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.

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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.

Kissing cousins are … normal?

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Community, History, Mennonite, Pennsylvania Dutch with tags , on October 17, 2010 by fuzzysoul

Now here is an interesting Wikipedia article: Cousin marriage.

Such marriages are often highly stigmatized today in the West, but marriages between first and second cousins nevertheless account for over 10 percent of marriages worldwide. They are particularly common in the Middle East, where in some nations they account for over half of all marriages.

Yes, yes. Tell me something I don’t know.

According to Professor Robin Fox of Rutgers University, it is likely that 80% of all marriages in history have been between second cousins or closer.

Well … that was something I didn’t know. Perhaps my family isn’t all that unusual. We’re just better at keeping records.

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.

What?

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.

Ouch.

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.