Gillis van Aken (ca. 1500-1557)

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Gillis van Aken (not identical with Giesbert van Ratheim or Gys van Rotheim, was also called Giesbert von Breberen for his birthplace; see Ratheim). Gillis van Aken was born about 1500 in or near Susteren in the Jülich district of Born (now Dutch province of Limburg), a gathering point of the recent Protestant movement. The Jülicher Erkundung says of Born, "One named Herr Gillis, a neighbor child, also preached here." In the exami¬nation (Verhandlung) before the magistrate of Born on June 16, 1533, one Gielis van Dilsen ad¬mitted that he had consented to having "Heer Gilis" preach in Susteren, and had heard him. Since he is addressed with the title "Heer" he may, like Menno Simons, have been a priest. In 1531 he was already traveling as an Anabaptist preacher through Limburg and must also have worked in Aachen, from which town he received his name. For a long time he was on the side of Menno Simons and became "a head and bishop of the Anabaptists." Two sisters of Illekhoven on the Maas testified at a trial in 1540 that Gillis was pale, of average height, with a pointed brown beard and large eyes. At times he wore his hair long, at other times cut. At a meeting in Goch in 1542 Menno Simons confirmed (ordained) him as an elder at the same time as Adam Pastor and Antonius of Cologne.

From this time on, Gillis was one of the outstanding Mennonites, took part in various important meetings of the elders, and traveled over a large part of Holland and Germany. He must have baptized a great many, for no other is named so frequently by the martyrs as the one who baptized them. In 1552 he was "banned" by Menno and his followers at a meeting in Mecklenburg because of adultery, but was reinstated in 1554 upon confession. Subsequently the Mennonites were frequently reproached (not without some justification) with this. On the occasion of the division in 1555 on the question of the shunning of banned marriage partners, he appears to have been very rigid and thus was a factor in the separation of the Waterlanders and High Germans: from the main body.

Gillis was captured in 1557 while preaching in Willeboortsveld near Antwerp. For fear of death he recanted and offered to promote Catholicism in the very places where he had formerly preached, but he escaped only the stake thereby. On 10 July 1557, he was beheaded, his right hand cut off, and his body broken on the wheel. Because of his recanting, van Braght did not include him in the Martyrs' Mirror. His son Gillis was a preacher in Amsterdam, and the well-known Galenus Abrahamsz de Haan was his grandson.


Bax, W. Het Protestantisme in het bisdom Luik en vooral te Maastricht. The Hague, 1937:I,  52-57 et passim (Bax identifies Gillis van Aken with Gys van Rothern).

Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1918): 138 f.

Génard, Petrus. Antwerpsch archievenblad: VII, 435, 438, 440; XIV, 22 f., No. 251.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 2 f.

Hoop Scheffer, Jacob Gijsbert de. Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam, 2 vols. Amsterdam: Uitgegeven en ten geschenke aangeboden door den Kerkeraad dier Gemeente, 1883-1884: I, Nos. 354, 361, 367, 370, 392, 399.

Krahn, Cornelius. Menno Simons. Karlsruhe, 1936.

Redlich, Otto R. Jülich-Bergische Kirchenpolitik am Ausgange des Mittelalters und in der Reformationszeit. Bonn: Hanstein: II, I, 92, 314.

Rembert, Karl. Die "Wiedertäufer" im Herzogtum Jülich. Berlin: R. Gaertners Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1899: 339-342.

Vos, Karel. "Gillis van Aken." De Tijdspiegel (August 1905).

Vos, Karel. Menno Simons. Leiden, 1914: 95-99 (Vos attempts to prove that Gillis van Aken was identical with Ghielis von Ratheim or Rotheim).

Author(s) Karel Vos
Wilhelm Niepoth
Date Published 1956

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Vos, Karel and Wilhelm Niepoth. "Gillis van Aken (ca. 1500-1557)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 21 May 2024.

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Vos, Karel and Wilhelm Niepoth. (1956). Gillis van Aken (ca. 1500-1557). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 May 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 518-519. All rights reserved.

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