Austrians claim Anabaptist past
Evangelicals open museum celebrating Reformation historyBy Dora Dueck
A 15-meter galley ship tucked into the ruins of a castle in Austria restores to public memory a dramatic episode in Anabaptist history — a piece of a past nearly forgotten in that country.
“Many Austrians think that the free churches, the evangelicals, are American sects,” said Reinhold Eichinger, head of the committee behind the galley and an Anabaptist museum in the Falkenstein castle vault. “They have no idea that these are spiritual fruit of the Reformation period in this land.”
The galley and museum display the historical context and faith emphases of the Anabaptist movement. They also tell the story of a group of Hutterites who were imprisoned in the castle and then condemned to galley service — one of the severest punishments of the time.
More than 300 people attended the Falkenstein opening on June 19. The service included historical re-enactments, a song written by Hans Hut nearly 500 years ago and a sermon by historian Josef (Sepp) Enzenberger.
In a letter of greeting, Vienna’s Catholic archbishop Christoph Schoenborn noted the Anabaptists’ willingness to give their lives for their faith.
He also noted that the Roman Catholic church was one of their oppressors.
“May that injustice never happen again,” he said.
The museum committee aims to promote such lessons: tolerance, concern for minorities and freedom of religion and conscience.
The project has a strong educational component, as Austrian schools begin to incorporate the Anabaptist story into their church history curriculum.
The Falkenstein exhibit is the committee’s second museum. They opened Austria’s first Anabaptist museum — also with a Hutterite emphasis — in 2008, within the village-museum complex at Niedersulz, about half an hour northeast of Vienna. About 40,000 people have visited.
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