Antwerp (Belgium)

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Antwerp (Dutch: Antwerpen; French: Anvers) is a city and municipality in Belgium and the capital of the Antwerp province in Flanders, one of Belgium's three regions. Antwerp's total population is 472,071 (as of January 2008). Antwerp is located on the right bank of the river Scheldt (coordinates: 51° 13′ 0″ N, 4° 24′ 0″ E), which is linked to the North Sea by the Westerschelde.

In Antwerp there was as early as the late Middle Ages evidence of heresy and opposition to the Roman Church. Since there were in the city many printing presses to spread the new ideas, the Reformation found early entry here. In 1519 Jacob Praepositus, prior of the Augustinian monastery, and Cornelis Grafaeus, the city secretary, promulgated Lutheran doctrine; and two monks from the Augustinian monastery, Hendrik Vos and Joannes van Essen, were burned as martyrs on 1 July 1523 in Brussels. In their memory Luther composed the song beginning, "Ein neuwes Lied wir heben an, Das welt Gott unser Herre."

Anabaptism also soon won adherents here, and by 1534 there was a large group. A proclamation of 12 February 1535 named several of them. The first Anabaptist to be executed was Jeronimus Pael, beheaded on 17 February 1535. Jan Smeitgen or Smekens, a preacher who had fled to Antwerp from Maastricht, was burned on 24 May 1537. At this time revolutionary Anabaptism (Münsterites) seems to have had a large following. Jan van Geelen visited Antwerp in 1534. The Davidjorist group also had a few adherents. But the peaceful Mennonites soon predominated. The history of the Anabaptists in Antwerp is hard to write. It is the very disturbed history of an extremely important Anabaptist center. Strada reports that the Mennonites had a larger following than the Lutherans, though less than the Calvinists. Morillon estimated the number of Mennonites in 1566 at 2,000. Many of them suffered a martyr's death. Very often torture was applied. In 1559, 15 Mennonites were in prison at the same time; in 1569 again a great number were taken prisoner when a service in Jan Poote's house was surprised. A Liedeken sings about no fewer than 72 martyrs put to death between 1550 and 1560. In 1573 the congregation, which was meeting in the house of Jan de Chordis, was overtaken; 35 persons were imprisoned, 28 of whom were executed. The congregation had its own midwife; thus the authorities were not informed what children were born (and remained unbaptized). During the severe persecutions many fled to foreign countries, to England (1552), to Emden, and especially to Holland. The parents of van den Vondel fled to Cologne. The cross-examinations show that many were engaged in the textile industry. That a number of the executed were well-to-do is shown by the proceeds from their confiscated property.

In Antwerpsch Archievenblad XIV, P. Génard has compiled a list of persons who were sentenced in this city from 1521 to 6 August 1577, for religious reasons (ter cause van de religie), i.e., heresy. In total there were about 1,700 persons, of whom 1,107 are referred to by name. Of the 1,107, at least 431 were Anabaptists. To this group of Anabaptists others may certainly be added, including some whose "heresy" is not defined, and also some whose names are not mentioned. Of the above-mentioned number of 431, who can be referred to definitely as Anabaptists, it is not clear what the results of the court were for 27; 159 escaped out of prison and were banned forever; 248 were put to death (170 men and 78 women).

Probably there were several congregations, which assembled in private homes. For a long time one of the meeting places was in the Kramersstraat near the Schuttersbron. Weetdoeners (notifiers) announced to the members where the meetings were to be held. The preacher Jan van de Walle confessed that he had attended a service where there were 50 persons and where 18 or 20 were baptized. They also assembled in the open outside the city. In 1566 a meeting of 300 brethren and sisters was overtaken.

In January 1566 the congregation had at least 16 preachers. Many elders worked here. The best known are Gillis van Aken, who baptized a large number; Leenaert Bouwens, who baptized almost 300 persons between 1554 and 1565; Joachim Vermeeren, Joost Verbeeck, Herman Timmerman, Hendrik van Arnhem, Paulus van Meenen and Hans Busschaert. Besides the elders there were also some important preachers: Jan van den Walle, Adriaen du Rieu, Hans Symons, Jelis Bernaerts, Jan van Ophoorn; with the exception of the last, all of these died a martyr's death in Antwerp.

Since Antwerp was so important as a Mennonite center in Belgium, it is natural that the preachers of the Flemish congregations, meeting in Ghent about 1545, inquired of the Antwerp group whether an elder might be available (A. L. E. Verheyden, "Mennisme in Vlaanderen," unpublished ms.).

When the conflict between Frisian and Flemish parties (1566-1567) occurred in Friesland, whither many Mennonites from Belgium had moved, the elders and preachers from Antwerp repeatedly acted as a mediator—among others Hendrik van Arnhem, Hans Busschaert, and the preachers Hans Symons and Filips Bostijn. The Antwerp congregation was not divided, though not all the members judged the Frisian party with equal severity; but it favored the conservative practice of making any who transferred their membership from a non-Flemish congregation submit to rebaptism. Hans de Ries, who was attracted to the Mennonites, did not become a member of the Antwerp congregation for that reason.

In the meantime (the date is unknown) a Waterlander congregation had also formed in Antwerp, in which Albrecht Verspeck was a preacher in 1576, who a little later immigrated to Holland. This congregation (like the one at Ghent) was represented at the big Waterlander conference in Amsterdam in 1581. During the brief period when William of Orange was governor of Antwerp, the Mennonites had peace. He exempted them from the oath in 1566. After his withdrawal and with the coming of Alba the situation again became very difficult, as the severe persecution of 1573 proves. More and more of the Mennonites moved to the Netherlands, where the bloody persecutions were past. When the Spanish general Parma conquered the city on 16 August 1585, there was a mass exodus, more than 35,000 inhabitants leaving Antwerp. For the most part they were Calvinists, but the last Mennonites also left the city.


Dit Boec wort genoemt: Het Offer des Heeren, om het inhout van sommighe opgheofferde kinderen Godts . . . N.p., 1570: 563-568. Available in full electronic text at:

Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1872): 57; (1875): 95, 96-98; (1875): 96 ff.; (1877): 82, 86, 87.

Génard, Petrus. Antwerpsch archievenblad: VII, VIII, IX, X, XII, XIII, and XIV.

Haeghen, Ferdinand van der., Thomas Arnold and R. Vanden Berghe. Bibliographie des Martyrologes Protestants Néerlandais. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1890: II, 639 ff., alphabetical list, and 798 (Anvers).

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 76.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden in de Zestiende Eeuw. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink, 1932: 351.

Plaisier, J. A. en M. Akkermans, samenstelling en redactie. Antwerpens martyrologium: Overzicht van de meeste martelaren in Antwerpen die om hun geloof geëxecuteerd zijn 1522-1585. Middelburg: Stichting de Gehonbron, 2008. Available in full electronic text at:

Vos, Karel. De Doopsgezinden te Antwerpen in de zestiende eeuw. Reprint from Bulletin de la Commission Royale de Belgique 84 (1920). Available in full electronic text at:


Map:Antwerp (Belgium)

Author(s) Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1953

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MLA style

Zijpp, Nanne van der. "Antwerp (Belgium)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 23 Jun 2021.

APA style

Zijpp, Nanne van der. (1953). Antwerp (Belgium). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 June 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 134-135. All rights reserved.

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