Life of Bishop Martin Stephan, Part 1

To prepare for this prose blog, I followed Martin Stephan’s path from birth to death, beginning with his boyhood n Northeast Moravia. By dead of winter, my sister Judith Stephan, partner Sue Moore and I drove to his home town in Stramberg, (CZ). The sun rose at 8:30 a.m. and set at 3:30 pm. Cold fog rolled over the mountains. Near Stramberg, we visited the famous Sipka cave, where Martin and his sister Wilhelmina hid for two days from marauding Jesuits looking for Lutherans to kill. What must they have felt, grieving over the death of their father, shivering in the dark, not knowing if they would survive for their faith? And then, what about their terrifying escape by dead of night towards Breslau, (Poland)! How did they get there? We travelled the 280 kilometers, about 175 miles between that lovely city and the youngsters’ parental home. Not an easy trek over mountains. They probably followed the Oder River.
For the next five years, Martin developed his skills as a journeyman weaver, it is thought, in the Silesian area. In 1802, Martin was then invited by pietists to enroll in St. Elizabeth’s Gymnasium in Breslau. Where his sister ended up no one knows for certain. At the age of 27, the ministerial candidate then matriculated in the University of Halle in 1804. After the Battle of Jena in 1806, Napoleon closed that University. Candidate Stephan then moved to the University in Leipzig, completing his doctorate in 1809. I have a copy of the Latin certificate.
On a return visit to CZ, my partner Julie and I located Haber, a little village in North Bohemia where Stephan accepted his first pastorate. Now just a shell, I could well imagine how Martin would soon feel too big for that church post. Indeed, the following year, he received a call to St. John’s Lutheran Church in Dresden where, I spent time over the years, beginning with my student days in Germany.
From Dresden Martin exiled to America in 1838. (More on that in detail in subsequent (blogs.) I visited Chester, Il, where the Bishop’s son Martin Jr. served as pastor. I went to Perry County, MO several times obtaining court records on Martin Stephan’s acquittal. And finally, in 1996 I attended a family reunion and visited nearby Trinity Lutheran Church in Prairie, IL where Martin Stephan Sr. was Pastor for a half year before his death in 1846 at age 69.
Over many decades, I had come full circle with Martin Stephan’s odyssey and had a much clearer picture of him. The time now beckoned for me to dig deeper.

Leave a Reply

Logged in as . Logout »