Friday, January 30, 2015

Ausbund Amish Songbook and Hymnals

The Ausbund, the songbook of the Amish religion, is the oldest Anabaptist songbook dating from the Reformation period, and is one of the oldest hymnals in continuous use today.  The Ausbund, a collection of ballads of faith and persecution of early Swiss Brethern, containing lyrics only; no music.  The lyrics are sung in a type of Gregorian chant.  The Amish use no instrumental accompaniment.  Hymns are monophonic, sung with drawn-out tones; often each syllable extended over 6-8 notes. Tunes are passed from generation to generation.  The men who lead the songs occasionally meet during the week to practice the songs they will lead in church.  The songs are written in high German and the Amish communicate in low German.  Without interpretation, today’s Amish have only a limited understanding of what they are singing.  Here is a link to an Amish wedding song.  Notice that an English translation is given.  

Ausbund at Amish and Mennonite Historic Center
The Ausbund originated in Germany and was birthed out of persecution.   In 1535 fifty three Anabaptists were imprisoned  for five years in the dungeon beneath the Oberhaus Castle at the Passau Three River Junction in Germany. 

Oberhaus Castle, Passau, Germany
The Anabaptist movement began with Zwingli over 100 years prior to the existence of the Amish.  The Anabaptists referenced here had their beginnings as a separate religious body in Zurich, Switzerland as a radical wing of Zwinglianism.  In the year 1518, Zwingli preached against tithes and opposed military service.   Mennonites are those who followed, and to this day, follow the teachings of Menno Simons, an early reformer who in January of 1536 laid down his priestly office, renounced the Catholic church to choose a life of uncertainty and persecution.  The Amish are followers of a young, strong-willed Jacob Amman who demanded rigid observance of disciplines – especially to the enforcement of the Meidung and excommunication.  In 1693 he, along with a few converts, set out on a tour through various Swiss congregations to solicit followers . The Anabaptists who were held in the Oberhaus Castle were early believers who rejected infant baptism, but rather embraced adult/believer’s baptism.  The Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites are direct descendents of these Anabaptists.

Collection of Ausbunds
The first Ausbund was printed in 1564, and did not include the date and publisher’s name for fear of persecution.  It was not until the European edition of 1809 that the publisher’s name and printing date were included.  Today’s  Ausbund is a compilation of several collections.  The original Ausbund was comprised of fifty one songs written by the imprisioned Anabaptists at Oberhaus.  An additional eighty hyms were added and published in the 1583 edition.  Later, additional songs were added; 137 in Europe, and 140 in America.

Amish Garb on Display
 Behalt, the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center houses a vast private collection of Ausbunds collected by Berlin, Ohio, historian, Leroy Beachy. 
Barn Inn Bed and Breakfast, Millersburg

 Plan a visit to Holmes County and a stay with us here at the Barn Inn Bed and Breakfast.  We serve a full country breakfast and share cultural information at breakfast time.

Submitted by: Loretta Coblentz
January 30, 2015

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