The Martyrs’ Mirror and the memory of a minority

‘Anabaptists’ (the term literally means ‘rebaptiser’, and refers to the rejection of infant baptism) were among sixteenth-century Europe’s most persecuted and vilified groups. Both Catholics and Protestant groups condemned them as both spiritually and political dangerous, and the Anabaptist seizure of Münster of 1534–5 became a byword for the rebellion and disorder that many believed would follow radical Reformation. Perhaps as many as 2500 Anabaptists died for their faith in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The intensity of this persecution placed martyrdom at the centre of Anabaptist culture and identity, and the movement had many ways of celebrating their faithful through print, manuscript and song. First published in 1660, Het Bloedig Tooneel (‘The heart-bleeding spectacle’) was a collection and expansion of earlier Anabaptist martyrologies, gathered and written by the Flemish Mennonite Thieleman Jansz. van Braght [1625-64]. This second edition of 1685 enlarged further on van Braght’s work and added 104 copper engravings providing vivid illustration of the suffering described in the text. Deliberately drawing together martyrs from many different Anabaptist traditions, this monumental text created a coherent and distinctive identity for a minority shunned and persecuted by Europe’s dominant churches. Better known by its subtitle (‘Martelaers Spiegel’ or ‘Mirror of Martyrs’) it remains an important text for many Mennonite believers in the modern world. CL

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), title page.

CUL: 4.36.6

Further Reading

Brad Gregory, Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge MA, 1999), chapter 6.

David L. Weaver-Zercher, Martyrs Mirror: A Social History (Baltimore, 2016).

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