Martin Stephan Leaving Dresden for Bremen

The door latched shut. Martin Stephan’s horse-drawn carriage whisked him through the chilly fall night streets of Dresden to the house of a friend, attorney Dr. Stuebel. There, he and other fellow prominent passengers would board carriages to take them to Bremen, where ships to New Orleans already prepared to leave. Gone forever his pastorate, Saint John’s Church and the beautiful yellow Zeughaus (arsenal), designed and built by his wife’s grandfather. No longer visible was the gorgeous Elbe–by day skirted with broad green tapestries, or the Radeberger hills where he enjoyed walks and talks with parishioners. Visible from the north side of the Elbe were the faint outlines of the Court Church Steeple and the majestic Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) cupola.
One can only imagine how Martin felt. Sadness or relief–or both? The recent years in Dresden had become a place of stress, strife and summons by the police for alleged nefarious activities. After reviewing Stephan’s case for a nerve-wracking wait of three days, the King of Saxony granted Pastor (Dr) Stephan a full pardon on all charges.
Then, on October 25, the Saxon Department of Justice relayed that decision to the City Court and the order was handed down: Pastor Stephan was vindicated of all charges, released from house arrest to leave his home and could lawfully depart from Dresden. When Stephan received an official notification on Oct. 26. wife Julia with her lawyer, signed a document releasing her husband and son to go. She also stated she had no intention of going along.
On his long ride to Bremen, Martin certainly had time to reflect. He was familiar with uprooting and upheaval–and leaving home. In previous centuries, his forbearers had migrated from Austria to Moravia, so a gypsy-like gene was in his blood.
Historically the Stephan family, traceable back to the middle ages in Austria, was always fleeing from something–most of all religious strife and oppression.
The young orphaned Martin left his boyhood home of Stramberg, situated close to the Eastern border of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Stephan sat back in his carriage seat and flashed on her rolling hill, hearing his mother’s flat Czech intonation. In the craggy Sipka cave, huddling with his sister to avoid capture by the blood-thirsty Jesuits, he imagined how he and Wilhelmine had listened for any sign of thundering horses signaling their approach. But foreigners to the area were not aware of the cave. Martin’s heart raced at the thought of death by rifle bullets, had they stayed home.
But they made to Breslau. Martin thought of his apprenticeship as wandering weaver in the tradition of his father, and the many laced cloths facing the parsonage beds and furniture. Martin sighed. A trade long in the family, but not what he really wanted. In Breslau, Silesia, what relief when a group of Pietist Christians took me under their wing. Finally a chance for studies, entering the Elisabeth College Gymnasium (advanced High School) at twenty-four a much older age than fellow classmates in their teens.
After graduation, it was time to move on again, possibly leaving Wilhelmine behind. No one knows. But God came through. Exiting opportunities opened up to pursue theological studies in the Saxon town of Halle, Handel’s birthplace. But when Napoleon closed down the university in 1806. another move was necessary, this time nearby elegant and bustling Leipzig of Bach, Schumann and Mendelssohn, concerts, playing the piano, and services at St. Thomas. Doctorate in hand, (Martin smiled) time to get to work (after all he was thirty-three years old by now) and begin preaching the gospel. A first call in 1809 as a Lutheran Pastor from Haber in North Bohemia. A place to get one’s bearings. Happily. another move to Dresden a year later, as a Czech-(and German) speaking pastor to the Bohemian Congregation of St. Johns stay put (for 28 years), find a suitable, attractive wife and start a family. And speak Czech again!
The various migrations in Martin’s DNA: the early Stephans, his flight from Moravia to Silesia, then south to Bohemia and back to Saxony would help him emotionally to manage yet another move to the New World. He would need that strength. This was not going to be any such passage he had experienced before. Dawn was breaking and a long way to go to Bremen. He pulled the curtain closed for a much needed rest.

Meanwhile back at the parsonage, it was time for Martin Jr. to depart. One piece of his personal baggage lay open on a long oak table. Julia beckoned her son to a china cabinet against a wall opposite the fireplace. Opening the door with a key, she removed a gold plated silver chalice, a legacy from her Grandfather father Johann Friedrich Knöbel, Royal Architect to His Majesty August III King of Poland and Saxony. The cup, from the early 18th century, was adorned with the four Evangelists. Used originally as a wedding cup, the chalice was engraved underneath in Polish to a bridal pair, and had proudly stood in the Knöbel cabinet until the time of her marriage. It would accompany Julia in her new role as wife and future mother, a gift from her renowned father. No doubt it was used also for communion during the ceremony of Julia’s wedding to her fiancé Martin Stephan.

Julia handed the cup to Martin. Later, she would remind him in a letter, when asking about the whereabouts of the cup: “Guard it carefully, for it might come in handy for a few pennies in hard times.” Martin took the cup he had viewed behind glass, but never touched, and placed it carefully in the center of his suitcase among articles of clothing.

What might the son’s thoughts have been as he said goodbye to his heritage and home–above all from his beloved mother? Did he fully realize her exhaustion from having born twelve children, ten daughters and two sons, four of whom had already died? Was he concerned about his mother’s future? How would she bear up as the sole caretaker of six, technically no longer entitled to live in the parsonage–except by the grace of the St. John’s congregation–for the time being without a Pastor.

Fifteen years ago, Martin Jr. had been born in Dresden. He may have heard a story or two about his father’s past, but for the budding young man, Dresden had always been home.
Martin embraced his mother. Was it perhaps for the last time? Her pleas to Martin Jr. to stay were in vain. “Follow God’s will,” his father had commanded, and Martin complied.

Children were to obey, and not feel, although signs of this breaking down were already evident in my parental home. My father Curtis learned early how to repress his emotions. As a boy of fourteen, he was whisked off from his mother without a whimper to a LCMS. seminary school–part of the church body which sneered at those who carried or married into the surname Stephan.

What could possibly have been so important to Pastor Stephan and his son to provoke such drastic steps to launch a new life 5000 miles away–steps that were to cause so much pain to themselves and their ancestors?

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