futile, for a large part of the populace openly sided with them or at least aided them. Hence the laments of the episcopal and civil officials that they could hardly depend on anyone. The defection from the Catholic Church was so marked that the number of those who had neglected the Easter confessional was announced as 600. After Hutter's death the movement centered about Offrus (Onufrius) Griesinger, and so the persecution continued in the following years.
In 1538 the Brixen government made the first serious attempt not to combat Anabaptism with violence alone, but also with open indoctrination by the priest Dr. Gallus Müller; but the capture and execution of Griesinger had a greater effect, without, however, wiping out the movement; for now it received a new leader in Hans Amon, called Tuchmacher, who came in haste from Moravia, and the mandates which were issued from time to time had so little effect that even members of the nobility joined the Anabaptists. A consultation between the Tyrolean government and that of Brixen in October 1539 on methods of stopping the spread of the movement, resulted in a tightening of the old orders; but now it was noted that no fewer than 600 persons had been executed in Tyrol and in spite of this or perhaps because of it the numbers had increased.
After 1540 the movement took a smoother course. Adherents attempted to remain loyal to the faith in secret and escape to Moravia where there was complete toleration. Anabaptist trials became less numerous, the procedure of the authorities grew more lenient, and the death penalty was imposed only on the preachers. The recognition that capital punishment alone would not suffice found general acceptance, and finally even Ferdinand I declared that he had "a horror" of these never-ending executions and that he considered it an error to exercise the extreme severity of the mandates against these poor misled people. More and more the principle was accepted that more was to be gained by indoctrination than by severity.
Sometimes the governments supported the flight to Moravia. At that time Ulrich Stadler, a native of Brixen, died there; he had been an influential preacher in Moravia, and had produced some important writings. The migration to Moravia did not end during the next two decades, and Brethren from Moravia found their way into Tyrol. We know of a letter sent by the congregation at Auspitz in Moravia on 13 August 1557 to a citizen of Brixen, and 10 years later we learn that there are Anabaptists there; when the more liberal practices were adopted in Moravia in the days of Maximilian II, which they themselves called "the golden time," the immigration increased until the end of the century when their situation in Moravia deteriorated. When Anabaptism became extinct in southern Tyrol cannot be ascertained from court records, but there are still traces of its presence in the first decades of the 17th century.
Amman, Hartmann. Die Wiedertäufer in Michelsburg im Pustertal und deren Urgichten. Programm des K. K. Staatsgymnasiums zu Brixen, 1896-1897.
Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon. 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 269.
Kripp, Johann von. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Wiedertäufer in Tirol. Programm des K. K. Staatsgymnasiums in Innsbruck. Innsbruck, 1857.
Loserth, Johann. Der Anabaptismus in Tirol, 2 vols. Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1892: v. I, 56 ff.
Cite This Article
Loserth, Johann. "Brixen (Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Italy)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 20 Sep 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Brixen_(Trentino-Alto_Adige/S%C3%BCdtirol,_Italy)&oldid=76036.
Loserth, Johann. (1953). Brixen (Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Italy). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 September 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Brixen_(Trentino-Alto_Adige/S%C3%BCdtirol,_Italy)&oldid=76036.
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