Archive for the Martyr Category

The end of the book

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

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.


The bloody backdrop

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Religion with tags , , , , , , on September 27, 2010 by fuzzysoul

Prince William I, the Not-So-Silent ... of Orange

The Martyrs Mirror is not a history book. It certainly contains historical information, and it is an especially interesting original source in that it focuses on humble lower and middle class individuals and their private dramas, rather than larger than life figures and the broad brushstrokes of history.

But the Mirror skips along the surface of history, like a stone over water, briefly referencing clues to the larger political forces that crush its victims underfoot. I was noticing that the 1570s were especially brutal with luxuriously lurid accounts of the Spanish methods of torture and execution being increasingly mentioned. I finally got a clue to the context of this bloodbath with the first mention of William I, Prince of Orange in the story of Faes Dircks of Gouda, who was burned to death in 1570.

According to the Mirror, when William of Orange captured Gouda, he considered disinterring a priest who had led the persecution of the local Anabaptists, but decided against it. Instead he:

“…Hired a man for about four guilders, who took down the bones of Faes Dircks from the scaffold, and opened the grave of the aforesaid priest, who had previously died, and been interred in the church of the Franciscans, near the high altar, and then laid the bones of Faes Dircks upon the body of the priest; thus deriding this traitor…”

I kinda liked this prince guy after reading that. I saw him mentioned again in an oddly worded sentence in the story of Maeyken van Deventer, who was executed in Rotterdam in 1573, so I decided to look him up.

A quick search led me to an account of the Eighty Years War (1568–1648), an event name with which I am familiar. But, thanks to my sketchy American education on medieval European history, I had to re-learn that this was the war in which the revolting Protestants kicked the Catholic Spanish out of the Netherlands. It took a while, and the Spanish penchant for eradicating Protestants (Anabaptists included) when they regained control of Dutch towns in the late 16th Century resulted in many of the tragedies the Mirror mentions around this time. Interestingly, the Mirror’s accounts do not extend much beyond this war, and the focus of the book shifts to Switzerland before the accounts finish in the 1570s.

The hanged man

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Mennonite, Patriarchs, Religion with tags , , , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by fuzzysoul

In the tradition of the Tarot, the card of The Hanged Man can symbolize an inability to move forward. And that’s exactly how I felt when trying to understand the fate of Jan Smit in the Martyrs Mirror.

Smit, a Mennonite, was living near Munnekendam in North Holland in 1572 when he got picked up for being an Anabaptist. But, while he was in Catholic captivity, the Protestants captured Munnekendam and released him. He went back to working on a boat and was again captured by a Spanish captain, who took him to Amsterdam. The Spanish decided to put him to work rowing for the Spanish navy against the Protestants. Smit, a good non-bellicose Mennonite, refused to do so. So, the Spanish ordered him to be executed by hanging … from one leg.

I thought the book was pulling my leg, but it was quite serious. There’s even an illustration of the proceedings. Still, one has to wonder about the efficacy of this form of execution. It seems to be more annoying than lethal. Death would come from exposure and dehydration before anything else. Perhaps that was the point.

My searches for an explanation of this bizarre practice led me straight to a host of hokey Tarot card sites. I was annoyed at first, but then I found this discussion, and I finally got some leads. Apparently, this practice has come to be known – accurately or not – as the “Jewish execution,” thanks to a 1955 book by historian Guido Kisch. Kisch maintains (while others dispute) that the practice was employed on unrepentant Jews in various pogroms and lynchings  throughout medieval European history. It had various flavors as well. Some times live, panicked dogs were strung up next to the victim and would presumably bite him to death. Sometimes a fire was built under the victim to roast him.

The practice doesn’t appear to be very common, and it was employed against people other than Jews. Various accounts list it as a punishment for debtors and traitors as well. This could be why poor Smit met his end this way.

A touching tale of tonguescrews

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Mennonite, Patriarchs, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2010 by fuzzysoul

The sentence was arresting, even against the backdrop of routine horror that comprises the Martyrs Mirror:

Seven were burned alive before Easter, their mouths having been screwed together with screws; and the last mentioned four, in like manner, on the 20th of May of said year.


The Mirror has started to take a more horrifyingly detailed turn in its account of the 16th Century with vivid descriptions of Anabaptists being “ruptured” on the rack, hung by their arms with weights on their feet and urine being poured in their mouths. But that is all run-of-the-mill, standard issue medieval justice. This mouth-screwing business was new to me. Fifty pages later, it got a little clearer with the account of the deaths of Abraham Picolet, Hendrick van Etten and Maeyken van der Goes in Antwerp in 1569:

Thus the tyrants satisfied their desire on these three lambs for the slaughter, and had them burned alive the following day, after they had fastened their tongues out of their mouths with screwplates to prevent them from speaking.

Ah! It was a censorship thing. Can’t have these crazed radicals infecting the bloodthirsty mob with their non-violent, delayed dunking theology while our humble public servants are busily trying to barbecue them! It also appears to be big in Antwerp in the late 16th Century. The practice gets a new torturous wrinkle in the story of Jelis Claverss and Co. in Antwerp in 1571:

…These new Pharisees, the monks, on the other hand, caused screws to be put on the tongues of these pious and faithful witnesses of God, and the tip of the tongue touched with a red hot iron, that the swelling should prevent it from slipping out.


I looked up tonguescrews on Google, The Source of All Knowledge, and was dumbfounded that the first page was almost entirely Mennonite sources. At first, I thought Google had finally gone sentient and was trying to cater to my browsing habits, but I gradually came to understand that the tonguescrew is a powerful symbol of oppression and censorship in the modern Anabaptist community, inspiring both a one-act play and the title of a book of poems and essays on the Mirror.

A print from the Martyrs Mirror, depicting the son of Maeyken Wens shifting through her ashes to find the tonguescew used to silence her at the stake.

The favored story of the tonguescrew is the heartbreaking account of Maeyken Wens of Antwerp, who was burned to death with one in her mouth in 1573. According to the story, her 15-year-old son took his 3-year-old brother with him to watch his mother die. He fainted when she was tied to the stake, but came to consciousness after she died and sifted through her smoldering ashes to find the screw and keep it in her memory.

Sweat me timbers

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Religion with tags , , , , , on September 21, 2010 by fuzzysoul

Sunday was International Tale Like a Pirate Day, so it seems fitting to mention Heyndrick Arents of Briel.

Unfortunately, he was not very bright.

Arents was caught in 1568 by Rotterdam soldiers who were raiding the boat of a known pirate. Arents had the bad luck of being hired to caulk the pirate’s boat just before the raid, so he he was hauled up with the other buccaneers and sentenced to be hanged with the lot.

So Arents has the bright idea to tell the judge that he can’t possibly be a pirate, because he’s an Anabaptist. Casting aside the faulty logic here, the best Arents could have hoped for was to have his execution upgraded from dangling to roasting. The judge was all too happy to oblige. However, Arents got a two-week stay on his death, so that he could be properly examined (tortured).

Still, he’s the only one I’ve seen in the Martyrs Mirror so far who have the distinction of being pirate-for-a-day.

The Spanish: Inglorious Bastards

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Patriarchs, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2010 by fuzzysoul

Compared to the cruelties inflicted by the Spanish in the 16th Century, the systematic torture, drownings, burnings and beheadings perpetrated by the Rhineland authorities on Anabaptists were downright civilized, according to the Martyrs Mirror. The German authorities, it seems, are still concerned with saving the souls of the heretics, interrogating, cajoling and even attempting to bribe their prisoners to return to the fold of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Spanish, on the other hand, just seem concerned with beating the hell out of their victims.

One of the worst examples I’ve seen so far concerns a quartet of fellows (Jan van Paris, Pieter van Cleves, Hendrick Maelschalck, and Lauwerens Pieters) picked up by authorities in Ghent in Flanders. The four weren’t even Anabaptist church members yet, but proclaimed their faith anyway. They were sentenced to be strangled and burned.

However, the Spanish army was stationed in Flanders at the time, and they were carrying out the executions. The executioner ignored the sentence and decided to burn the prisoners alive, but not before softening them up a bit:

In the meanwhile the executioner fetched a basketful of chains. When the brethren heard that they were to be burnt alive, they raised their voices and sang, “I call upon thee, O heavenly Father.” Then the Spaniards beat them so dreadfully with sticks, that the eye of one fell out on his cheek. And thus they were burnt alive, the Spaniards loudly vociferating, and throwing sticks into the fire at a rapid rate, as desiring to have part in this madness, as though they thought to do God service thereby.

Constantine’s Sword in Jesus Camp

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, Fundamentalism, Fundamentalist, Fundie, History, Martyr, Religion with tags , , , on March 24, 2010 by fuzzysoul

The Redhead and I have been on a documentary binge, courtesy of the Netflix streaming service. Over the last two day’s we’ve watched both Constantine’s Sword and Jesus Camp. Both films are a couple years old, and they both feature profiles of Ted Haggard, the founder of Colorado Springs’ New Life Church and adviser to former President Dubya. Haggard has now been deposed from his ministry for being a closeted homosexual, and his political pals have fallen out of power, so both films’ attempts to make the goofy jerk into some kind of boogieman now look a bit shrill and humorous.

Constantine’s Sword is the lesser of the two films, but the most interesting for the purposes of this blog. The film is an gauzy, poorly-focused adaptation of author James Carroll’s book by the same name. The book and the movie both focus on the Catholic Church’s antagonizing of and antipathy for the Jews, a well-worn subject by now. But despite its tenuous connection to the Air Force Academy evangelical scandal and the largely unsatisfactory depiction of Carroll’s personal quest of faith, the movie did alert me to one thing I was previously unaware of – the persecution of the Jews in the Rhineland in the First Crusade. This got me thinking. What is it with the Rhine River Valley and religious persecutions? Is it just because the area was a medieval European superhighway? Or is there something in the culture of the region that perpetuated the horrors of the First Crusade, the persecution of the Anabaptists and the rise of Nazism?

Jesus Camp (watch it here) is a more skillful and emotionally manipulative film, depicting the evangelical brainwashing of young children. The subject matter is painfully close to my childhood, so watching this film was emotionally taxing. There are deep parallels between the evangelical program of isolation and indoctrination depicted in the movie and that of plain Anabaptist communities such as the Stauffer Mennonites and the Amish. Both religions preach the evils of all things outside and other than the insular subculture, and both emphasize the sacrifice of one’s individuality to the cause of the group. Typical cult stuff. However, the disturbing difference is that Anabaptists have withdrawn from society and are determined to leave peacefully, whereas the evangelicals depicted in the movie are determined to conquer government and train their children for war.