Sunday, January 23, 2011

Martyrs Mirror

the drowning of three Anabaptists in a barrel

I’m working this morning on a book review for the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan. The book is entitled Tongue Screws and Testimonies: poems, stories and essays inspired by the Martyrs Mirror. It’s edited by Kirsten Eve Beachy and published by Herald Press. The lengthy title tells you what it’s about.
               For those of you who don’t already know, Martyrs Mirror is a massive volume detailing the martyrdom of Christians throughout the ages but emphasizing the torture and execution of Anabaptists in the 16 Century. Written by Dutch Anabaptist (Doopsgezinde) T.J. van Braght in 1659, we’re told that it was intended to awaken the convictions of Braght’s fellow Anabaptists who were becoming comfortable and complacent in Holland in their affluent 17 Century Dutch environment.
               The copy on my desk this morning is a German translation of Braght’s voluminous work published in 1849 in Philadelphia. There are many translations and reprintings available: Amazon, for instance, has plenty to choose from in English. My edition, unfortunately, doesn’t include the pencil illustrations of Jan Luiken (1649-1712) one of which I’ve included above. Generations of Mennonites have had the book in their houses, no doubt for purposes similar to van Braght’s, namely, to illustrate to each generation the bloody legacy through which their spiritual ancestors were required to pass in order to keep “true faith” alive in a hostile world.
               Most of us, I think, skipped the bloody stories. After reading a few, they seemed repetitious and, well, way too many. The illustrations were another thing; the drawings of Jan Luiken were fascinating in their gruesomeness. They were, and still are, overlooked art.
               There’s a great website at with all the drawings and their cut lines. I admit I’ve spent much of my time clicking on items like, burning of the Waldensians and, Torture of the teacher, Ursula. I’m still drawn to the depiction of the macabre in human behaviour. I don’t think I’m alone in that.
               If you want to know what I think about the ethics of voluntary martyrdom in support of faith, forget it. At least until I’ve finished with Tongue Screws and Testimonies. So far, I give it 1 ½ thumbs up. It, too, is available on line.

1 comment:

  1. Not to be picayune, but I believe the Luyken illustrations are etchings, not pencil drawings.