The Martyrs Mirror is revered by Amish and other Anabaptists. It’s a 1,000+ page book recounting the stories of Christian martyrs. In addition to Biblical-era martyrs, it includes tales of the many early Anabaptists persecuted in Europe.
The Martyrs Mirror is in the news because a very old (1748) German-language edition is up for sale at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society auction (I’ve linked to the story on the Amish America Facebook page).
While visiting the Big Valley Amish settlement in Februrary I paid a visit to Hedda Durnbaugh, wife of the late Brethren historian Donald Durnbaugh.
Hedda is the archivist at Juniata College in Huntingdon, just down the road from Big Valley. After a delicious lunch Hedda led me up the road to the college, perched on a hill overlooking the town. We descended into the basement, where Hedda extracted a 17th-century Dutch-language Martyrs Mirror from within the college’s iron-doored vault. This edition (1685) is the first to feature copperplate etchings by Dutch engraver Jan Luiken.
Opening a book that old you feel the history practically seeping off of the pages. It’s the type of book that you can imagine blowing the dust off of and cracking open the creaking cover not really knowing what you’ll find within.
This is the most famous of Luiken’s Martyrs Mirror images:
It depicts the remarkable story of martyr Dirk Willems. You can read more here: Dirk Willems and the Martyrs Mirror.
Messiah College professor David Weaver-Zercher has devoted much time lately to the Martyrs Mirror. A recent lecture he gave at the Young Center at Elizabethtown College examined how modern-day Old Orders read and think about the book.
The Martyrs Mirror is commonly found on Amish bookshelves. The book is a reminder of the suffering of their forbears. For many Amish it is second in importance after the Bible.
Amish, for that matter, have a general appreciation for old books. Books are not just conduits of information. They are artifacts. Books may be passed down through families, given as gifts, and treasured as keepsake memorials.
An inscription inside a front cover can bring back a flood of memory. Stories within shape character and identity. Handwritten notes recall insights long-forgotten.
In an era of Kindle and disposable media, old books seem to take on that much more value by comparison.
What are your old book stories? Which tome do you treasure most?
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