Archive for torture

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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Mark of death

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2010 by fuzzysoul

In his groundbreaking 1992 novel, Snow Crash, author Neal Stephenson imagines an ultra-libertarian future America where every government function, including law enforcement, is privatized. Rather than spend large sums on incarcerating criminals, privatized police forces instead tattooed the foreheads of suspects with their particular criminal predilection to warn future victims.

I always thought this was an creative narrative solution to the problem of decentralized law enforcement. But, upon reading the Martyrs Mirror, I came to realize that Stephenson wasn’t the first one to come up with this idea.

The Mirror records that in 1161 a group of 30 or so Germanic proto-anabaptists lead by a man named Gerard appeared in England. Church officials didn’t think much of them, writing:

Their principle leader was one Gerard, upon whom they looked as their lord and master; for he alone had a little learning, while all the rest were illiterate idiots, a very low and boorish class of people, and of the German nation and language.

King Henry II put them on trial in Oxford, and they were found by church officials to be heretics. They were sentenced to be scourged and banished.

They were then, according to the rigor of their sentence, branded on their foreheads, their leader receiving a double brand, one on his forehead the other on his chin, as a sign that he was their leader. Thereupon, their upper garments, to the waist, were cut from their bodies, and they were publicly scourged and cast out of the city. But it being a bitter cold winter, and no one showing them the least mercy, they miserably perished by the intense cold, which they were unable to bear on their naked bodies.

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.

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.

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.

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.