|Salt Miner and Faith Fighter: Joseph Schaitberger
|Occasionally in history, there comes along an individual who puts honor and principle above
their own personal needs, a person who believes in something so strongly that they enter into
a struggle armed with the knowledge that their beliefs may cost them everything dearest in
life and perhaps even life itself. One such figure was a man whose name few people today
would recognize, but a name once familiar to a good part of the western world, that of a
common salt miner named Joseph Schaitberger.
Schaitberger played an integral role as a spiritual figurehead to not only the Protestants of
Salzburg, but to thousands of oppressed people everywhere. Born in Dürrnberg in 1658,
Joseph was one of twelve children sired by local salt miner Hanns Schaitberger and his wife
Magdalena Thanner of neighboring Berchtesgaden. From at least the mid-16th century, the
Schaitberger family had been associated with the salt mines and as such, earned employment
benefits similar to those of today and embraced age-old traditions of song, dance, costume
Born into an occupation in which rank and privilege extended from father to son, Joseph
descended into the salt caverns at the early age of fourteen. First, however, he had been
educated by his older brother Hans, a school master who was forced to relocate to
Switzerland because of his Protestant leanings. At age eighteen, Joseph thus inherited the
debt-ridden family home upon his father's death.
A voracious reader, Joseph continued to study the writings of Luther in depth, and as he grew
older he amassed a substantial library of over three hundred volumes, including works of
Spener, Arndt, Habermann and others. Most of the salt miners were crypto- Protestants, and
the Archbishopric had generally turned a blind eye to them because their work was vital to
the treasury and there were other more crucial problems to address.
In 1683, Joseph married Magdalena Khaembl of Berchtesgaden, and they soon had two little
girls. Joseph gathered friends and neighbors to his house where he led the small group in
song, prayer and the discussion of books, and an extremely close bond developed between
these kindred spirits. However, there were changes in the mountain wind, and things were
good for only a short time before trouble brewed anew from Salzburg.
Under Archbishop Paris Hadrian's rule from 1619-1653, Protestants were at least allowed 3
years until banishment, and some were allowed to take their possessions and their horses.
But a few years later, the new Archbishop Max Gandolph was not so generous.
Born in 1622 of an old noble Austrian family and elected as Archbishop of Salzburg in 1668,
Gandolph had troubles at the beginning of his rule which took precedence over the Protestant
problem. In 1669, 62 Dürrnberger mine workers drowned in salt and on July 16, 1669, a
landslide killed 200 people. Gandolph had military worries as well: France occupied
Lorraine in 1670, and raised territorial claims to which Gandolph responded with a
contingent. Also, the Turks threatened Vienna in the year 1683. He was also preoccupied
with the infamous "Black Jacket" witch trials where two hundred people had been tortured
and killed at his behest.
Gandolph was, above all else, an administrator with a zest for regulation and rules. Under
his reign, new regulations were issued in abundance and included, among other things, new
police regulations, fire prevention orders, safety ordinances, firearms laws, loitering rules,
an alms order of 1678, a cleanliness order for the roads and even a disease protection
regulation in 1679. A cleanliness order for religion was next, and after 1683, Gandolph
turned his focus to the Protestant problem.
He inflicted even more oppressive measures against the secret Protestants, beginning with
poor farmers in the remote Deferegger Valley. Homes were raided for Lutheran books which
were burned when discovered. The owner's first offence was a hefty fine, and with the
second, the subject was taken away to be "tested" to the Catholic faith in a grueling ordeal.
Finally, about 1,000 people deemed recalcitrant were forced to give up all they possessed
and vacate their homeland at once. They were cast out into the world with only the clothes on
their back and with no provisions made for them. To make matters worse, their minor
children were ripped from their parents' arms and kept behind by force, ostensibly to be
reared in the ways of the "true religion". The cruelty of these actions spread horror to their
neighbors, and fear and anger became palpable throughout the land.
In the strongly Protestant mining community of Dürrnberg, a rift soon developed between a
local friar and some of the Protestants. Salt miner Simon Lindtner could no longer restrain
himself and stomped out of a community meeting in disgust. Hearing that some of the miners
had become more vocal in their discontent, an inquiry was set up by the local Pfleger
(administrator) of Hallein to ferret out the biggest "instigators".
Gandolph had the radical Dürrnberg leaders arrested; Joseph Schaitberger, his
brothers-in-law Mathias Kambl and Simon Lindtner, and his friend Ruprecht Winter were
brought before the local court at Hallein and then moved to a holding cell outside of
Salzburg. After interrogation before the Royal Court, Schaitberger and Lindner were
sentenced to fifty days of hard labor, deprived of rest and forced to live on bread and water.
The Dürrnberg men were assigned two old Capuchin monks who attempted to re-educate
them in the Catholic faith. Even though the Bishop graciously obliged their requests for a
bible to comfort them, because they would not recant their faith they received severe rebuke.
During this time, Joseph speaks of them being afraid for their lives as they were continually
threatened with either death or being "sent out on the wild seas" as slave labor on the
Venetian galleys, a common and greatly feared punishment.
Unbroken, they were commanded to put their confession of faith into writing and hand it over
to the Bishop himself. This the men willingly did, having been led to believe that if they did
this freely, they would be protected by the Treaty of Westphalia and would be granted three
years to sell their homes and possessions before leaving their homeland.
Gandolph had other ideas. Determined to carve the heart out of the Protestant community for
good, he cleverly classified them as "cultists" so that they and their families would be
unprotected by any such treaty provisions. Their choice would be either to recant their faith
in public or face immediate exile. Their consciences prevented them from recanting,
dictating that to do so would be to betray the Word of God, and in a most painful and
heart-wrenching decision, they choose exile. Below: Schaitberger and Gandolph
|In Greater Depth
|Still weak from prison, the small group was cast penniless into the bitter cold near
Christmas of 1685, their small children taken to be raised by Catholic families. Joseph had
only enough time to deed over his house to a friend, but after paying off debts, and with his
assets frozen by the church for the care of his stolen children, he received no money. His
sister Maria Lindtner lost her first three children and Joseph was torn from his two little
girls. Of the 1,000 or so local Protestant parents driven from their homes in 1684, 1685 and
1686, no less than 600 of their children are said to have been seized by the authorities.
About one hundred of Joseph's friends, families, sympathizers and relatives, mostly miners,
left with them in small, homeless bands for Frankfurt, Augsburg, Ulm, Nürnberg and even to
the mines in Saxony, there being at this time no organized community of exiled compatriots
from which to seek comfort and refuge. Joseph's group slowly made the hazardous journey
through deep snows, first to Regensburg to seek an audience with the Evangelical Estates,
and then on to Nürnberg, a bastion of Protestantism, where they arrived in May.
Nürnberg was a progressive, tolerant city of art, music and wealth and it offered a new
beginning. After finding shelter, Joseph initially found work as a porter and then as a wire
drawer, an occupation in Germany since the 14th century, and one which required immense
human strength. While Joseph toiled, Magdalena wouldn't survive the ordeal. She died of
consumption and a broken heart within a year, begging on her death bed for Joseph to get
their children back, something he would repeatedly and futilely attempt. In a twist of fate,
Max Gandolph died unexpectedly near the same time as Magdalena Schaitberger.
Meanwhile, on the remote mountain farms back in Salzburg, the quiet Protestant meetings
which had once been held in private houses now took place in even greater secrecy under
the open sky. On Sundays and public holidays, people crept up to a large rock in the woods
near Dürrnberg to worship together and read letters smuggled in from previously exiled
relatives and from Joseph Schaitberger. It is said that Joseph personally met with them on
at least one of his clandestine trips back home. He had petitioned to have his children
returned, but was rebuffed, and he made at least three trips home under cover of night, facing
grave danger if caught, in hopes of recovering his stolen children. The church had purposely
separated them and then moved them around to foil any plans to retrieve them. He succeeded
only in getting his brother Balthaser safely out, but he had attained folk hero status.
On February 3, 1692 at Nürnberg's St. Lorenz Church, Joseph married his second wife,
Catherine Brockenberger, a fellow exile and the daughter of a salt miner whose family had
resided in Berchtesgaden for many generations. Less than a year later, their first born son,
Philipp Schaitberger, was baptised at St. Lorenz. They quickly had three more sons, but
sadly, they all died as infants and only Philipp would outlive his father. Catharina died in
1697, after only five years of marriage and Joseph never remarried.
One thing the Royal Court back in Salzburg had not counted on was a simple salt minor
having extraordinary literary gifts! At no little risk of personal danger, Joseph worked
feverishly night and day, pouring out his heart and mind to his brethren back home to keep
the faith no matter what. Soon after Joseph's arrival in Nürnberg, on the initiative of a local
preacher, he began to write a number of Protestant tracts. They were at first printed
individually as pamphlets and soon several thousand copies were made and furtively
dispersed to his former countrymen.
In 1710, he had them bound together into a book. The "Sendbrief" was a favorite book of
Salzburgers as well as Protestants in Germany and was joyously anticipated and wildly
popular. It was also hunted down and burned back in his homeland whenever found. In
reaction to the Schaitberger Sendbrief, the Salzburg Court Chancellery hired P.Maurus
Liechtenhaimb of the Benedictine Order and the University faculty to draft a ten page
Catholic rebuttal called "The Anti-Schaitberger", but it failed to make an impact.
In 1691, the Margrave of Baden and the Crown Prince of Brandenburg unsuccessfully
intervened on Joseph's behalf for the return of his children, and although this came to nothing
for Joseph, it managed to help others when through the mediation of Elector Friedrich
Wilhelm, some Defereggers who had already disbursed to Stuttgart, Ulm, Göppingen,
Herrenberg and Urach were at long last reunited with their stolen children. Some romantic
accounts claim that at least one of Joseph's daughters eventually found her father and "fully
embraced his Protestantism", but it remains unproven and was probably wishful thinking.
Joseph lived until the year of the greater Salzburg expulsion almost a half century later, and
it is said that a number of the exiles in this group stopped to pay their respects to him shortly
before his death. As an old man, although he was not a native Nürnberger, he was able to
reside at the Lutheran Brothers house which had been set up in 1388 by Konrad Mendel to
shelter "twelve poor brothers". Joseph died peacefully in 1733 at 75 years of age and was
buried at Friedhof St. Rochus.
By the time of Schaitberger's death, Austria had been all but cleansed of Protestants. His
'Neu Vermehrter Evangelischer Sendbrief' was the most popular religious tract of its time
next to the Holy Bible and it remained a popular inspirational work for generations to come.
It was published until the turn of the twentieth century, the last major edition appearing in
1908 on the occasion of Joseph's 250th birthday, and it has recently been reprinted. His son
Philipp would become the first in a long line of chimney sweep masters in Mittlefranken.