Sunday, June 8, 2008
I had a fantastic and grueling weekend, going first to the canton of Schaffhausen to visit some of the country locations where Anabaptist seed first grew and then also to Zurich, the great city where the Anabaptist seed germinated. In Schaffhausen I visited Schleitheim and the Tauferstein. The countryside around Schaffhausen is just beautiful. Take the picturesque scenes of Lancaster County and double them, and you get some idea. It was simply gorgeous. Schaffhausen, though it is the capital of a Swiss canton, is a small city of only about 40,000 people.
Schleitheim is a short bus ride from Schaffhausen. Schleitheim has a small city museum, and one room is dedicated to the Schleitheim Confession, the confession written early in the Anabaptist movement, 1527, as a way to unite these disparate adult baptizers. The display is very well done, with panels explaining Mennonite beliefs very well in both German and English. And I was surprised to see brightly painted pictures of important Anabaptist events, such as the Zurich disputation on infant baptism and the drowning of Felix Manz. These are all depicted in the Zurich Chronicle, from the perspective of the Reformed Church of course. The volunteer curator was a great man to talk to.
A couple of things for those who might visit. The bus really does take you almost exactly where you need to go. You get off at the Schleitheim Gemeindehaus stop. Samuel Wenger has a series of 4 books on touring important Reformed and Anabaptist locations in Switzerland. Masthof Press out of Morgantown, PA, published them. They are very helpful. They include maps that take you right to the places you want to see, basically. However Wenger assumes you have a car, which I have not had. So I will let people know how to find things by public transportation.
There are also a couple of issues, the first being that you need to call ahead to ask for the museum to be opened, otherwise it is open only on the first Sunday of the month. Herr Bechtold is glad to open it for you, but he only speaks German.
The museum has one of only four copies of the original Schleitheim printing, which is in the photo above. It so happens that the Mennonite Historical Library in Goshen also has one, as the curator told me. The exhibit is well done, thanks to Dr. Urs Leu, a professor in Zurich.
After my visit to the museum I thought I would visit the Tauferstein. The Tauferstein, or baptist stone, is a memorial stone remembering the Anabaptists who fled Switzerland via the Tauferstieg, or baptist path. In German Anabaptist/Mennonites are generally known simply as taufer, or baptist. The stone was put on this path about four years ago as an act of reconciliation from the Reformed for their ancestors persecution of ours.
I was enjoying my time riding my bike along a lovely path. A local woman suggested a way for me to get to Hemmental, near the Tauferstein. But as I biked along I noticed a shortcut on the map. So I took it. Bad idea. It had some grueling climbs. And then as I kept going I just kept climbing and climbing. I saw what was basically a mountain and thought to myself that there was no way I would have to go all the way up that thing to find the Tauferstein. Well, I was wrong.
I think part of my problem is that the map showed numbers like 900, which I took to mean 900 feet. But of course this is Europe and 900 is for meters, or more like 2700 feet. So now we are talking the altitude of some of Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains. And it was getting cold and I was now walking my bike, wishing that I was returning the way that I came so that I could leave my bike somewhere. I took a path that ended up being wrong and I felt completely lost on this mountain with no one around and no water. Then I see a famous Swiss spring.
Then I hear a tractor. As he passes me by I flag the farmer down and ask him if he knows where I could find the Tauferstein. Yes he does, but it's difficult to explain and my German isn't that good. He says, I can go with you. I cannot express the relief I felt when he said this, but all I could say was, but you don't have time. He replied that he had lots of time. So he walked with me for about 20 minutes until we found the stone, and then he snapped my photo above.
When I told him that he was like an angel to me, he replied that he was president of Schleitheim, and that when someone visited Schleitheim, he wanted to make sure that they had a good time. Then he gave me directions for a good way down the mountain, and of course when you are on a bicycle going down is a lot of fun. I am so grateful to Herr Stamm for taking the time to make my visit a success. And I met person after person in Schaffhausen who took care of me.
It was getting pretty late by then and I still had a ways to go to the barn where I would be sleeping. So once back in Schaffhausen I hopped on the train to near the place. Since the address was Berghaus, or mountain house, you can imagine that once again I had a steep climb, but it was doable. I made it up the hill just as the sun was setting and the kind farmer's wife made me a hearty supper of potatoes, bacon, eggs, and salad. I ate everything and slept very well and very long. Did I mention that I was exhausted?
It was a satisfying day by the end, though there were moments when I wondered if it was a good idea to be in a foreign country with only a bike. But I again had the opportunity to experience the extraordinary kindness of strangers, a kind of reversal of angels unaware.