Written by: on Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
History is rich with irony and in Innsbruck another instance of table turning is unfolding. Since 2005, members of the interdenominational Hutterer Arbeitskreis Tyrol and SüdTyrol have worked tirelessly to create awareness of the Anabaptist history in the region. The witness of the Anabaptists has personally moved each of the group members. In 2007, the Arbeitskreis was inspired to initiate a new relationship between the Hutterites in North America and the Catholic clergy and governments of Tyrol and South Tyrol. Their intent was to begin a dialogue and issue statements of regret about the brutal events of the past.
The group’s latest endeavour is an installation called Übrige Brocken,  a plan to build a Hutterpark to tell the stories of twelve Anabaptist-Hutterite martyrs from the Tyrol. The Inn River, the namesake of Innsbruck, was the most important route used by Anabaptists fleeing to the relatively tolerant region of Moravia, formerly in northeastern Austria (today, it is the eastern part of the Czech Republic). The park will highlight this historical connection. According to the plan, the park will feature a ring of twelve stones each bearing a word of a verse from Zechariah 9, 16b: “For like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land”. Originally from the glaciated mountainside high in the Tyrolean Alps, the stones symbolize both the persecution and dislocation experienced by the Anabaptists in the region. Accompanying each stone will be a story of an Anabaptist martyr whose witness is especially well documented and inspiring.
The Scriptural text and the circular formation suggesting a crown are fitting for several reasons: first, the witness of the Anabaptist martyrs and faithful believers is a crown of light that continues to shine inspiration to us today; secondly, the crown is a fitting symbol of hope, salvation and ultimate victory for the faithful, even while the Ferdinands of the day rage wildly against them. As Eduard Geissler, one of the members of the Arbeitskreis has eloquently written: “The Anabaptist men and women refused to let persecution, death, torture and harassment hinder them from a life of nonviolent witness and loving fellowship to each other through discipleship to Jesus. From a spiritual perspective, they have become precious stones in the crown of God and they can continue to give light and direction to our land today.”
Ferdinand may have been wearing his royal crown and exercising his royal authority when he ordered the execution of countless Anabaptists in the early part of the 16th century, but God has a way of scattering the proud and exalting the lowly. The witness of the martyrs may have the final word yet.
The book of Revelations presents a similar irony for the oppressed faithful in the Roman Empire: at present, the Roman Caesar appears to be in control, his might and rule is unquestionable and untouchable. But have faith, the author urges. Caesar will not have the last word. In the end, the suffering Lamb will sit enthroned and the faithful will overcome and triumph.
Once the proposed park is complete, there will be another good reason to return to the land of our fathers to draw strength and light from their witness. Of course it would also be an opportunity to meet our new Tyrolean friends, and again experience their exceptional generosity and hospitality.
Hutterian Education Committee. The Chronicles of the Hutterian Brethren, Volume I. Elie, MB, Canada. 2003.
Packull, Werner. Hutterite Beginnings: Communitarian Experiments during the Reformation. Baltimore. The John Hopkins University Press. 1995.
Schlachta, Astrid von. Verbrannte Visionen? Errinerungsorte der Täufer in Tirol. Innsbruck. Innsbruck University Press. 2007.
 Members of the Hutterer Arbeitskreis Tyrol und Südtyrol include the chairman Robert Hochgruber and Ulrich Wiegner (South Tyrol, Italy), the vice-chairman Ignaz Hammerer, Eduard Geissler, Astrid von Schlachta, Max Euster (Tyrol, Austria) and many others. Artist Verena Simeoni from Innsbruck designed the “Übrige Brocken” installation.
 The title “Übrige Brocken” (bread crumbs), is significant for several reasons. It is the title of an important early Hutterite publication. The twelve stones featuring the Scripture text and marking the story of each witness are in some ways like crumbs of bread. Finally, the references to breadcrumbs and the number twelve brings to mind Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand.
 In German the text has exactly twelve words: “Denn Steine an seinem Diadem sind sie, die über seinem Land funkeln.” (Sacharja 9, 16b)
 Author’s translation. Original text from Eduard Geissler.