Rattenberg (Tyrol, Austria)

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Rattenberg, Tyrol, Austria, a small fortified town situated on the Inn River about 25 miles east of Innsbruck (coordinates: 47° 26′ 20″ N, 11° 53′ 36″ E), with some copper mines near by. Ruins of the fortress are still present; also the picturesque town remains almost unchanged since the 16th century. In the 1520s Anabaptism was very vigorous here as everywhere else along the Inn (see Inn Valley), perhaps because of the miners (Bergknappen), the most alert section of the population. The Hutterite Chronik reports (up to 1542) a total of 71 martyrs from this town alone. Only Kitzbühel with 68 martyrs and Schwaz, another mining town of the Inn Valley, with 20, had such large numbers. Kirchmaier, in his contemporary Chronicle of the Bishopric of Brixen (Tyrol), reports that a thousand "heretics" were executed in Tyrol prior to 1530, and that fagots were burning continually all along the Inn Valley.

Unfortunately little is known about the inner history of the Rattenberg congregation which had so many martyrs; no doubt it was a strong and vigorous group. Only two facts are certain: (1) The Anabaptist "bishop" Leonhard Schiemer was caught in this town on 25 November 1527, and beheaded on  14 January 1528; and (2) Pilgram Marpeck was born and educated here, became a mining magistrate (Bergrichter) and in 1525 a member of the inner council of the city. Very likely about 1527 he came into contact with Anabaptism, either in Augsburg or in Kitzbühel (see Freyberg, Helene von), and was baptized.  Since he refused to hunt Anabaptists among the miners, as was demanded by the government, he was removed from his position (22 January 1528), and soon afterward went to Strasbourg and other places. That he was strongly influenced by the Anabaptist tradition of the Inn Valley (or of Rattenberg) is beyond doubt The Kunstbuch, a work of the Marpeck group, contains writings by Schiemer and Hans Schlaffer (executed at Schwaz in February 1528), among them even items otherwise unknown, which suggest Marpeck's dependence on this tradition.

Fortunately the Hutterite epistle books (see Epistles, Hutterite) allow us at least a few glimpses into the situation of these exciting years of the 1520s at Rattenberg (in the sources usually called Rottenburg or Rothenburg am Inn). Lydia Müller's Glaubenszeugnisse, Volume I, contains four epistles by Leonhard Schiemer to the Rattenberg congregation written in prison in 1527 (a fifth epistle or brief sermon for the Rattenberg brethren is found in the Kunstbuch). In one case he signs his name, "Leonhard Schiemer, humble servant of you all and unworthy bishop, elected by God and His church" (Müller, 77). This suggests that he was the Vorsteher or bishop of the Rattenberg congregation at least for a short while, all the more since he also commends his wife Bärbl to the care of the congregation. But in his "Confession" (Müller, 80-1) he claims that he was made a Lehrmeister (i.e., minister, preacher) at Steyr, Upper Austria, and was sent out as a missioner by that group, went to many places and was seized at Rattenberg on the very first night of his stay. Be that as it may, he felt himself a true shepherd for his flock; all his letters are full both of concern for the brotherhood and of teachings and guidance in the true faith. Thus it is probably correct to call the Rattenberg congregation the real congregation of Leonhard Schiemer.

Not long after the death of Schiemer (1528), Wolfgang Brandhuber, the Vorsteher or bishop of the congregation of Linz, Upper Austria, sent a long and unusually profound and moving pastoral letter to the now orphaned Rattenberg church, a true document of the spirit of early Anabaptism. Its exact date is not known, but no doubt Brandhuber had been deeply concerned about life and discipline of the Rattenberg congregation, in spite of considerable geographic distance between Linz and Rattenberg. It is most characteristic of the spirit of brotherhood, that one cares for those brethren who have lost their leader, wherever they may be. Brandhuber admonishes his brethren (whom he, most likely, had never seen) telling them of the great law of love which requires also a certain sharing of worldly goods with the brethren, telling them of the need for inner discipline and of the inevitable conflict with the "world." One year later, 1529, he himself had to seal his faith with his life, being burned at Linz, thus leaving fatherless not only his own congregation but also the one in distant Tyrol.

The Chronicle of the Hutterites reports for the year 1529 a Gemeindeordnung, "Regulation or Discipline of the Church: How a Christian Should Live" (Geschicht-Buch, 60). Since at that time Hutterites did not yet exist as a group, the chronicler Caspar Braitmichel may have found this document later among his many sources (perhaps a small notebook or loose paper as such material still exists today among the Hutterites in Canada), and arbitrarily inserted it at the year 1529. Several codices of the Hutterites in North America contain the same Ordnung immediately following Schiemer's epistles, so that the likelihood is great that this church discipline had been drawn up also by Schiemer for the Rattenberg brotherhood, for which he felt so obviously responsible and concerned. That it is unsigned is nothing unusual among Anabaptist sources, and no argument against our conjecture. Its brevity (two pages in print) rather indicates the incipient condition of the group which needed just a few guiding principles, such as brotherly sharing (not full community of goods) and the idea of the suffering church which must expect martyrdom and accept it with a willing heart, etc.

The Rattenberg brotherhood, beginning so strong, was deprived too soon of leadership. Though the miners all along the Inn Valley continued to resist persecution, the Rattenberg group finally could not maintain an orderly life as a church (Gemeinde), and either collapsed or moved to Moravia.

Rattenberg is mentioned again in the Chronicle in 1541, when the Hutterite brother Christoph Gschäll, on a mission trip, spent a whole winter there. But then the records cease, as they do of nearly every other place in Tyrol.


Friedmann, Robert. "The Oldest Church Discipline o£ the Anabaptists." Mennonite Quarterly Review XXIX (1955): 162-66.

Kirchmaier, Georg. Denkwurdigkeiten des Stiftes Brixen (Pontes Rerum Austriacarum I, 1854). See also the Bibliography for the article "Marpeck."

Loserth, Johann. Der Anabaptismus in Tyrol. Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1892.

Müller, Lydia, ed. Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer, III. Band: Glaubenszeugnisse oberdeutscher Taufgesinnter I. Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte XX. Band. Leipzig, 1938.

Wolkan, Rudolf. Geschicht-Buch der Hutterischen Brüder. Macleod, AB, and Vienna, 1923.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1959

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MLA style

Friedmann, Robert. "Rattenberg (Tyrol, Austria)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 23 Apr 2019. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Rattenberg_(Tyrol,_Austria)&oldid=143705.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert. (1959). Rattenberg (Tyrol, Austria). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 April 2019, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Rattenberg_(Tyrol,_Austria)&oldid=143705.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 254-255. All rights reserved.

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