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Bronni - Switzerland * Melchoir the Anabaptist Exile * Anabaptist Beliefs *
Brönni - Switzerland
The Branaman family history begins in the village of Brönni, Switzerland (originally spelled "Brendi.") [Click to view sources.] Both names mean "a place cleared of forest by fire." "Brendimanns" are documented to have lived in numerous villages on the west side of the Aare River [Click to view map] from the year 1400 to today (2002).
Several farm houses are still located in the tiny village of Brönni [Click to view photo]. Brönni, on the west side of the Aare, is located at the edge of the valley where the terrain starts climbing steeply into the foothills that precede the Alps.
Melchoir Bronneman, the Anabaptist Exile (c. 1631-1677)
The first Branaman ancestor specifically identified by name is Melchoir Brönnemann (later spelled "Brennemann" when the family moved to Germany).
Melchoir was born in Switzerland about 1631 and exiled to the Palatinate of Germany in 1672 for Anabaptist activities. [Click for information on Anabaptists.] [Click for information on conditions in Switzerland in the Middle Ages.]
The Anabaptist movement was strong in the secluded rural mountainous region southeast of Bern for over a century. It is likely that this family had been committed to the Anabaptist faith for several generations.
Melchoir Bronnimann is documented to have lived in several locations southeast of Bern. He originally lived in the mountainous region called the Churzenberg He is also known to have lived on the north slope of the Buchholterberg and in the village located in the valley inbetween these two mountains--Oberdiessbach. These locations are all within the Steffisburg District. [Click to view photos.]
Melchoir Brönnimann was imprisoned on October 28, 1659 in the castle at Thun [Click to view photo.]
"The Brenneman History" provides the following account:
"The Mennonite Melchoir Brönnimann, from the district of Steffisburg, is held in prison in the castle at Thun. The Amtmann (bailiff) and the pastor superior have been unable to bring him to forswear his Anabaptist convictions. He only promises to attend preaching services in the state church. The government decrees that he shall be given a period of probation; if he does not give up the Anabaptists in that time the provisions of the recent law of August 9, 1659, shall be applied against him. According to these he shall be banished from the land, and if he should return unconverted he shall be beaten with rods and again driven away, while his property is to be confiscated."
Melchoir Brönneman at age 40 was exiled from Switzerland in 1672. He moved to Griesheim in Germany with his wife and seven children between the ages of 1 and 15.
The colony at Griesheim was also the refuge for another 53 exiled Bern families. The descendants of many of these exiles immigrated to Pennsylvania and many still live in Lancaster and York counties.
According to a letter written from Griesheim by Valentin Huetwol and Johann Clemeintz to Hans Vlamingh, a prominent Mennonite in Holland--Melchoir's "worldly possessions consisted of one horse, one trundle bed and bedding, and 43 rix-dollars."
On November 2, 1671, Jakol Everling of Obersulzheim, a small village not far from Griesheim wrote:
"Concerning our friends from Switzerland, they are coming to us just now in great numbers, so that already 200 persons have come here, among whom are many old folks, both men and women, aged 70, 80 and even 90 years. There are also quite a few crippled and lame among them. They carried their bundles on their backs and their children in their arms; some of them were cheerful; but the tears of some rained down their cheeks, especially the penniless old people who had to wander about in their advanced age and tread the soil of alien lands. Many of them have nothing on which to sleep at night, for which reason I, with the help of others, have already been active for two weeks to find lodging and relief for their need. We daily await others...."
The Anabaptists (generally referred to as "Mennonites" today) introduced several social concepts that local authorities of that time considered revolutionary and dangerous to the social order:
They recognized the peasants as being thinking, feeling human beings. A part of the mission of the lay ministry was to teach the peasants to read. The Anabaptists taught that all men were capable of reading and understanding God's word.
They placed God's word above both state and religious laws. An individual's conscious must be his guide. The Anabaptists taught that the individual must refuse military service for an unjust cause. They spoke out strongly against the Swiss government's practice of selling mercenary units to all European countries. In fact, the elite military units on BOTH SIDES of European wars in the 16th to 18th centuries were Swiss.
The Anabaptist basic social attitudes--that were so revolutionary in the 16th and 17th centuries--are now fully accepted by the western world.
As "outlaws," the Bernese Anabaptists were forced to hold religious services in secret. The wooded areas around Oberdiessbach were common meeting places. The woods were also used as hiding places. [View photo of Oberdiessbach woods.] A permanent policy agency of Anabaptist-hunters persisted into the 18th century in the canton of Bern.
There were, however, several instances where the Anabaptists did step over into the "lunatic fringe" area. These excesses are referred to by current Mennonites as "black sheep" on "the wrong path":
One group encouraged "babbling and playing with
toys" to become literally "as little children."
Anabaptists took control in Münster militarily in 1535 and savagely persecuted nonbelievers.
Following the Münster massacre, Memmo Simons, a former priest from Holland, became the principal influence in the Anabaptist movement. Pacifism became a central tenet; the belief that Christ's second coming was imminent was dropped. After 1550 Anabaptists are referred to as "mennisten" or "mennonites."
There are no records to indicate that the Bernese Anabaptists participated in any "black sheep" activities. All evidence is that our ancestors were sincere individuals dedicated to living peaceably with their fellowmen and improving social conditions.
Social conditions in 1600 Switzerland were very poor. Much of the democracy achieved in Switzerland during the 13th to 16th centuries was lost in the 17th century.
The Reformation itself contributed to the erosion of democracy. In the protestant states the power of the church had been by law transferred to the government. And in the Catholic states, the government and church worked in unison. In both protestant and Catholic states, the government was controlled by a few aristocratic families.
In addition, Switzerland suffered an acute depression following the Thirty Years' War in 1648. During the war, many wealthy fugitives had settled in neutral Switzerland, boosting the economy. When the war ended, the fugitives returned home--with their money.
The Swiss economy collapsed; the peasants were heavily taxed; poverty and discontent were widespread.
Several peasant uprisings took place in the 1650's. In 1653, 5000 peasants--both Catholic and protestant--formed a "League of the People." The peasantry of Lucerne, Bern, Soleure, and Basle elected a leadership and faced the Diet ("League of the Lords") as a unified group.
The "League of the People" was brutally suppressed. The leaders and several other prisoners were tormented, mutilated, and put to death.
Subjugation of the Swiss peasantry continued for over 150 years--into the 19th century.
Bern was one of the most oppressive cantons in Switzerland. The aristocracy was firmly in charge and very sensitive to criticism; the canton treasurer was executed in 1640 for attacking prevalent abuses.
The Mennonite persecution in the late 1600's was, then, part of a larger effort by the Bernese artistocratic government to suppress the peasantry.
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