Archive for tonguescrew

I got a tongue screw!

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

I love the Internet. This whole story, let alone this post, would not exist without it.

In late September, I posted my examination of the tongue screw, a medieval torture device used to silence condemned Anabaptists, lest they preach their heresy to the crowds of gawkers that came to watch them burn. I referenced the title of a new collection of prose and poetry inspired by the Martyrs Mirror, entitled Tongue Screws and Testimonies.

The collection’s editor, Kirsten Beachy commented on the post a month later, noting, “Apparently, you can purchase replica tongue screws for the edification/horrification of your Vacation Bible School class.”

Hwut!?

I wrote her back immediately, trying to figure out how to get my hands on one of these replicas without sounding random and creepy. She appeared to understand my slightly unhealthy fascination and put me in touch with Terah Goerzen, author of the blog Forest of the Plains, who had her own experience with the replicas. Goerzen, thankfully, found my quest hilarious. According to her blog:

Replica tongue screws were commissioned by the Mennonite Board of Missions, which no longer exists and was absorbed into the Mennonite Mission Network. The idea was to use the tongue screws as OUTREACH! I can just hear it, “Come join the Mennonites. We have tongue screws!” “Oh wow, a tongue screw. Now I know this is the church for me!”

Apparently, I was their target demographic, because I found this idea to be awesome. Goerzen graciously put me in touch with a representative of the Mennonite Mission Network, who sent me one of these replicas, along with a copy of their house publication, Missio Dei.

The replica arrived in the mail today. Thanks MMN!

It’s powerful to hold this tongue screw replica in my hand. I don’t say that about many things. But there’s nothing ergonomic or user friendly about it. It’s cold. It’s heavy. It smells like raw steel and tastes terrible (don’t ask). It’s ugly, brutally fashioned by hand just like it would have been 500 years ago. It’s clearly designed to inflict pain and humiliation just like others before it.

It’s going to sit in a prominent place on my desk at work.

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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.