Steffan Koch was probably named Johann Steffan Koch. Koch translates to “cook” in English, which I suspect may hold an invaluable clue as to the family history at the time surnames were first adopted in the region where his family lived in Germany.
Were it not for the Dürkheim marriage document of his daughter, Margretha, we would know absolutely nothing about Steffan – not even his name.
My friend, Tom, translates:
On the same day (9 Sept 1650) Hans Georg Kirsch and Margretha, legitimate dau of M Steffan Koch, former pastor in Fussgonheim.
This record is absolutely fascinating for more than one reason.
- First, this 1650 marriage does not take place in Fussgoenheim, but in Durkheim.
- Second, the word “former” here could mean either of two things, or both. Former in this context often means deceased. However, Tom, a retired German genealogist is of the opinion that in this case, “former” probably means that he used to be the pastor in Fussgoenheim. Of course, it could mean both – that he was the Fussgoenheim pastor, and that’s he’s deceased.
- Third, regardless of whether “former” means currently deceased or not, it clearly means former in the sense of “used to be,” because in 1650, the 30 Years’ War had just ended and no one had returned to Fussgoenheim. The question is, when was he the pastor?
Therefore, this marriage record provides us with extremely valuable information not available anyplace else.
We know Steffan was a minister and that the Koch family originally lived in Fussgoenheim before the Thirty Years’ War.
While no buildings remain from this time, this early house in Fussgoenheim probably dates from the rebuilding that occurred in the late 1600s or early 1700s and is similar in nature to the homes in Fussgoenheim when Steffan was the pastor there.
Fussgoenheim’s Lack of Records
There are no records from Fussgoenheim during or before the Thirty Years’ War. The church and all homes were burned and destroyed – along with all of the fields. In that time, homes were clustered centrally in villages, with barns attached, and the fields stretched out lengthwise behind the houses.
This arrangement provided at least some protection for the families.
The History of Fussgoenheim book tells us that there was a “court box” of court records, along with the Weistum, a document detailing accepted village customs, family history, and land ownership from 1627/28 that did survive, but was subsequently destroyed by the devastation in the War of Palatinate Succession (1688-1697) when the village was again burned to the ground.
Hereditary rights in this part of Germany at this time were not based on the eldest son receiving everything, but distributed among the heirs, including lessee rights to the farming the church properties. Therefore, from time to time, a Weistum, or summary, was produced and recorded, along with the various responsibilities.
For example, there were two schools and two mayors, one in the upper and one in the lower village, but one court with representatives of each “half” attending. The church marked the division between the two halves. The village fell under the jurisdiction at that time of two noble families, not one. Since time immemorial, according to the Weistum, one of the tasks shared by the entire community was the maintenance of the bells and the clock – oh – and yes, free wine for everyone.
Fussgoenheim produced two history books, both in German, one published in 1993 and one in 2001. By scanning select pages and using both Google and DeepL translators, I was able to sift through information about this timeframe.
Before looking specifically at religion in Fussgoenheim, it’s important to note that Martin Luther only nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle church door in Wittenberg in 1517, sewing the first seeds of the Protestant Reformation. The Holy Roman Empire frowned on his activities, to put it mildly, and in 1521, he was banned and exiled, which only served to strengthen his resolve. Upon being freed in 1522, he decided it was time to act forcefully. From then until the actual Reformation in 1534 and until his death in 1546, Luther continued to guide his followers away from the Catholic tenets, rituals, and traditions, although he did call his services “Lutheran masses.”
By the time of his death, the Lutheran faith was sweeping across not only Germany, but much of the rest of Europe – and along with it, sowing division among the people, as you might imagine, and raising the ire of the established Catholic church. Luther’s ideas and concepts represented radical change that were believed to be heresy by many and the true salvation by others.
Lutheranism Comes to Fussgoenheim
The Fussgoenheim history book tells us that the transition to the Lutheran faith from Catholicism happened in Fussgoenheim no earlier than 1553 when Count von Falkenstein decreed the Reformation in this region. In 1560, the Count of Leiningen, who ruled over Fussgoenheim directly, converted to Lutheranism. In 1567, a request was made for a Lutheran pastor for the Fussgoenheim church, which was denied. Clearly, by this time, the conversion had occurred and the residents had little choice in the matter given that they were serfs, peasants, living under noble rule.
Another clue as to the effective date of the Lutheran conversion is a stone with the date of 1563 in a wall that was demolished in 1832 in the Fussgoenheim parish house that is believed to represent the date of the first rectory.
We only know the name of one other minister before the Thirty Years’ War in Fussgoenheim – Elias Roschel. The only two gravestones remaining from before 1700 are the 1605 and 1606 stones of Roschel’s wife and son. Until 1732, when Jacob Tilman von Hallberg, a noble who established another Catholic church, there was only one Lutheran church in the village, with one pastor at a time. Fussgoenheim was small and didn’t need more than one church.
These two stones are embedded in the outer wall of the nave of the church in Fussgoenheim which was reconstructed sometime about 1726, based on documents where von Hallberg was complaining because the townspeople did not (or would not?) pay for the building of the Lutheran church. Extant Lutheran church records also began in 1726.
This information tells us several things.
- First, the local pastors were not local men. A call was issued and a Lutheran minister, when approved, came from elsewhere to serve the local congregation. Googling did not reveal where Lutheran ministers were trained at that time, but given that Catholic priests had to train in special seminaries, I’d wager that Lutheran ministers did too. The Lutheran faith was different than Catholicism but still used the same foundation pattern. Martin Luther was heavily involved with the University of Wittenberg.
- Second, this tells us that although Steffan Koch was the pastor in Fussgoenheim before the war, it’s unlikely that his family originated in Fussgoenheim. We find no Koch families in the church records after the war, although that’s not necessarily unexpected because many families did not return to their original location from 30 years prior.
- Third, the stones from 1605 and 1606 tell us that Elias Roschel was probably the minister in 1605 and 1606, so Steffan Koch was likely the minister sometime between 1606 and when the village was abandoned. But when was that, exactly?
Steffan Koch was probably the minister sometime between 1605/1606 and 1620.
The 30 Year’s War started in 1618 with the Bohemian revolt. The Spanish Hapsburgs committed to eradicating Protestantism from the face of the earth, with Jesuit-educated Ferdinand famously saying, “I’d rather see my lands destroyed than tolerate heresy for a single day,” and he set about ruthlessly doing exactly that.
Not only was Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands profitable to the Holy Roman Empire, it was also a hotbed of Protestants – and the “Spanish Road” ran directly through the Palatinate. France, also strongly Catholic, sided with Spain and Italy, and the battle lines were drawn. Unfortunately, France also bordered the Palatinate.
Fussgoenheim, with fertile farmland and desirable vineyards, was nestled between the Rhine River and the Palatinate Forest, southwest of Mannheim, within about 40 miles of the French border.
By 1620, the Palatinate Campaign had begun, and the Pfalz was no longer simply “collateral damage,” but targeted directly.
In August 1620, 25,000 soldiers left Brussels and invaded the lower Palatinate. Disease followed the soldiers as well, infecting the troops as well as the residents.
For two years, battles raged incessantly until the villages were depopulated and the final cities, one by one, fell. In September of 1622, the Heidelberg fortress fell, followed by Mannheim on November 2nd and Frankental, without a fight, on November 29th.
Only two cities, Dürkheim and Speyer still held. Both of those, on the other hand, were nearly completely destroyed in 1689 during the Nine Years’ War.
In 1626, all Protestant clergy had to leave the country on pain of death. Fortunately for the Germans, the Swedish King came to their aid and took back much of the land and cities previously lost, including Frankenthal. Between 1630-1634, many of the Protestant pastors returned to Germany, but shortly thereafter, France would attack directly through the Palatinate. Fussgoenheim was always “on the way” to everyplace it seemed, because the roads followed the river.
I can’t help but wonder where Steffan Koch and his family were sheltered during this time. What I wouldn’t give for his journal. As refugees, it’s unlikely they had more than literally the clothes on their back. While they may have found temporary refuge in cities, they would not have been residents, and therefore second-class citizens, serfs, with virtually no rights. Non-residents would have been the last to receive any type of assistance, including food.
While these military campaigns killed the residents and caused the remainder to flee by the fall of 1622, the war itself was far from over and would continue until a truce was finally called in 1648.
By then, the human and economic toll was devastating. The war was no longer really about religion, but about control and who would rule Europe.
Those who hadn’t starved or died had abandoned the farms, villages and cities, decades earlier. In some regions, the loss was 90% of the population, such as in Oberamt Zweibrucken and 87% in Kaiserslautern. In 1635 alone, 50% of the inhabitants of Speyer died of hunger and plague and the rest were impoverished and starving. How could they have even buried that many people? That year in Speyer was bracketed by years of plague and famine.
A peasant begs for mercy in front of his burning farm; by the 1630s, being caught in the open by soldiers from either side was tantamount to a death sentence
Constant troops, looting, combat operations, and decimation of both the population and farms meant that there wasn’t food for anyone – and the soldiers on both sides, often mercenaries, took what little could be found.
In 1649, the Deidesheim tax role noted that in many taxable places, including both Fussgoenheim and Ruchheim, “no living soul can be found anymore.”
The parish descriptions of the 19th-century lament the loss of tradition:
Now follows the time of the third Big Years War, whose darkness, as far as Fussgoenheim is concerned, has not been illuminated by anything shines as through the complete darkness that lies above it. For there are no after-judges are available, neither from priests nor others.
Twenty years after the end of the war, by about 1670, still, only 30 people lived in the village of Fussgoenheim.
By 1670, we know that Jerg Kirsch and his wife, Margretha Koch were two of those people. If children were counted among the 30, then their children would have accounted for another 6 or 7, if not more. We know of a total of 7 sons and no daughters, so it’s likely that they had children we are unaware of.
We also know that Jerg was co-lessee of the Jostens estate, so there was at least one other family involved who might well account for another 10 people. At that time, the former monasteries and religious orders owned much of the land in the Palatinate, and in Fussgoenheim.
The archivist at neighboring Schaurenheim was exactly right when he said that only a handful of families returned to any of these villages during this time after the war, and then very, very slowly. It’s likely that the villages were rebuilt by the offspring of those few families intermarrying.
However, the villages would again be abandoned in 1684 due to the Nine Years’ War, also known as the War of Palatinate Succession, when the rest of the Fussgoenheim records were destroyed. Still, some families returned, yet again.
Those hereditary rights to farm the land were likely powerful draw cards – and although rebuilding represented untold hours of labor – it was still better than nothing accompanied by no hope for better.
Questions – More Questions
I have so many questions.
- Where was Steffan Koch from, before Fussgoenheim?
- When did he serve the Fussgoenheim congregation?
- When did he and his family leave Fussgoenheim?
- Did they go directly to Dürkheim, now Bad Dürkheim, or did they attempt to shelter in other locations first?
- Based on the description of Steffan as the former pastor in Fussgoenheim, it’s possible that he married a local gal.
- Was Steffan deceased in 1650?
- Did Steffan and his family have to leave the country in 1624, and if so, where did they go? Was Margretha born there?
- Why did they come back?
- Why was Steffan not involved as a pastor in the church in Dürkheim?
- What did Steffan do to support his family during that time, assuming he did not die in Fussgoenheim?
- Did either Steffan or his wife survive the war? What about their children?
Steffan might have known Elias Roschel. In fact, if the wife and son died after Elias himself, Steffan might have been the minister to perform those funerals. If Elias died after this wife and son, Steffan could have been the minister to bury him.
Based on the dates we do have, we can estimate Steffan’s age, very roughly.
He was a pastor in Fussgoenheim, which tells us that he was an adult before 1618.
If his daughter was born between 1620 and 1630, based on her marriage date of 1650, it’s very likely that Steffan indeed did survive to leave Fussgoenheim and she was born in Dürkheim or wherever they were living between 1618 and 1630.
Assuming Steffan’s daughter was born about 1630, and his wife was his same age, they could have been newly married, or married for 25 years when Margretha was born. We know Steffan was an adult by 1618, and let’s assume he would not be a pastor until he was at least 25 years old. This brackets his birth year between 1585 and 1593.
If Steffan lived to see his daughter marry, he would have been between 57 and 65 years of age.
Not elderly by today’s standards, but between the war, starvation, plague, and what would be considered normal health issues – it’s unlikely that Margretha’s parents were in the church with her on September 9, 1650. They were probably buried just outside, in the churchyard.
Steffan Koch was a man of the cloth. A believer in a new, or relatively new, religion, Protestantism, born of the desire to reform Catholicism. He probably knew people who had personally known Martin Luther.
Steffan was probably inspired with a convert’s fire – and he literally risked his life and those of every family member to defend those beliefs.
This wasn’t just a religion, but a movement questioning papal authority, errors, abuses, and discrepancies in the Catholic Church, such as the selling of indulgences.
Indulgences were sold in order to raise money and in order to reduce the amount of punishment one had to undergo for a sin.
Steffan would have been either first or second-generation Protestant. If he was born between 1585 and 1593, his father would have been born before 1565/1573, about the time that various regions in the Palatinate were converting.
Steffan’s grandparents would have been born Catholic and were probably practicing Catholics, so Steffan might well have been viewed as quite the rabble-rouser and trouble-maker, not just by the authorities, but by his family as well.
Clearly, Steffan’s beliefs were steadfast and unmovable, and he was completely committed. The church where he was assigned to serve would become his family away from home, even if his family, or at least some members, were supportive. Unquestionably, Steffan was on the leading edge of a new movement and any change that radical is bound to make many people uncomfortable for a variety of reasons.
Steffan would have known first-hand of the trials and tribulations being suffered by converts. He would have heard from other ministers when he was studying and from his family as well if they were the first generation to convert. He would have likely been warned and was prepared to suffer because anyone who has ever been on the leading edge of anything that’s disruptive to religious beliefs knows full well they’re on the bleeding edge.
Yet, Steffan clearly could not have understood or even imagined the magnitude of the suffering to come – although he did have the example of Christ’s life, especially at the end. Would that be enough to sustain him? We don’t know.
Steffan may have felt that the trials and tribulations he, his wife, and family had to undergo and suffer through were divinely ordained.
Having said that, I have to wonder if his wife and children survived the war. What about his parents, siblings and their children?
If they did not die a natural death, how did Steffan frame his understanding of the “purpose” of their deaths? How did he correlate a loving God with the fact that millions of people were dying? Did he not wonder why an all-powerful God did not stop the invading armies – either physically like the Red Sea parting, or by causing them to have a change of heart?
Did Steffan not wonder how a loving and caring God could allow his followers and believers to starve – including innocent children – perhaps his own?
How did Steffan reconcile this in his mind, with his family and parishioners who would have looked to him for guidance as a man of the cloth – even if he wasn’t the active pastor in Dürkheim?
How did the heartache and utter devastation affect his faith? Did his faith sustain him in those dark days, or did he question his decisions of the past that led to the horrific suffering of the time in which he lived?
For. Thirty. Long. Years.
11,000 days of Hell on Earth.
Was his faith somehow reinforced or shaken? After all, the Catholics weren’t suffering.
What did he say if he was preaching funerals for those who starved to death?
Was Steffan angry with God?
According to the article, Jeremiah in the Village: Prophecy, Preaching, Pamphlets, and Penance in the Thirty Year’s War, in 1618, at the height of the Lutheran apocalyptic fervor, a great comet blazed across the European sky, visible from September 6-25, sparking more than 100 pamphlets warning of God’s anger and prophesying doom. Pastors preached from the Old Testament in the spirit of the prophet, Jeremiah, in lengthy mournful lamentations that would come to be known as jeremiads.
As the war unfolded, ministers used the misery and suffering to call for more pious action. Seeing themselves as the chastened Israelites, ministers admonished that only increased religious action and adherence could save their countrymen. Jeremiah stated that God punished those who deviated from his commandments. Therefore, the Germans suffering such horrible devastation were undergoing punishment for their sinfulness and lack of repentance. God even sent a comet to warn them, yet they still had not adequately repented.
I shudder to think how the father or mother felt who watched their home burn, their children die and even their spouse perish. The guilt must have been as devastating as the war itself – to be blamed for something so incredibly beyond your control or even influence.
Conrad Dietrick, a Lutheran minister, on New Year’s Day 1619 published a pamphlet of his sermon that was very straightforward:
- What comets are
- What they mean
- What we should do as a response to the meaning
Then, he answered his own questions:
- God sent the comet as a warning because sin abounded in Germany, although that theme had been ever-present since the Turkish threat in the 1580s.
- Mend your ways.
- Stop disregarding God’s commandments and live a moderate and pious life.
- God might not have to follow through on his threat to destroy his people if they heeded the celestial warning and subsequent warfare and live within the bounds of Lutheran discipline.
One pamphlet called out the deadly sins of the parishioners responsible for the devastation, such as the following, therefore making Germany responsible and subject to punishment:
- Excessive pride and display
- Disobedience to authority
Oh, and by the way, good deeds alone aren’t enough to get you out of this pickle and earn God’s Grace, because your sins are very deep.
Preachers and pamphlets were the social media, television and radio of the day.
By the end of the war, in 1648, one pamphlet published regarding the Treaties of Westphalia opened with the comet’s prophesying appearance in 1618 and closed with the war ending, “by God’s Grace,” in 1648. In other words, the people were suffering and had suffered through their own choices and actions. No one was going to feel sorry for them. They deserved what God saw fit to do to them, and probably worse.
It’s interesting to note, that whether true or not, the idea that the comet had appeared for 30 days across the skies was connected to the fact that the war had lasted for 30 years. In other words, by that time, the comet wasn’t just a warning, it was simply accepted as having been an accurate prophecy of what was to come.
During the war, the ministers attempted to make the essence of the sermons reach home in their communities – tailoring the message as needed. As the war dragged on, they became discouraged that their parishioners, the “common men,” were apparently unable to either understand or fulfill their messages. Many pastors became increasingly desperate for the much-needed change within their congregation necessary to end the war and suffering, and their sermons became increasingly reproachful and filled with missionary zeal.
They continued to predict that war would devastate Germany, and they would continue to be correct. Preaching itself became a form of prophecy and the ongoing war and atrocities only confirmed the message.
Sermons of one minister included the following New Years’ Day messages:
- 1623 – Amos 4:6-12 – On the 3 punishments of the land/dearth, war and devastation with which God now afflicts our dear Germany because of its sins and how we should properly view them.
- 1624 – Haggai 1:6-7 – Laid out reasons why it has happened that in these times no happiness, blessing, and increase for timely nourishment can be found.
- 1625 – How we should act when we hear of foreign war preparations, recruiting, and troop movements.
- 1626 – Habakkuk 1:12 – Why the armies on the march are an instrument of God’s punishment.
- 1627 – Ephesians 5 – How one may properly get along in the current troubled times of war.
- 1628 – How Christian subjects should pray for their rulers in these troubled times.
- 1629 – Jeremiah 47:6-7 – The Lord’s sword – that is the word of the Prophet Jeremiah wherein the only proper cause is laid out, why one sighs and calls in vain for peace and an end to the war.”
- 1632 – Jeremiah 15:11 – Land ruin and war consolation.
- 1636 – The year of the plague in Ulm, the minister stated that 15,000 people had died that year, including thousands of beggars and refugees from neighboring villages. About one third were deaths of citizens from Ulm. Some days as many as 170 died – going on to say that those figures of death and misery needed no more explanation other than that provided in Psalm 107:17-20.
17 Fools by reason of their transgression, and because of their iniquities are afflicted.
18 Their soul abhorreth all meat and they are brought to death’s door.
19 Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivereth them from their distress.
20 He sendeth his word and healeth them, and delivereth them from their graves.
- 1637 – Jeremiah 14:19-20 – Hammer of Peace, wherein is reported, what the causes are that the Peace that we have longed for for so many years has not come at all or let itself be seen.
- 1638 – Psalm 14 – Heartfelt Zionish New Year’s Sigh – This was the year that cannibalism was reported in Breisach during a siege.
One preacher said 8 times in a funeral oratory for a minor noblewoman, “O, that we have sinned so much.” The topic and images of both punishment and penance, along with exhortations, were common themes in the sermons of Lutheran pastors during the war. They repeatedly referred to and lamented, “Oh woe, oh woe, the great sinfulness.”
How did the residents feel who heard these sermons that clearly placed the blame for the war and their great suffering squarely on their own shoulders?
In 1630, the shoemaker, Hans Heberle, in Neenstetten wrote as a preface to his journal that he began with the 1618 comet:
Anno 1618 a great comet appeared in the form of a large and horrible rod of punishment, with which God mightily threatened us because of our sinful lives, which we deserved many times over and still deserve today…what it means – what also will come of it – that is something we may cry hot tears over, as we, alas, experience now and have experienced from 1620 up to 1630 and which can’t be described.
Depending on one’s perspective, two other dates for the “beginning” of the war are given in contemporaneous literature; 1617 which is the 100 year anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, a particularly galling event to Catholics, and 1619 when Ferdinand was elected Holy Roman Emperor.
It seems that the more pious believers suffered inwardly, feeling responsible for the devastation by their failings. The less pious certainly suffered, but not from the added layer of guilt.
Most people seemed to believe what they were being told and accept the horrible responsibility for what befell them. In the words of one man, “our sins are more than the stars in the heavens, more than the sand on the sea, more than the dust on the earth. Because we have sinned excessively, the punishment has overwhelmed us.”
The ministers and people of the Palatinate, along with the rest of Germany, tried their best to make sense, through the lens of religion, of a situation over which they had no control. Anything resembling normalcy was entirely absent. By the time the war had ended, not only were millions dead as a result, untold more had died not directly due to the war, but due to age or being displaced, having begun their lives in bucolic villages where they expected to live out their lives.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
We don’t know if Steffan Koch lived to see the end of the war and his daughter’s marriage in 1650, but another pastor celebrated the end of the war in 1648 with one last passage from Jeremiah 33:47:
Thus says the Lord: In this place of which you say:
It is a waste without man or beast,” in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man or inhabitant or beast, there shall be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord: “give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the Lord.
Indeed, two years later, Steffan Koch’s daughter would be the voice of the bride in the church in Dürkheim.
The Church of St. Johannis in Dürkheim
The church in Fussgoenheim was destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War, so we have no record of what that church looked like, or even who was buried in the churchyard. The books of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials, written in Steffan’s own hand was destroyed.
We don’t know much about Steffan’s life after Fussgoenheim, aside from the fact that Dürkheim is one of only two cities that stood, and that his daughter married into another Fussgoenheim family in 1650. Of course, we don’t know that Jerg Kirsch’s parents were actually from Fussgoenheim before the devastating war, or if the couple returned there because Jerg was able to obtain an order to become the co-lessee of the Josten’s estate in 1660.
What we do know is that from the time Steffan left Fussgoenheim, probably between 1620 and 1622, likely before the birth of his daughter, Margretha in about 1630, the church in Dürkheim, for however long he lived, was his church home.
To the best of our knowledge, Steffan was never the pastor there, because he was not referenced as such in Margretha’s marriage record. Given that he certainly didn’t die until after Margretha was conceived, it’s likely that he spent at least some time in Dürkheim, in the church there which does survive.
I would wager that Steffan helped the pastor there as he could – perhaps filling in when necessary. Dürkheim suffered terribly from both plague and starvation during the war, so there would likely have been many funerals, some occurring hurriedly so that the body or bodies could be quickly buried.
So much suffering, so much need – so many who would welcome the comforting hand and prayers of a minister, even if Steffan wasn’t their official minister. He was still a man of God, having answered a higher calling. He would have known what to say to provide comfort for the grieving.
I can only extrapolate about how Steffan felt in Dürkheim. It must have been some torturous combination of every-single-day terror, gratitude for surviving, at least so far, grief at the life they had to leave behind, grief over what their family, friends, and neighbors were suffering, probably grief over the deaths of his own family members, hunger, and overwhelming guilt if he indeed believed that God was punishing him for his lack of…well…pretty much everything. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to see your child starve and die if you believed their suffering was doled out by God because YOU weren’t pious enough.
On the other hand, Steffan may have somehow taken comfort in his religion. Given that his faith would have been strong enough to commit his life to convincing others that Lutheranism was indeed the way and the light, he probably believed that whatever happened was “God’s will” and that those who passed over were indeed sitting at the feet of God in Heaven – relieved from their earthly worries here.
Or, maybe some combination of all of that.
Since I don’t know what or how he felt but do know what the church looked like, I’d like to take a walk with Steffan and perhaps, to be able to glimpse at least this much through Steffan’s eyes.
Walking in Steffan’s Footsteps
The church of St. Johannis, or St. John, now known as the Castle Church was built in Dürkheim sometime before 946, obviously as a Catholic church. Around 1300, the current church, minus the current spire, was built on the original foundation. Ironically, the church was built in part with indulgences for those believers who visited the church – one of the very things that caused Martin Luther to part ways with the Catholic Church.
In 1504 and 1508, burial crypts and a chapel were built on to the church and would have been present when Steffan walked those hallways.
Dürkheim was not a small town. This illustration from 1450, 200 years before Margretha was married in the church there, shows that the houses were clustered closely together.
Limburg Abbey was destroyed in 1504, the remains resting high above Dürkheim. You can take a stunning flight over by drone, here. While Steffan wouldn’t have had this bird’s-eye-view, he would have seen the ruined Abbey above the town – and you can see the town from the drone footage. Wow, just wow.
This 1630 drawing of the church with the Latin school across the yard doesn’t’ show the wooden crosses marking the graves in the churchyard. Steffan and others stood here all too often. I can’t help but wonder about mass graves during that time of inordinate death resulting from warfare, plague, and starvation.
By comparison, you can see the church today, with the churchyard now paved with brick or cobblestone. I can’t help but think of the generations of people whose ashes rest below. And yes, my mind does wander to bones and DNA.
This engraving, from 1650 shows the fortress and the church that Steffan attended, and where his daughter, Margretha, was married that very year. This scene would have been very familiar to the Koch family.
This drawing from 1787 shows the ruined abbey in the distance
Today, the church which sports a tall spire that was replaced in the 1800s nestles in the modern city of Bad Dürkheim.
The ancient streets and a few old houses remain today, probably rebuilt after the devastating 1689 fire.
You can still walk up to the church on the old cobblestone streets, approaching from the rear, here. Steffan probably walked this pathway hundreds if not thousands of times. I have to wonder if the residents sought refuge inside the church from time to time as troops advanced.
Only the walls of the church remained after the church was burned in 1689, taking roughly 20 years to repair and rebuild. These walls stood when Steffan walked in the churchyard surrounding the church, now covered with bricks.
The original church was constructed at different times. Beautiful stonework with quarried stone corners on the rear of the Leininger burial chapel that was added in 1505. The door allowed the Count to exit the service without going through the church proper.
The church is beautiful, even without the new spire.
Walking around the church, we can see the burial chapel, built in 1505 and already more than 100 years old when Steffan lived there.
I wonder if the vine harkens back to the time before the churchyard was bricked or paved with cobblestones. We can’t see the beautiful door on this side of the church very well.
Steffan walked through the larger double side doors on the other side of the church. The door in place at that time would have led to the churchyard and was probably the doorway through which coffins were carried after the funeral service on their final journey.
The size of this side door and stones shows just how massive this church is and gives us some idea of why it took 35 years or so, from about 1300 to 1335, an entire generation, to build.
Inside the burial chapel, we find this stone of Agnes von Leiningen-Hardenburg who died in 1586. Did Steffan perhaps seek solitude in the quietness of this chapel from time to time? As refugees, they probably lived in cramped and noisy quarters with other families.
In the same burial vault, the stone of the Count who built the chapel beside his consecration cross.
Inside the burial crypt.
Today, the tombstone of the Limburg abbot who died in 1531 has been moved outside, but when Steffan sat inside this church, this stone was there was well. I wonder how Steffan felt about this, given that the Abbott was clearly Catholic at that time, and the devastation Steffan was living through day-to-day was wrought by a war with Catholics and Catholicism.
Another stone moved outside shows the alliance coat of arms of the Lords of Weingarten and those of Sickingen.
Steffan would have walked past, and perhaps stopped to tough this double epitaph carving of Count Emich XII. and Maria Elisabeth von Pfalz-Zweibrücken in the castle church, carved in 1612. She died in 1629, so it’s certainly possible that Steffan was present at her funeral.
Behind the figures is a relief of the Hardenburg Castle, home of the Leiningen family.
Did Steffan absentmindedly run his fingers along these carved branches, leaves, and acorns, silently praying for strength?
A lovely, friendly gargoyle that Steffan saw and perhaps loved too. Did he tell his children or grandchildren stories about this mythical beast? Gargoyles are said to protect what they guard against evil or harmful spirits. If the gargoyle’s mouth was open, it was devouring a giant. This gargoyle looks kind of like it’s contentedly chewing its cud.
This south aisle, facing west, probably looked much the same, without the modern accouterments, of course. Did the thick walls deaden the city sounds, allowing deep reflection?
Perhaps the single most iconic item of the Lutheran faith representing inclusion into the flock, both earthly and Heavenly, is the baptismal font. This font survived from 1537 and if any of Steffan’s children were baptized in this church, this was the font in which that holy ritual occurred. Given that he was a minister, Steffan may have baptized his children himself.
I can close my eyes and witness that act of faith, love, and devotion.
While the stained glass windows and cross are new, the nave is not. Steffan may have preached here and assuredly prayed in this sacred space; for safety, for deliverance, for himself, for his family, and for so many others. But more than anything, Steffan probably prayed to find a way to live better, more religiously, more piously, in order that God would not be angry with him.
Punishing anyone with warfare punished everyone with warfare. Steffan would have prayed to find a way to be a more convincing leader, not so much for himself, but for the other parishioners who suffered for 30 years, and more. If only, if only, he could successfully obtain God’s Divine assistance to convince them. If God would just grant him the words that would be convincing enough.
Not unlike how many of his descendants feel today, in the midst of another plague that could, in fact, be affected and slowed by convincing enough people to do so. A direct link from me to Steffan, across 400 years, almost exactly.
Given what Steffan went through, whether or not he survived the actual war and accompanying horrors, I’d expect that prayer is what defined his life – and probably his death. A lifetime of increasingly desperate prayer.
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