Anna Christina Berchtol, with Berchtol (Bechtol, Bechtel, Berchtel, etc.) being her married name, was born sometime before 1666, probably in Switzerland. We don’t know for sure when, or where, but we can infer her birth year as 20 years or more before the birth of her first known child, born in Konken, Germany, shown below, in 1686.
Could Anna Christina have been older? Certainly.
We actually first find a record of Anna Christina in Konken when her children’s births were recorded at the local Reformed protestant church.
- Hans Jacob Berchtol born in 1686 who married Anna Marie Glosselos
- Susanna Agnes Berchtol born on May 3, 1688 and married Michael Mueller (1692-1771) (One source reports her birth in Ohmbach, a nearby village.)
- Hans Peter Berchtol born on May 1, 1690 and married Maria Elizabeth Zimmer
- Hans Heinrich Berchtol born on May 1, 1690
- Barbel (Barbara) Berchtol born about 1693
- Ursula Berchtol born about 1696
Unfortunately, in none of these church records is a surname recorded for Anna Christina.
We believe she was born in Switzerland for two reasons. First, the family group which includes Johann Michael Mueller seems to have migrated together from Switzerland. Johann Michael Mueller was born in Zollikoffen just outside of Bern in 1655. This entire group appears by 1685 in the Konken, Krottelback and Steinwenden area of Germany.
Another Berchtol family, Hans Simon Berchtol, lived in Steinwenden and they were also involved with the Johann Michael Mueller family.
Hans Berchtol witnessed the baptisms of two of Johann Michael Mueller’s children in Steinwenden, about 15 miles distant from Konken.
Anna Christina had her last child, recorded in the Konken church records, in 1696.
We don’t know why there were no children noted after 1696. Was Anna Christina of an age where she was no longer having children? If so, that would put her birth at about 1653. Did she die? Possibly. There is no further record of her, but then again, there is also no death record. Are those records complete? Again, we don’t know.
What we do know is that her husband, Hans Berchtol died in Konken on June 15, 1711. His death record in the church tells us that he resided in Krottelbach, just a couple of miles away. I will have his death record retranslated, because it may indicate whether or not his wife was dead or living.
Just three years after Hens Berchtol’s death in 1711, Susanna Agnes Berchtol, Hans and Anna Christina’s daughter, would marry Johann Michael Mueller.
In a twist of irony, Johann Michael Miller was the child born in Steinwenden in 1692 that Hans Berchtol and Anna Christina stood up with as godparents when he was baptized on October 5th.
Anna Christina could not have had any idea in 1692 that her daughter, Susanna Agnes, born in 1688, would in 1714 marry Johann Michael Mueller. Does this sound like a fairy tale or Disney princess story to you? All we need now are some really cute little woodland critters.
Given that Anna Christina was Johann Michael’s godmother, and that his mother and father had both died by 1695, it’s certainly possible that Anna Christina and Hans Berchtol raised Johann Michael Mueller. In essence, that means Susanna and Michael could have been raised together. That certainly would have made courting much easier.
Johann Michael Mueller would have been 19 years old when Hans Berchtol died in 1711. We don’t know if Anna Christina had already died, or if she was left as a widow. Regardless, Anna’s youngest child would have been 15 and not yet an adult. Perhaps when Hans Berchtol died, Johann Michael Mueller stepped in to help the family, assuming an adult male role, and three years later, married the eldest daughter.
The record from Konken Reformed Church shows that Michael Muller, son of Johann Michael Muller, from Steinweiler in Churpfalz, married Susanna Agnes Berchtel, a Swiss, at Crottelbach on January 4, 1714. “A Swiss,” in fact confirms that indeed, the Berchtel family too immigrated from Switzerland. This bit of evidence is what suggests that Anna Christina was likely born in Switzerland.
We don’t have a lot of information about Anna Christina, aside from scanty information from church records that includes her children’s births and the Mueller births that she witnessed as well.
What we do know is that she was part of the pietist group that left Switzerland and settled in Germany. These pietists became both Brethren and Mennonites after their descendants, specifically, Johann Michael Miller and Susanna Agnes Berchtol, moved to Pennsylvania in the 1720s. One Samuel Berchtol also migrated to the US and is found closely associated with Johann Michael Mueller, jointly owning land, and was Mennonite in Hanover Co, PA. Johann Michael Mueller (Miller) was Brethren.
The early pietist movement in Switzerland led to the founding of several religions that had the same core values, although they did develop some differences that led to different sects.
The original pietist believers in Switzerland tried to avoid religious labels. They had become convinced that the established church was thoroughly corrupt and sought to meet quietly and privately among themselves, studying and adhering strictly to the written word of the Bible and avoiding anything political in nature, including conflict. Most families kept a loose association with the Reformed protestant churches. Attempting to establish a new religion would have been illegal at that time.
At one point, the pietists and Anabaptists would suffer a difference of opinion, being that the Anabaptists did not believe in infant baptism. In fact, they did not believe in baptism until the individual was old enough to make their own commitment based on a personal understanding of the Bible. However, the pietists and Anabaptists shared many convictions and were more alike than different, especially in the eyes of the government. They found the state-church squaring up against them, viewing them as one group and attempting to squash what was viewed as a dissident religion. Oftentimes, other church members who weren’t pietist or Anabaptist felt sorry for the aggrieved patrons and joined them, ashamed of and put off by the actions of the official church.
What role did women, like Anna Christina play in this emerging religion? The book, “Sisters: Myth and Reality of Anabaptist, Mennonite and Doopsgezind Women, ca 1525-1900” discusses female pietists in a quite surprising light.
Like many religious movements, the “born again” movement had a sense of urgency fueled by the belief that the end of mortal time was near. It’s easy to understand why they might have felt this way, given that war had ravaged the European landscape for decades, plagues had run rampant, killing one third of the European population and as a result of those disasters, economic and social upheaval was at hand. Pietism offered spiritual comfort and the promise of a heavenly afterlife. And comfort was something in short supply at that time.
Chiliasm was one of the widespread concepts of pietism. The more radical Anabaptists believed that they would help usher in a new economy, meaning a new phase of history in which God’s order, not a corrupt world order would dominate. I think we’re still waiting for that.
Chiliasm contributed to the prominence of women leaders in Pietism since women were able to claim an authority that the Bible reserved for women prophets at the end of time.
Joel 2,28: “I shall pour out my spirit on all mankind; your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams and your young men see visions; I shall pour out my spirit in those days even on slaves and slave-girls.”
Pietist women justified speaking out directly by claiming that God inspired them. And who was to argue? Not only that, but this direct inspiration by God gave them more authority than theologians with university degrees because God spoke to these women personally and directly.
Pietist women claimed that the old traditions of shutting women out were no longer valid and that all Christians needed to act boldly to save as many souls as possible before the coming apocalypse.
Other pietists pointed out that Christ appeared first to women after he was risen and that women were prominent in the early church.
These newly founded groups met in homes, in the domestic domain, so to speak, where women often interpreted the scripture. That would not have been allowed in churches. While these “conventicles” were not intended to replace churches, in time, they did indeed become the foundation for a new religion.
In the 16th century, women were still barred from formal education, but they were taught to read by private tutors. They could then read the Bible for themselves, and anything else they wanted to read too. Their justification was that they were the primary educators of children.
Women’s roles went further than just hosting conventicles. They acted as enthusiastic prophets, lay preachers and in some cases, as aristocratic patrons funding institutions such as missions and schools. In general, it was considered “unseemly” for women to act in a public way, and women were not believed to be intellectually capable of understanding complex ideas and certainly incapable of writing, so books written by women were published under pseudonyms.
This movement was not popular with either the established church or the government, and in 1704 the German historian Johann Feustking published a book attributing the formation and leadership of pietism to female agitators, arguing in the book that women had to be limited to the home if traditional society was to be preserved. This seems to be a case of wanting to close the barn door a bit too late.
Another author from the 1700s characterized the pietist movement as led by foolish and naïve women who had been hoodwinked by smarter, unscrupulous men. Ironically, that author was herself a woman and had to publish her book, “Pietism in Petticoats” anonymously.
The area around Bern, Switzerland, where the Johann Michael Mueller family originated, had its own set of problems. Political and military threats surrounded Bern; a recent war with the Turks, a war of succession in the Pfalz and the Swiss-French struggle in the Piemont. The economy was floundering. To help address these problems, the Swiss had opened their doors to the Huguenot and Waldensian refugees, but those groups, along with the pietists were monitored closely. Both were forbidden to recruit new members. The last thing Bern wanted was more threats to stability – and women involved in anything, let alone in a prominent religious role, shook their very foundation and confirmed the potential for social upheaval.
One Anabaptist women, Elizabeth Tscharner died and her son eulogized her life. He said that she spent several hours each day on her knees in prayer, a style of praying associated with Anabaptists. Combining personal devotion with practical Christianity, Elizabeth translated written tracts, had them published and handed them out to the poor. Ironically, the poor probably couldn’t read them. Elizabeth knitted and sewed clothes for the needy. She concerned herself with the welfare of Anabaptists in Bern’s prisons…jailed for their Anabaptist activities. Often too weak to even sit up, she brought them food and fed them.
One group of Anabaptists was being sent on a ship to the Pfalz to join their spiritual kin, not exactly by choice. Elizabeth took up a collection of clothes, food and money for provisions for their trip. This story also illustrates that perhaps not everyone who settled in the Swiss villages of Germany did so by direct choice. Some may have arrived with absolutely nothing.
Near her death, Elizabeth asked her son to wash her feet, an activity still performed in Brethren churches today, viewed by Elizabeth as “the foot washing of the apostles.”
One of Elizabeth’s female Anabaptist friends wrote a book at the age of 76, sharing with us an eternal bit of wisdom about the roles we play on the stage of this world, “No matter whether our mortal lives are comedy or tragedy, at the end of our lives we all look alike.”
Bern’s records show that authorities were particularly concerned about situations where women were involved in pietist religious activities and their men were not, leaving the women “unsupervised and uncontrolled.” These, women, tsk, tsk, tsk, left the house at night and went to meetings where men and boys were attending, returning home late at night. They tried to equate women’s religious activity with promiscuity and played on their husband’s fears. Council protocol addressed activities of “willful wives” as well as “disobedient housemaids.”
While focused on the women, they weren’t above trying to control men either. Knowing that pietists refused to take oaths, they required a yearly oath of allegiance from all men. Men who wouldn’t swear allegiance were arrested and assumed to be pietist. No wonder women had so many men to visit in the prisons.
It’s no surprise, in light of this oppressive environment, that so many removed to much more accommodating and welcoming Germany, whose lands had been depopulated in the wars and needed settlers to work the farms. In return, Germany offered religious tolerance, at least to a degree.
By 1699, when Bern officials began enacting even stricter measures and interrogating those suspected of pietist leanings, most of the pietists were dead, gone to Germany either willingly or in exile, or very quietly living underground.
It’s ironic that we think of the Brethren and Mennonites today as extremely conservative and the women as very obedient, subservient and compliant, when, in Europe, they were considered quite the opposite – uncontrollable rabble rousers. Imagine…..women believing they had a legitimate voice and expressing an opinion – and possessing a God given right to do so no less. For shame!
Anna Christina …you rabble rouser you…..
You know, I’m pretty sure I inherited some of her DNA!!!
Unfortunately, unless one day we can identify some of her autosomal segments, her DNA is unavailable to us.
She had three daughters, but there is only one, Susanna Agnes, that we know anything about. She married Johann Michael Mueller and had several children, but there are no documented daughters. There are rumored and inferred daughters, but none with any suggestive evidence that they were in fact the daughter of Susanna Agnes Berchtol Mueller. Since mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to daughter to daughter, down the line to the current generation, intact, if we could find someone who descended from Anna Christina through all females, we could obtain her mitochondrial DNA signature today which would tell us about her deep ancestry.
Unless something is discovered of Barbara and Ursula, her two youngest daughters, or a daughter is confirmed from Susanna Agnes, Anna Christina’s mitochondrial DNA line is dead to us. However, her rabble rousing spirit is not and survives quite intact today!
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