|The Great Expulsion of Salzburg Protestants
|In the early 18th century, while the 16,000 or so inhabitants of Salzburg proper were almost
all Catholic and in some way connected with the court, the rural regions were still teeming
with crypto-Protestants. This would soon change when in 1727, Count Leopold Anton
Eleutherius von Firmian (1679- 1744), dubbed the "Sun King of Salzburg", bought his way
into the position of Archbishop from the Pope for today's price of $75,000.00.
Born of an aristocratic South Tirol family, bigoted and anti-social Firmian surrounded
himself with anti-Protestant zealots and Jesuits in his quest to finally cleanse the land of
Protestants. Since Salzburg acted as a buffer between Bavarian and Austrian royal houses,
Firmian took it upon himself to rigorously protect both its position and its religion, and by
1730, he increased book raids and hired more spies to root out the secret Protestant farmers
and peasants in the surrounding hills and valleys.
While oppression and unrest spread across the land, Firmian spent his free time in the
company of a wealthy Countess, bribing his corrupt court councillor with fifty thousand
dollars of church money to do his dirty work for him. Tirolean Christian von Rall adopted
the name Christiani da Rallo to fit it with Firmian's attendants and associates, who were
chiefly Italians. Rall deviously encouraged the common use of a greeting: "Praise be to
Jesus Christ for eternity. Amen!" The local Protestants predictably viewed the expression as
taking the Lord's name in vain, especially when used in taverns, and they naturally refused to
greet one another with it. This simple act of omission gave them away and helped Rall and
his spies ferret out the dissidents.
Meanwhile, trying to appeal to the Corpus Evangelium, six Protestants journeyed to
Regensberg in 1731 with a petition speaking for their fellow believers which stated their
grievances and requested relief under the terms of the Peace of Westphalia. When the
Archbishop found out, he considered it high treason, but he was in a ticklish situation. The
power of the Protestant Prussian king was a concern to him, and the Austrian Emperor was
too preoccupied should Firmian need his help. His clever ally von Rall decided on a
strategy. They would very publicly "give in" to the Protestant's demands and pacify them so
as to seem accommodating. The naive Protestants were ecstatic. They were even allowed to
openly have prayer meetings... then the other shoe dropped. Firmian and his cronies
concocted and exaggerated a couple of "incidents" which gave them an excuse to clamp
down even harder in hopes to eradicate the "noxious Protestant weed".
Thinking they could now simply expel the few acknowledged Protestants, Firmian signed an
Edict of Expulsion on October 31, 1731 which gave the Protestants a choice of recanting or
exile. He was utterly astonished when 21,475 citizens followed the example of Joseph
Schaitberger and instead came forth and openly admitted their faith... choosing exile rather
than compromising their beliefs!
|What next transpired was of a magnificent proportion and evolved into a true cultural
cataclysm which shocked the European world. Families were ripped apart, lovers torn from
one another, and mothers and fathers too old to travel had to be left behind in the heart-
breaking flight from their beloved homeland. People tried to take what they might need, but
were forced to make hasty arrangements in the middle of a frigid winter. Since land owners
were generally given only three months to sell their livestock, homes and property, it
resulted in an even greater financial loss. In the process, they endured confusion, grief and
terror, however, their children were at least not taken from them.
Tradesmen, farmers and woodsmen were all given different deadlines, some as little as
eight days. As they cast parting glances at their mountains homeland, long lines of the
exhausted exiles departed in grief. They left proudly, however, clinging together and singing
Joseph Schaitberger's Exulantenlied all the while, both in honor of his memory and for
strength and inspiration. Victims of robbers, illness, death and starvation, most of the exiles
headed for refuge in tolerant German Protestant cities.
Whole villages along the path of their trek stood in amazement at the passing spectacle,
some ringing their church bells and feeding or housing the procession, while a few hamlets
hissed and jeered, depending upon the religion of the town.
|In Greater Depth:
|In October of 1781, Joseph II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and Regent
of the House of Hapsburg from 1780 to 1790, issued the Edict of Toleration
which granted freedom of worship for all in the realm, regardless of religion.
Joseph Schaitberger's Sendbrief would, however, remain banned.
|THE SALZBURG PROTESTANT EXILES
|The Salzburg Exiles
|In the picture at the top of the page, the Exulanten man has under one arm a copy of the Augsburg Confession, while
under the other is a theological work by Johann Arndt. The woman is carrying the Bible. At the top is a Bible verse which
Luther spoke of: "Pray that your flight does not occur in the winter or on the Sabbath" (* see "Sermon" below) and the
words: "We are driven into exile for the Gospel’s sake; we leave our homeland and are now in God’s hands."
The non-violent Salzburgers identified with Luther's advice of submitting to legal authority while still being obedient to their
conscience, but this would cost them dearly. Luther's words were a powerful influence on the Exulanten. In 1532, Luther
had responded to a letter from a troubled Protestant miner at Gastein that he could, in good conscience, avoid trouble
with the authorities over communion merely by taking the sacraments not “bodily” at all, but only “spiritually”, and if he
was unsatisfied without bodily communion, and his prince still forbade communion in both kinds, “then you must leave the
land, and seek another place as Christ said: Fly to another town, if they persecute you in one, for here there is no
In his Doctrine of the two kingdoms, Zwei Reiche Lehre, Luther said that God rules the world in two ways, and the
Salzburgers interpreted this as God ruling the earthly kingdom, the weltliche Reich, through secular government by
means of law or by the sword, and ruling the heavenly kingdom, the geistliche Reich, through the gospel, or grace. Luther
affirmed that the Christian's duty was to obey the magistrate. In the case where the rule of law or government is contrary
to God's Word, Luther recommended emigration instead of armed resistance.
|Above all others, historically tolerant Prussia eagerly awaited them. King Friedrich
Wilhelm, the Soldier King, initially took in over twelve thousand exiles, and then gave a
new home to thousands more. In hopes of repopulating East Prussia and the other remote
eastern regions of the Prussian realm which had previously been devastated by plague and
famine, he arranged for the exiles to be guarded and guided on their great trek and even
demanded they have some monetary compensation from the Archbishop. The remainder of
exiles ended up in other German regions, notably Franconia (Mittelfranken) and Hannover,
the new American colony of Georgia and even Holland. Still others fled to more distant
realms such as Transylvania, while some never went far at all: a full quarter of the exiles
died within two years of leaving home.
It is said that upon reaching safety, many Salzburgers made only one inquiry of their hosts:
"Have you a Schaitberg?" When provided with a copy of Joseph Schaitberger's Sendbrief,
they evinced great joy and gratitude.
In neighboring Berchtesgaden, a similar scene played out among the Salzburgers' friends and
relatives, and hundreds of Protestants there were also forced into exile. Firmian had
dangerously depopulated his own country and was chastised by Rome, not for his inhumane
actions, but because he had not crushed the Protestants earlier. After Salzburg was cleansed
of Protestants, Firmian exploited the resulting financial windfall and appropriated all that
was possible for himself, his family and his cronies, and in 1736, a greatly enriched Firmian
commissioned the grand Schloss Leopoldskron as a family estate, a palace built on tears.
The "Salzburgers" as a distinct culture became extinct. Within a short time and with the
eradication of indigenous inhabitants, the farms and villages which were emptied of
Protestants filled up almost entirely with strangers to the area, some from poorer regions of
Austria, others from Catholic cities in Germany. The local surnames changed as most of the
old population vanished. Off in their new, distant lands, the exiles thought of themselves and
were regarded by others as Salzburgers for just a little while longer until they assimilated.