The end of the book

I’ve reached the end of the Martyr’s Mirror. Actually, I reached the end of it about a month ago, but I haven’t had time to write lately.

After 1,141 pages of cruelty, imprisonment, death and destruction, the Mirror ends with a letter of consolation and encouragement from Tertullian dated around 200 CE whose last line reads, “Meditate on this, ye blessed.”

I’m not sure I’ll follow his suggestion, but I’m definitely not done writing about the Mirror. I’ve only just begun researching the political history that surrounds it, and there are many stories that have caught my eye about which I have not yet written.

The wanton torture and execution of Anabaptists begins to taper toward the end  of the book. As the violent phase of the Reformation recedes and the 17th Century and the first rays of the Enlightenment begin to take hold in Europe, the Mirror records the first instance victims merely being scourged and banished from Hamburg, rather than summarily dispatched. It seems the Germanic countries lost their taste for the pursuit of religious purity at about this time. However the Mirror records one last execution, and it’s a curious one at that.

Hans Landis of Zurich is the last person to be recorded dying of judicial execution in 1614 in the Mirror. According to an appended statement to Landis’ entry, written by a witness long after the event, Landis’ executioner was not happy about the task:

When he, cheerful and of good courage, was led out, by a rope, to the Wolfsstadt (being the place made ready for his execution), the executioner, Mr. Paull Volmar dropped the rope, and lifting up both of his hands to heaven, spoke these words, “‘O that God, to whom I make my complaint, might have compassion; that you, Hans, have come into my hands in this manner; forgive me, for God’s sake, that which I must do to you.”

Hans Landis comforted the executioner, saying that he had already forgiven him; God would forgive him too; he well knew that he had to execute the order of the authorities; he should not be afraid, and see that there was no hindrance in his way.

The account in the Mirror speculates that the executioner’s act of dropping the rope was intended to give Landis a chance to escape. An article by James Gotwals Landis over at the Mennonite Church USA’s site indicates that old Landis was only dispatched after having been imprisoned for preaching illegally and persisting in doing so. It also notes that the Mirror‘s identification of Wolfsstadt as the place of execution was erroneous.

Landis was not the last Anabaptist to be persecuted. The Mirror goes on to record the final wave of persecution of the church in Zurich, starting in 1635. However, this wave appears to be limited to harsh imprisonment with a few deaths resulting from hunger, disease and exposure, but not the sword.

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