Ulrich Zwingli, Freedom Fighter

Visitors to Zürich soon hear about Ulrich Zwingli, the no-nonsense (and, one suspects, humorless) religious reformer who taught the city to buckle down, work hard, and fear the Lord. But who was this much-revered man of the cloth, and why is he depicted holding a huge sword in the statue that stands in front of the Wasserkirche?

In 1484 Zwingli was born in the tiny village of Wildhaus in the canton of St. Gallen. He entered the priesthood, eventually rising to the head position at the Grossmünster in the city of Zürich. He had no problem declaring publicly where he differed with the teachings of the Catholic Church. His first quarrel, around 1512, was over the evils of the Swiss mercenary service propagated by the pope. A few years later, around 1519, he joined the fight against the church's growing practice of exacting payment for the forgiveness of sins.

Taking a closer look at the New Testament, Zwingli came up with his own very simple theology: if it's not in the Bible, it doesn't apply. This focus on both the Old and New Testaments soon spread throughout the Christian world, affecting Protestant congregations all the way to the English colonies in America. Whereas Martin Luther's form of protest was largely peaceful, Zwingli was not above getting into the fray. As people took up arms over their right to worship as they saw fit, Zwingli suited up and went to battle. He died in 1531, along with 500 of his compatriots, clutching that very big sword at the Battle of Kappel am Albis in the canton of Zürich.

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