Friday, June 27, 2008

Thun and its prisons

Thun is a nice city on Lake Thun, with an old castle on top of a hill that has a unique presence in the city. The castle was at one point a grain bin and is now a museum. And up until the early 20th century, the four towers continued to be used as prison cells. I saw at least eight potential prison cells at the present time. Only one of them, of course, is actually set up like a prison cell, the one I have photographed. The others now have other museum displays not related to their original use. From what I can tell, these were still prison cells even after part of the castle was a museum!
There is also a large knights room in the top middle section of the castle. It was used for meetings of the knights but then eventually became an interrogation or torture room. Torture was the standard method of interrogation in the 1500s.
When I first discovered these prison cells I sat in one of them for a long time. This is the prison where my ancestor, Isaac Kaufmann, was imprisoned for his faith. I still have some translating to do, but it may also be where my ancestor Elsbeth Mergerdt, his wife, was imprisoned, and she may have given birth to a daughter here.
This was certainly the most emotional experience that I have had here so far. And it's a little difficult to know how to write about it. When you look out the windows of these towers you are way up in the air. You are not going to try to escape. I considered what it might feel like to have your freedom taken away like that. You have other people telling you where you will sit and eat and what you will do. It must be awful. I considered also my anger at those people who imprisoned them. I guess sitting there in the prison cell made it all feel closer and more real to me than it ever has before, and my sense of the feelings that Isaac and Elsbeth may have experienced was more real.
And I considered the choices that Isaac and Elsbeth made. There was first of all their choice to be baptized as adults, against the law of the land. And then there was the congregation's choice of Isaac as a leader, and his decision to accept that charge and exercise it. It made his life difficult. Rather than the rather sedentary life of most Swiss, who would stay in their home village, he moved around a lot, as I will mention as I visit these other places. Because he moved around so much it appears to me that he was genuinely trying to stay in Switzerland for many years. But eventually he and Elsbeth moved to Alsace and then Montbeliard in France.
I thought about the choices he made, and how he could have given up. He could have decided to recant his faith. But he decided to stubbornly remain with his convictions and to allow his life to follow its course according to where they lead. I thought about the choices of the authorities, who thought that the only way to deal with these heretics was through imprisonment, confiscation of property, and exile.
All of their choices have made all the difference in the world in who I am today. Isaac and Elsbeth's decision was one of a series that have formed me into an American Mennonite pastor. I am grateful for the decisions they made, though I am not necessarily proud of them or think that I am in the best possible situation. But it is good. And what they did was good. Perhaps I can find ways to be a similar witness to a new world that God is making, that is so different from the current world that the authorities don't understand it.

1 comment:

brian peachey said...

I visited this castle in Thun on my trip to Europe last August. I also am a descendant of Isaac and Elsbeth. Do you have any more information on them and this castle?