In 2012, I sent copies of my first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which is set in Switzerland, to various newspapers in the Zürich area. The book was reviewed, I was interviewed, and many people read the book. One reader wrote me an email suggesting that perhaps I had Swiss ancestry. He said that many Americans did.
Years earlier, I’d superficially investigated the possibility of my having Swiss ancestry after eating a couple of dishes in Switzerland. They had been prepared exactly as my grandmother cooked them. But, as I’m not very interested in genealogy per se, I didn’t go far, and I didn’t find anything. At this man’s suggestion, I looked into it more seriously, and there I met the Schneebelis. I was stunned by what I found. Beginning in the 11th century, my maternal grandmother’s family had lived in and near the village of Affoltern am Albis in Canton Zürich. I had been there. I’d even hiked on the hillside where they had built their castle-fort and seen the pile of rocks that remains. I was able to use what I learned to finish my second novel, Savior.
The discovery inspired my third novel, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior. The story takes place between1524 and 1531, the seven most turbulent years of the Protestant Reformation in Zürich. During those years, the family had six living sons; Heinrich, Hannes, Peter, Conrad, Thomann, and Andreas. My personal ancestor was the oldest, Heinrich.
I knew a little about the Zürich reformation, primarily that the leader, Huldrych Zwingli, was regarded as a hero of religious freedom.
Zwingli and Martin Luther were contemporaries. After a series of formal debates, they were unable to agree on the question of transubstantiation. If they had, the two movements might have become one. Looking back four-hundred years, the big difference between the two men is that Martin Luther lived long enough to see his reforms become a major political and religious force while Zwingli was killed early on in a war with Switzerland’s Catholic cantons.
As for my family, I learned that Heinrich’s father, Johann Schneebeli had restored the family fortunes by marrying the daughter of a mill-owner in the nearby village of Thalwil. In time, he inherited the mill in Thalwill and took over the mill in Affoltern am Albis.
Two of Johann’s sons, Hannes and Peter, were priests. Peter was a military man who led troops of the Old Swiss Confederacy and the Pope against the French at the ill-fated Battle of Marignano. Peter later became a Dominican priest (though he was married) with the job of keeping the Canton of Glarus (the former pastorate of Huldrych Zwingli) in line against the insidious tentacles of reform reaching out from Zürich. Peter later became a Reformed pastor in Glarus. The facts exist, but how one recorded episode of Peter’s life led to the next was up to my imagination.
Three things are known about Hannes. He was a priest, then a reformed pastor. As for the third? I can’t say without spoiling the story. As a second son, Hannes could have been “given” to an abbey to be raised as a priest. How that led to him becoming a reformed pastor is not difficult to figure out as Zwingli “forced” (with greater or lesser “energy”) all the churches in Canton Zürich to abandon Catholicism.
Anabaptism had emerged in reaction to Zwingli’s changing his opinion from opposing infant baptism to supporting it. Anabaptism was well entrenched in Affoltern am Albis by the 17th century. In 1640, a member of the family, Heinrich Schneebeli, was imprisoned in Zürich for Anabaptism. So, it seemed to me that at least one of the six Schneebeli brothers would have rejected Zwingli’s teachings and joined what became known as the “Radical Reformation.” In The Brothers Path, Andreas, Thomann and Heinrich’s son, Heinj, are Anabaptists, or “Rebaptizers.”
I knew a few things myself as a descendant of these people. My grandmother’s religious beliefs were very “Amish-esque” and my mother long theorized that my grandmother had descended from Pennsylvania Dutch people. It was a very good guess, as it happens. I did more research and discovered that they came to Pennsylvania on the ship Francis and Elizabeth in 1743 and that they had been Anabaptist — Mennonites.
My little pile of facts was like edge-pieces to a jig-saw puzzle. I tried to imagine my character’s daily lives in the midst of an unprecedented religious and social revolution. How did they contend with these changes, keep life and their businesses going, not knowing how things would turn out, not knowing the long-term significance of everything happening around them?
About The Brothers Path
The Brothers Path
by Martha Kennedy
Publisher: Free Magic Show Productions
Publication Date: July 4, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
By award winning author, Martha Kennedy.
The world-shattering tumult of the Protestant Reformation enters the Schneebeli household when Rudolf Schneebeli is born two months early and dies a few minutes later without being baptized. Named for the well trodden track linking the Schneebeli farmhouse to the old Lunkhofen castle, The Brothers Path is set in a Swiss village near Z¸rich, between 1524 and 1531. It chronicles the lives of the six Schneebeli brothers, Heinrich, Hannes, Peter, Conrad, Thomann and Andreas. Each brother navigates his own path through, around or directly into the deadly drama of the Protestant reformation.
Two hundred years after the events recounted in The Brothersí Path, thousands of immigrants, mostly Mennonites and Amish, left Switzerland for America looking for safety and freedom they could not find at home. If the novel teaches a ìlessonî it would be a reminder why immigrants to America were adamant about separating church and state.
Praise for Brothers Path†by Martha Kennedy
ìA remarkable historical novel that follows the lives of a group of brothers in Reformation Switzerland as they struggle with their various beliefs while winning and losing family battles. †I have read a previous book by this author, Martin of Gfenn, and am preparing to read her Savior. I am not usually a fan of histories, especially those dealing with crises of faith, but this author has found the secret of bringing these times and people alive. I enjoy her writing, and am humbled by learning what religion has wrought in this world for many times before our own.î-Amazon Reviewer
ìI thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Brothers Path’. Written about a pivotal time in our religious history, this was an interesting look at a large family who each had different opinions of the new Protestant thoughts presented to the population. Being a free thinker was quite new and families stretched as a result. This is a well written look at a very unique historical time in our history.î-R. Hueftle, Amazon Reviewer
ìThis beautifully and sensitively written book is the third of author Martha Kennedy’s historical novels set near Zurich, Switzerland. The story, which takes place in the 1520s, chronicles the lives, loves, and passions of the six Schneebeli brothers, whose changing and differing religious beliefs clash as the Protestant Reformation, promoted in the Swiss cantons by Ulrich Zwingli, sweeps through their lives.
The book begins with the premature birth of baby Rudolf Schneebeli into the Catholic Schneebeli family, and his death minutes later before he can be baptized. The fact that a beloved child must be buried, unbaptised, in unsanctified ground, begins the book and serves as a catalyst for remarkable changes within the family as some brothers are inspired to follow Zwingli’s new religion while others hold their Catholicism dear. The issue reverberates throughout the book to the last sentence, highlighting the complexities in people’s lives brought on by religious change.
Kennedy not only provides a picture of what the Reformation must have been like on a personal level, but her rendering of what the daily life of the Schneebeli family was probably like rounded out a very satisfying read.î-SusannahReads, Amazon Reviewer
Buy Brothers Path by Martha Kennedy
About Martha Kennedy
Award winning author, Martha Kennedy has published three works of historical fiction. Her first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which tells the story of a young fresco painter living in 13th century Z¸rich, was awarded the Editorís Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and the BRAG Medallion from IndieBRAG in 2015.
Her second novel, Savior, also an BRAG Medallion Honoree (2016), tells the story of a young man in the 13th century who fights depression by going on Crusade. Her newest novel, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior, looks at the same family three hundred years later as they find their way through the Protestant Reformation.
Kennedy has also published many short-stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly.
Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language.
For many years she lived in the San Diego area, most recently in Descanso, a small town in the Cuyamaca Mountains. She has recently returned to Colorado to live in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley.
To learn more about Kennedy’s award-winning novels, Martin of Gfenn and Savior, check out her Amazon author page:†amazon.com/author/martha_ann_kennedy
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