Archive for Amsterdam

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?


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.

Horror on the Amsterdam ice

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Ordnung, Patriarchs, Religion, Schism with tags , , , , on October 17, 2009 by fuzzysoul

Frozen RiverThe Martyrs Mirror begins this story with an account of an early schism. Apparently, in the mid-15th Century, the Anabaptists of Amsterdam got into one of their usual snits with each other (the Mirror does not say what the issue was this time). A group led by someone named Gillus of Aix-la-Chappelle broke off from the rest of the churches, leaving his flock dangerously exposed to the prowling authorities. They solved this problem by living out on the water in boats, away from the constables.

Well, not completely away. In 1555, six members of this group were snatched off their boat, sentenced to death and strangled at the stake … but not burned. It was the beginning of winter and a bit to cold in those parts to get a roaring fire going.

There was freezing weather for thirteen weeks from this time on, and, what is remarkable, during all these thirteen weeks a light like a candle stood over each stake to which the bodies of the six brethren were fastened, and burned all night. After the expiration of the thirteen weeks, a violent storm and rain arose, and, consequently, a great thaw ensued so that the water rose very high, and the ice was rent asunder by the wind. Around the body of one of the six brethren the water stood so high, that the stake, through the force of the ice pressing against it, was broken in two, and fell down upon the ice. His body drifted hither and thither on the ice, with the tide, between Sparendam and Volewijk.

Two young members of the church spotted this wandering body, who was known in life as Jaapje Maet. They tried to get help to recover it, but no other church members would come out. So the two went back out to find Maet’s body, guided by the eerie will o’ the wisp above him.

In the meantime, said light came drifting on the ice. They rowed up to it and saw that it stood on Jaapje Maet. They took him into their boat, and brought him to the other brethren who also kept themselves in a boat in the field. These took the body into their own boat. But as soon as they touched it … the dried up and frozen body, which had stood at the stake for thirteen weeks waiting to be burned, burst, so that the blood flowed copiously into two or three baskets which were at the bottom of the boat.


The Great (and not so great) Escapes

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Mennonite, Pennsylvania Dutch, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2009 by fuzzysoul

get_out_of_jail_freeIt can be mind-numbing reading the Martyrs Mirror – page after page of horrible, senseless bloodletting without many breaks. But, occasionally, the “good guys” get a win. I’ve seen a few escape stories so far.

The first story stunned me so much that I wrote in my notebook: “P. 446 – George Vaser actually gets loose.” Vaser was nabbed in Neudorf in 1536 and thrown in the stocks. Vaser and his companion were then imprisoned and examined in Metling, outside Vienna, for a whole year. They had prepared themselves to die, but were then mysteriously let go and traveled on to Trasenhofen. The details of the escape are not included in the Mirror tale. Oh, but the Mirror is sure to recount that Vaser was caught again the next year, tortured and beheaded. *sigh*

Another escape story happens in 1539 in Steinborn, Austria. The government arrested more than 150 church members and imprisoned then in the Castle Falkenstein to, according to the Mirror, discover the church’s leaders and deprive them of the church’s treasury. Not finding any church leaders or treasure, the authorities decided to march the men to the sea and impress them into the Spanish navy. However, during the arduous trek from Falkenstein to the sea, most of the Brethren escaped their captors (again, the Mirror provides little detail), and made their way back to the church at Morovia. A dozen were recaptured and sent to sea along with three who didn’t manage to escape.

Menno Simmons is first mentioned in the Mirror by way of an escape tale, which didn’t end so well for his host, Tjaert Reynerts. Reynerts had is limbs smashed on the wheel once the authorities discovered that he had secretly harbored Simmons. However, the Mirror goes on to point out that Simmons was the era’s great escape artist, always managing to evade capture and dying of natural causes, despite the large bounties placed on his head. It pays to have loyal friends…

…or dumb luck. Michael Matschilder and his wife, Elizabeth, escaped death row in Vienna when the city caught fire in 1546. According to the Mirror, it was customary for authorities to close the city gates during a fire and release the prisoners with the intention of rounding up the prisoners later before re-opening the gates. But the Matschilders escaped during the crisis, even though their friend was re-apprehended and executed.

But the best escape tale in the Mirror so far is that of a man who was imprisoned with about 20 other Anabaptists in Amsterdam in 1549. The man’s two brothers, were less Anabaptists than alcoholics. While getting piss drunk at a local tavern, they hatched a plot to spring their bother from the jail. The next day, sober again, they thought better of their plan, but vowed to go through with it anyway. Using a boat hook and a rope, they scaled the jail wall, broke open the windows with crowbars and freed their brother and several other prisoners.