Further to our research on the Swiss Mennonites in the Pays de Montbéliard, we visited the small and sweetly anachronistic La Prairie Mennonite Church of Montbéliard. The excellent Madame Boilaux had arranged for us to be met by Monsieur and Madame N, who were most generous with their time. They gave us a tour of the church and explained its history.
The first Mennonites arrived in the region in 1710 and they seem to have had their first meeting house and cemetery by 1751, at nearby Mont-Chevis. In 1775, the church was moved to a farm called Les Gouttes, then again in 1832 to Le Canal Chapel. The Franco-Prussian War and the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine resulted in the arrival of many Mennonite refugees from those regions. The congregation quickly outgrew its space and, in 1927, yet another church was built (that shown above) on the La Prairie Farm. Now, it is surrounded by large, modern administrative buildings, a busy road, a massive automobile factory not far and a doomed green field at the back. It is so countrified in comparison with its rather brutal surroundings that one recalls the dread-inducing sight of a young hedgehog attempting to traverse a motorway.
Plans are afoot and donations are solicited for an expansion to the church, allowing not only for the ever-growing congregation, but also for office space for other activities such as publishing the church newsletter, temporary housing for people in need and, of great interest to genealogists, the creation of a centre for the Mennonite archives of France.
Madame N. had arrived with a large book under her arm. "Notre trésor", she had called it, "Our treasure". It was indeed. It was the original register of the church, its earliest entry dated 1750, its spine in tatters.
We were quite thrilled to have been permitted to peruse the register, though we thought it really did deserve its new home with better protection so that it might last another two hundred sixty years. Its extracted contents may be viewed on the website of the Municipal Archives of Montbéliard.
For those who wish to be given a tour of the Mennonite Church, its buildings and other historic sites in the area, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
©2017 Anne Morddel