In the article about Katharina Gockeler, I reported that her parents were Hans Gockeler and his wife, Katharina.
That information was incorrect. Mea culpa. Live and learn. As genealogists, we correct mistakes as soon as we find them.
Based on earlier documents from researchers in Germany, Hans Gockeler and his wife were, indeed, having children in Schnait at the right time, and did have a child, Catharina Goeckeler. This seemed like the right family, especially since one Hans Lentz was the godfather of the Catherina Gockeler born on May 27, 1604, and roughly 30 years later, a Katharina Gockeler would marry Hans Lenz, probably the son of the Hans Lentz/Lenz who stood up at the baptism of the Catherina born in 1604.
Yep, it seemed that Hans was Katharina’s father, right up until Beutelsbach historian Martin Goll discovered Catharina’s death record, which led to the correct birth record.
Martin was kind enough to share.
Cousin Tom was kind enough to translate:
Death: 25 Oct 1677 Beutelsbach
Catharina, surviving widow of the late Hanns Lentz(en), age 65.
We know this is the correct Catharina because she was indeed the widow of Hans Lenz/Lentz.
Now we have her age, which means she was born about 1612, not 1604. Which Katharina or Catharina was born in 1612?
Martin provided the record of her birth.
Cousin Tom translates:
9 October 1612 Beutelsbach
Parents: Wolff Göckeler(n) and Barbara, his wife
Child: daughter, Catharina was baptized
Godparents: Alexander Wagner and Anna, Leonard Kurtz’ wife, …the daughter Anna ?
Marginal Notation added at a later date: Catharina, as Hans Lentz(in)’s widow.
Tom notes that “the data from the death entry fits well with the baptismal entry. I would be confident with this data.”
Hmmm, I guess I need to start spelling her name Catharina, not Katharina.
Catharina was born in Beutelsbach and not in Schnait as we originally thought? Granted, they are only a mile apart.
Cousin Martin adds, “In Schnait, I know there was a family Wolf Gokeler, but it is not sure if he was the father of Katharine. According to the remark, there is no sign about this father coming from somewhere else. We are not sure. Schnait was a long time a part of the Beutelsbach parish.”
What Martin means is that when the father was “from” somewhere else, meaning a citizen elsewhere, the church records would reflect that.
Tom says, “Regarding the Catharina problem above, Mr. Goll has it correct. The only baptism of a child of Wolff Gockeler and wife, Barbara, is the one in 1612. None afterwards. The baptisms from 1609-1611 are not extant. The marriages and deaths from this time period do not exist as well.”
In other words, we’ve hit a dead end.
Or maybe not entirely.
Digging Up Wolff
What can I dig up about Wolff Gockeler?
To begin with, absolutely nothing in Beutelsbach. Not one thing. Just as Tom said. How frustrating.
However, as Martin mentioned, Schnait didn’t have its own church until the 1560/70s. Before that, everyone in Schnait attended church and had all of their religious work done in Beutelsbach, meaning baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and funerals.
German citizens typically didn’t have a child baptized in a church where they didn’t live and weren’t citizens.
However, records for this timeframe are very scarce and only partially exist. Not to mention that the area was devastated by the plague which arrived and retreated in waves.
Unexpected circumstances could have forced the family to have baby Catharina baptized in Beutelsbach. Maybe the child was sickly and in peril. According to the religious doctrine of that time, a baby needed to be baptized before death if at all possible.
Maybe the Reverend was ill or absent, and the Beutelsbach church was the closest nearby location. Typically the baptism record would state such, and it says nothing to indicate that the parents lived in Schnait, not Beutelsbach. The godparents were Beutelsbach residents as well.
The plague had ravaged this area in 1595, so maybe Wolff Gockeler and Barbara had moved to Beutelsbach for his trade or profession. Of course, we don’t know what Wolff’s profession might have been – but Martin Goll thinks that Catharina’s parents were wealthy, which is how her husband, Hans Lenz, a baker from Schnait, wound up with ten vineyards when most people had one, at most.
If that’s the case, Catharina’s father may have been a well-to-do vintner, which means he was probably also a merchant, selling as well as producing wine. Almost every family was tied to the grape, wine, and vineyards in this region – if not directly – then secondarily. If you were a baker, like Hans Lenz, your customers were vinedressers and vintners.
The Path Leads to Schnait
We find nothing in Beutelsbach, but in the Schnait family book, we find several men named Wolff Gockeler or derivatives, but none with a wife named Barbara. Of course, Wolff could have been married to other women, either before or after Barbara, or both. He may not have married in Schnait. Or, the records we need could simply not exist anymore.
In Schnait, from the family book, we find:
- Wolff Gockeler, wife Dorothea, had son, Hanns Goeckeler on February 27, 1564, godparents Michel Ruele and Marta Schwegler. This birth date for Hanss puts Wolff’s birth sometime before 1540.
- Wolff Gockeler, wife Maria, had a daughter Catharina on March 25, 1595. This clearly isn’t the correct Catharina. This birth date puts Wolfe’s birth sometime around 1570 or earlier. This may very well be #4 below.
- Wolfgang Gockeler born October 15, 1598, died October 25, 1626 of the plague, and married Catharina Vaihinger, who died just a couple of months after Golfgang. Of their three children, the first child, Anna, lived long enough to marry, but the next two, born in 1622 and 1624, both died in the summer of 1635. (Note – keep 1635 in mind. More in a minute.) This Wolfgang Gockeler’s parents were Wolfgang Gockeler and Maria Dendler.
- Wolfgang Gockeler born in 1565 in Schnait and died in September of 1635 married Maria Dendler, who died in 1622. (There’s 1635 again.) They had six children, one of whom was a Catharina, born on March 25, 1596, and who died on May 18, 1636, in Schnait. Her death record says, “daughter, 40 years old, died of starvation.” Wolfgang and Maria had five other children. Of those, four are baptized but never mentioned again, which most of the time means they died young. The other child, Johannes, also died in July of 1635. (1635 again.)
- Wolfgangius Gockeler was born on March 11, 1582, to Lucas Goeckeler and Barbara Haan, but no further information is available about this child, or any of Lucas and Barbara’s five other children.
- Wolfgangus Gockeler was born March 9, 1586, to Lucas Goeckeler and Catherine, surname unknown. No further information is known. Lucas and Catherine had six other children. Nothing is known about five of them, but son Lucas died in October 1626 in Schnait of the plague.
Of course, we don’t know when our Wolff Gockeler was born, but traditionally, a German man didn’t marry until he was about age 25. He needed to be able to support a family first.
If Catharina was his first child, Wolff would have been born no later than 1587ish.
If Barbara was roughly his same age, and Catharina was their last child when Barbara was age 45, then Wolff and Barbara would have been born 1567ish. Of course, if Barbara was a younger wife, Wolff could have been born earlier.
Wolff and Barbara were born sometime between roughly 1567-1587.
Of the various men listed above, we can:
- Probably eliminate #1 due to age and a different wife, although clearly, people remarried. This Wolff was already having children in 1564.
- Combine #2 with #4.
- Eliminate #3 who was born too late.
- Eliminate #4 because our Catharina’s mother was not named Maria, and Wolffgang was married to Maria in 1612 based on their children’s births.
Both #5 and #6 are good candidates to be “our” Wolff, both due to the dates they were born and due to the fact that nothing more about either of them appears in the Schnait church record. This would make sense if Wolff moved to and became a citizen of Beutelsbach.
Given that there were two Wolfgangus/Wolfgangius Gockelers, both about the same age, and both living in Schnait at the same time, this tells us that they did not have the same father, but could well have had the same grandfather who might have been named Wolfgangus.
We also have two Lucas Gockelers in Schnait at the same time as well, both having children. It’s evident that even though we don’t have the records, the Gockeler family was in residence here at least two generations earlier, given that Hans was born by 1540, and likely before that. This family’s history reaches back before existing records.
As cousin Tom said, “This will have to be the end of the Gockeler story as anything prior to this would be speculation without some additional data from other sources. Martin Goll has done a great job on this massive history.”
While this is certainly the end of anything resembling proof, it’s worth taking a look at anything Gockeler in the region during this timeframe, or earlier.
My friend, Maree, who lives halfway around the world, down under, sent me the following phone screenshot that she discovered using her local library.
Some days she finds wonderful information surfing on her phone that gets missed otherwise. Apparently, not everything from the church records is not yet recorded in the online Schnait family book.
Thank you, Maree!!
Hmmm, look, another Wolffgangus was born in 1579 to Lucas and Barbara.
Here’s the actual entry.
Given that Lucas Gockeler and Barbara, assuming there was only one couple by that name in Schnait during this time, was the same couple that had the child, Wolfgangius in 1582, this 1579 child would have died.
There was an earlier Wolffgang Gockeler in Schnait though, one who married Maria Dalderls in 1588.
The record has been translated as Gackeler, but assuredly, it’s the same family.
This is the same man as #4 in our Wolffgangius list. We know this is not our Wolff because this man’s daughter, Catherine, died in 1636, at 40 years of age, in Schnait, of starvation.
Think about the larger ramifications of that cause of death.
Starvation. Even that word makes me cringe – and ask exceedingly difficult questions.
How long does it take an adult to starve to death?
It can take months if water and even small amounts of food or any kind of nutrition are available. People ate acorns, wood, and sawdust, yet perished anyway. Starvation is utterly horrific.
She wasn’t the only one. Notice all of those 1635 and 1636 deaths, including many young people – far more than normal.
The fact that residents were starving, beginning in 1634 and reaching across 1635 and 1636, tells you how awful, complete, and prolonged the devastation was following the Battle of Nordlingen.
Clearly, Wolffgangius was a name passed down in this family for generations which makes for same-name confusion. The Wolffgangius, who married in 1588 and whose father was Hans, would have been born around 1560.
Based on the earliest records, we know that there was a Hans Gockeler having children in Schnait early, probably by about 1535, so born about 1510 or earlier, but that Hans is not the father of our Wolff Gockeler who was born later. At least we’ve eliminated one person.
How many Gockeler families lived in Schnait anyway?
How Big was Schnait?
The earliest church records we have for Schnait are the final three months of 1562, the full year of 1563, and the first three months of 1564. Then we have a half page of German script that, instead of additional church records, reveals some local drama that was probably quite serious.
According to my native German-speaking friend, Chris, the first note was written by Georg Schilling, pastor in Schnait, and is about his predecessor Bastian Lutz, whom he describes as “alcohol-addicted and did not take care of his duties. Plus, finally, because of this behavior, Bastian Lutz was buried beside the church, not in it.” Hoo-boy!!!
The next note is not legible but seems to be a note to Pastor Schilling.
This drama may well have been why the Schnait church records were discontinued abruptly in 1564, as reflected on the next page, and did not resume until 1570. It’s possible that the church was without a pastor for that many years.
However, the existing 1562-1564 records, combined with the records from 1570-1579 provide enough information to be able to extrapolate more about the population of Schnait.
Math is Our Friend
These records show an average of 2.25 baptisms each month, but not all of those babies lived.
Some infants perished and were buried not long after their births, having little crosses painfully scribed above their names in their birth record by the Reverend. Therefore, several women would be bringing another child into the world about that same time the following year.
For those mothers whose children did survive the first year, they would be having another baby about 18 months later.
Using this information, the calculations are as follows:
- If every woman of reproductive age had a child once per year, that birth rate equates to about 27 couples having children.
- If every woman of reproductive age had a child once every 18 months, that equates to about 40 different couples.
- The actual number of couples is probably between those two numbers, so let’s say maybe 34 or 35.
There would be some households that were beyond childbearing years – maybe half as many as were having children since not many people lived beyond 60. However, I suspect that many households were multi-generational, with older couples living with family members, or maybe younger families living with one set of parents.
That gives us someplace between 35 and 50 total houses in Schnait in the 1560s and 1570s, and we’ve already seen that several families, at least 5 or 6, had the Gockeler surname.
Keep in mind that this is before the population was reduced by the Plague in 1595, and the dramatic reduction by about half in the first half of the 1600s due to the 30 Years’ War.
I have to wonder, were there Gockelers nearby too?
Cousin Wolfram’s Records
I’m related to Wolfram Callenius through multiple lines. He lives a few miles away and is deeply interested in both the history of the region and our families. You can find the index of his ancestors, here.
Under Gockeler, Wolfram shows several ancestors from Schnait.
Granted, none of these are mine, but that doesn’t mean we don’t share ancestors. Given that his and my Gockeler families are in the same small town, early, and have the same surname, it’s almost assured that we do connect, even if it’s before the preserved records.
His earliest listed Schnait Gockeler ancestor is Johannes, born in 1594:
Clicking on Johannes’ parents shows an earlier Hans born about 1566, during that records gap.
Clicking on his parents shows just the name, Hans.
This Hans would have been born about 1540 or earlier.
That’s the end of the Schnait line, but Wolfram has discovered an earlier Balthasar Gockeler (also Geckeler) in Grunbach, born about 1555. The Grunbach family book is here and the Gockelers in Grunbach, here.
I tracked Wolfram’s line closer in time, and about three generations later, one of Balthasar’s male Gockeler descendants arrived in Grosheppach, across the river from Beutelsbach, and intermarried with the Ellwanger family, also found in Schnait.
Was this perhaps a migration path for the Gockeler family?
Were the Schnait Gockelers related to the Grunbach Gockelers?
Well, where is Grunbach? That would tell us a lot!
AHA – literally just across the river, close to Grossheppach. Yep, these two Gockeler lines are very likely connected in the early 1500s, and earlier.
Y DNA Would Tell the Story
At this point, given that we are back beyond existing church records, the only possible way to definitively solve this mystery would be Y DNA testing of the Gockeler males from both Grunbach and Schnait/Beutelsbach. If any Gockeler male descends from these or nearby lines, please reach out – I’ll provide a DNA testing scholarship.
What Do We Know?
Having gathered as much material as possible, what do we actually know about Wolff Gockeler and his wife, Barbara?
- Literally, all we know beyond question is that their daughter, Catharina, was born in Beutelsbach in 1612. We can, however, infer a few other things.
- Wolff would have been at least in his mid-20s and Barbara, at least in her early 20s in 1612 when their daughter was born, putting their births in the mid/late 1680s or earlier. Roughly 1567-1587.
- Based on Martin Goll’s opinion, extrapolated from later records, that their daughter, Catherina, was from a well-to-do family, Wolff was likely a vintner and/or merchant.
- Wolff Gockeler and Barbara were probably residents of Beutelsbach in 1612, based on the lack of any indication otherwise in the church records, and that the witnesses to Catharina’s baptism, her Godparents, were Beutelsbach residents.
- Wolff was probably the Wolfgangius born in Schnait in either 1582 or 1586 to either one of the Lucas Gockelers.
- Given that the Schnait records do mostly exist for this time period, and the Beutelsbach records mostly do not, it’s likely that Wolff and Barbara had additional children in Beutelsbach.
- The 30 Years’ War broke out six years after Catharina’s birth in 1612. Wolff and Barbara would have been between 30 and 50.
- Beutelsbach church records do not exist during that war and don’t begin again until about 1646.
- We know from the Schnait church records that the plague devastated this region in 1626, and it’s certainly possible that either Wolff or Barbara, or both, died during the plague outbreak.
- In 1634, 1635, and 1636, the residents of both Beutelsbach and Schnait were literally starving. Many died. We see that evidence in the Schnait church records.
- In December of 1634, following the Battle of Nordlingen, soldiers plundered and set fire to Beutelsbach, burning the town to the ground and killing anyone who attempted to resist. If Wolff and Barbara were still living, they would have been at least 50 years old, but possibly as old as 70. If Barbara had children into her 40s, who lived, they could have had children as young as 7 or 8.
If Wolff and Barbara were still living in 1634, were they able to get to the church, up the stairs, through the gate, above, and into the fortified churchyard in time, or were they destined to perish in the fire, or be massacred?
Their daughter, Catharina, married shortly after the fire to Hans Lenz, the Beutelsbach baker (originally from Schnait) who was widowed during the fire. Catharina would have been 22 years old in 1634, prime marriage age – but if her parents had died, that would have certainly encouraged her marriage sooner than later. What was an orphaned 22-year-old female to do?
If Wolff and Barbara witnessed their daughter’s marriage, they would have become immediate step-grandparents to 7-year-old George Lenz, whose mother had perished in the fire.
If Wolff and Barbara died either during the 1626 plague, the 1634 fire or the horrific starving time from at least 1634-1636, Catharina might have been the only child left to inherit her father’s vineyards, which would have explained her and Hans Lenz’s eventual wealth, after the war, when the vineyards slowly began producing again.
The grapevines on the hillsides rising above Beutelsbach and Schnait may have been the only things to survive the fire and the devastation of the region. Those grapes may have sustained the population when there was nothing else, nothing left. Wine was then, and is now, a fundamental staple in the lives of the residents of Beutelsbach and Schnait.
Wine is, literally, life.
Perhaps it was from that legacy, those vineyards, left by Wolff and Barbara that Catharina and Hans were able to survive and rise again.
Just as we descend from them, maybe this vineyard descends Wolff and Barbara’s vines that survived 400 years ago.
We can infer that both Wolff and Barbara died sometime after 1612 and before 1646 when the Beutelsbach church records at least began to be sketchily kept again.
We can also, sadly, infer that Catharina was probably their only surviving child. At least she was their only child that died in Beutelsbach, because there is no further mention of Wolff and Barbara as the parents of anyone who died after the war. Generally, when people died, the minister recorded the identity of their parents. That’s how we know who Catharina’s parents were – her own death record in 1677. Were it not for that minister’s few words, we would never have known that Catharina was a Gockeler, nor who her parents were. I’m incredibly grateful to that long-deceased nameless minister in Beutelsbach.
Catharina herself had only one child that survived, so having no or few descendants certainly wasn’t unusual during that horrific, devastating three-decades-long descend into the fiery pits of Hell. Martin Goll tells us that the population of Schnait fell by one-third and Beutelsbach, by half. This means that the population wasn’t replacing itself, and essentially, every couple that was reproducing, on average, only had one child that survived. That’s incredibly grim when you remember that women often gave birth to a dozen children in their lifetimes.
By the time the 30 Years’ War ended, in 1648, Wolff and Barbara would have been on the north side of 60. Even without a war spanning three decades, successive waves of plagues and epidemics, not to mention the fire and starvation years, odds were against survival beyond 60.
I think we can reasonably infer that, by the end of the war, Wolff and Barbara were no longer with us and that they were likely buried in the Beutelsbach churchyard where Catharina visited them regularly – every time she went to church – or buried another child.
The days in which Wolff and Barbara lived were indeed sorrowful and sorrow-filled times.
It looks like our Gockeler line has come to at least a tentative end in Beutelsbach, but maybe, just maybe, there’s still a little more to be distilled. Like fine wine that morphs into brandy.
If I were a betting person, I’d bet that our Wolff is the Wolfgangius born in either 1582 or 1586 to one of the two Lucas Goeckelers in Schnait.
I’d also bet that one of the Lucases is the son of the earlier Hans Gockeler in Schnait.
And, I’d bet that the contemporaneous Balthasar Gockeler line in Grunback is the same Gockeler family, connecting at some point back in time. Who knows which came first, Schnait or Grunbach. We know that Gockelers lived in both villages in the early 1500s. We also find Wolff Gockeler, clearly short for Wolffgangius, in Beutelsbach by 1612.
Those populations intermingled over the decades and centuries.
The name Wolfgangius harkens back to the Catholic Latin naming conventions, not the more protestant Wolfgang. That’s not surprising.
The century before Wolfgangus’s birth had been violent and divided in the Germanic part of the Holy Roman Empire, both politically and religiously.
Wurttemberg was located dead center in the middle, in yellow.
This region had been a hotbed of conflict for a very long time, most of the 1500s – and our Gockeler family was there to experience it all firsthand.
Poor Conrad’s Peasant Revolt began in Beutelsbach on May 2, 1514, against Ulrich, Duke of Wurttemberg, following crop failures in 1509 and 1513, which caused an increase in taxes to fill the resulting deficit in the noble coffers. However, the peasants had no way of paying. They were desperate, but peasants and serfs had no legal rights and no opportunity to improve their lot in life.
The Duke didn’t care. He just wanted their money at any cost. His opulent lifestyle and resulting debt required funding, no matter the effect on his subjects. It would be safe to say he was intensely disliked.
The resulting uprising took place beneath the hilltop Kappelberg Castle, now in ruins, , but shown below before 1819.
The Duke sent troops into the Rems Valley, hauling some 1700 rebels off to Schorndorf, which only had a population of 3000, where torture, prison, and the beheading of the leaders dampened their spirit and deterred additional resistance, at least for a few years.
Were Gockeler men among the rebels? It’s likely, given the number of people involved and the size of the local villages, but we’ll never know for sure. If villages like Schnait, Beutelsbach, Grunbach, and Grossheppach had maybe 50 houses each, 1700 people would encompass many villages in the region.
Hang on tight, because next came the Reformation, which was the equivalent of lighting a fire under a powder keg.
The Protestant Reformation began in Germany with Martin Luther in 1517, eventually transforming most of Germany from a Catholic to a Protestant state. The Reformation, in turn, inspired the second peasant revolt known as the German Peasant’s War which spread throughout Germany, peaking in 1524 and 1525.
Unfortunately for the peasants, that revolt failed too, and more than 100,000 were slaughtered, or about one-third of the people who took part. Then, noble landowners increased the taxes once again.
It’s no wonder that few records exist from this time. It was in this timeframe that the Protestant church was born. Villages throughout the land saw their Catholic churches forcibly become Protestant.
From the 1530s through the 1560s, Catholic church records, along with the church statues and icons, were destroyed during the Reformation, followed by the church buildings being reconstituted as Protestant.
The recessed piscina, present in every Catholic church wall was used for washing the communion basin, chalice, and to dispose of sacred substances, such as Holy Water and Sacramental Wine.
Those sacred liquids that had become Holy by being blessed by the priest were returned to the Earth by draining inside the church wall to prevent them from being used in sorcery.
Piscinas were retired and sometimes filled in and plastered over, reminders that the church, and her attendees, had once been Catholic.
Parishioners’ faith and rituals changed as well, by edict of the ruling nobles and without consent or agreement of the governed. While many people would have welcomed the new religion, that certainly wouldn’t have been unanimous. It was unquestionably a time of great upheaval, fear, uncertainty, and angst.
It’s likely that Wolff’s grandparents would have told him stories about what happened. They might have been children, and their parents told them about participating in Poor Conrad’s Rebellion. About not being able to pay their taxes. About the people who were taken away and tortured – and about those who dared to speak up and never returned.
How the rebellion melted away because they knew what would happen, otherwise. And how the resentment continued to fester, like an infected boil. The scene was set and the situation primed. All that was needed was someone or something to light the match.
A few years later, probably when Wolff’s grandparents were young, or maybe young adults, they would have heard about a rebel priest named Martin Luther and how he came to reject several of the Roman Catholic teachings, beginning with indulgences – in essence, buying your way out of church-prescribed punishments. Of course, poor peasants couldn’t afford indulgences, either.
Luther believed and began to teach that salvation was not earned by specific deeds or behaviors but received as a gift of God’s Grace through faith – essentially challenging the Pope and his authority. Luther taught that the Bible was the only source of divinely revealed knowledge, not the Pope or any church authority.
Heresy, pure heresy.
Then, in 1517, that priest became even bolder. He authored the Ninety-five Theses and reportedly nailed them to the All Saints’ Church door in Wittenberg for all to see – which sent the church and everyone else into a tizzy!
Of course, the entire countryside would have been talking about Luther and his heretical writings. In these 95 numbered opinions, Luther claimed that the Bible was the central religious authority and the people only reached salvation by their faith, not their deeds. Even more controversial, he outright said that the Pope had no power over Purgatory and indulgences don’t remove guilt.
Was he right? Did people really deserve punishment? If they didn’t deserve church-imposed punishment, then there would be no need to purchase indulgences, right? Could this be true?
Luther was causing people to question their beliefs and the teaching of the Catholic church and to discuss and debate Luther’s bullet points.
Luther’s interpretation changed EVERYTHING. The Catholic church considered Martin Luther a heretic. The populace found hope in his teachings. The Catholic church banned Luther’s teachings and his Ninety-Five Theses – which of course, meant that everyone wanted to hear about them. Forbidding something assures it will be sought.
The farmers, peasants, merchants, and hausfraus would have been chattering like magpies, with word passing at lightning speed through the human grapevine.
Luther’s name was on the lips of every patron in every market and pub in Germany, where, assuredly, every person shared a strongly held opinion and was probably sharing it freely.
In 1521, the Pope excommunicated Luther, but Luther refused to recant his statements and teachings and was ordered to appear before the Diet of Worms, shown in the painting below, where he was, in essence, tried by a tribunal within the church.
For five days, private conferences were held to determine Luther’s fate. The emperor presented the final draft of the Edict of Worms on May 25, 1521, declaring Luther an outlaw, banning his literature, and requiring his arrest: “We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic.” It also made it a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter and permitted anyone to kill Luther without legal consequence.
He was a condemned man – marked for death by the Catholic church.
It was open season on Luther, and one could be confident that his demise was all-but-assured, although they agreed that he could return home safely. Yea, right. Wink, wink.
On his way home, Luther disappeared, kidnapped by masked horsemen dressed as highway robbers. It was a sham, however, and he was taken into the protection of the Wartburg Castle, where he safely began forming the new religion that would soon become the Lutheran faith.
The Reformation movement had begun in earnest. The Diet of Worms had both struck the match and poured gasoline on the fire.
Luther, by then excommunicated, went further and condemned Catholic Mass as idolatry. Priests and nuns could break their vows without sin, because those vows were illegitimate anyway in a vain attempt to win salvation through unwarranted deprivation and an attempt to win favors from God – as prescribed by the Pope and church. Friars began to revolt, as did many in the populace.
Others were equally as strongly opposed to Luther and his teachings, convinced he would spend eternity burning in Hell and eager to send him there sooner rather than later.
Speculation about what Luther was up to, pro or con, would have been the daily discussion in every village marketplace and in hushed whispers, or maybe not so hushed, in every church.
Luther’s willingness to challenge the powerful Catholic church led German peasants, everyday working people, toilers of the soil, like the residents of Beutelsbach and Schnait, to believe that he would support their revolt against the injustices being wrought upon them by the nobility, much like he rejected the authority of the Catholic church. Emboldened once again. the German Peasants’ War began anew in 1524 and quickly spread throughout Germany.
Taking a lead from Luther, the leaders of the peasant troops drafted, printed and circulated their own Twelve Articles that, among other things, demanded that the tithes required by the Catholic church be rescinded.
The Twelve Articles demanded:
- The right for communities to elect and depose clergymen demanded the utilization of the “great tithe” for public purposes after subtraction of a reasonable pastor’s salary. The “great tithe” was assessed by the Catholic Church against the peasants’ wheat and vine crops, and often amounted to more than 10% of the peasant’s income.
- The abolition of the “small tithe,” which was assessed against the peasant’s other crops.
- The abolition of serfdom, death tolls, and the exclusion from fishing and hunting rights; restoration of the forests, pastures, and privileges withdrawn from the community and individual peasants by the nobility
- A restriction on excessive statute labor, taxes, and rents.
- An end to arbitrary justice and administration.
The peasants had misjudged Luther. In 1525, Luther condemned the violence and became enraged at the result of his own instigations, especially the sacking of convents and churches. He began to wonder what he had unleashed, but that freight train was already speeding headlong down the tracks.
The 1525 Peasant’s War ended tragically, with many who participated being slaughtered. Luther seemed to take credit for this turn of events, and many in the populace felt utterly betrayed. Crushed. They believed and trusted Luther, sacrificing everything, and found themselves in a spiritual and personal never-never land, a personal purgatory. What were they to think? What were they to do? Should they believe him? Why did this happen?
Luther married a former nun in 1526, and between then and 1529, established a supervisory church body and prescribed a new form of worship, replacing the Catholic rituals. He translated the Bible into German from Latin, finishing in 1534, so the German people could read God’s Word for themselves. They didn’t have to rely on a priest for translation and interpretation. They could have a personal relationship with God, without an intermediary.
The advent of the printing press meant that Martin Luther’s new Bible, along with thousands of pamphlets critical of Catholicism, could be printed in masse, distributed, and read by German citizens.
Everyone would have wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and discuss Luther’s points, probably at great length.
The resulting arguments were probably quite heated.
Wurttemberg became Lutheran in 1534 by ducal edict, just 50 years or so before Wolfgangius Gockeler was born.
The Catholic relics in the Beutelsbach church would have been retired or perhaps confiscated by the Duke for their monetary value, and the records destroyed. The priest was replaced with a Lutheran minister, a Bible written in German along with new teachings and traditions.
Perhaps Wolffgangius held the first German Bible his family owned in his own hands.
Did he read that Bible, interpreting God’s word for himself instead of relying on a language, Latin, that he didn’t understand and interpretation by Catholic priests?
Did he hold his grandfather’s German Bible close, or did he cherish a Latin Bible, perhaps because it had once belonged to a beloved grandfather or great-grandfather? Perhaps a man who had perished during the revolts?
How did the Gockeler family feel about any of this? Were they unified or find themselves deeply divided in their beliefs?
Did some people embrace the new tenets, finding them more in touch with their everyday lives, while others staunchly protected and defended the religion and rites they had always known, fearful of the fires of Hell if they did otherwise?
Beginning in 1534, they had no choice about their public religion, but their own personal convictions couldn’t be controlled by edict.
What stories were repeated from generation to generation around the table, to Wolffgangius, and then to his daughter, Catharina? Wolffgangius knew people, family members, and other village residents, who had experienced all of these events personally.
The fact that we have ANY records from that era is rather amazing. If our Wolfgangius Gockeler was born in the mid-1580s, he was probably only two generations removed from Catholicism – and maybe only one. His grandparents could easily have been and probably were baptized Catholic, and his parents may well have been secretly performing the Catholic rituals, like repeating the Rosary, that brought their parents and grandparents comfort in their time of need.
And there was so much need during this time.
In the Beutelsbach church, maybe the “Hail Mary,” repeated during the Catholic Rosary was replaced with the Lutheran “Jesus Prayer,” but using the same sacred rosary beads, passed down within families for centuries. Maybe the transition wasn’t all-or-nothing, bringing reluctant parishioners along slowly by allowing some retention of the familiar.
Catholicism wasn’t simply a preference, but a deeply held conviction taught from early childhood and reinforced on a nearly daily basis through universally-accepted, oft-repeated community and personal rituals and church services – baptisms, marriages, confessions, funerals, and burials in a prescribed manner. The requisite Seven Sacred Sacraments.
Perhaps Wolfgangius, a Latin name, given at his baptism, was a wink and a nod to the one thing citizens could still control – selecting their child’s name. Perhaps he was named for his grandfather and the men in preceding Gockeler generations. One thing is certain – Wolfgangius was a popular name in the family and likely had been for generations. It was, after all, a saintly name – Saint Wolfgangus was the Bishop of Regensburg, Germany, and canonized in 1052.
Family members could sit in the beautiful collegiate church in Beutelsbach, close their eyes, and harken back to the time when the Catholic priest was baptizing the newborn babies, speaking Latin, instead of the Lutheran minister. I couldn’t help but notice the month names in the earliest Beutelsbach and Schnait Lutheran church books in the 1560s and 1570s were still written in Latin – so perhaps the Lutheran minister sometimes spoke in Latin as well.
There is comfort in age-old rituals that sustained our ancestors. Old habits die hard.
Indeed, I can hear the minister’s voice echo in the stone church where so many baptizers’ voices had echoed since the Beutelsbach church was built in the 1200s. The Holy Water and Catholic Priests may have been gone, but the baptismal font and the intentions weren’t.
Salvation is salvation – in whatever language.
“I baptize thee, Wolfgangius Gockeler, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
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