Stories from Martyrs' Mirror


Martyrs' Mirror, originally written in 1660, is a very old and significant book for Anabaptist Christians.  This book was an attempt to collect together all faithful and holy Christian Martyrs who have died for Christian faith and ideals throughout 17 centuries, their names and what has remained of their life-stories and views and teachings...

As we know, Anabaptist Christians were a group of very devoted and pious Christians who emerged around a year 1500 at one time with Protestant Reformations in Western Europe – Swiss, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, but they were severely persecuted and punished by the Rulers of those countries and their cities.

Anabaptist Christians were severely persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, killed, burned at the stake, their heads were cut off for their faith during 15-18 centuries:

The reason was that at that time the f Christian church were very corrupt and Anabaptists didn’t agree with the ruling Christian Church, the leaders of which were also the state leaders – politicians, judges, often very corrupt and evil people.

In 16th century the general situation in Christianity was very sad:

The State Rulers and Christian church was One – all citizens were obliged by law to be also Christians, members of the ruling state Church – first it was Catholic and later – Protestant – Lutheran or Reformation churches.....

It was a law in all countries that all people must be converted and baptized as small babies, otherwise there was a punishment or fine to parents.

It was very difficult for the general public and even for clergy – to obtain Christian Holy Scriptures – Bible – books were printed very rare, printing machines were very rare and expensive;

and even – if they obtained a Bible – most poor people could not read; and most of those who could read – could not Understand – because Bible was always printed in Latin language, which was not known for most men.  

That meant – most people were traditionally and officially Christians – but they had no idea about religious teaching or religious, devoted life.

And the ruling Religion did not do anything without consent of state rulers and leaders:

It was so with Catholic Church and it was and it remained so with Lutheran and other Protestant churches:

When Martin Luther initiated the reformation of Church – he did it always with an approval of politicians in each locality –

when he said – The God commands... or God forbid.... – He went to the city council or ruler – and spoke with them – Dear Rulers, God commands so and so, if you agree with it – we will reform it; if you don’t agree – we will do as you wish.....

Now – Anabaptists didn’t agree with that. They believed the faithful pious devotees should learn for themselves from the Holy Scriptures – what God wants us to do, and follow God, instead of city council....

Anabaptist Christians also believed – that only people personally believing in Christ’s teaching and leading a good faithful lives should be Baptised, they believed in Believers’ Baptism as opposed to Baptism by Birth practiced by the state’s church.

They also believed in Non-resistance to Evil in literal meaning, as thought by Jesus Christ in the Sermon of the Mount:

This was the reason they resisted not when they were persecuted and severely punished by the Ruling adherents of the State’s Church. The only means of defence they had were hiding in houses of devotees and running away to other localities.

What follows below is not the complete original Book of Martyrs’ Mirror consisting of 1,512 pages and very complicated historiographical vocabulary, but an Adapted version for easy reading with real life histories from that book: Easy to read even for kids, but also very entertaining and educative for adults.

Stories from Martyrs' Mirror
adapted by Michael McGinnis
from Martyrs' Mirror by Thieleman J. Van Braght and others

Preface for Parents

by Michael McGinnis

This book is about a group of Christians who were not afraid to share what they had found: that God wanted more for His people than they had ever imagined.

As a result, they were criticized and persecuted by church and state.

Though it cost the lives of thousands of them, they were rewarded with a glimpse of the glory of God's original plan for His Church. They did not serve a weak God.

Living 450 years ago, and called Anabaptists by their enemies because they insisted only believers could be baptized, this movement may have included as many as one-tenth of Holland and Belgium, in spite of threats of torture and execution from their Spanish rulers.

This book retells some of the stories of these rare believers from Martyr's Mirror, the Anabaptist classic published in 1660 by Thieleman J. van Braght, a hundred years after the worst persecutions.

By the 17th century, Holland had shaken off the yoke of Spain, and had become one of the most prosperous nations on earth. Pastor van Braght saw that his fellow Anabaptists were sinking back into the complacency their spiritual forefathers had left. In this sense, his day greatly resembles our own. Today his book is a traditional Mennonite or Amish wedding gift, but few have read it all the way through.

People might laugh for attempting to make a children's book from a thousand-page tome in which most of the characters are killed:

But from the first time I began to read the story of Dirk Willems, and my nieces and nephews immediately became silent (which doesn't happen naturally), I knew something special was happening:

As they began to clamour for another story about the "Brother Dirk people" every time I got into their van for a trip, I realized to my surprise that this must be a story for children after all.

In fact, I ran out of time and room to tell all the interesting tales contained in the original book. You will have to wait for a second edition or second volume if you want to hear about pirates, dungeons, bumbling priests, tearful farewells, and more clever escapes.

Of course, in this book, I've made accommodations to my youngest readers:

Every section helps explain the others, and hopefully each one is fun to read, but if your children prefer to skip some of them after the first time and repeat their favourites, that's fine.

Many names and places have been changed, not to protect the innocent, but simply to make them easier to pronounce!

I figured even a ten or twelve year old would do better with names like Haddie or Maria than Hadenwijk or Maeyken. (However, if you're interested, Jans should be pronounced like Yonce; Willems should be pronounced like Villums.)

And like soup, I've condensed the stories and dialogues, combining interesting details from several different people into a single narrative.

I've condensed time and space too, changing the facts making it appear that most of the characters lived and knew each other in the Flemish town of Meenen, which isn't true. In fact, the original stories span about fifty years.

More importantly for the children, I've tried to limit references to violence and bloodshed:Though I'm writing about martyrs, I've tried to get as many safely out of jail as possible!

I've used the words "torture" and "execution," but haven't included any details. But for your information, many of these Anabaptists were executed like Joan of Arc.

You can decide whether to tell your child what that means. In other cases, that method of execution was reserved for pastors and teachers, or for those who refused to recant. Often, laymen died like Louis XVI and laywomen died like Virginia Woolf.

Many Anabaptists were tortured on the rack during interrogations. You can decide whether to tell your child what a "rack" does.

And though most of these martyrs suffered at the hands of a particular world-wide church, I never name it:

The greatest danger to our souls today is not a particular denomination, but any religious tradition relying on state support that intertwines itself with the world system. So I call it simply the state church.

Convinced that we desperately need to drag ourselves from a slumber which rapidly looks more and more like death, I offer this book as a window, a mirror that reflects the lives of some who truly knew what life is.

Introduction: The Decree

From the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles the Fifth:

To our beloved and faithful commanders in chief, to the members of our Privy-Council, and all other judges and officers of our kingdoms and cities, and all our subjects, or their governors, to whom this decree shall come, happiness and favour.

In order to guard against and correct the errors which many heretics and upstarts, with their followers, have dared for some time to sow and spread in our kingdom against our Christian faith and the commandments of our mother church,

we have proclaimed many decrees so that the common, simple people may beware of these errors and offenses, and that the chief teachers and dissenters may be punished and corrected, as an example to others.

And since it has come to our knowledge that, in spite of our decrees, many and various upstarts, especially some who call themselves Anabaptists, have continued, and still daily continue, to spread, sow and secretly preach their aforesaid errors, in order to attract a great number of men and women to their false teachings and rebellious sect, to entice them and re-baptize some, to the great dishonour of our mother church and of our edicts, decrees and laws.

Therefore, we command you to proclaim in every place under your rule, that of all those who are found stained by the accursed sect of the Anabaptists, whether rich or poor, noble or common,

their chief leaders shall lose their lives and property, and be brought to the most extreme punishment without delay;

namely, those who remain obstinate and stubborn in their evil beliefs, or who have attracted and re-baptized any into their sect, also any who have been called prophets, apostles or bishops... these shall be punished most severely.

All other persons who have been re-baptized, or who secretly and purposely have protected any of the aforesaid Anabaptists from arrest, but who turn away from their evil beliefs, and are truly sorry and repentant for having been re-baptized... these shall also lose their lives, but otherwise shall be shown mercy.

And in order to better catch these Anabaptists, their followers and supporters, we command all our subjects to report them to the officers of the place where they live.

And anyone who knows of persons of this sect but does not report them, he will be punished as a supporter of the sect of the Anabaptists. But if he reports them, he shall have one third of their property, if the accused is convicted.

Moreover, we forbid all our subjects from asking for mercy for the aforesaid Anabaptists, for because of their evil teachings, we will not permit any Anabaptists to have any mercy shown them. And we give each and all of you full power and special command to do this.

Given at Brussels, under our seal, on the tenth day of June. Signed by the Emperor and his council.