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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

1745 Martyrs Mirror

The Martyrs Mirror, first published in 1660 in the Netherlands, tells the stories of Christian martyrs, especially those who were Anabaptists.  It's author was Thieleman Jansz van Braght, elder of the Flemish Mennonite congregation at Dordrecht; illustrations were by engraver Jan Luiken.
Historically for Amish and Mennonites, the Martyrs Mirror has been the most important book next to the Bible.  The full title of the book is 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 use of the word defenseless in this case refers to the Anabaptist belief in nonresistance.)
A prized possession, Anabaptist immigrants to Pennsylvania often brought along copies of the book on their ocean voyages to America.  The 1,100-page Martyrs Mirror continues to undergird Amish and Mennonite values today. 
Martyrs Mirror memorializes the godly lives and glorious deaths of thousands of early Christians, especially European Anabaptist martyrs between 1524 and 1660. The book shines a mirror on ordinary people who experienced a spiritual reality that few today can even imagine. Like the more famous Foxe's Book of Martyrs, this compilation attempts to trace the history of those through the centuries, beginning with the martyrdom of Christ's apostles, who were willing to stand alone for a simple, obedient faith.
The first American edition of Martyrs Mirror was a translation from the Dutch into German and was printed at the Ephrata Cloisters, at Ephrata, Pennsylvania, in 1745. There was a paper shortage during the Revolutionary War. After the Battle of Brandywine in 1777, American soldiers elbowed their way into Peter Miller's print shop at the Ephrata Cloister and, against his wishes, loaded several wagons with unbound copies of the Martyrs Mirror to use as wadding in their guns. They paid for the books and headed back to battle. The books which had been printed to promote peace were torn to shreds and shot from the muskets of the Patriots who were rebelling against British authority.
Apparently someone realized it was an improper use of the revered book and stopped the desecration before all of the books had been destroyed. Ten years later, the government offered "lovers of the volume" the opportunity to buy them back for the same price they had paid plus "cartage." The Mennonites took them up on the offer and bought back 175 books. Many of them were damaged or incomplete, but there were also some complete copies.
After the harsh taxation and harassment the Mennonites endured during the war, this was a generous offer. American money had depreciated to the point of worthlessness during the war. The value of the amount that had been paid during the war was much more than the same amount was worth in 1786 when the books were bought back.
John von Gundy wrote in the copy he purchased that he had paid sixty cents for it and invested another dollar in having a leather cover put on it. He bought a complete Martyrs Mirror printed at the Ephrata Cloister in 1745 for $1.60. I wonder what he would say if he knew that people now pay thousands of dollars for a book that he bought for less than two dollars! This generation was born 200 years too late!

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