The story of the sixteenth-century Anabaptist women martyrs in the Low Countries is remarkable and one that deserves much broader dissemination. Joldersma and Grijp provide new material and insights with regard to one important aspect of this story: the testimonials and songs that have been lovingly preserved throughout the centuries.
The Introduction presents a summary of the early history of Anabaptism, a religion which had its roots in Zwingli's Switzerland and which arose as part of the so-called Radical Reformation, the second movement of the great reforms of the 16th century. The Christianity espoused by these men and women was so different that it threatened Catholics and Reformers alike. Fidelity to their beliefs also put the Anabaptists (a name imposed on them for their practice of adult baptism) at odds with civil authority. Many paid for this fidelity with their lives.
While generally adhering to the patriarchal tenor of their times, the Anabaptists nevertheless believed everyone should be educated in the scriptures. So these were articulate martyrs. Several sources preserve records of the women's trials and the clarity of their testimonies is astonishing. Their experience of suffering and martyrdom is also preserved in their hymns, many of which were written by women. These songs were collected in the Ausbund, the first Mennonite hymnbook, which is still used by such descendants of the Anabaptists as the Old Order Amish. It is thus the oldest Protestant hymnal still in use.
Joldersma and Grijp introduce us to the women they highlight, and print the songs and testimonies in both the original Netherlandic languages and in translation. Music is included for several of the songs. This book is a welcome and useful supplement to resources already available on the Anabaptists and their history. Its publication by Marquette University Press will, it is hoped, make this story available to a wide audience.