Francesco della Sega (Saga, Saag, von der Sach), a Hutterite martyr, was born in 1528 or 1532 at Rovigo in the Venetian Republic. He went to Padua to study civil law in the 1540's and lived there the life of a typical young student. Stricken with illness brought on by excesses and chided by a pious craftsman, he turned to the Scriptures, determined to model his life after Christ's. His conversion was complete: he even abandoned law for the tailor's craft, subjecting himself to the ridicule of family and friends. He evidently went directly over to the evangelical movement then current in northern Italy and was probably baptized by some leader of the movement, which around that time was coming under the influence of anti-Trinitarianism. Unfortunately we do not know when or by whom he was baptized, but since he was later accepted into the Hutterite communion without having to undergo adult baptism, he must have been baptized in Italy.
Della Sega's activities during the early 1550's are obscure. Around 1557 he visited Vienna and then traveled with a Hungarian friend in Hungary and Slovakia. He learned of the Hutterites from a Moravian servant, and, enlisting the latter as a guide, visited several Hutterite communities. Much impressed by them he requested and was granted admission to membership, perhaps first in Slovakia, but later in Moravia. There he married a woman from the Grisons and settled down to his humble craft.
In 1559, receiving the news of his father's death, he traveled to Italy to see about the inheritance, and other trips followed, on which he carried word of the Hutterites to friends. Because of this activity it has been assumed that he was a minister (Beck, 212), but he later told the Inquisition, "I have not baptized anyone because I am neither priest nor minister. I am a simple tailor." Perhaps he was accorded special position as an emissary, without full ordination.
In 1562 on one of these expeditions to Italy in the company of Nicola Buccella of Padua and Antonio Rizzetto of Vicenza, he was preparing to lead some twenty new recruits from the Cittadella community to Moravia when an unfortunate incident occurred. A man who claimed to have been defrauded by Buccella's brother complained to the authorities at Capodistria. Captain Lando, in charge there, arrested della Sega, Rizzetto, and Buccella (27 August 1562), but allowed the other members of the party to go on their way. Upon examining their documents the officer realized that he had stumbled upon a case of heresy, and at once communicated with the Inquisition at Venice, sending the prisoners there for further examination. They were imprisoned at San Giovanni in Bragora, where Giulio Gherlandi, who had fallen into the hands of the authorities the preceding year, was being held. The fellow believers quickly made contact and were able to speak to each other in the weeks that ensued.
Della Sega was questioned 26 September 1562, about his personal history and beliefs. Pressed concerning the latter, he agreed to prepare a statement. His confession, dated 20 October 1562, is the source of much of the above information. The principal points of his faith were these: salvation is by faith, not works; baptism should be reserved for believers; confession should be to God, not to priests; one should seek to obey God's commandments. There is no sign of the anti-Trinitarianism to which he was almost certainly exposed earlier in Italy. There followed a series of examinations conducted by the famed Spanish Jesuit theologian Salmeron, among others. Throughout these interviews della Sega continued to stress his devotion to the Scriptures.
Early in 1563 della Sega directed a letter to Leonhard Sailer (Lanzenstiel) and Peter Scherer (Walpot) as well as to the whole community in Moravia (letter in the Hutterite Codices of 1563). This epistle, about whose means of delivery we are left to speculate, is of exceptional interest, breathing as it does a pure faith and love: "I would not let the occasion pass while I am yet in this tabernacle of desiring for you the grace of the salvation of the omnipotent God. I have loved you all sincerely; but I love you even more now that I have been deprived of your presence, which deprivation is a great tribulation to me. And when the end comes, I will love you with the love that I have through Christ Himself, because you are members of His body, yea, bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh. And you have loved me sincerely; through you I have received of God innumerable benefits for which I have not repaid you, and thus I remain your debtor. But I desire to bear this my humiliation with patience, for love of you; yea, I would, through love of you, bear being rejected and cast out and finally led to the execution." He continues with exhortations directed to the pastors and to the community as a whole, as well as to his fellow Italians who had joined the group. "I say to you, my dear ones, especially love and fear the Lord and see to it that you never forsake the brotherhood and church but keep always before your eyes Christ's parable of the vine. . . . Think what grace you have received from God through being led from the deepest shadows to His marvelous light, and love one another with a pure heart, with all sincerity and fullness of heart, without pretense." The letter ends with greetings to his friends, to his wife, and to his mother-in-law Florentina.
A decree of the Venetian Council of Ten, issued 7 April 1564, providing for the expulsion of heretics (Cantu, III, 139), raised in della Sega the hope that it might apply to him. He wrote the court 18 July 1564, asking release from his imprisonment. His arguments were ignored. In November the Inquisitor Fra Adriano prepared a report on his case in which he listed the chief heresies of della Sega and Rizzetto: their rejection of the Roman Church, of infant baptism, and of confession to priests; and their union with the Hutterites. An interrogation of 12 December 1564 showed della Sega still firm in his faith despite the abjuration one week earlier of his companion Buccella.
It must have been around this time that della Sega addressed a letter to his mother and brothers in Italy. This undelivered letter, characterized by Benrath as "one of the most moving documents to come out of the whole Anabaptist movement," reproaches his brethren for ignoring his efforts to bring them to see the light. "May God pardon you and summon you to repentance. I pray you for the last time to consider why you have come into the world, and calling yourselves Christians, to do what Christ teaches. ... I exhort you still to desire His grace and to observe His commandments. I pray it of you with all my heart, now that I am about to die. In place of my last testament, since I have no money to leave, that which I have and know for divine grace I manifest to you, and anew with great sorrow of heart and with tears in my eyes, I plead with you to seek God while He is to be found. . . . And do not put off your conversion, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. Think that if God is merciful, His wrath is great toward the rebellious. . . . Now, if this letter should not please you, I know nought else to say. God will not save you by force. It remains to me, in this case, to ask you only to pass this letter to some other who may have the desire to do good and live a Christian life."
Sentence was passed on della Sega and Rizzetto 8 February 1565. Della Sega wavered momentarily when the executioner came for him. He appeared undecided in the presence of Salmeron, 20 February. The Court reproved him for his indecision on 22 February but in the end he remained true to his faith. On the night of Monday, 26 February 1565, in the accustomed manner, he was cast into the depths of the sea. "But the sea will give up its dead at the Judgment Day of God."
Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967 : 211-12, 241-43.
Benrath, K. "Wiedertäufer im Venetianischen um die Mitte des 16. Jahrhunderts." Theologische Studien und Kritiken 58 (1885): 45 ff.
Braght, Thieleman J. van. Het Bloedigh Tooneel of Martelaers Spiegel der Doops-gesinde of Weereloose Christenen, Die om 't getuygenis van Jesus haren Salighmaker geleden hebben ende gedood zijn van Christi tijd of tot desen tijd toe. Den Tweeden Druk. Amsterdam: Hieronymus Sweerts, …, 1685. Part II: 298.
Braght, Thieleman J. van. The Bloody Theatre or Martyrs' Mirror of the Defenseless Christians Who Baptized Only upon Confession of Faith and Who Suffered and Died for the Testimony of Jesus Their Saviour . . . to the Year A.D. 1660. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1951: 664. Available online at: http://www.homecomers.org/mirror/index.htm.
Cantu, C. Gli eretici d'Italia. Turin, 1865-66: v. III, 139.
Comba, E. I nostri protestanti. Florence, 1897: v. II, 521-54.
DeWind, H. A. "Italian Hutterite Martyrs," Mennonite Quarterly Review 28 (1954): 163-85.
"Eingabe des Francesco della Sega an die Inquisition (18. Juli 1564)." Mennonitischer Gemeinde-Kalender (1938): 93-95.
Wolkan, Rudolf. Geschicht-Buch der Hutterischen Brüder. Macleod, AB, and Vienna, 1923: 313-18.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder: Ein Sprachdenkmal aus frühneuhochdeutscher Zeit. Ithaca: Cayuga Press, 1943: 408, 410, 413 ff.
|Author(s)||Henry A DeWind|
 Cite This Article
DeWind, Henry A. "Sega, Francesco della (1528/32-1565)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 13 Mar 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Sega,_Francesco_della_(1528/32-1565)&oldid=112291.
DeWind, Henry A. (1959). Sega, Francesco della (1528/32-1565). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 13 March 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Sega,_Francesco_della_(1528/32-1565)&oldid=112291.
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