Friday, February 6, 2015

Anna Jansz's execution


During 1538-1539, followers of David Joris, including Anna Jansz, underwent a significant persecution. Over a hundred of them suffered martyrdom, including Joris’s own mother (Nyhof). Arent Jansz apparently died in England in 1538—perhaps suffering martyrdom in Thomas Cromwell’s persecution that year—and Anna Jansz returned home with Isaiah, her fifteen-month-old son, and a female companion (Snyder and Hecht 1996: 338-339, 341). The two women—after singing a hymn in public—were recognized as Anabaptists, reported to the authorities, and subsequently arrested. Anna and her travelling companion were put on trial in Rotterdam, convicted—Anna’s connections with Joris most likely contributed to the guilty verdict—and sentenced to death on January 23, 1539, a sentence that was carried out the very next day:
Anna’s last ordeal belongs to the most moving scenes in martyr literature. On her way to the execution with her son in her arms the distraught mother offered her fortune to any of the spectators willing to adopt her son. A local baker responded, promising to raise the child as his own. According to a postscript in the Martyrs’ Mirror the baker kept his pledge and was rewarded with divine favour. He was able to add two breweries to his possessions and his adopted son Isaiah rose to become mayor of Rotterdam. The man who had betrayed Anna met a very different fate. He drowned when a bridge collapsed as he crossed to witness Anna’s execution. His descendants lived in abject poverty (Snyder and Hecht 1996: 341). 

Although she was a follower of David Joris, the Mennonites not only preserved the traditions of Anna but also, it appears, enhanced the traditions to portray her as a model martyr. Anna’s inclusion in this tradition is somewhat surprising, because Menno Simons—who became the most influential Anabaptist leader in the Netherlands, and his followers became known as Mennonites—bitterly opposed Joris. This process began when Anna’s moving testament to her infant son—who never adopted her faith—was first published as a tract in 1539, the year of her death, and found in a number of other works, including the first edition of the Dutch martyr book, Het Offer des Heeren (The Sacrifice of the Lord; 1562). Most famously, it is found in the massive (1290 pages) Martyrs’ Mirror, by the Mennonite Tieleman Jansz van Braght, a book that compiles stories of martyrdom since the beginning of Christianity. The second edition of this work became even more famous, since it contained 104 etchings by the Dutch poet and artist, Jan Luiken, once of which immortalizes Anna as she hands her son over to the baker as she is taken to be executed (see above).

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