Martyr Books

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The martyr's death suffered by thousands of Protestants made the deepest impression on their world. Relatives, friends, acquaintances, and fellow believers regarded them with unbounded grateful esteem. The letters they wrote in prison, their confessions of faith, their letters of farewell, the poems they composed, went from hand to hand and were read with enthusiasm. Descriptions and songs which described their steadfast faith in the grip of torture and death found enormous sale. Soon the desire arose to collect these testimonies into one book, in order to preserve them for posterity.

Thus the first book of martyrs came into being in 1552 with the title, Historien der Heyligen auserwöllten Gottes Zeugen, Bekennern und Märtyrern, so in angehender ersten Kirchen Altes und Neues Testament, zu jeder zeyt gewesen sind, written by Ludwig Rabus of Memmingen. Among others it contains descriptions of the death of Hendrik of Zutphen (11 December 1524), Willem of Zwolle (29 October 1529), and Leonhard Kaiser (16 August 1527) ; a second edition was printed in 1571-72.

In 1554 the first edition of J. Crespin's noted book, Le livre des martyrs depuis Jean Huss jusqu'en 1554, came out and went through many revised editions. The translations and excerpts made by Christoph Raab, published in 1582 and 1591 at Herborn, and by Paulus Crocius, Grosses Märtyrerbuch und Kirchenhistorien, published at Bremen in 1607, 1617, 1682, and 1722, also deserve notice. (Concerning John Foxe's Book of Martyrs of 1559, see John Foxe.)

On 18 March 1559, Adriaan van Haemstede finished his book at Antwerp titled: De Gheschiedenisse ende den doodt der vromer Martelaren die om het ghetuyghenisse des Euangeliums haer bloedt ghestort hebben, van den tyden Christi af, tot den Jare M.D. LIX toe, byeen vergadert op het kortste, Door Adrianum Corn. Haemstedium, a book which was of influence on the martyrology of the Dutch Mennonites, and also contains a few accounts of Mennonite martyrs.

Another (non-Mennonite) martyr book deserving mention is the Groot Christen-Martelaersboeck Ghenoechsaem vervattende een kerckelycke Historie van den Opgangh, Voorgangh en Ondergangh der vervolgingen, etc., by Abraham Philippus Mellin, preacher at Anthonypolder (Dordrecht, 1619). It is refuted by De ontledinge van dry verscheyden niew ghereformeerde Wederdoopers door Arnoudt van Gelouwe (Antwerp, 1656).

The first Anabaptist-Mennonite martyr book is the important Dutch collection, Het Offer des Heeren, which was published in 1562 with the title, Dit Boec wort genoemt Het offer des Heeren, om het inhout van sommighe opgheofferde kinderen Godts: De welcke voortgebracht hebben wt den goeden schat haers harten Belijdingen, Sendbrieven ende Testamenten, dewelcke sy metten monde beleden, ende metten bloede bezegelt hebben, Tot troost ende versterckinghe der Slachtschaepkens Christi, die totter doot Geschict zijn, Tot lot, prijs ende eere desgeens diet al in allen vermach, wiens macht duert van eewicheyt tot eewicheyt, Amen. By 1599 it had gone through 11 editions (n.p., printed either at Emden or Amsterdam). In all editions a collection of songs was added (first edition, 1563), which has the title, Een Lietboecxken, tracterende van den Offer des Heeren, int welcke oude ende nieuwe Liedekens wt verscheyden Copien vergadert zijn, om by het Offerboeck ghevoecht te worden, want het van eender materyen roert als van verraden, vanghen ende dooden, aengaende der Slachtschaepkens Christi, die de stemme haers Herders Jesu Christi getrouwelyck gehoorsaem zijn gheweest totter doodt toe.... This first edition contains 25 songs, the first of which treats the sufferings of Christ and the others the death of the Anabaptist martyrs during 1526-61. It is the oldest hymnal of the Dutch Mennonites, and was much used in church services along with three other hymnals, Veelderhande Liedekens, Nieu Liedeboeck, and Tweede Liedenboeck. The complete Offer (with Lietboecxken) was reprinted in the edition of 1570 with a valuable scholarly introduction and notes, edited by Samuel Cramer in Bibliotheca Reformatoria Neerlandica II (The Hague, 1904). Both before and after the publication of the Offer des Heeren a number of small booklets were published containing letters, accounts of trials and executions, and hymns of martyrs. The first of the Anabaptist martyr books is the small booklet giving an account of the martyrdom of Michael Sattler and his associates at Rottenburg (Württemberg) under the title Ayn newes wunderbarliches geschicht von Michael Sattler zu Rottenburg am Neckar sampt andern 9 mannen seiner lere und glauben halben verbrannt und 10 wyaber ertrenkt, 1527 (copy in the Wolfenbüttel Library). Another account of the Michael Sattler martyrdom appeared about the same time as an appendix to the Brüderliche Vereinigung of 1527. These booklets were published not later than 1533. Dutch revised editions appeared in 1560 and 1565, and the story was included in Het Offer and by this route got into the Groot Martelaarsboek (Big Martyr book) and following martyr books. The "Testament" (letter of farewell) and a hymn written by Anneken Jans, put to death at Rotterdam in 1539, were published in the very year of her death. A rhymed account of the suffering and death of the ladies of Beckum, put to death at Delden in 1544, was published in Low German by 1545 and soon after in Dutch. A somewhat larger collection of Anabaptist martyr material concerning Thomas von Imbroich (d. 1558) and Soetken van den Houtte appeared about 1565 and concerning Reytse Aysesz about 1577. The [[Amsterdam Mennonite Library (Bibliotheek en Archief van de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente te Amsterdam)|Mennonite Library at Amsterdam]] has a volume of 1577 (reprint 1584) containing letters of Jacob de Keersmaecker, Hendrick Alewijnsz, Joost Verkindert, Thys Joriaensz, and Herman Timmerman, another volume of Jan Woutersz (1579), one of Christiaen Rycen or de Rycke (1588), and one of Joos de Tollenaer (1599).

Further collections of martyr stories, made especially by Jacques Guterman and Joost Govertsz, led to the first genuine Mennonite book of martyrs, published in 1615 at Haarlem by Hans de Ries and the Waterlander Mennonites. The printer was Jakob Pouwels Houwaert and the publisher Daniel Keyser at Haarlem. Its title was Historie der martelaren ofte waerachtighe getuygen Jesu Christi die d'evangelische waerheyt in veelderley tormenten betuygt ende met haer bloed bevesticht hebben sint het Jaer 1524 tot desen tyt toe waerby oock gevoecht syn haer bekentenissen, disputatien ende schriften uytdruckende haerl. levende hope crachtich gelove ende brandende liefde tot Godt ende sync heylige waerheyt. The preface states that the book lays no claim to exhaustiveness, and that further stories were still to be collected for later publication.

The Old Frisians, led by their elder Pieter Janszoon Twisck and Syvaert Pietersz, had the work reprinted at Hoorn in 1617. This edition is exactly like the Haarlem edition, except that the foreword is different, and a confession of faith with 33 articles has been added, also 41 additional martyr stories, with 21 listed in an appendix. Ten stories were omitted, as well as a disputation of Herman van Vlekwijk because of its Arian content. The title of this edition reads Historie der warachtighe getuygen Jesu Christi . . . sint het Jaer 1524 tot desen tijt toe.

Thus the Old Frisians had produced a work that they called the great book of sacrifice. But they completely overlooked the fact that the Haarlem book contained accounts of some martyrs who held false views of the humanity of Christ. In order to correct these errors they printed a new edition in 1626 at Hoorn omitting the questionable passages. The martyr stories listed in the appendix of the first edition were inserted in chronological order and seven more added, two of them in an appendix. Otherwise this edition is like the 1617 edition. This edition has a somewhat modified title, Historie van de Vrome getuygen Jesu Christi . . . .

In reply to the charges which the third edition raised against the editors of the first, Alenson published his Tegen-Bericht, defending Hans de Ries and his co-workers. This led to the fourth edition of the book, which was published in 1631 at Haarlem by the press of Hans Passchiers van Wesbusch with the title, Martelaers-Spiegel der werelose Christenen t'zedert anno 1524. Not including the foreword and introduction, which cover 56 pages, and the table of contents, which contains 6, the book has 864 pages. In many of the copies a page was inserted with the title, Onnoselheydts peyl van't Munsters onheyl, a repudiation of any relationship with the Anabaptists of Münster, and in some copies an appendix was bound in, containing the confessions of faith by Hans de Ries and Lubbert Gerritsz in forty articles. De Hoop Scheffer thinks that Hans de Ries supervised this edition and adopted the additions in the Hoorn editions of 1617 and 1626. Several martyr stories of the 1617 edition taken from the chronicles of Curtius were omitted here, and persons mistreated but not killed are given separate treatment. Only four new accounts are added; there is also a short note on several martyrs previously mentioned.

The foreword of the 1631 edition is a masterpiece of style. It recounts the heroic steadfastness of the martyrs in the face of pain and death, praises their oral and written statements, and finally refutes the arguments of their judges in justifying the death sentence. The first Reformation martyrs treated in the book are Hans Koch and Leonhard Meister in 1524; the last Anabaptist martyr is Hans Landis, 1614.

The last and most significant martyr book of the Dutch Mennonites is the Martyrs' Mirror by Tieleman Jansz van Braght: Het Bloedigh Tooneel der Doopsgesinde en Weereloose Christenen, die om het getuygenisse Jesu hunnen Zaligmaker geleden hebben en gedoodt zijn, van Christi tijdt af, tot dese onse laetste tijden toe, verzameld uit verscheidene geloofweerdige Chronieken, gedenkschriften en getuigenissen. It was published at Dordrecht in 1660; the second and last Dutch edition, which was published ,in Amsterdam in 1685, was illustrated with over 100 etchings by Jan Luiken. In this edition the words "of Martelaarspiegel" were added after the word "tooneel" in the title. The foreword of the first edition says that the author had originally intended to reprint the Groote Offerboeck of 1631, with the addition of only a few recently discovered martyr accounts. Actually it turned out to be an entirely different book. Part I contains the history of the Christian martyrs from the time of Christ to 1600, arranged by centuries, each century being concluded with a history of baptism. The confessions of faith are valuable: of 1627 (23-27), of 1630 (27-32), of 1632 (32-37), and the one consisting of 33 articles (385-432). The second part deals with Mennonite martyr history. (For information about later editions see Martyrs' Mirror.)

Güldene Aepffel in Silbern Schalen (European editions without place in 1702 and 1742, American edition at Ephrata in 1745, 519 pp.), though not an abridgment of the Martyrs' Mirror, contains martyr stories, testimonials, letters, and confessions of the martyrs Michael Sattler, Thomas von Imbroich, and Susanna van Houte. Isaak van Dühren's Geschichte der Märtyrer oder kurze historische Nachricht von den Verfolgungen der Mennonisten (Königsberg 1787, reprints Königsberg 1788, Stuttgart 1863, and Winnipeg 1939), 169 pp., contains three parts, the first of which (Verfolgungen . . . von den Catholiken) reported on 102 Dutch martyrs and is taken from van Braght's Martyrs' Mirror. The other two parts (Verfolgungen . . . von den Lutheranern and Verfolgungen . von den Reformirten) are based on various sources, including Mathesius, Gottfried Arnold, Gerber, Crespin.

The 1831 (Philadelphia, Pa.) German edition of John Fox's Martyr Book (Allgemeine Geschichte des Christlichen Marterthums), which includes in the title the following: "Vermehrt mit vielen wichtigen Nachrichten über die späteren Verfolgungen der wehrlosen Taufgesinnten und Anderen, in Deutschland," includes "Verfolgungen der Mennoniten," pp. 787-934, a condensation of the full text of the van Braght book.

The importance of the books of martyrs must not be underestimated. They have been instrumental in stirring and keeping the interest of Mennonite churches and have at various times won warm friends for the presentation of Mennonite history.

A careful bibliographical report of all editions of Het Offer and the other Dutch Mennonite martyr books was published in Bibliographie des Martyrologes Protestants Néerlandais (The Hague, 1890).

Author(s) Christian Neff
Date Published 1950

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MLA style

Neff, Christian. "Martyr Books." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1950. Web. 1 Aug 2021.

APA style

Neff, Christian. (1950). Martyr Books. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 1 August 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 517-519. All rights reserved.

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