Z is for Zwingli

Ulrich Zwingli painted by Hans Asper (1531) in The Winterthur Museum of Art

Is that some sort of dance? 

No, Ulrich Zwingli was one of the leading reformers in Switzerland at the beginning of the 16th century.


Born in 1484, Zwingli studied at the Universities of Basel and Vienna, and then became a pastor. In 1519 he moved to Zurich and began to attack some of the customs of the Catholic Church in his sermons.

What was his problem with it? 

Zwingli spoke out against corruption in the church hierarchy, hated the use of images in churches and the culture of fasting at Lent. He also criticised tithing – the custom that people had to give a percentage of their income to the Church.

What else did he believe? 

Zwingli believed that the Bible was the most important part of religion. He interpreted the Bible using literary methods such as analogy. He also thought that church rituals, such as baptism and the taking of the Eucharist, were symbolic acts of remembrance.

What did he do? 

Zwingli created his own communion liturgy which replaced mass. Some historians have said that he effectively turned Zurich into a “theocracy” – a town where religious leaders had ultimate control.

He helped the town leaders turn the Zurich monasteries into hospitals and welfare institutions. He also set up a school to retrain the clergy.

Sounds pretty extreme! 

Not enough for some reformers… Anabaptists, a radial group of reformers, felt that Zwingli let himself be controlled by the Zurich council. Many anabaptists were persecuted for disagreeing with the council and Zwingli, with some killed and many fleeing the city.

When war broke out between Catholic states and Zurich, Zwingli went to war and was killed on the battlefield in 1531, at the age of 47.

Why have I never heard of him? 

There are no churches that think of Zwingli as their founder outside of Switzerland. He’s often been considered the “silent third man” of the Reformation, not as well known as Calvin or Luther.

Feature image: The Murerplan a map of Zurich, printed by Jos Murer (1576)


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