Hans Haslibacher: The continuation of an Anabaptist people's story.

Posted by Lester Beachy on 29th Mar 2024

Photo by Errol on Unsplash

The Emme Valley lies in west central Switzerland, forming part of the Canton of Bern. It is a hilly landscape with the Emme River flowing through, forming a basin. The region is mostly devoted to farming. The typical farmhouse has a steel roof with a large overhang that almost reaches the ground.

In 1532, a man from the Emme valley was re-baptized and joined the Anabaptists. This was just 7 years after the first baptisms in Zurich. His name was Hans Haslibacher and he was from Sumiswald. Today Sumiswald has a population of just over five thousand. This man became very active in preaching and teaching and soon suffered threats and persecutions for his faith.

When Hans was around fifty years old he had to flee for his life, because of his faith. No one knew where he fled to, not even his family. Thirty years later, at eighty years old, he thought it might be safe to return to his home area. However, this was not the case and he was arrested and imprisoned, most likely in the dreaded Castle Trachselwald.

The first Dutch editions of the Martyr's Mirror did not include the account of Hans, but the German editions do. They record that for several days Hans was harshly threatened and when he steadfastly refused to recant, he was sentenced to be beheaded.

On the night before his martyrdom, God revealed to him in a dream three signs that were to follow his death. This vision is recorded in Hymn No. 140 in the Ausbund. This song of thirty-two verses gives the story of Han's sentencing, his death, and the signs that followed, just as God had revealed them to Hans. (Another Anabaptist whose name is not recorded then wrote this hymn.)

The three signs that followed were these; the sun shone crimson red, the water in the village well in Bern spurted blood, and when Hans was executed his head rolled into his hat and laughed. The executioner was heard to say that he had shed innocent blood and Hans was the last Anabaptist executed by the City of Bern. This took place on October 20th, 1571.

Haslibacher’s Bible, with underlining showing typical Anabaptist emphasis was still in possession of his descendants in 1889. They bore the family name and lived in the original homestead, though no longer Anabaptist. Some years ago a direct descendant visited our Behalt Mural here in Holmes County.