Menno Simonszoon (son of Simon) was born in Witmarsum, in Friesland, one of the twelve provinces of the Netherlands (see map). His father was probably a dairy farmer and later moved to the nearby village of Pingjum.
In 1524, at the age of 28, Menno was ordained a Catholic priest at Utrecht and installed as a vicar in Pingjum. It is here that he first starts to have doubts about the doctrine of transsubstantiation which is celebrated in the mass.
At the end of 1532 he was appointed to priest in Witmarsum. After leaving the church in January 1536, he traveled extensively. He never found a place where he and his family could live unmolested "for a year or even half a year." Immediately after his withdrawal he probably found refuge in the neighboring province of Groningen. In the capital of this province, the city of Groningen, Menno was ordained an elder by Obbe Philips. From time to time he crossed the border into East Friesland to evangelize and baptize.
Shortly thereafter he moved to the East Frisian town of Oldersum, where he enjoyed the protection of Hero of Oldersum and Gödens, a local nobleman. During the following years Menno traveled to Amsterdam and the Zaan region, where he preached and baptized.
During the 1540s, the relative peace in East Frisia came to an end. Menno and his family moved from place to place. He lived for short periods in Emden, Lübeck and Wismar until eventually he found shelter near Bad Oldesloe, on the estate of Bartholomaeus von Ahlefeldt. Menno died on January 31, 1561.
In 1879 a large stone obelisk was erected on the site where the meetinghouse of the Witmarsum Mennonites once stood. This Menno Simons monument attracts thousands of visitors each year. Today, Witmarsum is part of the municipality of Súdwest-Fryslân.