The author and publisher are grateful to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) for its generous support of this book. A worldwide ministry that responds to basic human needs and works for peace and justice in the name of Christ, MCC brings together Anabaptist churches and people to share God’s love and compassion.
Contents Preface ix part i The Prehistory and Production of The Bloody Theater chapter 1. Anabaptism: Origins, Spread, and Persecution 3 chapter 2. Memorializing Martyrdom before The Bloody Theater 21 chapter 3. Thieleman van Braght and the Publication of The Bloody Theater 45 chapter 4. The Bloody Theater: Martyr Stories and More 65 part ii Van Braght’s Martyrology through the Years chapter 5. The Bloody Theater Illustrated: The 1685 Martyrs Mirror 89 chapter 6. A North American Edition: The 1748–49 Ephrata Martyrs Mirror 123.
Preface F our hundred years have passed since Hans Landis, the last Ana- baptist executed in Switzerland, was put to death. An irrepressible preacher from near Zurich, Landis had been imprisoned numer- ous times before his final arrest and subsequent beheading in 1614. Ac- cording to one eyewitness, Landis’s executioner led the seventy-year-old minister toward the execution site with a rope, pausing long enough to beg his victim’s forgiveness. Landis comforted the man, assured him that he had already forgiven him, and added that “God would forgive him too.” A second account of Landis’s execution reports that his wife and children arrived “with mournful crying” to bid their husband and father goodbye. When Landis saw them, he implored them to leave, so that his “tranquility of heart for the death awaiting him might not be disturbed.”1 These accounts of Landis’s execution can be found in The Bloody The- ater of the Baptism-Minded and Defenseless Christians, a massive collec- tion of Christian martyr stories compiled by the Dutch Mennonite min- ister Thieleman van Braght and published in 1660.2 Unlike some of his Anabaptist contemporaries, van Braght lived in tolerant surroundings that afforded him the luxury of sustained historical reflection. Making the most of this indulgence, and with previous Anabaptist martyrolo- gies at his service, van Braght succeeded in crafting a grand narrative of what he considered authentic Christianity, a narrative that ran from biblical times to his own times. To fashion that narrative, van Braght in- cluded martyr accounts from the church’s first fifteen centuries, thereby creating a bloodstained prologue that set the stage for the emergence of .
chapter 1 Anabaptism Origins, Spread, and Persecution B y the time The Bloody Theater was published in 1660, the Ana- baptist movement was more than a hundred years old. Filled with colorful personalities, competing visions, and martyred bodies, the movement’s history was less than tidy. Neither the center nor the boundaries of the Anabaptist movement were beyond debate, even among those who claimed a commitment to radical reform. Contempo- rary historians continue to find much complexity in the radical reform movements of the sixteenth century. Who were the Anabaptists? Where, how, and why did they come to prominence? And why did so many people wish to see them dead? Regardless of how they draw the lines, historians typically begin the Anabaptist story in the early 1520s, in the context of the German Refor- mation.1 This reformation, spurred by Martin Luther and his demands for ecclesiastical reform, was itself a messy process, involving religious and political authorities, reform-minded theologians and clerics, and lay people with a jumble of economic, political, and religious concerns. We therefore begin this chapter with a look at the broader Reformation before training our lenses on the more radical elements that birthed the Anabaptist movement.
chapter 2 Memorializing Martyrdom before The Bloody Theater T he theme of martyrdom tracks a long history in Christian mem- ory-making. Sixteenth-century Anabaptists could easily recount the miseries inflicted upon Old and New Testament heroes, and they could also name Christians who had suffered in the centuries that followed. These stories, from the Bible and from subsequent church his- tory, provided comfort to Anabaptists in an age when, in their view, most self-identified Christians were theologically misguided, if not al- lied with Satan. At the same time, this pre-Reformation cloud of wit- nesses forced Anabaptists to answer questions about Anabaptism’s place in the larger Christian story.
chapter 3 Thieleman van Braght and the Publication of The Bloody Theater W hen twenty-first-century readers purchase an English- or German-language edition of Martyrs Mirror, they are buy- ing a translation of the Dutch-language martyrology pro- duced by Thieleman van Braght in 1660 and updated by an anonymous editor in 1685. Other Anabaptist martyrologies had been produced prior to 1660, but all of them eventually went out of print, superseded by van Braght’s more comprehensive work.1 A Dutch Mennonite minister, van Braght drew heavily on the martyrologies that preceded his own, par- ticularly the one assembled by Hans de Ries and his Waterlander col- leagues in 1631. Still, van Braght’s work, the actual title of which begins with the words The Bloody Theater, modified and extended these earlier martyrologies in significant ways. In many respects, van Braght’s Bloody Theater represents the culmination of the Anabaptist martyrological tra- dition. From this point forward, the most common way to recast the stories of the Anabaptist martyrs was to translate van Braght’s work into other languages or to excerpt particular stories from it to create smaller, more readable volumes.2 In this chapter we explore the production of The Bloody Theater: the Dutch context that nourished it, the author-editor who assembled it, and the printer who prepared it for sale. As this backstory emerges, van Braght’s rationale for producing yet another Anabaptist martyrology will quickly become clear. An influential Mennonite leader, van Braght possessed a historical vision that both corresponded to and sought to .