Archive for burning at the stake

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?


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.

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.

Burning the hand that saved him

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Patriarchs with tags , , , , , , , on December 19, 2009 by fuzzysoul

I’m going to skip ahead a bit in the Martyrs Mirror to address a story that my Old Order Mennonite cousin told me about a man named Dirck Willems (or Dirk Willemfz if you prefer the old spelling style). I immediately recognized the story as Michelle relayed it to me a few weeks ago, because an the engraving (large version) depicting it appears on the dust cover of my Herald Press version of the Mirror.

The engraving, done by Jan Luyken, confused me, because I didn’t see what one dude pulling another dude out of a hole in the ice had to do with the torture and execution of thousands of my ancestors. Now I know.

According to the Mirror, Willems was a resident of Asperen in Holland and a wanted Anabaptist. The story picks up with his arrest already in progress. Willems is hauling tail across the frozen ice with a cop in hot pursuit. However, the cop steps on a weak piece of ice and falls into the bitter water below. In what is possibly the most selfless act of pure Christianity I’ve ever read, Willems stops running, turns around and pulls the freezing cop from a certain death.

His reward? Slow death at the stake.

The cop wanted to let Willems go, but the “burgomaster” wouldn’t relent. So, Willems was tried, convicted and sentenced to burn.

“… A strong east wind blowing that day, the kindled fire was much driven away from the upper part of his body, as he stood at the stake; in consequence of which this good man suffered a lingering death, insomuch that in the town of Leerdam, towards which the wind was blowing, he was heard to exclaim over seventy times, “O my Lord; my God,” etc., for which cause the judge or bailiff, who was present on horseback, filled with sorrow and regret at the man’s sufferings, wheeled about his horse, turning his back toward the place of execution, and said to the executioner, “Dispatch the man with a quick death.” But how or in what manner the executioner then dealt with this pious witness of Jesus, I have not been able to learn…”

No good deed goes unpunished.