Her uncle thought that she had brought the blessing of the Almighty on both his house and his land. Whilst at Rudolfingen, the holy maiden was brought in contact with the Pietists of Schaffhausen. She attended their prayer-meetings and expositions of Scripture. This deepened her religious convictions, and produced a depression in her manner that struck her sisters when she visited them.
In answer to their inquiries why she was reserved and melancholy, she replied that God was revealing Himself to her more and more every day, so that she became daily more conscious of her own sinfulness. If this had really been the case it would have saved her from what ensued, but this sense of her own sinfulness was a mere phrase, that meant actually an overweening self-consciousness.
She endured only about a twelve month of the pietistic exercises at Schaffhausen, and then felt a call to preach, testify and prophesy herself, instead of sitting at the feet of others. Accordingly, she threw up her place with her uncle, and returned to Wildisbuch, in March, , when she began operations as a revivalist.
The paternal household was now somewhat enlarged. Ernst was a faithful, amiable young fellow whom old Peters thoroughly trusted, and he became devoted heart and soul to the family. She was subject to epileptic fits, which she supposed were possession by the devil, and she came to the farm of the Peter's family in hopes of being there cured by the prayers of the saintly Margaretta.
This damsel was of the sweetest, gentlest disposition. Her parish pastor gave testimony to her, "She was always so good that even scandal-mongers were unable to find occasion for slander in her conduct. Her home had been unhappy; she had been engaged to be married to a young man, but finding that he did not care for her, and sought only her small property, she broke off the engagement, to her father's great annoyance.
It was owing to a quarrel at home relative to this, that she went to Wildisbuch to entreat Margaretta Peter to be "her spiritual guide through life into eternity. The soul of the unhappy girl was as wax in the hands of the saint, whom she venerated with intensest admiration as the Elect of the Lord; and she professed her unshaken conviction "that Christ revealed Himself in the flesh through her, and that through her many thousands of souls were saved.
Man is composed of two parts; he has a spiritual nature which he shares with the angels, and an animal nature that he possesses in common with the beasts. There is in him, consequently, a double tendency, one to the indefinite, unconfined, spiritual; the other to the limited, sensible and material. God has bound soul and body together, and an attempt to dissociate them in religion is fatally doomed to ruin. The incarnation of the Son of God was the indissoluble union of Spirit with form as the basis of true religion. Thenceforth, Spirit was no more to be dissociated from matter, authority from a visible Church, grace from a sacramental sign, morality from a fixed law.
All the great revolts against Catholicism in the middle-ages, were more or less revolts against this principle and were reversions to pure spiritualism.
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The Reformation was taken advantage of for the mystic aspirations of men to run riot. Individual  emotion became the supreme and sole criticism of right and wrong, of truth and falsehood, and sole authority to which submission must be tendered. In the autumn of , Margaretta of Wildisbuch met a woman who was also remarkable in her way, and the head of another revivalist movement.
Julianne was born in , at Riga, the daughter of a noble and wealthy family. Her father visited Paris and took the child with him, where she made the acquaintance of the rationalistic and speculative spirits of French society, before the Revolution. In a Voltairean atmosphere, the little Julianne grew up without religious faith or moral principle. There her notorious immoralities resulted in a separation, and Julianne was obliged to return to her father's house at Riga.
This did not satisfy her love of pleasure and vanity, and she went to St. Petersburg and then to Paris, where she threw herself into every sort of dissipation. At the age of forty she had already entered on this final phase. She went to Berlin, was admitted to companionship with the Queen, Louise, and endeavoured to "convert" her.
She wandered thenceforth from place to place, was now in Paris, then in Geneva, and then in Germany. At Karlsruhe she met Jung-Stilling; and thenceforth threw herself heart and soul into the pietistic revival. Her mission now was—so she conceived—to preach the Gospel to the poor. In she obtained access to the Russian Court, where her prophecies and exhortations produced such an effect on the spirit of the Czar, Alexander I. She did so, and held spiritual conferences and prayer meetings in the French capital.
Alexander soon tired of her, and she departed to Basel, where she won to her the Genevan Pastor Empeytaz and the Basel Professor Lachenal. Her meetings for revival, which were largely attended, caused general excitement, but led to many domestic quarrels, so that the city council gave her notice to leave the town.
She then made a pilgrimage along the Rhine, but her proceedings were everywhere objected to by the police and town authorities, and she was sent back under police supervision first to Leipzig, and thence into Russia. Thence in she departed for the Crimea, where she had resolved to start a colony on the plan of the Moravian settlements, and there died before accomplishing her intention.
It was in , when she was conducting her apostolic progress along the Rhine, that she and Margaretta of Wildisbuch met. Apparently the latter made a deeper impression on the excitable baroness than had the holy Julianne on Margaretta. The two aruspices did not laugh when they met, for they were  both in deadly earnest, and had not the smallest suspicion that they were deluding themselves first, and then others. In the first place, the holy Julianne, when forced to leave the neighbourhood by the unregenerate police, commended her disciples to the blessed Margaret; and, in the second place, the latter had the shrewdness to perceive, that, if she was to play anything like the part of her fellow-apostle, she must acquire a little more education.
Consequently Margaret took pains to write grammatically, and to spell correctly. The result of the commendation by Saint Julianne of her disciples to Margaret was that thenceforth a regular pilgrimage set in to Wildisbuch of devout persons in landaus and buggies, on horse and on foot. The influence of Margaret speedily made itself felt in their house.
At first Moser's old mother lived with the couple, along with Conrad, John Moser's younger brother. The first token of the conversion of Moser and his wife was that they kicked the old mother out of the house, because she was worldly and void of "saving grace. The chosen vessels finding he did not sympathise with them, and finding him too valuable to be done without, starved him till he yielded to their fancies, saw visions, and professed himself "saved.
He let her go her own way, but he would have nothing himself to say to the great spiritual revival in the house of the Peters. Another person who comes into this story is Jacob Ganz, a tailor, who had been mixed up with the movement at Basel under Julianne the Holy. Margaret's brother Caspar was a man of infamous character; he was separated from his wife, whom he had treated with brutality; had become the father of an illegitimate child, and now loafed about the country preaching the Gospel.
Ganz, the tailor, had thrown aside his shears, and constituted himself a roving preacher. In one of his apostolic tours he had made the acquaintance of Saint Margaret, and had been deeply impressed by her. This was a shoemaker named Jacob Morf, a married man, aged thirty; small, with a head like a pumpkin.
To this shoemaker Ganz spoke with enthusiasm of the spiritual elevation of the holy Margaret, and Morf was filled with a lively desire of seeing and hearing her. Margaretta seems after a while to have wearied of the monotony of life in her father's house, or else the spirit within her drove her abroad to carry her light into the many dark corners of her native canton. She resolved to be like Ganz, a roving apostle. In May of the same year she visited Illnau, where she was received with enthusiasm by the faithful, who assembled in the house of a certain Ruegg, and there for the first time she met with Jacob Morf.
The acquaintance then begun soon quickened into friendship. When a few weeks later he went to Schaffhausen to purchase leather, he turned aside to Wildisbuch. After this his visits there became not only frequent, but were protracted. Margaret was the greatest comfort to him in his troubled state of soul. She described to him the searchings and anxieties she had undergone, so that he cried "for very joy that he had encountered one who had gone through the same experience as himself.
And hither also came the cobbler Morf seeking ease for his troubled soul, and on occasions stayed in the house there with her for a week at a time. At last his wife, the worthy Regula Morf, came from Illnau to find her husband, and persuaded him to return with her to his cobbling at home. At the end of January in , Margaret visited  Illnau again, and drew away after her the bewitched Jacob, who followed her all the way home, to Wildisbuch, and remained at her father's house ten days further. On Ascension Day following, he was again with her, and then she revealed to him that it was the will of heaven that they should ascend together, without tasting death, into the mansions of the blessed, and were to occupy one throne together for all eternity.
Here is a specimen of the style of the holy Margaret. O, my dear child, how gladly would I tell you how it fares with me! When we parted, I was forced to go aside where none might see, to relieve my heart with tears. O, my heart, I cannot describe to you the distress into which I fell. I lay as one senseless for an hour. For anguish of heart I could not go home, such unspeakable pains did I suffer! My former separation from you was but a shadow of this parting. Regula Morf read this letter and shook her head over it.
She had shaken her head over another letter received by her husband a month earlier, in which the holy damsel had written: "O, how great is my love! It is stronger than death. O, how dear are you to me. I could hug you to my heart a thousand times. We must now pass over a trait in the life of the holy maid which is to the last degree unedifying, but which is merely another exemplification of that truth which the history of mysticism enforces in every age, that spiritual exaltation runs naturally, inevitably, into licentiousness, unless held in the iron bands of discipline to the moral law.
A mystic is a law to himself. He bows before no exterior authority. However much he may transgress the code laid down by religion, he feels no compunction, no scruples, for his heart condemns him not. It was so with the holy Margaret. Her lapse or lapses in no way roused her to a sense of sin, but served only to drive her further forward on the mad career of self-righteous exaltation.
She had disappeared for many months from her father's house, along with her sister Elizabeth. The police had inquired as to their whereabouts of old John Peter, but he had given them no information as to where his daughters were. He professed not to know. He was threatened unless they were produced by a certain day that he would be fined. The police were sent in search in every direction but the right one.
Suddenly in the night of January 11th, , the sisters re-appeared, Margaret, white, weak, and prostrate with sickness. A fortnight after her return, Jacob Morf was again at Wildisbuch, as he said afterwards before court, "led thither because assured by Margaret that they were to ascend together to heaven without dying. From this time forward, Margaretta's conduct went into another phase. Instead of resuming her pilgrim's staff and travelling round the country preaching the Gospel, she remained all day in one room with her sister Elizabeth, the shutters closed, reading the Bible, meditating, and praying, and writing letters to her "dear child" Jacob.
The transgressions she had committed were crosses laid on her shoulder by God. There were thousands upon thousands of other crosses He might have laid on me. But He elected that one which would be heaviest for me, heavier than all the persecutions to which I am subjected by the devil, and which all but overthrow me. From the foundation of the world He has never so tried any of His saints as He has us. It gives joy to all the host of heaven when we suffer to the end.
In the evening, Margaretta would come downstairs and receive visitors, and preach and prophesy to them. The entire house was given over to religious ecstasy that intensified as Easter approached. Every now and then the saint assembled the household and  exhorted them to watch and pray, for a great trial of their faith was at hand. Once she asked them whether they were ready to lay down their lives for Christ. One day she said, in the spirit of prophecy, "Behold!
I see the host of Satan drawing nearer and nearer to encompass me. He strives to overcome me. Let me alone that I may fight him. The idea grew in her that the world was in danger, that the devil was gaining supremacy over it, and would carry all souls into captivity once more, and that she—and almost only she—stood in his way and was protecting the world of men against his power. For years she had exercised her authority, that grew with every year, over everyone in the house, and not a soul there had thought of resisting her, of evading the commands she laid on them, of questioning her word.
The house was closed against all but the very elect. The pastor of the parish, as "worldly," was not suffered to cross the threshold. At a tap, the door was opened, and those deemed worthy were admitted, and the door hastily barred and bolted behind them. Everything was viewed in a spiritual light. Suddenly there was a pop. A knot in the pine-logs in the stove had exploded.
Satan is banging at the window. He wants me. He will fetch me! The writhing girl shrieked out, "Pray for me! Save me! Fight for my soul! She beat with her hands in the air, cried out, "Depart, thou murderer of souls, accursed one, to hell-fire.
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Wilt thou try to rob me of my sheep that was lost? My sheep—whom I have pledged myself to save? One day, the maid had a specially bad epileptic fit. Margaret was fighting with the Evil One with her fists and her cries, when John Moser fell into ecstasy and saw a vision. The book was scored diagonally with red lines on all the pages.
The Next Christianity
I saw this distinctly, and therefore concluded that the account was cancelled. Then I saw all the saints in heaven snatch the book away, and tear it into a thousand pieces that fell down in a rain. But Satan was not to be defeated and driven away so easily. He had made himself a nest, so Margaret stated, under the roof of the house, and only a desperate effort of faith and contest with spiritual arms could expel him.
For this Armageddon she bade all prepare. It is hardly necessary to add that it could not be fought without the presence of the dearly beloved Jacob. She wrote to him and invited him to come to the great and final struggle with the  devil and all his host, and the obedient cobbler girded his loins and hastened to Wildisbuch, where he arrived on Saturday the 8th March, On Monday, in answer, probably, to her summons, came also John Moser and his brother Conrad.
Then also Margaret's own and only brother, Caspar. Before proceeding to the climax of this story we may well pause to ask whether the heroine was in her senses or not; whether she set the avalanche in motion that overwhelmed herself and her house, with deliberation and consciousness as to the end to which she was aiming. The woman was no vulgar impostor; she deceived herself to her own destruction. In her senses, so far, she had set plainly before her the object to which she was about to hurry her dupes, but her reason and intelligence were smothered under her overweening self-esteem, that had grown like a great spiritual cancer, till it had sapped common-sense, and all natural affection, even the very instinct of self-preservation.
Before her diseased eyes, the salvation of the whole world depended on herself. If she failed in her struggle with the evil principle, all mankind fell under the bondage of Satan; but she could not fail—she was all-powerful, exalted above every chance of failure in the battle, just as she was exalted above every lapse in virtue, do what she might, which to the ordinary sense of mankind is immoral.
Every mystic does not go as far as Margaret Peter, happily, but all take some strides along that road that leads to self-deification and anomia. In Margaret's conduct, in preparation for the final tragedy, there was a good deal of shrewd  calculation; she led up to it by a long isolation and envelopment of herself and her doings in mystery; and she called her chosen disciples to witness it.
Each stage in the drama was calculated to produce a certain effect, and she measured her influence over her creatures before she advanced another step. On Monday all were assembled and in expectation; Armageddon was to be fought, but when the battle would begin, and how it would be carried through, were unknown. Tuesday arrived; some of the household went about their daily work, the rest were gathered together in the room where Margaret was, lost in silent prayer.
Every now and then the hush in the darkened room was broken by a wail of the saint: "I am sore straitened! I am in anguish! He strives to retain the souls which I will wrest from his hold; some have been for two hundred, even three hundred years in his power. One can imagine the scene—the effect produced on those assembled about the pale, striving ecstatic.
All who were present afterwards testified that on the Tuesday and the following days they hardly left the room, hardly allowed themselves time to snatch a hasty meal, so full of expectation were they that some great and awful event was about to take place. The holy enthusiasm was general, and if one or two, such as old Peter and his son, Caspar, were less magnetised than the rest, they were far removed from the thought of in any way contesting the will of the prophetess, or putting the smallest impediment  in the way of her accomplishing what she desired.
When evening came, she ascended to an upper room, followed by the whole company, and there she declared, "Lo! I see Satan and his first-born floating in the air. They are dispersing their emissaries to all corners of the earth to summon their armies together. After waiting another hour, all went to bed, seeing that nothing further would happen that night. Next day, Wednesday, she summoned the household into her bedroom; seated on her bed, she bade them all kneel down and pray to the Lord to strengthen her hands for the great contest.
Who we are
They continued striving in prayer till noon, and then, feeling hungry, all went downstairs to get some food. When they had stilled their appetites, Margaret was again seized by the spirit of prophecy, and declared, "The Lord has revealed to me what will happen in the latter days. The son of Napoleon" that poor, feeble mortal the Duke of Reichstadt "will appear before the world as anti-Christ, and will strive to bring the world over to his side.
He will undergo a great conflict; but what will be the result is not shown me at the present moment; but I am promised a spiritual token of this revelation. Whereupon  Elizabeth, possessed by the spirit of that poor, little, sickly Duke of Reichstadt, began to march about the room and assume a haughty, military air. Thereupon the prophetess wrestled in spirit and overcame these devils and expelled them. Thereat Elizabeth gave up her military flourishes. From daybreak on the following day the blessed Margaret "had again a desperate struggle," but without the assistance of the household, which was summoned to take their share in the battle in the afternoon only.
As soon as the prophetess had taken her seat on the bed, she declared, "Last night it was revealed to me that you are all of you to unite with me in the battle with the devil, lest he should conquer Christ. I must strive, lest your souls and those of so many, many others should be lost. Come, then! Presently the prophetess exclaimed from her throne on the bed, "The hour is come in which the conflict must take place, so that Christ may gather together His Church, and contend with anti-Christ. After Christ has assembled His Church, days will elapse, and then anti-Christ will appear in human form, and with sweet and enticing  words will strive to seduce the elect; but all true Christians will hold aloof.
Then with a leap she was off the bed, turning her eyes about, throwing up her hands, rushing about the room, striking the chairs and clothes-boxes with her fists, crying, "The scoundrel, the murderer of souls! The company looked on in breathless amaze. Then the holy Margaretta cried, "I see in spirit the old Napoleon gathering a mighty host, and marching against me.
The contest will be terrible. You must wrestle unto blood. Bar the doors, curtain all the windows in the house, and close every shutter. Whilst her commands were being fulfilled in all haste, and the required weapons were sought out, John Moser, who remained behind, saw the room "filled with a dazzling glory, such as no tongue could describe," and wept for joy. The excitement had already mounted to visionary ecstasy. It was five o'clock when the weapons were brought upstairs.
The holy Margaretta was then seated on her bed, wringing her hands, and crying to all to pray, "Help! Strike, smite, cleave—everywhere, on all sides—the floor, the walls! It is the will of God! Smite and lose your lives if need be. It was a wonder that lives were not lost in the extraordinary scene that ensued; the room was full of men and women; there were ten of them armed with hatchets, crowbars, clubs, pick-axes, raining blows on walls and floors, on chairs, tables, cupboards and chests. This lasted for three hours.
Margaret remained on the bed, encouraging the party to continue; when any arm flagged she singled out the weary person, and exhorted him, as he loved his soul, to fight more valiantly and utterly defeat and destroy the devil. Fear nothing! There he is in yonder corner; now at him," and Elizabeth served as her echo, "Smite! He is a murderer, he is the young Napoleon, the coming anti-Christ, who entered into me and almost destroyed me.
This lasted, as already said, for three hours. The room was full of dust. The warriors steamed with their exertions, and the sweat rolled off them. Never had men and women fought with greater enthusiasm. The battle of Don Quixote against the wind-mills was nothing to this. What blows and wounds the devil and the young Duke of Reichstadt obtained is unrecorded, but walls and floor and furniture in the room were wrecked; indeed pitchfork and axe had broken down one wall of the house and exposed what went on inside to the eyes of a gaping crowd that had assembled without, amazed at the riot that went on in the house that was regarded as a very sanctuary of religion.
No sooner did the saint behold the faces of the  crowd outside than she shrieked forth, "Behold them! But fear them not, we shall overcome. At last the combatants were no longer able to raise their arms or maintain themselves on their feet. Then Margaret exclaimed, "The victory is won! Here a rushlight was kindled, and by its light the battle continued with an alteration in the tactics.
In complete indifference to the mob that surrounded the house and clamoured at the door for admission, the saint ordered all to throw themselves on the ground and thank heaven for the victory they had won. Then, after a pause of more than an hour the same scene began again, and that it could recommence is evidence how much a man can do and endure, when possessed by a holy craze. It was afterwards supposed that the whole pious community was drunk with schnaps; but with injustice. Their stomachs were empty; it was their brains that were drunk.
The holy Margaret, standing in the midst of the prostrate worshippers, now ordered them to beat themselves with their fists on their heads and breasts, and they obeyed. Elizabeth yelled, "O, Margaret! Do thou strike me! Let me die for Christ. Thereupon the holy one struck her sister repeatedly with her fists, so that Elizabeth cried out with pain, "Bear it!
The prima-donna of the whole comedy in the meanwhile looked well about her to see that none of the actors spared themselves. When she saw anyone slack in his self-chastisement, she called to him to redouble his blows. As the old man did not exhibit quite sufficient enthusiasm in self-torture, she cried, "Father, you do not beat yourself sufficiently!
The ill-treated old man groaned under her blows, but she cheered him with, "I am only driving out the old Adam, father! It does not hurt you," and redoubled her pommelling of his head and back. Then out went the light. All this while the crowd listened and passed remarks outside. No one would interfere, as it was no one's duty to interfere.
Tidings of what was going on did, however, reach the amtmann of the parish, but he was an underling, and did not care to meddle without higher authority, so sent word to the amtmann of the district. This latter called to him his secretary, his constable and a policeman, and reached the house of the Peter's family at ten o'clock. I thought it advisable not to disturb this tranquillity, so left orders that the house should be watched," and then he went into the house of a neighbour.
At midnight, the policeman who had been left on guard came to announce that there was a renewal of disturbance in the house of the Peters. The amtmann  went to the spot and heard muffled cries of "Save us! Strike away! As no attention was paid to his commands, he bade the constable break open the house door. This was done, but the sitting-room door was now found to be fast barred. The constable then ascended to the upper room and saw in what a condition of wreckage it was.
He descended and informed the amtmann of what he had seen. Again the window was knocked at, and orders were repeated that the door should be opened. No notice was taken of this; whereupon the worthy magistrate broke in a pane of glass, and thrust a candle through the window into the room. Another lay as dead on the floor. At a little distance was a coil of human beings, men and women, lying in a heap on the floor, beside them a woman on her knees beating the rest, and crying out at every blow, 'Lord, have mercy!
The amtmann now ordered the sitting-room door to be broken open. Conrad Moser, who had offered to open to the magistrate, was rebuked by the saint, who cried out to him: "What, will you give admission to the devil? The holy Margaret especially distinguished herself, and was on her knees vigorously beating another woman who lay flat on the floor on her face. A second group consisted of a coil of two men and two women lying on the floor, the head of one woman on the body of a man, and the head of a man on that of a girl. The rest staggered to their feet one after another.
I tried remonstrances, but they were unavailing in the hubbub. Then I ordered the old Peter to be removed from the room. Thereupon men and women flung themselves upon him, in spite of all our assurances that no harm would be done him. With difficulty we got him out of the room, with all the rest hanging on him, so that he was thrown on the floor, and the rest clinging to him tumbled over him in a heap.
I repeated my remonstrance, and insisted on silence, but without avail. When old Peter prepared to answer, the holy Margaret stayed him with, 'Father, make no reply. Margaret cried out: 'Let us all die! I will die for Christ! The amtmann gave orders that the police were to divide the party and keep guard over some in the kitchen, and the rest in the sitting-room, through the night, and not to allow them to speak to each other. The latter order was, however, more than the police could execute. In spite of all their efforts, Margaretta and the others continued to exhort and comfort one another through the night.
Next morning each was brought before the magistrate  and subjected to examination. All were sullen, resolute, and convinced that they were doing God's will. As the holy Margaretta was led away from examination, she said to Ursula and the servant Heinrich, "The world opposes, but can not frustrate my work. Her words came true, the world was too slow in its movements. It was then too late.
This command was not properly executed. Ursula remained, and though John Moser obeyed, he was prepared to return to the holy Margaret directly he was summoned. As soon as the high priestess had come out of the room where she had been examined by the amtmann, she went to her own bed-chamber, where boards had been laid over the gaps between the rafters broken by the axes and picks, during the night.
Elizabeth, Susanna, Ursula, and the maid sat or stood round her and prayed. The servant, Heinrich, formed one more in the re-assembled community, and the ensuing night was passed in prayer and spiritual exercises. These were not conducted in quiet. To the exhortations  of Margaret, both Elizabeth and the housemaid entreated that the devil might be beaten out of them. But now Ursula interfered, as the poor girl Elizabeth had been badly bruised in her bosom by the blows she had received on the preceding night.
When the Saturday morning dawned, Margaret stood up on her bed and said, "I see the many souls seeking salvation through me. They must be assisted; would that a sword were in my hand that I might fight for them. Go to your work. Tranquillity lasted for but a few hours. Magdalena, Moser's wife, had arrived, together with her husband and Conrad. The only one missing was the dearly beloved Jacob, who was far on his way homeward to Illnau and his hardly used wife, Regula. Margaret and Elizabeth sat side by side on the bed, the latter half stupified, looking fixedly before her, Margaret, however, in a condition of violent nervous surrexitation.
Anabaptist and their Stepchildren
Many of the weapons used in wrecking the furniture lay about; among these were the large hammer, and an iron wedge used for splitting wood. All there assembled felt that something extraordinary was about to happen. They had everyone passed the line that divides healthy common-sense from mania. Margaretta now solemnly announced, "I have given a pledge for many souls that Satan may not have them. But I cannot conquer in the strife for him without the shedding of blood. The holy maid now laid hold of the iron wedge, drew her brother Caspar to her, and said, "Behold, the Evil One is striving to possess thy soul!
Caspar staggered back; she pursued him, striking him and cutting his head open, so that he was covered with blood. As he afterwards declared, he had not the smallest thought of resistance; the power to oppose her seemed to be taken from him. The old man no more returned upstairs, consequently he was not present at the terrible scene that ensued. But he took no steps to prevent it. Hoffmann, for all the similarities with the others, was a peaceful man who counselled nonviolence to his followers; after all, if Jesus were imminently due to return, why commit against unbelievers?
Caught up in the frenzy, even Rothmann was rebaptized once again, followed by many ex-nuns and a large part of the population. Within a week the apostles had rebaptized 1 people.
Another apostle soon arrived, a young man of 25 who had been converted and baptized by Matthys only a couple of months earlier. Though handsome and eloquent, Bockelson was a troubled soul, having been born the illegitimate son of the mayor of a Dutch village by a woman serf from Westphalia. Bockelson began life as an apprentice tailor, married a rich widow, but then went bankrupt when he set himself up as a self-employed merchant. On February 8, son-in-law and father-in-law ran wildly through the streets together, calling upon everyone to repent.
After much frenzy, mass writhing on the ground, and the seeing of apocalyptic visions, the Anabaptists rose up and seized the town hall, winning legal recognition for their movement. Thousands poured in from as far away as Flanders and Frisia in the northern Netherlands. As a result, the Anabaptists soon won a majority on the town council, and this success was followed three days later, on February 24, by an orgy of looting of books, statues and paintings from the churches and throughout the town. Soon Jan Matthys himself arrived, a tall, gaunt man with a long black beard.
Matthys, aided by Bockelson, quickly became the virtual dictator of the town. The coercive Anabaptists had at last seized a city. The Great Communist Experiment could now begin. The first mighty program of this rigid theocracy was, of course, to purge the New Jerusalem of the unclean and the ungodly, as a prelude to their ultimate extermination throughout the world. Matthys called therefore for the execution of all remaining Catholics and Lutherans, but Knipperdollinck's cooler head prevailed, since he warned Matthys that slaughtering all other Christians than themselves might cause the rest of the world to become edgy, and they might all come and crush the New Jerusalem in its cradle.
It was therefore decided to do the next best thing, and on February 27 the Catholic and Lutherans were driven out of the city, in the midst of a horrendous snowstorm. In a deed prefiguring communist Cambodia, all non-Anabaptists, including old people, invalids, babies and pregnant women were driven into the snowstorm, and all were forced to leave behind all their money, property, food and clothing.
The remaining Lutherans and Catholics were compulsorily rebaptized, and all refusing this ministration were put to death. The expulsion of all Lutherans and Catholics was enough for the bishop, who began a long military siege of the town the next day, on February With every person drafted for siege work, Jan Matthys launched his totalitarian communist social revolution.
The first step was to confiscate the property of the expelled. All their worldly goods were placed in central depots, and the poor were encouraged to take "according to their needs," the "needs" to be interpreted by seven appointed "deacons" chosen by Matthys. When a blacksmith protested at these measures imposed by Dutch foreigners, Matthys arrested the courageous smithy. Summoning the entire population of the town, Matthys personally stabbed, shot, and killed the "godless" blacksmith, as well as throwing into prison several eminent citizens who had protested against his treatment.
The crowd was warned to profit by this public execution, and they obediently sang a hymn in honour of the killing. Unerringly, just as in the case of the Cambodian communists four-and-a-half centuries later, the new ruling elite realized that the abolition of the private ownership of money would reduce the population to total slavish dependence on the men of power. And so Matthys, Rothmann and others launched a propaganda campaign that it was unchristian to own money privately; that all money should be held in "common," which in practice meant that all money whatsoever must be handed over to Matthys and his ruling clique.
Several Anabaptists who kept or hid their money were arrested and then terrorized into crawling to Matthys on their knees, begging forgiveness and beseeching him to intercede with God on their behalf. Matthys then graciously "forgave" the sinners. The government seized all the money and used it to buy or hire goods from the outside world. Wages were doled out in kind by the only remaining employer: the theocratic Anabaptist state.
Food was confiscated from private homes, and rationed according to the will of the government deacons. Also, to accommodate the immigrants, all private homes were effectively communized, with everyone permitted to quarter themselves anywhere; it was now illegal to close, let alone lock, doors. Communal dining-halls were established, where people ate together to readings from the Old Testament. This compulsory communism and reign of terror was carried out in the name of community and Christian "love.
A pamphlet sent in October to other Anabaptist communities hailed the new order of Christian love through terror:. For not only have we put all our belongings into a common pool under the care of deacons, and live from it according to our need; we praise God through Christ with one heart and mind and are eager to help one another with every kind of service. And accordingly, everything which has served the purposes of selfseeking and private property, such as buying and selling, working for money, taking interest and practising usury … or eating and drinking the sweat of the poor … and indeed everything which offends against love — all such things are abolished amongst us by the power of love and community.
For the Anabaptists boasted of their lack of education, and claimed that it was the unlearned and the unwashed who would be the elect of the world. The Anabaptist mob took particular delight in burning all the books and manuscripts in the cathedral library, and finally, in mid-March , Matthys outlawed all books except the Good Book — the Bible. To symbolize a total break with the sinful past, all privately and publicly owned books were thrown upon a great communal bonfire. At the end of March, however, Matthys's swollen hubris laid him low.
Convinced at Eastertime that God had ordered him and a few of the faithful to lift the bishop's siege and liberate the town, Matthys and a few others rushed out of the gates at the besieging army, and were literally hacked to pieces. In an age when the idea of full religious liberty was virtually unknown, one can imagine that any Anabaptists whom the more orthodox Christians might get hold of would not earn a very kindly reward. Bockelson wasted little time in mourning his mentor. He preached to the faithful: "God will give you another Prophet who will be more powerful.
Early in May, Bockelson caught the attention of the town by running naked through the streets in a frenzy, falling then into a silent three-day ecstasy. When he rose again, he announced to the entire populace a new dispensation that God had revealed to him. With God at his elbow, Bockelson abolished the old functioning town offices of council and burgomasters, and installed a new ruling council of 12 elders, with himself, of course, as the eldest of the elders. A strict system of forced labour was imposed, with all artisans not drafted into the military now public employees, working for the community for no monetary reward.
This meant, of course, that the guilds were now abolished. Death was now the punishment for virtually every independent act, good or bad. Capital punishment was decreed for the high crimes of murder, theft, lying, avarice, and quarreling! Bernt Knipperdollinck was appointed high executioner to enforce the decrees. The only aspect of life previously left untouched was sex, and this now came under the hammer of Bockelson's total despotism. The only sexual relation permitted was marriage between two Anabaptists. Sex in any other form, including marriage with one of the "godless," was a capital crime.
Bockelson converted the other rather startled preachers by citing polygamy among the patriarchs of Israel, as well as by threatening dissenters with death. The rebellion, however, was quickly crushed and most of the rebels put to death. Execution was also the fate of any further dissenters. As one might expect, young Bockelson took an instant liking to the new regime, and before long he had a harem of 15 wives, including Divara, the beautiful young widow of Jan Matthys.
The rest of the male population also began to take to the new decree as ducks to water. Many of the women did not take as kindly to the new dispensation, and so the elders passed a law ordering compulsory marriage for every women under and presumably also over a certain age, which usually meant being a compulsory third or fourth wife. Moreover, since marriage among the godless was not only invalid but also illegal, the wives of the expellees now became fair game, and were forced to "marry" good Anabaptists.
Refusal to comply with the new law was punishable, of course, by death, and a number of women were actually executed as a result. Those "old" wives who resented the new wives coming into their household were also suppressed, and their quarreling was made a capital crime. Already before the new elections the Catholic churches and religious houses had been stormed and the contents rifled by crowds of zealots. Even the Cathedral was not spared.
On the evening of the 24th of February it was entered and sacked, many remarkable specimens of mediaeval art being destroyed. The notion of making a complete break with the past was carried to the point not merely of consigning to the flames all official documents and charters dealing with the feudal relations of the town, which would have been at least intelligible, but of handing over to the same fate the priceless collection of mediaeval and Renaissance manuscripts and printed books which had been formed by the patrician Rudolph von Langen.
The systematic destruction of all manuscript or printed relics of the past that could be laid hands on, seems to have been carried out by the direct order of the new authorities, and the work lasted from the 15th to the 23rd of March. The wealthy church of St. Mauritz, outside the walls, where Bernhardt Rothmann had originally been called to the pulpit, was also burned to the ground, although in this case military reasons were assigned as an excuse.
These measures, not unnaturally, excited the indignation of the Evangelical and Catholic burghers who had remained, an indignation which did not fail to show itself, in some cases in active opposition. The opposition of the older inhabitants to the work of destruction which the Anabaptists had resolved to carry through to the bitter end, led to the decision to slay or drive out the godless and the heathen, by which was understood all who refused to receive baptism at the hands of the brethren appointed to administer it.
The decree enjoining this was issued for Friday, February 27th. It was the second Friday in Lent. God will straightway awake and will punish thee! On the other hand, Gresbeck does not mention that the Bishop at this juncture was murdering every Anabaptist he could lay his hands on. The one condition of being allowed to remain was the consent to undergo the cardinal Anabaptist rite of rebaptism. Those who pledged themselves to be rebaptized were immediately marched up to the market-place.
On this day alone three hundred were baptized, but the baptizings lasted in all three days. After the ceremony was over, the rebaptized were required to repair to the house of one or other of the Burgermeisters, Knipperdollinck and Kibbenbroick, and sign their name in a register which was kept there for the benefit of the new converts. They had hoped that possibly in a few hours, or in any case, in a few days, they would have been permitted to quietly re-enter the city at another gate. But this was not to be. Knipperdollinck and Kibbenbroick in conjunction with their Council organised a watch, having its centre in the marketplace, with a banner and a watch-fire.
This fire, which the exalted imagination of the onlookers doubtless exaggerated and supplied with the two swords, probably had as its basis — as Meister Heinrich Gresbeck rationalistically suggests — in a watch-fire made by the free-lances of the Bishop, who was beginning now to seriously organise the siege of the town. It was, however, immediately hailed by the Anabaptist chiefs as a sign from Heaven that God would watch over the town.
Visions became now the order of the day and night. The faithful were informed that the appearance of three cities had been seen hovering over the town.
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This survival of the original belief held by the Hoffmannites, that Strasburg was to be the Zion of the new movement, is noteworthy. One day, soon after the occurrences just referred to, Matthys and Bockelson called all the people together to the Cathedral. They then ordered those who had been baptised on the Friday to separate themselves from the rest.
These, like the remainder of the people, had come armed. They were, however, ordered to lay down their muskets and remove their armour, after which they had to lie on their faces and pray the Father that they might stay in the town and be accepted into grace. He would have a holy people to praise his name. Tokens were now struck and distributed in St. Woe betide anyone now who doubted the authority of the prophets, or attempted to make a jest of their mission.
One might think they had a devil in their bodies. The next day a general assembly of the men was called to adjudicate on the matter. On the prisoner being brought and placed in the midst of the Assembly, the Prophets and the Preachers charged him with having spoken disrespectfully of God, his Prophets and his Apostles, repeating the words he had said. He was subsequently brought to the Cathedral, where he threw himself upon the ground, in the sight of the people, begging for mercy.
Matthys then took up a musket, as though he would shoot the delinquent, but, according to Gresbeck, the firearm refused to go off. The probability is that the whole thing was intended by the leaders simply as a piece of play-acting to intimidate the disaffected. Gresbeck alleges that Matthys subsequently shot him through the body, but without killing him. This, however, is incredible, seeing he relates the man walked home afterwards.