Archive for beheading

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.

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.

Sympathy for the devil

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

Ever had one of those days where everything just seems to be going wrong? That must be the way the executioner of Jelis Strings, Pieter Potvliet and Jelis Potvliet must have felt.

These three perps were picked up in 1562 in Flanders for being all Antibaptisty. They were carted four hours away for trial, held for three months, convicted and then carted back to their hometown to be roasted. Everything was all set up in the market square – straw, logs and a bloodthirsty crowd. Perfect.

Then it rains. And it pours. And all the executioner’s hard work goes to waste. The bailiff is a little squeamish about subjecting his prisoners to a slow smoking, rather than the usual roaring hellfire. So, the trio is sentenced to beheading instead.

Strings is the first to the block, and he’s raising a ruckus with a monk. The monk calls him a liar, and Strings says that the Pope is the Antichrist. But, eventually, the mouthy convict quiets up, and the executioner pops his head off with no problem. He takes care to cover the headless body with wood, so that the second convict doesn’t have to see all the gore. Nice guy.

Pieter Potvliet is also wordy, reciting prayers and scripture and whatnot, causing the executioner to lose his concentration. What followed was not pretty:

The executioner soon wielded his sword, dealing him five strokes, on shoulder, head and neck, before he finished his work on him; whereupon he covered the dead body, as he had done the others.

Birth and death

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

The Martyrs Mirror can be mind numbing with its repetitive recitation of gruesome deaths, but the tale of Andries Langedul and his family is particularly touching, given the details.

Langedul was snatched by local law enforcement as he sat on his front porch, reading the Bible. A neighborhood snitch had just seen an Anabaptist meeting take place at his house and rang up the margrave, a local military nobleman. The margrave took Langedul into custody and then searched his house:

[Langedul’s] wife was confined at the time, which the margrave discovered when he walked towards the chamber, and saw that the midwife had the child on her lap; for the woman had just been delivered. Perceiving this, the margrave withdrew from the chamber, but apprehended also the women who had come to assist the woman in her distress, and caused the lying-in woman to be guarded by some of his servants. But the nurse, vexed at this, prevented the apprehension of the woman, by entertaining them very liberally, and plying them with wine, so that the sick woman was, without their knowledge, conducted, on planks, across a well belonging to the two neighbors in common, and thus went from her neighbor’s house to the house of Christian Langedul, her husband’s brother, whose wife was also confined at that time.

So, Langedul’s wife and child were spared due to the margrave being an alcoholic. But he was not so lucky. On Nov. 9, 1559, he was executed in front of his fellow prisoners in Steen prison in Antwerp along with two other men.

When Andries knelt down to submit to the sword, he folded his hands, saying, “Father, into thy hands I commend…” But “I commend my spirit” was not finished, the rapid descent of the sword preventing it.

According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, Langedul’s martyrdom lives on in the hymn “Aenhoort Godt, hemelsche Vader (Give ear, O God, heavenly Father).”

The Template of St. Perpetua

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Patriarchs, Religion, Roman Martyrs with tags , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2009 by fuzzysoul

St. Perpetua, looking mighty white for a North African in this stained glass window.

My wife and I have been watching the excellent 11-year-old PBS series, From Jesus to Christ, online over the last couple weeks. This scholarly approach to the origins of Christianity is a great introduction to those looking into where all this tradition got started.

The last segment of the series focuses on the early Roman persecutions as well as the cult of the martyrs and the Christian subversion of pagan Roman rule through the use of social programs (like Hamas, only without the guns and bombs). One of the most striking details of the series, for me anyway, was the tale of Perpetua, whose diary of imprisonment and pregnancy in captivity the show credits with launching the martyrdom testimonial tradition that seems to have eventually led to the creation of the Martyrs Mirror.

Perpetua gets a mention in the Mirror. It’s a decent half-page entry with some good detail, but it does not tell the heroic postmortem death sequence tacked on to the original diary, which is why it did not initially grasp my attention. The Mirror’s account includes a quote from the patriarch Tertullian, presumably the main source here, and puts Perpetua’s death at 201 C.E. in Tuburbi, a city in Mauritania, a province in North Africa.

Perpetua, as the journal story goes, gave birth while in prison. In addition to having her newborn baby torn from her breast, Perpetua was killed, along with her friend Felicity, by wild beasts and gladiators as entertainment for the masses on the occasion of the Emperor’s birthday:

For the young women, however, the Devil had prepared a mad heifer. This was an unusual animal, but it was chosen that their sex might be matched with that of the beast. So they were stripped naked, placed in nets and thus brought out into the arena. Even the crowd was horrified when they saw that one was a delicate young girl and the other was a woman fresh from childbirth with the milk still dripping from her breasts. And so they were brought back again and dressed in unbelted tunics.

First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.

Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side. But the cruelty of the mob was by now appeased, and so they were called back through the Gate of Life.

There Perpetua was held up by a man named Rusticus who was at the time a catechumen and kept close to her. She awoke from a kind of sleep (so absorbed had she been in ecstasy in the Spirit) and she began to look about her. Then to the amazement of all she said: “When are we going to be thrown to that heifer or whatever it is?”

Perpetua had apparently been knocked silly, but not killed. So, she was dragged back out into the arena to have her throat cut by a nervous gladiator.

She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.

Yeah, it’s pretty spectacular and hardcore, but so are a lot of stories in the Mirror. People are always rejoicing on their way to death, bravely and stoically resisting torture and bringing great awe and fear to the hearts of their tormentors. These martyr stories are a literary genre, not historical fact, and Perpetua’s tale is as good a template as you are going to find.

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.

Chopping heads to spite one’s face

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

There’s something funny about the Martyrs Mirror. It has yet to mention the either the Peasants War (1524-1525) or the sequel, the Munster Rebellion. Between 1534 and 1535, radical Anabaptists took control of the city of Munster by force and established what was, by all accounts, a disastrous theocracy. The rebellion was violently suppressed by both church and state authorities within a year. The experience influenced many Anabaptist leaders, including Menno Simmons, to embrace non-violence.

[Update: The Munster Rebellion finally appears in an account of the questioning of Jacques Dosie of Leeuwaerden when the “Lady of Friesland” mentions it. The Mirror does not have a precise date for the exchange, but the story appears in between events that occurred in 1550.]

But turning the other cheek was a hard row to hoe for the embattled Anabaptists. Stories in the Mirror from the early 16th Century often contain real or imagined revenge components featuring God striking down a leader or city that persecuted the Brethren. Two of them were particularly creative.

The first occurs in 1528 when a bloodthirsty judge in Znaym in Morovia named Sir Louis gets permission from the local council to personally burn five Anabaptists using his own carts of wood. Having acquired a taste for roasting Brethren, Sir Louis set out to acquire more of them at a nearby house. On the way to arresting the Brethren, Sir Louis falls into a wine cellar, sprains his ankle and then falls ill. (The Brethren escape when they hear the noise.) Sir Louis apparently got a little delirious and called out “Oh, Baptists!” as he lay in bed. Finally, he “roared like an ox … and bit his own tongue and foam and blood ran out of his mouth, so that his wife and children could not stay with him.” Eventually, he was “strangled in his own blood.”

The second murderous slob to get a unique cumuppance was the unnamed executioner of Philip of Langenlonsheim in 1529. While severing poor Philip’s noggin with a sword, the executioner suddenly grabbed his own face.

Then the saying went abroad that something like a black hen had fluttered before his face, so that he defended himself with his hands. Some said that blood had squirted from his face. …It was nevertheless seen afterward what it must have been, for the executioners nose dropped off close to his face. Thus God punished and visited him, because of the innocent blood with which he had stained his hands to such a large extent.

Or he managed to hit himself in the face with the sword while hacking Philip’s spinal column. Severing a head isn’t easy with a heavy axe, much less a sword.