I got a tongue screw!

I love the Internet. This whole story, let alone this post, would not exist without it.

In late September, I posted my examination of the tongue screw, a medieval torture device used to silence condemned Anabaptists, lest they preach their heresy to the crowds of gawkers that came to watch them burn. I referenced the title of a new collection of prose and poetry inspired by the Martyrs Mirror, entitled Tongue Screws and Testimonies.

The collection’s editor, Kirsten Beachy commented on the post a month later, noting, “Apparently, you can purchase replica tongue screws for the edification/horrification of your Vacation Bible School class.”


I wrote her back immediately, trying to figure out how to get my hands on one of these replicas without sounding random and creepy. She appeared to understand my slightly unhealthy fascination and put me in touch with Terah Goerzen, author of the blog Forest of the Plains, who had her own experience with the replicas. Goerzen, thankfully, found my quest hilarious. According to her blog:

Replica tongue screws were commissioned by the Mennonite Board of Missions, which no longer exists and was absorbed into the Mennonite Mission Network. The idea was to use the tongue screws as OUTREACH! I can just hear it, “Come join the Mennonites. We have tongue screws!” “Oh wow, a tongue screw. Now I know this is the church for me!”

Apparently, I was their target demographic, because I found this idea to be awesome. Goerzen graciously put me in touch with a representative of the Mennonite Mission Network, who sent me one of these replicas, along with a copy of their house publication, Missio Dei.

The replica arrived in the mail today. Thanks MMN!

It’s powerful to hold this tongue screw replica in my hand. I don’t say that about many things. But there’s nothing ergonomic or user friendly about it. It’s cold. It’s heavy. It smells like raw steel and tastes terrible (don’t ask). It’s ugly, brutally fashioned by hand just like it would have been 500 years ago. It’s clearly designed to inflict pain and humiliation just like others before it.

It’s going to sit in a prominent place on my desk at work.


5 Responses to “I got a tongue screw!”

  1. Linda Krueger Says:

    You should ask Terah if she still has a copy of the speech she gave at Purdue University about the tongue screw. It was a “speech to convince” and apparently did. Several people got sick, as I recall. I gave Terah her own tongue screw on her first Mother’s Day. Wanted to give her something that no one else would think of. And a reminder to teach her children about their heritage. Luckily, she appreciated and understood the sentiment!

  2. […] at The Bloody Theater, you can learn about one man’s search for a replica tongue screw–and read his […]

  3. Hi,

    Really interesting site about Anabaptist persecution! I have a question that you might be able to help me with. Is the following statement correct?

    “And according to available estimates, it is likely there were more Anabaptist martyrs that died for their faith in the 16th century at the hands of Protestant Christians than there were Christian martyrs during the first three centuries under Roman pagan persecutions.”

    Can you shed some light on this?


    • Well, Shane, I’m not a scholar of Anabaptist history, so I couldn’t definitively say if that statement is correct. If the Martyrs Mirror is any indication of persecution trends, then it would appear to be so. However, I would keep two things in mind. First, record-keeping in ancient times was not nearly as good as it was in the 16th Century. Second, the population in Europe was likely higher in the 16th Century than ancient times, affecting the per capita rate of persecution, but I’d check that assumption as well. The Black Death of the 14th Century thinned the population considerably. I guess my point is that absolute numbers compared across time periods don’t make for an apples-to-apples comparison.

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