In light of the great interest that folklorists have shown in ballads, it is interesting that 21 martyr ballads from early Anabaptism were included in the 1583 Ausbund (hymnbook). All depict the martyrdom of a particular person.
Hymns 9 and 29, by Hans Büchel, are romantic stories of a young maiden and knight, respectively, who die in distant places, the maiden also in the far distant past. The remaining hymns (10 through 28) depict actual 16th-century Anabaptist martyrs from commonplace backgrounds. The typical plot follows a sequence of arrest, trial, and execution. The trial scenes usually include much dialogue, sometimes on such Anabaptist issues as baptism, rejection of the sacraments (eucharist and confession), the oath, the papacy, the church, and the ban. The narration is simple and understated; the concluding martyrdom stresses the grace of God that enables the believer to be strong to the end.
Victor G. Doerksen, who has made the closest study of the formal qualities of these songs, emphasizes their differences from the ballads admired by poets of the Romantic Era. However, he says little about their relationship to other Protestant martyr ballads of their day and does not speculate on whether or not the Anabaptist ballads circulated orally before they were written down (and, are therefore, truly " folk") or, instead, were written for publication (and are therefore "literary"). Available evidence supports the latter case.
Doerksen, Victor G. "The Anabaptist Martyr Ballad." Mennonite Quarterly Review 51 (January 1977): 5-21.
Schreiber, William I. "The Hymns of the Amish Ausbund in Philological and Literary perspective." Mennonite Quarterly Review 36 (January 1962): 36-60.
Cite This Article
Beck, Ervin. "Ballads." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 24 Oct 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ballads&oldid=143381.
Beck, Ervin. (1987). Ballads. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 October 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ballads&oldid=143381.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 50. All rights reserved.
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