Torture and Persecution (79Kb): ME I illustrations, p.21
Torture and Persecution

Being an Anabaptist in the 16th century was not an easy task. From their beginnings in 1525 until the end of the century, this group was severely persecuted for their beliefs. Both women and men were questioned, tried, severely tortured, and even executed - an estimated 5,000 Anabaptists lost their lives during this period.

"We... renew the previous imperial law... that... every Anabaptist and rebaptized man and woman of the age of reason shall be condemned and brought from natural life into death by fire, sword, and the like..."

Imperial Mandate (April 23, 1529) in Snyder, p. 3

Again in the 17th century the Anabaptists were targets of persecution as tension increased between Catholic and Protestant leaders. All of Europe was then deeply affected by the "Thirty Years War" between these two groups in 1618-1648. The Martyr's Mirror proved important in preserving the memory of this time of persecution for those of Anabaptist background.

Martyr's Mirror

Martyrs' Mirror title page, 1660 edition (57 Kb): "Martyrs' Mirror," slide 6
Martyr's Mirror Title Page (1660 edition)

The Martyr's Mirror, first published in Holland in 1660, tells hundreds of stories of how different Christians were killed for their beliefs (martyred). These accounts, taken from the 1st century until the 17th, emphasizes the suffering of the Anabaptists and fills over 1000 pages. These stories served as a challenge, example, and source of courage for others who wanted to follow Jesus in their life, and even death. Many stories are also accompanied by drawings depicting the events. Perhaps the most famous account is that of Dirk Willems.

Dirk Willems Rescueing Captor (28 Kb): ME III illustrations, p.3
Dirk Willems Rescuing Captor
In the winter of 1569 Dirk Willems was fleeing on foot when he crossed over a stream. The man who was trying to catch him fell through the ice, and was in danger of drowning. Despite the danger to his own life, Dirk Willems returned to pull the man out of the water. After being rescued, his pursuer arrested him and took him to the authorities. Willems was tied to a wooden pole, set on fire, and burned to death.

This kind of severe persecution was not uncommon. An assortment of torture techniques were used in order to produce as much pain as possible. Finally, people were killed in many ways: beheaded, drowned, "burned at the stake," buried alive, and more. A feature movie was made about the life of Michael Sattler, another of these Anabaptist martyrs. Titled "The Radicals," it follows Sattler from his life as a monk in the Catholic church, to his involvement in Anabaptism, and finally his execution.

Anabaptists Go "Underground"

Secret Meeting (60 Kb): ME III illustrations, p.5
Secret Meeting

The very real threat of persecution caused the Anabaptists to go "Underground," meeting secretly in fields, barns, or wherever they could. One of these sites used by 16th century Anabaptists in Switzerland is still referred to as the "Cave of the Anabaptists." Although it began as an urban movement in Switzerland and Southern Germany, persecution drove Anabaptism into the country in less than 5 years. In Holland, however, cities continued to be important sites for Anabaptists. As we shall see, Anabaptists (and later Mennonites) have often moved so that they could practice their religious beliefs openly and without being punished for them.

Created 1998 by Derek Suderman