Wednesday, December 24, 2014

a valiant vicar

In the course of our investigations into the ancestors who were tradesmen in the small town of Kirn from the 15th through to the 17th century, we also came across a likely ancestor who was the town’s first Lutheran vicar. (I was actually baptised in his church, where his bones are probably still underfoot, which is kind of spooky.) He had an unusual life, so here’s a draft version of his biography:

NB: I've added a German version of his biography to

Peter Siegel was a student of Martin Luther at Wittenberg and went on to introduce Luther’s ideas to his home town of Kirn long before the area officially became protestant.

Peter Siegel was born in 1485 as the son of the baker Nikolaus Siegel and his wife, who was a daughter of Hen Thielmann. He started out learning his father’s trade and then probably became a monk. In October 1518, at the unusually advanced age of 33, he went to Wittenberg to study theology with the reformer Martin Luther, whose ideas had inspired him.

After three years of study, in 1521, the rulers of his home territory suggested he should become vicar of Münster am Stein, which is also on the river Nahe, downstream of Kirn. It is unclear whether he actually obtained this job, but he soon married a woman from his home town named Gertrud (not quite in accord with catholic dogma).

He then moved back to Kirn, where, according to his tombstone, he was a vicar from 1528 to his death in 1560 (although the first mentions in the town archives only date to the 1530s). Specifically his epitaph said that he “preached the gospel of Christ at this church for 32 years – no matter how much his adversaries raged – in its pure and unadulterated form, after elimination of all man-made additions.” In Latin that reads:

qui cum duos et triginta annos, huic Ecclesiae, quantumvis frementibus adversariis, Evangelium Christi pure sincereque, neglectis hominum figmentis, tradisset

Those raging opponents will mainly have been the members of the local Collegiate church, who made several complaints to the archbishop at Mainz about their vicar. Disputes over the true faith raged on into the 1540s, such that one cannot pin down a date for the introduction of the reformation at Kirn. The territorial overlords clearly protected their renitent protestant vicar from prosecution by the archbishop, but only “came out” as protestants after the 1555 Augsburg Settlement, which allowed each ruler complete freedom to choose the faith for their domain (cuius regio, eius religio).

The citizens of the small town (which, despite its strong tradition in trades and crafts, only officially became a town in 1857) were already very supportive of their protestant vicar by that time. A significant date in this context is 1544, which is when the records of the wool weavers' guild stop mentioning the Corpus Christi (Fronleichnam) holiday, which is a highly significant day for catholics only. Kirn remained purely protestant until 1681 when French troops took over the town and the castle next door to it, the Kyrburg.

Peter Siegel died on October 15th, 1560 and was buried in his church, which had to be partially rebuilt in later centuries, but still is a protestant church in the same location to this day. From 1684, the French occupation forced the town to simultaneously use the church for catholic as well as protestant services, and the new catholic altar came to cover up Siegel’s tomb. Later on, the tombstone, whose inscription survives in transcripts (although the date had to be corrected), was removed and remains lost.


Own photo of the Lutheran church at Kirn.

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