Unburying Amish Roots in Erlenbach, Switzerland

Just when I thought we would have to be done traveling for a bit, some friends invited us to their cabin in the Bernese alps for the weekend. Between Ber studying for exams and us both trying to save up for a trip to the United States hopefully sooner than later, we’ve been resigned to staying put a few months. But then this!

We arrived Friday afternoon and while our friends were away that evening, and just as the sky was turning golden, Ber and I explored the little village of Erlenbach of Canton Bern, Switzerland.

If you were there, the first thing you would notice about the village is its little church, situated on the hill with a pretty little stream running by it.

We honestly didn’t know anything about the village previously, other than that our friends owned this little house there. So I was fascinated when, inside the church, we ended up unearthing a little bit of history while poking around.

I was taking picture after picture of the beautiful evening light pouring in the windows, when Ber discovered the guestbook. Flipping through it he came across someone who had commented that they were privileged to visit the village where the founder of the Amish, Jakob Amman, was born and baptised.

Say what?? I don’t hear much about the Amish here, because it’s not a part of modern day Switzerland. Though in the back of my mind I had known they originated in Europe and that some of that history had played out in Switzerland, there was so so much more that I didn’t know. In the USA, the general public knows they are a religious group who live an old fashioned lifestyle and we all have images which spring to mind when someone mentions the Amish.

Before nerding out a little bit about some church history, let me say this. I’m not going to say too much as I’m not really a scholar about these things and church history is sadly, very very complicated. Because of missing records or even too many records of the same events but which contradict each other, it can be hard to say for sure what really took place.

Some say that Jakob Amman, indeed born and baptized in Erlenbach, was himself the founder of the Amish, and that the name Amish was taken from his name, originally meant as an insult by people who frowned on the movement. Others say he himself was not the founder, but that a group that splintered from his, ended up being named after him.

The one story I’ll share, I read straight from Wikipedia (Because I’m a nerd about this stuff and went straight back to the cabin and googled Jakob Amman). It is kind of a crazy story actually.

He moved to France with his family, though no one really knows when it was they left Erlenbach. But he and another leader were sent back to Switzerland to talk to the church leaders there about several issues, but one particularly to do with shunning and how members of the church should handle associating with “sinners”.

When the leaders in Switzerland didn’t immediately agree to the terms, Mr. Amman excommunicated them right there on the spot. Years later, apparently regretting their rash response and seeking reconciliation, they excommunicated themselves following an apology to the brethren. Their strict stance on the issues however did not change.

I told you, crazy stuff. 

You just never know what you might learn when you travel. I’ve never been a history buff, but these things really come alive when you realize you’re standing in the same place they stood how ever many years ago. I’m slowly becoming more of one.

I especially enjoy finding things which tie history from here in Switzerland and Europe, to my homeland, the United States. It’s a small world y’all, and our history and the history which is currently in the making, belongs to us all.

In addition to that little bit of history, we found some BEAUTIFUL scenes in Erlenbach which, really, were the epitome of how I had always imagined Switzerland as a child.

I’m sharing with you, for the love of all things Heidi, her grandfather, goats, sheep, chocolate and everything else which is so very “swiss”.

Thanks for reading! If you liked the pictures or also happen to find church history interesting, please pass this on to your friends!

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the original amish country

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