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Mennonite religious communities

Initially, Mennonites were organized into two large communities: Gdańsk community, called Wielkie Żuławy, which included the Żuławy Gdańskie and Wielkie Żuławy Malborskie and Elbląg-Ellerwald community. In 1636, the rural and urban communities split apart marking the beginning of the process of adaptation of the congregation structure to the demands of growing Mennonite population. However, the structure of the Żuławy divided between main religious centers crystallized as late as the 18th century; successively founded villages with large population of Mennonites dominated in the region. Among such villages were Różewo-Suchowo, Tujce Cyganek, Jezioro, Stogi, and Niedźwiedzica.

The Żuławki-Niedźwiedzica (Bärwalde - Fürstenwerder) community, which controlled the Żuławy Gdańskie and a part of the Żuławy Szkarpawskie, included 29 settlements, for example: Błotnik, Bogatka, Bronowo, Cedry Wielkie, Drewnica, Dworkowo, Izbiska, Jankowo, Kiezmark, Niedźwiedzica, Nowa Kościelnica, Leszkowy, Przemysław, Stare Babki, Stegienka, Trzcinisko, Wróblewo, and Żuławki.

The Lubieszewo-Pordenowo community and the Frisian community in Orłowskie Pole (Ladekopp - Orlofferfeld) included the central section of the Wielkie Żuławy with 20 settlements, for example: Brzózki, Dziewięć Włók, Gniazdowo, Jeziernik, Lubieszewo, Mirowo, Nowa Cerkiew, Nowa Kościelnicę, Nowy Staw, Orłowo, Orłowskie Pole, Ostaszewo, Palczewo, Pordenowo, Prengowo, Siedem Włók, and Tuja.

The Żelichowo-Cyganek (Tiegenhagen) community included the Nowy Dwór Gdański area with ca. 32 settlements, for example: Chełmek, Nowy Dwór Gdański, Starża, Stobiec, Świerzbnica, Tujsk, and Żelichowo and in the Żuławy Szkarpawskie region: Chorążówka, Jantar, Popowo, Stegna, Stegienka, and Sztuthof.

The Stogi (Heubuden) community controlled the Wielkie Żuławy Malborskie region, Malbork and the Kwidzyń area. In Żuławy Wielkie, the community included 34 settlements, for example: Borty, Bystrze, Cisy, Czatkowy, Gnojewo, Kałdowo, Kamionka, Kościeleczki, Kończewice, Lasowice Wielkie, Lasowice Małe, Laski, Lichnowy Wielkie, Lichnówki, Kraśniewo, the city of Malbork, Miłoradz, Mątowy Małe, Pogorzała Wieś, Półmieście, Rękowo, Staronia, Stara Kościelnica, Stogi, Szawałd, Szymankowo, Tralewo, and Trepnowo.

The Różewo-Suchowo (Rosenort) community included the Elbląg territory with the following villages: Gozdawa Kępki, Kmiecin, Marzęcino, Myszewko, Myszewo, Powalina, Rakowe Pole, Rakowiska, Solnica, Robakowo, Różewo, and Stobna and a part of the Wielkie Żuławy with Chlebówka, Lipina Gdańska, Marynowy, and Nidowo.

The Elbląg (Elbing - Ellerwald) community included the following villages: Adamowo, Błotnica, Janowo, Jegłownik, Józefowo, Karczowiska, Kazimierzowo, Kępa Rybacka, Kopanów, Nogatowo, Nowakowo, Raczki, Szopy, Wikrowo, and Władysławowo.

The Jezioro (Thiensdorf - Markushof) community, including the Frisian congregation controlled the Małe Żuławy Malborskie with 34 settlements, for example: Balewo, Dzierzgonka, Fiszewo, Gronowo Elbląskie, Janówka, Jezioro, Kaczynos, Klecie, Kępniewo, Królewo, Krzewsk, Kukułka, Markusy, Oleśno, Rachowo, Rozgart, Różany, Szaleniec, Węgle, Ząbrowo, Złotowo, Zwierzno, Zwierzeńskie Pole, Żółwieniec, Żukowo, and Żurawiec.

After the formation of the local communities, Mennonites made efforts to obtain permits to erect
their own churches and establish cemeteries.

The two fractions of the Mennonite denomination were quite different. Members of the Flemish community were wealthier and had a higher social status than their Frisian counterparts. Flemish maintained close family ties, did not accept mixed marriages, and their religious orientation was more orthodox. Frisian communities were more open and accepted people of other nationalities, for example Germans or Poles.

The Dutch language could be heard in villages located in the Vistula valley until ca. 1800 and in some places even until the end of the 19th century; however, the language was not used on gravestones. The Lower Saxon dialect became common in the 19th century, but due to their isolation, Mennonite communities managed to maintain their language and cultural identity for many years to come. Mennonites maintained relationships with their coreligionists in Holland for quite a long time; as late as the 18th century, it was not uncommon to travel to Holland to study or exchange ministers; Mennonites also received assistance during the Swedish wars.

The Mennonite religion is thought to be primarily associated with rural groups isolated by their religious orthodoxy and strict rules. Transgressing these rules could be punishable by exclusion from the community. Such was undoubtedly, the initial situation. However, currently, based on the sources from the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, we must admit that in that period, Mennonite lifestyle was not any different than that of their German neighbors. Examining external appearance of buildings, it is difficult to tell if a given house belonged to a Lutheran, a Catholic, or a Mennonite. Their buildings were equally decorated and their layout was governed strictly by functionality without any distinctive features that could be interpreted as ascetic. On the contrary, some arcaded house, whose owners or builders had Dutch surnames that can be found in Mennonite records, are characterized by exceptionally rich architectural detail. The facades had similar decorations; inside, Mennonites had similarly ornamented stoves and decoratively painted or inlayed furniture (before the machine-made furnishings appeared in their houses at the end of the 19th century).their houses iated features that could beiVistula valley until ca. _________________________________________ The Żuławy clocks also had painted dials. Affluence was also visible in splendid and costly gravestones present in Mennonite cemeteries, whose religious affiliation is unquestionable. Descendants of Dutch settlers did not refrain from advertising their high status on photographs, or earlier, on painted portraits. Pictures often captured their rich attire; women (wearing laces) do not dazzle the viewer with jewelry, but they do not seem to be completely unadorned[1]. Reproductions[2] shown in some publications demonstrate that Mennonites were well acquainted with painting and drawing techniques. Some of them became recognized German artists, for example, Hermann Penner or Heinrich Mekelburger[3]. This description reflects a high level of assimilation of the Mennonite community. In later years, even the prohibition to participate in military service was no longer strictly obeyed, or at least, it was not responsible for a mass exodus as was the case at the end of the 18th century. Names on rolls of honor and military graves show that even Mennonites did not avoid giving their lives in military operations. Mennonite recruits served in auxiliary corps, but according to notes on gravestones, they also acted as officers or junior officers. Mennonite communities in cities became assimilated much more quickly; Mennonites adopted an urban lifestyle and even if they did not convert to Protestantism, it is difficult to find indications of their cultural identity (with the exception of archival notes). On the contrary, in Nowy Dwór Gdański or Elbląg, Mennonites were among the most active entrepreneurs (e.g. H. Stobbe from Nowy Dwór - vodka producer).

[1] Rich variety of wardrobe of Mennonite women can be demonstrated by an inventory of Maryanna Betler (d. 1822) from Wymyśle Nowe, who owned 8 skirts, 3 kaftans, 3 corsets, including one "died in little flowers". Mennonites from Wymyśl were a part of the post-Napoleonic emigration wave from the Poznań region and were escaping Prussian (primarily) religious restrictions, and hence, it can be concluded that they strictly obeyed moral rules. It is highly probable that wardrobes of les radical and wealthier Mennonites, who lived permanently in the Żuławy, were even more splendid. Marchlewski, op.cit., p. 140
[2] Mennonitische forniture...
[3] H. Penner, bdII, s.100-101; Erinnerung an Hermann Penner vor 165 Jahren in Elbing gestorben Elbinger Nachrichten 809/47.VI 1997

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