Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pont des Anabaptistes

Last time I wrote about how nice it was to go into the Jura Mountains. Well, when I got home from that excursion I had a response from a Jura Mennonite pastor and we arranged to meet the very next day. So I had two Jura excursions two days in a row. This one was not so exhausting because the pastor, Michel Ummel, picked me up in his car and drove me to the places I wanted to see. So I took the train through Moultier again but this time got a small train to Tavannes. I still am kind of amazed at the public transportation system that takes you out to these remote places. This train had only two cars to it and in some ways was more like a tram.

Michel eventually picked me up and then we climbed high in his car. That would have been a very difficult climb by bike. I am not sure how it would have gone by foot. And unlike the other old Anabaptist worship spaces, the Pont des Anabaptistes, or Bridge of the Anabaptists, is right next to a road. There is no long climb on a trail to get there. You can drive right to it and then climb down a few feet of trails and steps if you actually want to go into the gorge.

Those with a sense about language may have noticed that Pont des Anabaptistes is French and not German, and so I refer you to yesterday’s post about Jura being French Switzerland instead of German. Like the German language Tauferhoehle in Zuerich, two of perhaps the only places with the name of our faith in it, this spot got its name from the local pastor who knew it as a place of Anabaptist worship. The bridge at the time was the main bridge that would carry not just people but also carts and wagons. We have a picture of the bridge only because on time a horse fell to its death from the bridge. The Anabaptists would meet in the gorge apparently near the bridge.

Here you can see the ruins of the bridge. And then again one more photo of me, proving that I was here. Michel Ummel, who along with being a pastor at Sonnenberg Mennonite Church is also the director of the Swiss Mennonite Conference archives housed at Sonnenberg, told me about their historical efforts with the bridge. They would like to see the bridge reconstructed. But the archaeologists said they should leave the ruins and build a replica a few feet away. (This interests me because I went to the Roman ruins of August Raurica and discovered that the amphitheater and temple mount had been rebuilt. This was strange to me because generally Americans let ruins remain ruins, and build a replica if we want one. But for some reason on this issue they are more inclined to leave the ruins.)

Then Michel took me to the Jeanguisboden meetinghouse of Sonnenberg (they have four meeting places, as I mentioned yesterday.) There he showed me a historical timeline on the wall that they had developed as part of the Tauferjahr, or Anabaptist Year last year when Switzerland commemorated its Anabaptist history. I was pleased that they had made copies of two of Balthasar Hubmaier’s books, where he makes an argument for believers rather than infant baptism, and then responds to Zwingli when he writes in favor of infant baptism. Hubmaier has sometimes been ignored or marginalized by Mennonites because he was not a pacifist, but he certainly was one of the most articulate defenders of the baptism upon confession of faith, rather than as a rite of birth.

Then Michel took me down to the archives. Now for some reason the electricity wasn’t working. But I happened to have the light that I use with my bike and so since the archives are in a basement without windows it was very dark. But I could use my flashlight to see things. There I saw some old and significant books. Two of them interested me the most. The first was the Biblical concordance of the Swiss Brethren. Apparently over time a book developed that was basically a thematic concordance of the Bible, with the themes being based on what was important to Mennonites. This was recently translated into English and for the first time I saw one of old German copies.

The other interesting manuscript is actually a photocopy. Apparently there is a handwritten copy of the Schleitheim Confession of Faith, so this is before publication, and the government of Bern possesses it. So the Mennonites have a photocopy in their archives. I was shocked that we have a version of this that is so early.

Michel also told me about some projects they are working on. They are hoping to open a Taufer museum in Switzerland. They are seeking someone with architectural knowledge to help them design it. They would need to raise funds to build this, and of course they are already raising funds for the restoration of the Pont des Anabaptistes.

I enjoyed visiting with Michel a lot. He and his wife attended Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in the years just before I was there. He told me about the joys and trials of being a pastor in Switzerland, and also about his time in mission work in Portugal. After Jeanguisboden, he had to go to a Mennonite historical gathering, and so he told me how to take my bike down to Tavannes. So once again I started biking down hill, and again had quite the ride down into the valley. The poor brakes on my bike.

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