Basel, on the Rhine where France, Germany, and Switzerland meet, was a bustling hub of commerce and culture in the early 16th century. From all over Europe, students flocked to its university and writers brought their books to its presses. Chief among the intellectuals of Basel was the reformer Desiderius Erasmus. At Basel, in 1515-16, Erasmus produced his famous edition of the Greek New Testament, assisted by younger scholars such as Johannes Oecolampadius, a priest who was working for the Froben printing house, and Wolfgang Capito, preacher and theology professor.

A marriage of penance?

Also in Basel were Margareta Rosenblatt—a military wife—and her daughter Wibrandis, who would play an important role in the lives of both Oecolampadius and Capito. The two Rosenblatts moved in university-educated circles, from which Wibrandis picked up German, Latin, and a husband, Ludwig Keller, whom she married in 1524 at the age of 20. Two years later Keller was dead, leaving her with a daughter also named Wibrandis.

Both Wibrandises returned to live with Grandmother Margareta, and for two more years they lived in poverty. Meanwhile, they became attracted to the evangelical teachings being proclaimed by Oecolampadius. The former printer's assistant was back in Basel as cathedral preacher after a stint as preacher in Augsburg (1518-20), two years in a monastery (1520-22), and several months as chaplain to the outlaw knight Franz von Sickingen. Capito, meanwhile, had left Basel in 1520 for a job with the Archbishop of Mainz, in which capacity he attempted to stall the case against Luther.

Erasmus, still in Basel, feared that the "evangelicals" were tearing the Church apart. He therefore took full advantage of the possibility for satire when ...

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