Archive for the Martyr Category

No greater love?

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Patriarchs, Religion with tags , , , , on November 25, 2010 by fuzzysoul

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

– John 15:13

I’m conflicted about the the story of Willem Janss of Waterland (Willem Hans van Durgerdam). In 1569, Janss hears that Pieter Pieterss Beckjen was about to be burned alive in Amsterdam and rushes to the city to comfort him.

However, when he arrived at the city, he was a little too late, the bar having already been let down on account of the execution. But his zeal was so great, that he had no rest till he might see his beloved friend either alive or dead; hence he, for a certain sum of money, had the bar unlocked and made haste to be present at said offering. When Pieter Pieterss Beckjen was brought forth to die, this valiant hero and friend of God, standing over against the place of execution, on the steps of the weighing office, called to him with a loud voice, saying, “Contend valiantly, dear brother.”

This was a touching act of selflessness, showing true devotion and brotherly love. And it got Janss predictably tortured and killed.

He was immediately also seized by the persecutors, thrown into prison, twice severely and horribly tortured, and, when he would in no wise apostatize, he was two weeks after the death of his dear brother, sentenced to the fire, to be burned alive, at the same place where his brother had died…

I don’t know. I’m not sure it was worth it. No one wants to die alone, but should someone risk death to comfort the condemned?

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I got a tongue screw!

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Religion with tags , , , on November 5, 2010 by fuzzysoul

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.”

Hwut!?

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.

Fahrenheit 1557

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Patriarchs, Religion with tags , , , , , , on November 5, 2010 by fuzzysoul

Again, what the hell is it with the Rhineland? I’ve noted before that it tends to breed pogroms now and again, but it also seems like it can’t go too long without a good book burning.

The political masters of Haarlem in Holland weren’t content with just burning Jorian Simons and Clement Dirks in 1557. They had to burn their books too. In an age before assembly line production, this kind of destruction carried far more weight than it does today, when it is viewed as boorish, ignorant behavior. Books were handmade, rare and expensive in the 16th Century. The crowd stood by while Simons and Dirks were roasted, but they could not abide the senseless waste of a book bonfire. According to the Martyrs Mirror:

When they had finished their tyranny by strangling and burning, they, in order to quench their doctrine, also thought to burn their books …; but when books were perceived to be on fire, there arose such an uproar among the people that the lords took flight, whereupon the books were thrown among the multitude, who reached for them with eagerness…

Life is cheap. Knowledge is precious.

Life from death

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Patriarchs, Religion with tags , , , , on November 5, 2010 by fuzzysoul

The Martyrs Mirror has a consistent habit of, what they call in the news business, “burying the lead.” Take for example Maria van Beckum who, with her sister-in-law, was burned at the stake in 1544 in Utrecht. The story contains all the usual martyr template plot points and then cuts off as the women are tied to the stake.

It’s not until 32 pages later, in the story of Hans van Monster (awesome name), that we hear why Beckum’s death was particularly poignant. Van Monster’s story abruptly begins talking about a couple of dudes named Bartel and Gerrit, who witnessed van Beckum’s death.

…It occurred that these two young men were present when Mary van Beckum and her sister were offered up in the castle of Delden; and they testified that they heard Mary van Beckum declare publicly before the people, when she was placed at the stake, to be burned, “You shall see this stake at which I am to be burned grow green, by which you may know that it is the truth for which we here suffer and die.” These two young men, who heard this themselves, some time afterwards went of their own accord to the stake, and saw it flourish.

Mark of death

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2010 by fuzzysoul

In his groundbreaking 1992 novel, Snow Crash, author Neal Stephenson imagines an ultra-libertarian future America where every government function, including law enforcement, is privatized. Rather than spend large sums on incarcerating criminals, privatized police forces instead tattooed the foreheads of suspects with their particular criminal predilection to warn future victims.

I always thought this was an creative narrative solution to the problem of decentralized law enforcement. But, upon reading the Martyrs Mirror, I came to realize that Stephenson wasn’t the first one to come up with this idea.

The Mirror records that in 1161 a group of 30 or so Germanic proto-anabaptists lead by a man named Gerard appeared in England. Church officials didn’t think much of them, writing:

Their principle leader was one Gerard, upon whom they looked as their lord and master; for he alone had a little learning, while all the rest were illiterate idiots, a very low and boorish class of people, and of the German nation and language.

King Henry II put them on trial in Oxford, and they were found by church officials to be heretics. They were sentenced to be scourged and banished.

They were then, according to the rigor of their sentence, branded on their foreheads, their leader receiving a double brand, one on his forehead the other on his chin, as a sign that he was their leader. Thereupon, their upper garments, to the waist, were cut from their bodies, and they were publicly scourged and cast out of the city. But it being a bitter cold winter, and no one showing them the least mercy, they miserably perished by the intense cold, which they were unable to bear on their naked bodies.

Another nasty way to go

Posted in Christian, Christianity, Church, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Religion, Roman Martyrs with tags , , , , , on November 3, 2010 by fuzzysoul

After the accounts of the ancient martyrs at the beginning of the Martyrs Mirror, the book settles into a pretty steady rhythm of burning, beheading, drowning and hanging. Standard horrible stuff.

But the Romans, now there was a bloodthirsty bunch who could get creative. Whether they were baking, burying or crucifying their victims, the ancients made sure to keep it spectacular.

Take the fate of Phocas, first bishop of the Church of Pontas in Sinope who refused to sacrifice to the god Neptune, for instance. Phocas met his end in 118 C.E. when the Emperor Trajan ordered him to be boiled alive in a lime kiln. Dang.

The Wikipedia entry for Saint Phocas, incidentally, tells a completely different story. In this tale, Phocas is a gardener who provides hospitality to soldiers who are looking for him. The soldiers do not know it is him for whom they are searching, so they take him up on the offer. As they sleep, Phocas digs his own grave and the confesses to the soldiers in the morning. The soldiers offer to let him off the hook. Phocas, however, insists that they behead him.

Halloween Horror: Buried Alive

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Patriarchs, Religion, Roman Martyrs with tags , , , , on October 31, 2010 by fuzzysoul

In honor of Halloween, here’s perhaps the most horrific (and strange) execution I’ve found in the Martyrs Mirror. The victim was a woman named Anneken Skywalker Van Den Hove. She had been in prison for two and a half years after being betrayed “as it was said” by her own pastor. According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, Van Den Hove was a 48-year-old unmarried servant to two women who recanted when all three were hauled up by the authorities. GAMEO also states that she was the last Anabaptist martyred in Brussels.

Anyway, dear Anneken met her fate in 1597:

Hence the justice of the court, and also a few Jesuits, went out with her about eight o’clock, half a mile without the city of Brussels, where a pit or grave was made, while in the meantime she fearlessly undressed herself, and was thus put alive into the pit, and the lower limbs having first been covered with earth, the Jesuits who were present asked her whether she would not yet turn and recant? She said, “No,” but that she was glad that the time of her departure was so near fulfilled. When the Jesuits then laid before her, that she had to expect not only this burying alive of the body into the earth, but also the eternal pain of the fire in her soul, in hell, she answered that she had peace in her conscience, being well assured that she died saved, and had to expect the eternal, imperishable life, full of joy and gladness in heaven, with God and all His saints.

In the meantime they continued to throw earth and (as has been stated to us) thick sods of heath ground upon her body, up to her throat; but notwithstanding all their asking, threatening, or promising to release her and take her out of the pit, if she would recant, it was all in vain, and she would not hearken to it.

Hence they at last threw much additional earth and sods upon her face and whole body, and stamped with their feet upon it, in order that she should die the sooner.

Update: In going back through my notes to find material for posts I had not had time to write before, I found an entry I had noted when I started this project 20 months ago … and then forgot. Apparently, Anneken was not the first person to be buried alive in the Mirror. That honor goes to Vitalus in 99 C.E., who was buried alive in Ravenna, Italy by the same Roman judge he once served. Vitalus’ wife was then beaten to death.