It was a moving experience in two senses to visit the Taeuferstein on the steep hill near Hemmental near the northern border of Switzerland. After Farmer Wilfried Leu took us there with his tractor and wagon, the memory of the Anabaptists killed and persecuted there moved us to appreciate our heritage. Floyd Chupp sang a song by Georg Blaurock in the Amish slow tune, and Donna Godshall sang, “How Firm a Foundation” – “The flames shall not hurt thee, I only design / Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”
After lunch at the beautiful Rhine Falls, we traveled to Bäretswil, where members of the Reformed congregation greeted us with refreshments, and an invitation to their old church. Then we climbed the 1.1 kilometer hill to the Cave of the Anabaptists, where, as we sang, members of a youth camping group rappelled down over the mouth of the cave. “Yet it becomes a body that lives when we are gathered here / And know our God is near.”
Still blessed by gorgeous sunlight, we dashed down to Einsiedeln just in time to hear the Benedictine monks at their vespers, in a baroque church that was a total opposite to the ambience of our foreparents’ worship setting in the Cave.
The next morning we swung around to see Grindelwald, set deep into a crevice in the Alps, and after lunch in Thun, stopped in Steffisburg. The large plaque on a wall in the Reformed Church, displaying the names of families supporting its building in 1687, included Blank, Carli (Charles), Farnilies (Forney) Gingrich, Meyer and Zook. Then it was on through the Emmental as far north as Trachselwald, where we climbed the tower to the tune of “The Haslibacher Song” recalling the witness of a farmer from that community, who was executed in the city of Bern. That evening we walked to the site of his beheading, and to the dock along the Aare River where other Anabaptists were put on a boat in chains, for expulsion.
All through the Canton of Bern people were cutting, raking and baling hay, far up the mountainsides. Of course, there was none of that in the windy canyon of the Aareschlucht, or up on the spectacular rock-walled steeps of the Sustenpass. Amazingly, we made it from there all the way north to the Bodensee and Sankt Gallen (home of Conrad Grebel’s brother Vadian), and to our hotel just inside Austria, the same day.
The way up the Silvrettapass was misty, but on our drive down toward Innsbruck the sun once again ruled the landscape. In the evening at Innsbruck, where we had viewed the Little Golden Roof and a plaque remembering the martyrdom of Jacob Hutter, most of us took in a folk-music concert. We postponed our visit to Rattenberg until the morning, after which, telling our family stories, we came over the mountains into Germany, to the fabled wood-carving town of Oberammergau. One more day left – and it will be a rich though sobering one!
Can it be that we have experienced all this since July 10?
~ John Ruth