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Joseph Schaitberger was born on March 19, 1658, in Duerrnberg near Hallein in the State of Salzburg. Already as a young man he intensively read what the Christian reformers had published. Joseph Schaitberger lived in Plaick, a little village on the Duerrnberg Mountain, very close to the salt mine, where he earned his living as a mine worker. One should keep in mind, that the State of Salzburg was an independent Catholic Church State in these times, not belonging to Austria. Under archbishop Maximilian Gandolph (1668-1687) a new storm of persecution came over the Protestant Christians. Easy to imagine that the leaders of the Lutheran movement, with Schaitberger among them, were the first targets of the archbishop´s hatred.

Meanwhile, it came to his attention that the mine workers of the Duerrnberg Salt Mine did not participate in Catholic masses any longer. Instead they secretly met in the Abtswald Forest on the Duerrnberg to take part in Lutherian services. The authorities had already known for a long time that the mountain people were Protestants, but had not interfered due to the economic importance of the salt. The “white gold” as it was called then, was ouf outstanding importance to the Catholic church´s finance and the main income of the state. This profitable business had to continue! But now, Archbishop Max Gandolf ordered a relentless enquiery.

When landing at Salzburg airport one can already see the Duerrnberg in the distance (see arrow). Photo: March 2007.

The home of the brave salt miners near Hallein: The green Duerrnberg Mountain (in the sunlight, between the column of smoke and the 2 “cat ear rocks”). On the horizon one can see the massive Tennengebirge Mountains. (Photo: July 2006).

It was the year 1683, that Josef Schaitberger and the other leaders were sent to the Hallein prison for further investigations. Later they were taken to Salzburg where they should stand trial in front of the High Court. Capuchin monks and Jesuits tried to convince the men for fifty days, but without success. Besides the effort to get the names of the other heretics, the archbishop ordered the men to sign a written profession of faith. Since Schaitberger expected that the archbishop respected the “Augsburg Confession Treaty” (the agreement that the rulers were allowed to impose their religion on their subjects, otherwise those could at least emigrate within a given time), he signed the profession of faith. But things changed rapidly.

The Abtswald Forest on the Duerrnberg Mountain above Hallein (left). Right picture: Gathered around above rock “Predigtstuhl” (preacher´s stool), the Protestants secretly met for sermons.

Links: Das ehemalige Salzbergwerk auf dem Dürrnberg (heute ein “Schaubergwerk”).Rechts: Das Verlies auf der Hohensalzburg, in der Jospeh Schaitberger vermutlich mit seinen Glaubensgenossen geworfen wurde.

After all efforts to convince the men had proven to be unsuccessful, the four arrested leaders were sentenced to fourteen days of hard labour with only “water and bread”. When they returned home after their punishment, they were told that all of them and all their fellow Protestant mine workers had lost their work and priviliges. A few days later it was ordered from Salzburg that the mine workers involved had to immediately leave the country. They were not allowed to sell their households. When Archbishop Gandolph saw that many of his subjects left all of their belongings behind and directly fled across the border, he offered mercy to those who already had received their emigration order. But under one conditon: They had to return to Catholicism again. When this offer was announced, Schaitberger was still in Salzburg. He visited his followers and supported their spirituality, so that only few weakened and denied their belief. The others emigrated voluntarily or were expelled by force like Schaitberger, robbed of all their belongings and even their children. Approximately 70 Protestant families from Duerrnberg and Berchtesgaden emigrated. All children under 14 years were taken away from their parents to raise them as Catholics. The Schaitberger couple was not allowed to take their two little daughters, Magdalene and Anna, with them. We know from a letter from the year 1701 that Josef Schaitberger corresponded with his daughters, begging them not to surrender to the Catholics.

Most of these early Salzburg Exiles soon found work and new homes in the Erzgebirge Mountains in Saxony, Germany.

Left: The most likely best known portrait of Schaitberger. Up above right: A typical “Sendbrief” bound together as book. Above: The Schaitberger Church in Hallein (Photo from Juli 2006).

When Schaitberger was expelled in 1686, he found a new home in the wealthy city of Nuremberg. There, he was first employed as a servant and porter, finally he worked in a wire-drawing mill. Getting his own life into danger, it is told that he returned to Salzburg three times, where his fellow protestants lived under great pressure. He strengthened their religion or even asked them to return from the Catholic to Protestant belief. However his wife Magdalena, a née Kaemmel from Berchtesgaden, soon died of a broken heart as she did not get over the loss of her daughters and their home. She died one year after her expulsion. There also seems to be evidence that their adult daughter Maria and her husband came to Nuremberg, where Maria gave birth to a child and apparently stayed close to her father. Schaitberger spent the remaining years in peace. Even though he did not have citizen rights, at the age of 65 the Nuremberg authorities granted him “accomodation and food” in a former cloister. Schaitberger remained a widower for five years. In 1692 he married a second time, also an exiled woman from Berchtesgaden, Katharina Brockenberger. She already died six years later and left him 4 sons of whom obviously only one survived his father. 1732 und 1733 he was able to welcome his fellow countrymen as they passed through Nuremberg on their way to East Prussia. In the night of October 3, 1733 Joesph Schaitberger passed away at the age of 75. His grave is still being maintained at Nuremberg´s Saint Rochus cemetary.

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