By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
Onophrius Griesinger and Leonhard Lochmair (formerly a Roman Catholic priest) were sent by the Hutterites living in Moravia as evangelists to South Tyrol. As had happened with several evangelistic teams before them, they were hunted down and arrested by the authorities. Lochmair was arrested first, in April 1538. He was imprisoned and examined and recanted. Before long, however, he repented of his weak wavering and declared himself no longer willing to recant his faith.
In the meantime, strong efforts were made by the government to track down Onophrius. On May 20, 1538, fifteen strong men were ordered to find him. It took until August 28, 1538, for the authorities to finally catch up with him – with the help of an infiltrator who betrayed Onophrius.
Onophrius was put in the safe prison in Brixen, the same prison where Lochmair was confined. Onophrius and Leonhard soon found a way to communicate with each other. They discovered that they shared the same food bowl. Leonhard scratched a note in the bottom of the bowl, telling Onophrius of his recantation, his repentance, and his desire to be reaccepted into the brotherhood. Onophrius wrote a note back, saying that he had been forgiven and reaccepted. Onophrius then wrote a note to the brethren back in Moravia, asking that Leonhard be reaccepted. (How he got the note delivered is still unknown.)
Onophrius was tortured twice, but refused to confess to knowing of any plans among the brotherhood for rebellion against the government (of course, they had no such plans). The local officials wanted to execute Onophrius secretly before dawn, but representatives of the emperor were there to ensure that he was sentenced to a public burning.
On October 31, 1538, Onophrius was executed for the sake of the truth of the Gospel. Oswald Schuster, another Anabaptist, was present at the execution. Just before Onophrius was put in the fire, he came forward and shook Onophrius’s hand. He was quickly arrested but later escaped from prison and fled to Moravia with Onophrius’s widow.
Onophrius’s execution was a hard day for the officials. The locals were not pleased with the fact that he was being executed. Mercenaries had been hired for crowd control, but even they were angry with the authorities for what was being done to Onophrius. There was a heavy rain that day, which dampened the fire and prolonged the torture of death. The captain of the mercenaries demanded that Onophrius be beheaded, a more merciful method of execution. The authorities would not go against the Emperor’s orders that Anabaptists were to be burned alive. However, they did bring some dry wood to bring a quicker end to Onophrius’s suffering.
Onophrius did not die in vain. The provost in charge of the execution, after seeing Onophrius die and being greatly moved at his integrity and steadfastness, raised his hand and swore an oath that he would never again sentence another Anabaptist. The captain of the mercenaries, who had demanded a more merciful end to Onophrius’s sufferings, later went to Moravia and joined the Hutterites.
In the meantime, Onophrius’s fellow prisoner, Leonhard Lochmair, lay in prison. He was finally beheaded in late 1538.
Hutterite Beginnings, by Werner O. Packull
Originally published in The Witness, January 2012.