- Category: Mennonite Heritage Village
- Published: Thursday, 28 January 2016 09:21
- Written by Alexandra Kroeger, Assistant Curator
We have just received our first donation of the new year, a 1753 three-Pfennig coin from Münster, Germany. In 1753 there weren't any Mennonites in the city of Münster, as the group now known as Russian Mennonites were in Prussia at the time, and the Swiss-German Mennonites were further south in Germany. So what does this coin have to do with Mennonites? To answer that question, we have to go back more than two hundred years earlier, to a time before there were any “Mennonites.”
In 1517, Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation when he posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the All-Saints Church in Wittenburg. What began as an honest attempt to reform the Church soon turned into a religious schism that divided Catholics and Protestants. At the time, there was no concept of religious freedom as we understand it; if the leader of a country was Catholic, the entire country had to be Catholic. The same went for Protestant countries (so named because they protested the moral decline of the Church). The Anabaptists emerged in the 1520s in Switzerland. They agreed with the Protestants on many things, but went another step further. Where both Catholics and Protestants practiced infant baptism, the Anabaptists believed that Christians should only be baptized upon an adult confession of faith.
Despite opposition from the Catholics and Protestants, the Anabaptist movement grew in areas which are now the Netherlands, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Most Anabaptists were peaceful, but one sect believed that Christ would soon return to Earth and destroy everyone who wasn't Anabaptist. This is where things got out of hand. In order to hasten Christ's return, members of this radical sect took control of the city of Münster in early 1534 and declared it the "New Jerusalem." Their new leaders made everyone get re-baptized and declared a community of goods (common ownership of everything). In response, the Bishop of Münster laid siege to the city. Mounting Münsterite casualties is likely why the leaders soon instituted polygamy. Theoretically, this was to better follow the example of the Old-Testament patriarchs, but practically, there were many more women than men by this time.
As it turned out, the kingdom of New Jerusalem was not to be. The siege was broken on June 24, 1535, and the leaders were soon arrested and executed. But this is where the Mennonite connection to our 1753 coin comes in, speaking to this violent episode in early Anabaptist history. The significance is that it was in response to this Münster Rebellion that Menno Simons finally agreed to become a leader of the peaceful Anabaptists in the Netherlands. Although an ordained Catholic priest, he withdrew from the Catholic Church in January 1536, and his followers soon became known as Mennists, then Menninists, and eventually as Mennonites.
That's what a 1753 Pfennig from Münster has to do with Mennonite history. Not too bad for a single coin!