For those not familiar with the term Anabaptist, it is a title given to the Christians that believed Baptism should done as an adult when one made the free choice to follow Christ. They were hated by the Catholic church for baptizing adults and also hated by the protestant churches for many reasons, including baptism. In 1527, the leaders of Bavaria gave orders that the imprisoned Anabaptists should be burned at the stake, unless they recanted, in which case they should be beheaded. In Catholic countries the Anabaptists were executed by burning at the stake; in Lutheran and Zwinglian states, Anabaptists were executed by beheading or drowning.
Here are 4 of the most insane methods used to deal with this rowdy bunch we now know to be the Mennonites and Amish.
4. Permanent Baptism
One of the ways the Anabaptists could be both killed and also mocked was by giving them an adult baptism of another kind. In this baptism they would not be emerging from the water. The first Anabaptist to be martyred in this way, and possibly the most famous, was Felix Manz.
Felix was one of the co-founders of the Anabaptist faith. He engaged in great scholarly debate with the reformed leaders of his time about adult vs infant baptism. Unfortunately, the councils having these debates came to the conclusion that infant baptism was the only acceptable practice and demanded that Felix and the Anabaptist baptize their children. Felix refused and was then drowned as were many other Anabaptists. To make this even more repulsive the council led by Zwingli was a reformed movement.
Naturally you had to know that some of them got burned at the stake. Perhaps the most discussed execution by burning was that of Dirk Willems. Dirk was imprisoned by the Catholic church for receiving adult baptism and for baptizing others himself. In a miraculous feat he was able to escape his imprisonment. However, after his escape he was pursued and the man who was pursuing him ended up falling threw the ice on a small pond and nearly drown. Being the good Christian that he was, he turned back to save his peruser’s life. He was then promptly re-captured and then burned alive.
In another case, 12 Anabaptists were burned alive at the stake all at once. This was done by a mob of Spanish Catholics. These occurrences were not rare nor were they isolated to the Catholics. In some cases they would even slow road people alive in an effort to prolong the suffering and maximize the pain.
As if being drowned or burned alive was not bad enough, sometimes they needed to be tortured and then murdered. One of the favored methods of that time was putting them on “the rack.” This device bound the ankles and wrists and then slowly pulled them apart.
The result of the rack was dislocated hips, shoulders, torn muscles, ligaments snapping, and even limbs being ripped off depending on who was performing the torture. Once on the rack it was also typical for torturers to inflict of forms of torture since they were so incapacitated. Once such torture that was common was using hot tongues to remove body flesh. Many people died on the rack from being stretched all the way until the body was dismembered bled out. One account said that an Anabaptist was racked so thin that the sun shone through him.
1. The Cages
One of the ways that ruling bodies try to stamp out a new trend is to make an example out of someone publicly. Possibly it would deter someone else from following in their footsteps. One such way this was accomplished was by hanging the anabaptists up really high on a bell tower in a cage.
While in the cage they would be naked and exposed to the elements. They would have no clothes and no food. They had no where to use the restroom except through the bottom of the cages. They would remain hanging there for years, long after they were just bones and dust.
One of the most notable times this was used was in 1536, when there was a rebellion in Munster. This particular group of German Anabaptists had no intent on being peaceful like the rest of their brethren. They actually took the city of Munster over briefly before the military put the rebellion down. The leaders of the Munster rebellion (Jan van Leiden, and two others) were hung in the cages seen in the picture above.