A Day in Basel—July 9-10
We came to Basel to see what was to be seen. This city is strategically located on the borders of three nations—Germany, France, and Switzerland. It is the home of the oldest university in the country.
This is the home base of Erasmus, 16th century humanist, philosopher, and scholar. He was prominent in the city and at the University and is buried in the state church. (The University is also where Bernoulli, Nietzsche, and Karl Barth—Neo-Orthodox theologian—taught.) Remember Erasmus influenced Zwingli’s humanistic thought and produced the best Greek text of his day.
Within months of the first baptism in Zurich, the Anabaptist movement spread to Basel. In August of 1525 (remember, the first baptism was in January), the Anabaptists participated in a disputation (debate) with the local Reformer, Oecolampadius. (This is not his given name, by the way. It is a name he created for himself. Its Greek roots mean something like “the house lamp”. He apparently saw himself as a bringer of illumination to the people.)
The city fathers issued their first mandate against the Taüfer in June, 1526. Others followed. The next year, the city began severe, ruthless persecution and drove most of the radicals out of town and into the country. As late as 1777 (at the same time the American colonies were fighting for their freedom), authorities instructed the local pastors to keep an eye out for Anabaptists and protect their parishioners from that “Anabaptist error”.
Here is something of a surprise in this city on the Rhine River: we found ancient Roman ruins, a medieval old town, an impressive sandstone cathedral and a major university. But today, as we roamed all over the old city, we found virtually no trace of Anabaptists anywhere. No plaques on the streets, no evidence in the churches.
Interestingly, at the once-Catholic cathedral-now Protestant church, there was no sign, no poster, no books, nothing. The woman at the gift shop, when asked if there was anything in the church or even in the shop that addressed anything about the Anabaptist or Taüfer or Weidertaüfer, past or present, her answer was a quick and almost dismissive “Nein, nein, nein.” Maybe I misread her response, but it seemed to me that we didn’t really want to talk about that.
We thought we might find something at the big local history/cultural museum. Again, nothing.
What’s up with that? Redacting history? Political correctness? Historical ignorance? Perhaps the moderating influence of Erasmus and the Reformers Bucer and Capito? I did find evidence in some literature that the local leaders did not want a public debate between Anabaptists and the church leaders because they “did not want to allow the peasants to be disturbed or to have the chance to decide for themselves. The peasants are too uneducated to understand or make a good decision.”
We explored a few of the places which seem to have played a role in the activity of Anabaptists in Basel: (1) the Rathaus where the debate with Oecolampadius took place and from where one of the most severe mandates against the radicals was issued in 1595; (2) the Spalator (one of three old city gates and the one best preserved, was used to hold Anabaptist prisoners); and (3) a street where some “Anabaptist activity” was reported to have taken place in 1529—not that we had any information on what that activity was! This was Weissgasse (White Street, which is just off Barfüsserplatz—which means “Barefoot Plaza”, called that because it was once the location of a Gothic mendicant order of monks who went barefoot, of course. This is also the location of the cultural museum we visited which had no comment on Anabaptists.)
Cool fountain as we enter Old Town. These fountains are everywhere. You can drink the water.
This is an old town . . . parts built building during the crusades.
First view of the city hall--didn't know that was what it was at first.
The Rathaus . . . . crazy!
The Rathaus has painting on every wall.
The founder of Raurica, the Roman ruin---also sort of the founder of Basel.
A fountain inside the Rathaus.
The basilisk is the official mythical creature of Basel.
Through these doors . . . . Note the date over the iron work door: 1547. About the time the debate between Anabaptists and the local Reformers took place.
The Middle Bridge over the Rhine.
Old Town seen from the Middle Bridge.
The Middle Bridge over the Rhine.
The original site of the University--1460-1939.
Walking up "Erasmus Way " towards campus.
Entering the main area of the campus.
Not sure if this is a student or professor.
The tower of the Church.
Inside the Old Church.
Tomb of Erasmus.
Standing back to see the whole Erasmus tomb stone.
In the crypt of the church . . . . lots of ancient burial sites.
Another look in the church chancel.
Yet another great pulpit. The Reformers put much emphasis on preaching.
Oecolampadius, the Reformer leader during the mid-1500s.
A ferry boat: it uses no power except the current. It is tethered to a cable you can see on the right.
Now you can see the cable better!
In the museum, we found this, the original drinking game! It spins around and whoever it points to when it stops has to open the top and drink whatever is in there.
We had to ride it across the river!
Some commentary about the Reformation in the regional museum.
The Spalentor: an old city gate that was used to hold Anabaptist prisoners.
Approaching the gate.
Walking through the Spalentor.