Lecture on the occasion of the Family Day of the Zahn ́schen Familienverband in Thüringen St. Johanniskirche zu Wasserthaleben, Saturday, September 25, 2010 by Sabine Zahn


Dear relatives, dear friends of the Zahn family,

we are here in St. John's Church, in which from 1710 to 1857,
also 147 Jahre lang, unsere Vorfahren, die vier Pastoren Zahn, gepredigt haben.
This church was built in 1590, but it stands on the foundation walls of a much older church from the Middle Ages. For the 18th century several reconstructions can be proved, Johann Michael and later his son Volkmar Christian Zahn were responsible for it. Johann Gottlieb Zahn, the grandson of Johann Michael, had the small sacristy added. It was he who arranged for a comprehensive interior renovation in 1843. He must also have taken care of the tower, because when it was restored in the 1980s, a note from him was found in the top of the tower, probably stored in a bottle.
The round arched windows in the gallery and in the nave on the north side as well as the inscription stone on the west side are still original from the building fabric.
The pulpit altar, from which our ancestors preached on Sundays, was created in this form around 1790, during the reign of Volkmar Christian. It shows the eye of God, surrounded by a large radiant sun. We also see a cartouche shield with the initials of the prince at that time, Christian Günther von Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. The oldest piece of interior decoration is the stone offertory from 1607. Johann Gottlieb Zahn finally saw to the installation of a new organ in 1845. The two tombs on the right side of the nave commemorate the previous owners of the princely estate, Friedrich Wilhelm Marschall (died 1665) and his wife, Maria Catharina Maschall (died 1667). In the gallery there is an epitaph for the princely bailiff Johann Heinrich von Windheim from 1734, about which there is an interesting correspondence between the princely house of Schwarzburg and Johann Michael Zahn, who conducted the festive funeral service.

Now that we have a somewhat more detailed picture of the church, I would like to say a few words about the four pastors Zahn, about whom I did not know much more than their life dates until recently. Only through the preparations for this Family Day did they begin to take shape for me as personalities. It also enabled me to develop initial ideas about their circumstances.

The area in which we find ourselves here is Luther country. In this respect, it is not surprising,
to find a consistently Lutheran mindset among our ancestors. They
came - like so many Lutheran pastors of the first generations - from a family of craftsmen. A sense of independence developed vis-à-vis the authorities, reflecting the pride of the "free craftsmen," is also found in the self-image of these pastors. In the documents I found in various archives,
it becomes clear that our ancestors were basically more farmers than theologians: Men of practical life who ran their parsonage during the week and only donned the gown on Sundays for worship and other church occasions. This, too, corresponded to a Lutheranism committed to the Enlightenment.

There are numerous documents relating to agricultural activities. "Lawsuit against pastor Zahn", meaning Johann Gottlieb, "for digging a moat", is just one example.

But let us first turn to Johann Michael, the first pastor of the Zahn family in Wasserthaleben. One must imagine him as a true "baroque man". His "sensuality" already shows in the rich number of children: 14 children from a total of four wives are documented in our family records. Now I have found documents, which have to do with a rather complicated inheritance dispute. Apparently there was at least one more wife and also numerous other children. In the last years of his life, which Johann Michael spent as a church and school inspector in Gehren, a dispute about the distribution of his property already began. After his death, he was buried in Gehren. Shortly thereafter, the administration confiscated his assets because the many children from the different marriages apparently could not agree on the inheritance. The wives at that time often died early, which is not surprising given the number of children mentioned above. Elisabeth, Johann Michael's first wife, is an example of this: she married him in 1706, had five children, including Volkmar Christian, and died as early as 1715.

In order to put oneself into the past times, sometimes a comparison with famous personalities from history helps. I can think of two examples from the field of music: Johann Michael Zahn was 14 years older than Georg Friedrich Händel and Johann Sebastian Bach. Both composers were born in 1685 in Halle and Eisenach, respectively, so not far from here. In 1724, Johann Michael had already been a pastor in Wasserthaleben for 14 years, Bach's "St. John Passion" was composed in Leipzig. In 1741, a few years before his death, Handel's "Messiah" was heard for the first time in London.

At the moment, I cannot report much concrete information about Volkmar Christian. However, I have found a volume of files with his correspondence, a copy of which has recently been made available to me.

This must first be sifted and also deciphered. Not only the Old German, but also its - almost I would like to say - typical Zahn ́sche - crypto-writing - make great demands on the transcriber here.

Johann Gottlieb Zahn is the only one of these ancestors of whom we have a portrait. Many of you will be familiar with the oil painting depicting him in a gown with a Bible and an extended index finger. The original was in the possession of Friedel Zahn for a long time. Recently the original painting was given to Philipp Zahn ( Sen.). A copy of this painting hung in the dining room of my parents' house in Hamburg. At that time, I always imagined Johann Gottlieb as someone who had a Bible verse ready for every situation in life and who was more in dialogue with his God than with his fellow men. This assessment is completely wrong, as I now know. He was an enlightened, practically oriented man whom I can now imagine much more digging a moat than, say, disputing various interpretations of the Bible. He did, as his son Friedrich August reports,

With "an iron will and consistent creative power" he led his congregation and his family for many years. He is the father of "our" Franz Ludwig and 12 other siblings, who we meet again and again during the Family Day in Thuringia.

We just got the opportunity to hear a passage from the "Jugenderinnerungen" of Adolph Zahn, which Hans Zahn selected from his rich family archive very appropriately for this occasion and recited so impressively. Here, too, Johann Gottlieb, Adolph's father, appeared to us very vividly

up to his jumping out of the window in 1806 while fleeing from the French who were marauding in Wasserthaleben. Incidentally, it was this Adoph Zahn who brought some of his younger siblings, including Franz Ludwig, into the "revival movement". After his studies in theology, he returned to Wasserthaleben once again to help his younger siblings.
to teach, because the local teacher had died. At that time Adolph had through
his enthusiastic "Bible lessons," in which people prayed for hours and waited for ecstatic encounters with God, caused a veritable scandal. Not only the father was incensed by what he saw as "ungodly goings-on,
but also the authorities. Adolph was expelled from the country, fortunately called
which at that time was only from the principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen.

Johann Gottlieb had obviously inherited his eagerness to reproduce from his grandfather and passed it on to his children. We descendants should be grateful for this, because without them we would probably not exist, at least not in such large numbers. The generation of Adolph and Franz Ludwig also includes Gustav Adolf and Johanna, about whose adventurous travels to South Africa we learned so much yesterday. This generation, after the Zahns had settled down in Wasserthaleben for many years, set out into the world, one might almost say.

Only one remained, the youngest son Friedrich August. He studied theology and initially returned to Wasserthaleben as a candidate and substitute for his father. In 1845 he succeeded Johann Gottlieb as pastor in this office.

In the 1st half of the 19th century, the connection with the princely house had intensified. Günther-Friedrich Carl I, regent from 1795, held court in the princely estate for a few months every year between 1815 and 1830. During this time the manor house was built, which we will see later, also the house of the domain tenant was extended for the living quarters of the prince's hunting party. Whether and to what extent it played a role in these visits that the prince preferred to spend the summer with his mistress rather than with Princess Caroline, can only be decided by the prince himself.

can be conjectured. In any case, Johann Gottlieb Zahn's children had to, or rather were allowed to, play with the princely children, who apparently accompanied their father to hunt. In this way, personal relationships developed between the following generation of the princely family and the Zahns.

By the way, the princely estate was leased to a so-called "domain tenant", for many centuries the most important employer for the Wasserthaleben population. In Johann Gottlieb's time, this domain tenant was called Johann Christian Böttcher. He was married to Johann Gottlieb's older sister, her name was Johanna Christina Wilhelmina Böttcher, née Zahn. These two were mentioned as "aunt" and "uncle" in the passage of the "Jugenderinnerungen" we have just heard. Incidentally, Johanna Christina Wilhelmina Böttcher née Zahn donated a silver chalice to this congregation, which also bears her dedication. I am especially pleased that today we can welcome direct descendants of Johanna Christina Wilhelmina and Johann Christian Böttcher. Martin Kratzsch and his family heard about our family day and immediately decided to participate.

Incidentally, in the sacristy there are several valuable chalices donated by various members of our family. One baptismal chalice bears the inscription "Caroline Mandel" as a reference to the donor. Caroline was another sister of Franz Ludwig, who married a manor owner from Silesia.

There is also a baptismal vessel that Jürgen Zahn, the older brother of our family association chairman Hans Zahn, donated to the St. Johannis parish. Jürgen made great efforts in the mid-1980s to renovate the church, especially the steeple, and at that time also made a collection among the members

of our family association was initiated. Despite the difficult travel and communication conditions in the times of the GDR, Jürgen Zahn gathered important information about our ancestors and started a real research work. But it was equally important that Jürgen made warm friendships with the pastor at that time, Hanna Kelpin, and also with some members of the congregation. We also owe Jürgen contacts to descendants of Johann Gottlieb and his children, who spent their lives in Thuringia or Saxony. Without Jürgen we probably would not have had the idea to hold the Family Day in Thuringia. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for everything Jürgen has done to help us with the preparations for our Family Day.

But now back to the 19th century, more precisely to Friedrich August Zahn. The next regent, Günther Friedrich Carl II, brought Friedrich August to Sondershausen, his residence town, in 1857. There he appointed him court preacher, a little later superintendent. We were able to view his photo today in the church of St. Trinitatis.

In particular, the charitable and art-loving Princess Mathilde had an intense connection with Friedrich August Zahn. She wanted to reconstitute "true Lutheranism" and found in Friedrich August just the right man to do so. Friedrich August himself had the impression of leading a rather backward, provincial life, at least during his time in Wasserthaleben. On the occasion of a visit to his brother Franz Ludwig in Moers, he describes his brother's "cosmopolitan, large house" in contrast to his village life. Friedrich August was imbued with the spirit of Pestalozzi, as the saying goes. During his studies in Bonn, he became more closely acquainted with the Diesterweg family, with which his brothers Adolph and Franz Ludwig were also connected. It is probably known to many of you that Friedrich Adolph Diesterweg founded the Moers teachers' seminar and Franz Ludwig followed him into this position as director. Friedrich August Zahn married Selma, the niece of this pedagogue Diesterweg. Selma's father was teaching as an internationally celebrated professor of mathematics in Bonn at the time. Unfortunately, she died quite early in childbirth. Selma is buried together with the child, who died only a few days later, in the churchyard in Wasserthaleben behind the St. Johanniskirche.Friedrich August is described as a very level-headed man with a lot of empathy - at that time it was called "with a lot of psychology". He was called upon as the highest churchman in the country in many conflicts and also as an advisor in political matters. His sharp judgment was appreciated.
He must also have been a highly gifted speaker who knew how to preach with seriousness, depth and enthusiasm. He was less concerned with the dogmatic doctrine of the faith than with a Christianity that was lived practically and felt inwardly. We learn much about him from letters and also from the obituaries that appeared in several newspapers after his death in 1886. By the way, he received a state funeral and an honorary grave in Sondershausen,which unfortunately is no longer preserved today.Finally, I would like to say a few words about the cemetery behind the
St. John's Church, which we will celebrate in a moment. Volkmar Christian and Johann Gottlieb Zahn, pastors of our family in Wasserthaleben, are buried there, along with their wives and many of their children, children-in-law and grandchildren. In total, just by studying the documents available to me so far, I found a total of certainly 50 of our ancestors whose burial is mentioned in this churchyard. Partly the descendants of the Zahn pastors have been buried here up to the 3rd generation. In this churchyard of the St. Johanniskirche at Wasserthalben we are literally standing on the ground of our ancestors.Wasserthaleben has been known for generations as the origin and home of our ancestors.
of the Zahn family. Through our Family Day 2010, we might succeed in keeping this awareness alive for our present generations and passing it on to future Zahn descendants.