Schwäbisch Gmünd (Baden-Württemberg, Germany)

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Schwäbisch Gmünd is a city (1955 pop. 30,748; 2005 pop. 61,350) in Württemberg, Germany, 28 miles (46 km) east of Stuttgart, in the Rems Valley. It belonged originally to the domain of the Staufers, then became a free imperial city, and in 1802 it was made a part of Württemberg. It was rich in industry, in the Middle Ages strong ecclesiastically, with three monasteries of Augustinians, Dominicans, and Franciscans. The first stirrings of the Reformation took place here in 1523 under the influence of Hans Schilling, a Barefoot Friar in Rothenburg on the Tauber, whose stormy preaching roused the populace to such an extent that he was banished from the city by the council. He then went to Augsburg, where he also called forth a powerful movement; this brought about his expulsion from Augsburg, whereupon he went to Blaufelden and won the people there to the Reformation. Later he was pastor in Grosshaslach until 1549, then preacher in Heilsbronn, 1553-1558 superintendent and pastor in Uffenheim. Andreas Althamer appeared as assistant to the city pastor in 1524, probably at first with cautiously reformatory sermons, then as the city preacher whom the people paid and whom they accompanied to and from the pulpit to protect him. He performed his own marriage to a young lady of Gmünd. On 4 July 1525 he was, however, forbidden to preach in the city or its territory. Soon afterward he had to flee from the city in a night attack on it by troops of the Swabian League.

The Protestants now met in secret to pray together, sing hymns, and read from the Bible. On 27 February 1527 the council felt it necessary to warn the people of Anabaptism, which had reached its full strength in Augsburg and Esslingen. In Gmünd Martin Zehentmayer, a painter of Langenmoosen near Inchhofen in the district of Aichach, was a significant Anabaptist leader. He is said to have baptized over 100 persons from the city and vicinity in chapels and private homes and to have celebrated the communion service with them. On the basis of the imperial mandate the council in mid-February 1528 arrested Zehentmayer and 40 of his adherents, including 19 girls and women. They were given only bread and water to make them recant the sooner. The obstinate ones remained in the towers 42 weeks. Among the people there was much sympathy for them. Some women and children climbed the city wall to reach the towers and talk to the prisoners or read and sing to them. This was then strictly forbidden. Zehentmayer was examined on the rack about his faith and his plans. He confessed, according to information given by the city council to the Augsburg city council in November, that he had hoped to secure community of goods. The charge of immoral conduct made by the chaplain Nikolaus Thoman, the author of the Weissenhorner Historie, is an unfounded defamation, and is probably based on the provost Aichele. The Gmünd court records give no suggestion of such a charge, charging the Anabaptists only with their attitude toward the established church.

The prisoners, only two of whom are known by name, i.e., Wolf Esslinger and Bamberger, occupied themselves with writing hymns, which are printed in the collection, Die Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder (Scottdale) pp. 48-59, together with the songs written about them by their fellow prisoners. The very conservative council did not venture to take the responsibility of judging and condemning the Anabaptists. The mayor Egen secretly appealed to the Swabian League, to send 200 horsemen and 50 footmen to Gmünd to support the council in the punishment of the Anabaptists. The government of Württemberg also received the commission to send well-armed persons, unspotted by the Lutheran faction and loyal to the powers in authority. Scarcely had the armed men arrived when the prisoners were put on trial. But one of the councilors, the glazier Huber, ventured to voice an objection to the court procedure. The prisoners were sentenced to die by the sword, but if they would recant, they would receive mercy. Zehentmayer and four men, a woman, and a 15-year-old boy remained steadfast, and they were executed on Tuesday, 7 December. When they were again urged to recant and return to their families, they declared that they had commended their families to God, and He would provide for them. When the first article was read Esslinger said: "As you judge today so shall God judge you when you come before His face; God shall well know you." When the third article was read, they said: "You stain your hands with our blood; God shall certainly not remit it to you, but require it at your hands." When the fourth article was read, they said: "Today we will testify with our blood, that that wherein we stand is the truth." When the fifth article was read Wolfgang Esslinger said: "Forsake your sins and unrighteousness, and repent, and God shall never remember it to you."

The people, especially the women, cried encouraging words to those who were to die. Some efforts were made at the last hour to induce them to recant. A nobleman rode into the ring to the boy and said to him, "If you will desist from your error, I will give you a stipend and keep you always with me." The boy refused and said, "God forbid! O God, I commend to Thee my spirit. May Thy Son's suffering not be lost in us." All went courageously to their death.

The popular mood was so excited and rebellious against the council that the council did not dare to dismiss the troops of the Swabian League or to execute more Anabaptists. A number of neighboring nobles interceded for them, as well as a part of the community, and the captains and soldiers of the Swabian League who lay in the city besought the council to show mercy to the Anabaptists. The council now summoned Franz Kircher, called Stadian, pastor in Göppingen, a Humanist and an old friend of Melanchthon, to convert the Anabaptists. He cannot have been a Lutheran preacher, as asserted by Debler and Vogt, the Gmünd chroniclers, for under the Austrian government and the strict Catholic spirit of the Göppingen chapter a Lutheran preacher could have asserted himself no more than had the Lutheran preacher Martin Cless, who had been compelled to flee from Göppingen (Hermelink, 211). Kircher was probably an Erasmian. A considerable number must have recanted, for on 14 December the council proclaimed slandering and insulting those who had recanted to be a punishable offense. Calm returned to the community, the troops of the Swabian League were dismissed.

The attempt to win the Anabaptists to the old faith must gradually have succeeded. At least the council had no more trouble from Anabaptists, though it had to combat the Lutherans until the end of the 16th century. On the other hand we hear of several women who fled from Gmünd and its territory to Württemberg and were arrested there for Anabaptist practices: Barbara, the wife of Bonaventura Bopf in Gmünd, who was in prison in Nürtingen on 2 July 1530, and was converted by the Tübingen professor Balthasar Käufelin; Barbara Schleicher, wife of Veit Beck, a smith of Gmünd, who was in prison in Kirchheim early in July, and was converted by experienced and learned men; Ursula Harthmann of Mögglingen, who was in prison in Kirchheim early in July 1530, and like Barbara Schleicher was instructed and recanted; Ursula Spanner of Gmünd, who had married the Anabaptist Konrad Lemlin of Sindelfingen, who was burned in Vaihingen, still lay in prison. Since she was pregnant they did not punish her, but let her swear an oath (23 December 1531) that she would at once leave the principality and never return.

The Anabaptists were deeply concerned by events in Gmünd. This is shown by the five hymns about them, printed in the Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, pp. 48-59. One of them is also in the Ausbund.


Beiträge zur bayerischen Kirchengeschichte 16: 234.

Blätter für württembergische Kirchengeschichte (1902): 4.

Braght, Thieleman J. van. Het Bloedigh Tooneel of Martelaers Spiegel der Doopsgesinde of Weereloose Christenen, Die om 't getuygenis van Jesus haren Salighmaker geleden hebben ende gedood zijn van Christi tijd of tot desen tijd toe. Den Tweeden Druk. Amsterdam: Hieronymus Sweerts, 1685: II, 32.

Braght, Thieleman J. van. The Bloody Theatre or Martyrs' Mirror of the Defenseless Christians Who Baptized Only upon Confession of Faith and Who Suffered and Died for the Testimony of Jesus Their Saviour . . . to the Year A.D. 1660. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1951: 439. Available online at:

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Uffenheimische Nebenstunden: I, 1287.

Wagner, E. "Die Reichsstadt Schwäbisch-Gmünd in den Jahren 1526-1530." Württembergische Vierteljahrshefte für Landesgeschichte 13 (1881): 81 ff.

Weissenhorner Historie, published by Fr. L. Baumann in Quellen zur Geschichte des Bauernkriegs in Oberschwaben, Bibliothek des Literarischen Vereins 129 (1876).

Author(s) Gustav, Sr Bossert
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bossert, Gustav, Sr. "Schwäbisch Gmünd (Baden-Württemberg, Germany)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 15 Jul 2020.,_Germany)&oldid=144618.

APA style

Bossert, Gustav, Sr. (1956). Schwäbisch Gmünd (Baden-Württemberg, Germany). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 15 July 2020, from,_Germany)&oldid=144618.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 528-530. All rights reserved.

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