Thursday, July 12, 2012

This is a beautiful area of steep hills and fertile valleys. Fields of corn (for cattle feed), potatoes, and wheat are everywhere. A particular style of chalet design is characteristic of the Emmental (a curved soffit on the front of the house). These charming dwellings are ubiquitous in the valleys and can be seen perched high on the slopes as well. This is definitely farm country and has been so since it was settled in ancient times.

Many Anabaptists found a home in this scenic region of hamlets, inns, and farms. Persecution followed them from the city out to the country. One of the most feared prisons used for these criminals is found in the Emmental--Trachselwald Castle. The castle is 12th century. The tower was built in 1641. It housed both jail cells and torture chambers where many Anabaptists were taken before appearing in the city of Bern for judgment. Some were thrown in cramped cells. Others were kept in irons--because they refused to renounce their faith. This place stands as a stark reminder of what Hans called "the bad times."

The Emmental Region. Hans took us on quite a drive through this area. He loves it and is proud to show it off--you can see why.

A first glimpse of Trachselwald Castle from the road.

There are lots and lots of stairs going into the castle and the keep. This is the first set built in the 1700s.

The steps into the tower lead into a large holding area with a damp, dirt/rock floor. It may have been part of the dungeon used for torture. No light except from the door and torches that would have to be carried in.

Outside shot of the tower. No, it is not slanted--that is just the angle of the camera in trying to get as much of the tower as possible. Note the little windows.

There are two cells per level, three levels in all. This and the next photo are the first cells you find after ascending several flights of rough-hewn stairs.

Inside the cell is nothing but a hard wood bed.

Last flight of stairs to the top level of cells. In these cells were the worst criminals kept. There was a set of stocks for the man's ankles--heavy wood and iron. There were also iron shackles for the wrists attached to large chains. The prisoner had to remain in the wooden bed constantly--no light in the room, no way to move around, cold and damp, food consisted of bread and mush or water, once a day. Some Anabaptist prisoners kept here were crippled and blind when they were finally released.

Remember the tiny windows you could see from the outside of the tower? I looked through the bars of the tiny window inside the cell and found I was looking up a narrow tunnel sloping up from the cell window to the outside window. This allowed some indirect lighting and I guess a little fresh air. It would also bring in rain . . . and it would also make any thought of freedom seem very far away.

Turrets of the castle seen from the top level of the tower.

This is the four of us in the guard shack. The guard quarters were located at the top of the tower, reached by a very cramped spiral stair case. I suppose this would make it hard to attack the guards--but they had to work some to get to their place.

This is the door leading from the guard shack back down the spiral stair case.

The narrow, steep spiral stairs.

The home of Hans Haslibacher still exists. His descendants live here today. (The sign on the house says "Haslibacher hof.") He was an active leader of the Anabaptists as early as 1532 and participated in the disputation in Bern in 1538. He was exiled from the region for more than 30 years for his crime. When he returned home as an old man to see his son, he was arrested, kept in Trachselwald and from there taken to Bern where he was put to death. He declared, "I am ready for my head to be struck off, much rather than to be apostatized from my faith."


  1. What a dismal story for such a beautiful place! Were the people brought there always men? Did they imprison women as well?

  2. They did imprison women from time to time. The vast majority of prisoners were men--the women were generally banished and became refugees. Some of the women, though, after arrest and imprisonment, were also executed, generally by drowning (Sattler's wife and Hübmaier's wife are notable example of this practice.)