Refusing to kneel

Thieleman Jansz. van Braght compiled this martyrology of the Dutch anabaptists known as Mennonites in 1660. The title translates as ‘The heart-bleeding spectacle, or mirror of martyrs of the anabaptists or defenceless Christians’. The only illustrations in early Mennonite martyrologies were title pages, but the second edition of van Braght’s work, in 1685, contains over 100 etchings by the prolific printmaker Jan Luyken. The first section of the text paraphrases the stories of St Stephen, St John the Baptist, and other Biblical martyrs, but the second, from which this image is taken, creates the first substantive visual memorial of the Christian suffering of the anabaptist dissenters. Included are images of clandestine services on ferry boats and in tenement basements; children torn from the arms of their parents; and a victim escaping on a frozen river, but turning back to rescue his pursuer. Here we see a dissenter refusing to submit to Catholic ritual: priests are carrying a reliquary and a crucifix in procession; groups of Catholics are kneeling down before them; just one man stands, resolutely and heroically, aloof from the kneelers. A prostrate woman gestures to him to kneel but he refuses. It is a poignant example of the body refusing to conform, rejecting one form of bodily memory in order to inhabit another. BC

Het bloedig tooneel, of martelaers spiegel der doops-gesinde of weereloose Christenen (Amsterdam: J. vander Deyster, H. vanden Berg, Jan Blom, Wed. S. Swart, S. Wybrands, and A. Ossaan, 1685).

CUL: 4.36.6, p. 149 (sig. n3r)

Further reading

George Hunston Williams, The Radical Reformation, 3rd Edition (Kirksville MO, 1995), pp. 609-80.

J. Denny Weaver, Becoming Anabaptist: The Origin and Significance of Sixteenth-century Anabaptism (Harrisonburg, 1997).

Extended captions