Only one letter from Zwingli to Anna has come down to us. It was written from Berne in 1528, when Anna gave birth in his absence. In it, he thanks the Lord for the arrival of a son, prays that both parents might be able to educate him well, urges Anna not to worry about his own safety, and sends greetings to friends.
Anna welcomed large numbers of her husband’s friends and entertained his guests. Protestant refugees were many in those days, and the Zwingli home was always open to them. When Zwingli was engaged or away, Anna was the center of the circle. Leading citizens and ministers such as Leo Juda and Konrad Pellikan gave her great credit and praise. In 1526, a visiting dignitary was so impressed by Zwingli’s home that he declared he would never forget it. He also called Anna “an angel-wife.”
But marriage to a Reformer was more than happy, hard work; there was serious danger as well. Zwingli lived in continual threat of assassination or kidnapping by Roman Catholics. He could not go out alone after dark, so Anna arranged for men to escort him. He had to be careful where he ate or drank, for fear of poisoning. She frustrated many attempts on his life, but she also looked to him for protection. On August 28, 1525, their house was stoned at night; rocks sent pieces of wood flying through the house. Anna and the children were terrified, but Zwingli seized his sword, calling out that if anyone had any business with him, they should come the next morning.
These troubles foreshadowed coming sorrow. Anna and her husband saw the storm gathering. It burst on October 11, 1531. On the ninth, news came that the Roman Catholic army was approaching Zurich. Zwingli went along with the Protestant force as chaplain. Gerold was also going. Anna came out of the parsonage to say goodbye to her husband and burst into tears. “The hour is come that separates us,” he said to her. “Let it be so. The Lord wills.” He hugged her, and she answered: “We shall see each other again if the Lord wills. His will be done. And what will you bring back when you come?” Zwingli’s prompt reply was, “Blessing after dark night.” These were his last words to her.
With the children, Anna hurried into the house, kneeled, and prayed the Savior’s words: “Father, not my will, but Thine be done.”
Bullinger says that at the news of the defeat, a horrible cry rose from Zurich. Many had lost loved ones, but Anna’s grief was different. She had faced sorrows before; this eclipsed them all. Her son Gerold, a brother, and a cousin lay dead on the battlefield along with her husband. A son-in-law also was fatally wounded. The sadness of death circled her.
Because of her griefs, Anna has been called the Reformation’s Weeping Mother. Prominent citizens and ministers visited her or wrote letters of Christian sympathy. Martin Bucer offered to help her and the children. But the greatest earthly comforter of all to her was young Heinrich Bullinger, her husband’s successor. Just as the Apostle John took Mary into his home, so Bullinger and his wife gave Anna a home and became beloved children to her. Zwingli had left his family no money. Bullinger took Zwingli’s place as provider and acted as a father to the children, supervising and paying for their education.
We know almost nothing of Anna’s later years. Apparently, she rarely left the house, except to go to church. In her later life, she was very sick for years, but she bore her sufferings patiently. Bullinger said of her death on December 6, 1538: “I desire no more happy end of life. She passed away softly, like a mild light, and went home to her Lord, worshipping, and commending us all to God.”
Anna’s life was driven by the principles she read in her Swiss Bible. She was not afraid to marry, despite massive opposition, because she knew it was right. She faithfully and carefully taught her children, following the precepts of Deuteronomy 6. Her support of Zwingli freed him to work faithfully, and he praised her in the gates. Her care for the poor and sick of the parish earned the trust of the people, who could see Christlikeness lived out in Anna’s example. Anna also left a living legacy in her children, who continued her pattern of building up the church through kindness to the saints. Her faithful work outlived her body. Anna set the pattern for Protestant women, especially pastors’ wives. She had run well; others were waiting to follow.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally posted on September 22, 2017, and is part of a series on women of the Reformation. Next post.