Last week, our director, Karen Wolfe, mentioned that she believed we had a old copy of a Mennonite classic called The Martyrs Mirror. After much poking around, our intrepid board member and volunteer, Ed Ziegler, found our copy which turned out to be a first edition of the first German translation.
The full title of the book is Der blutige Schauplatz oder Märtyrerspiegel der Taufgesinnten oder wehrlosen Christen, die um des Zeugnisses Jesu, ihres Seligmachers, willen gelitten haben und getötet worden sind, von Christi Zeit bis auf das Jahr 1600. (The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, their Saviour, from the time of Christ to the year A.D. 1660). The title emphasizes two central tenants of the Anabaptist movement. First the title specifically mentions that the martyrs were defenseless, meaning they offered no resistance in line with Anabaptist pacifism. It also states that the martyrs were baptized upon their confession of faith, meaning that they were old enough to confess their faith. Anabaptists rejected infant baptism and would “re-baptize” adults (according to their enemies – they insisted they were really being baptized for the first time). This practice as well as their pacifism led to their persecution by both the Catholic Church and other Protestant Churches.
This persecution led many Anabaptists to settle in the New World. Today, Anabaptists have evolved into several groups, including the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites.
The Martyrs Mirror was originally published in 1660 in Dutch, and it recounts the stories of over 4000 martyrs from the Apostles down to the Seventeenth Century. In 1745, Jacob Gottschalk, the first Mennonite bishop in New World, arranged to have the book translated into German by the Ephrata Cloister. It took fifteen men three years to accomplish the translation.
Our copy is a first edition that the Historical Society purchased in 1896. The book is huge and seems to have been deliberately made to look old or medieval, with brass at the corners and the covers are held on with tacks.
Many copies of the book were printed as every Mennonite family owned one, and it was frequent gift for newly married couples. It remains a popular book among Old Order Amish and Mennonites.