My Enriching Trip to Hutterite Sites in Europe


a flower for my hair from the dungeon in which Katrina Hutter was imprisoned

Last week I returned from a most enriching research trip to Europe, awed by what I saw. Despite generous helpings of wiener-schnitzel, bratwurst, thick slabs of breads, pungent cheeses and fine wine, I arrived back home 5 pounds lighter. At my age that’s quite an accomplishment.

Twelve-hour days through 4 countries (Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Germany) during which I experienced countless moments that were out of the ordinary, I returned home exhilarated and exhausted with a full heart, 3 thousand photos and 200 interviews, paving the way for a compelling narrative.

My trip was sponsored in part by a $3700.00 research grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board. It supported my travel overseas to start gathering the seeds for my next book. The working title of the book is The Hutterite Story. I estimate it will take two to three years to write.

The Hutterites emerged from the womb of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. The Protestant Reformation splintered Catholic Europe and reimagined political and religious strongholds that had controlled Empires and a continent for centuries. Martin Luther is largely credited with leading the charge against corrupt practices by the Catholic Church of the day. The results were so catastrophic its estimated that 40 % of Germanic people lost their lives including many of our Hutterite forefathers. The Reformation changed the face of Europe and paved the way for the religious freedoms we all enjoy today.

I arrived in Innsbruck on my 58th birthday. In the wee hours of the morning I crossed the street from my hotel and leaned over the railings to watch the fast moving River Inn. It flows all the way to the Danube and I know that many of our Hutterite forefathers used this river to escape to Moravia.

At high noon, my hosts took me to the world famous Golden Roof, Goldenes Dachel in the heart of the historic district of Innsbruck. It was tourist season and the congestion could be explained quite simply by the fact that this is a really important and beautiful part of the city. Its a collective feast for the eyes, senses and palates with its charming shops, restaurants and live music. But I see it all through different eyes.

A small plaque beneath the Golden Roof tells the Hutterite Story. It recognizes that Jacob Hutter was tortured and burnt at the stake here at the behest of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. Hutter was 35 years old, and his crime was that he was re-baptized as an adult in contravention of the rules of the Catholic Church. He refused to recant and suffered a most horrendous fate on the very spot where tourists from all over the world gather to enjoy the cultural splendor of this city.

His wife Katherina Hutter was captured with him and was given what was then called, ‘the third baptism.” She was drowned.

I was able to visit the dungeon in which she was kept. It was hollow and cold even in the middle of summer. The proprietor picked a delicate flower growing outside her cell and gave it to me in Katherina's memory. I wore it in my hair and thought of myself as a 25-year-old wondering if I could have been so courageous. Katherina was allegedly pregnant at the time but they waited until she had the baby and took it from her. No one knows at this time if it was a boy or girl. In the eyes of the Catholic Church mothers who didn’t baptized their babies were considered on par with murderers. For the spiritual safety of the child it had to be removed from the mother.

That was 500 years ago, and as a society we have many lessons to learn from our past. What was especially enriching about my experience in Europe was that some of my guides were Catholic. They have emerged as the driving force behind the need to tell the Hutterite story to the mass market.

My book project will require ongoing research and writing grants to be a success. Over the winter I will be immersed in research and in writing. And next spring I hope to travel to Moravia, Slovakia and Hungary where another 2 centuries of our history lies waiting to be told.

Very Special Thanks to my ANGEL GUIDES whose loving kindness and support on this trip made it an absolutely unforgettable experience! Eduard Geissler, Max Eugster and Dr. Manfred Rupert (Innsbruck) Robert Hochgruber, (Brixen and area) Adam & Irene Muller, (Spittal an der Drau), Alexander Basnar and Karl Amesbauer, (Vienna), Astrid von Schlachta and Gary Waltner, (Weierhof, Germany). You are a great blessing to all Hutterites. I will with deep gratitude continue to rely on your expertise and friendship.

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Readers, I am so thankful for your interest in my column and in hearing from you via email. Please be advised because of my intense writing and research work over the next several years I will only be publishing Hutterite Headlines once a month instead of bi-weekly. In addition, thank you all for your friend requests. You are all my friends, but I don’t accept any requests because I love my family and already spend too much time on my computer! Thank you for understanding.

Mary-Ann Kirkby is a Hutterite Author and Professional Speaker. Her award-winning books, Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen, and I Am Hutterite, are available at www.polkadotpress.ca. Contact Mary-Ann at m.kirkby@sasktel.net or on Facebook @ www.facebook.com/maryannkirkbyhutterite

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