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Birthplace 16th century reformer focal point

Menno Simons' Witmarsum monument to be upgraded

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

WITMARSUM, the Netherlands - Plans have been unveiled recently for an expansion and elevation of the Menno Simons' memorial built 125 years ago. The shrine for Anabaptist leader Menno Simons is located in his northwestern Frisian birthplace Witmarsum, where every year, hundreds of Mennonites from all over the world pay a visit.

Currently, the rural site contains just a monument. The expansion plan, spearheaded by a number of Mennonite (Doopsgezinde) congregations in the Netherlands, calls for a restoration of the memorial, and the construction of an information centre. Projected as well is a tube-and-joints frame replica of the medieval church, which in 1828 was demolished to make room for the memorial. Fundraising efforts are underway to help pay for the plans.

Simons (1496-1561) was a priest who questioned the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and eventually joined the Anabaptist movement, which particularly gained a widespread following in certain parts of the Netherlands and notably throughout Friesland. (The province's leaders eventually joined the Calvinist reformation wave although certain enclaves remained staunchly Roman Catholic.) By the 1540s, he had become an influential leader of the Anabaptists and also was active in other northern Dutch provinces and in Germany.

Simons extensively travelled as a reformer and organizer of the movement, which rebaptized new adherents. Known as Wederdopers, the moderate and pacifist faction of the movement later was called 'Mennist.' Groups of adherents moved on when facing intolerance and military conscription, and settled in such regions as the German-Polish border area, Ukraine and Russia before making the trek across the Atlantic, to the U.S. and later Canada and other countries. In English speaking countries, the doopsgezinden became known as 'Mennonites.' Settlers in Brazil have named one of their farming villages after Menno's birthplace 'Witmarsum.'