Thursday, April 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Martyrs Mirror

Most Anabaptist Mennonites can tell you that the Martyrs Mirror holds a record of all the martyrs from the time of Christ through the Reformation to 1660 for their confession of faith. It includes accounts of more than 4,000 Christians who suffered a martyr’s death because of their simple, nonresistant faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was first printed in 1660 by a Dutchman.

Many Mennonite homes held a copy, and contained a record of family marriages, births, and deaths. We have one in our home. Ours isn't a vintage antique like this first edition copy though, bummer. What many Mennonites may not know is that it was one of the most important documents in print in Colonial America.

In 1745, Jacob Gottschalk arranged with the Ephrata, Pennsylvania Cloister of believers to translate the book from Dutch into German. The work took 15 men three years to finish and in 1749, at 1512 pages, it was the largest single book printed in Colonial America before the Revolutionary War.  The first edition printed 1300 copies to support the faith of the growing nonresistant Mennonite Church.

How could such a book play a role in the foundation of our nation? After the French and Indian War ended in 1763, Americans in the 13 colonies became divided in their support of Great Britain. About a 1/3 supported King George III of England, called Loyalists. Another 1/3 supported the Revolution and were called Patriots. The remaining 1/3 were neutral citizens, including nonresistant Mennonites and many others.

Public Domain: image of Dirk Willems who turned back to save his pursuer, who later put him to death

The Ephrata Cloister of Mennonites printing the large volume were literally located in the wilderness and used something close to 10,000 pounds of linen rag to make the 500,000 pages of paper for each volume. This type of printing effort was not to be repeated until mid 19th century. Being printed for the importance of the content, it was a financial disaster that play a crucial role in the Revolution. 

A large portion of unbound sheets were confiscated by the Continental Army supplying the Patriots with wadding for their muskets, quite an ironic fate for a book that existed for the sole purpose of the testimony of nonresistant faith. It's even reported that some believed the supply of wadding might have altered the outcome of victory.

All sides had losses, but today we live in a free country. 
Let us not take our liberty for granted. 
As we move toward the cross of Jesus Christ this Easter week, what moves you about the sacrifice for faith? Are you surprised to learn this tidbit of history, or have you read it before?

Blog post by Anne Love-
Writer of Historical Romance inspired by her family roots. 
Nurse Practitioner by day. 
Wife, mother, writer by night. 
Coffee drinker--any time.
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  1. I had not heard of the Martyr's Mirror before. It pains me to think of all those books providing wadding for patriot muskets, and yet, it's such a poignant story, it deserves to be remembered. Thanks for telling us about it.

    1. I know I was amazed when I learned about this while visiting Mennohof in Shipshewana, IN.

  2. I had never heard about this Anne - what an interesting, and yes - ironic story!! There have always been people that sacrificed for their faith, and always will be - I'm afraid!! I'm SO blessed to be one of those saved by the ultimate sacrifice of Christ!!

  3. Great post, Anne! I tweeted! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Carrie, I knew you'd enjoy it! ;)

  4. Fascinating history! I love learning about the way plain folks live. It's amazing to me! I have Martyrs Mirror on my wish list. I'd love an old copy like you have pictured above. :)

    1. Be prepared to pay about $3000 for a first edition! ;) My husband got his modern day copy when he was baptized into the Mennonite Church. It sits on our bookshelf in our bedroom.

    2. Whoa! I think I will have to get a nice looking copy then. :)


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