Menno's contemporaries

Dirk Willemsz (??-1569)

Dirk Willemsz rescues his pursuerDirk Willemsz (also spelled as 'Willems') was born in Asperen, in the Dutch province of Gelderland, and was rebaptized as a young man. His devotion to Anabaptism and the rebaptism of several other people in his home, led to Dirk's capture and imprisonment.

One day he managed to escape from prison. Pursued by a guard, he succeeded in crossing a river covered with thin ice. The guard following him was less fortunate: he fell through the ice and was on the verge of drowning. Dirk went back and saved the man. The guard was grateful and would have let him go, but the mayor ordered him to recapture Dirk. He was burned at the stake outside Asperen on May 16, 1569.

In the Martyrs' Mirror Thieleman Jansz van Braght describes the events as follows:

'In the year 1569, a pious, faithful brother and follower of Jesus Christ, named Dirk Willems, was apprehended at Asperen, Holland, and had to endure severe tyranny from the papists ... Concerning his apprehension, it is stated by trustworthy persons that when he fled he was hotly pursued by a thief-catcher, and as there had been some frost, said Dirk Willems ran before over the ice, getting across with considerable peril. The thief-catcher following him broke through, when Dirk Willems, perceiving that the former was in danger of his life, quickly returned and aided him in getting out, and thus saved his life. The thief-catcher wanted to let him go, but the burgomaster, very sternly called to him to consider his oath, and thus he was again seized by the thief-catcher, and, at said place, after severe imprisonment and great trials proceeding from the deceitful papists, put to death at a lingering fire by these bloodthirsty, ravening wolves, enduring it with great steadfastness, and confirming the genuine faith of the truth with his death and blood, as an instructive example to all pious Christians of this time, and to the everlasting disgrace of the tyrannous papists.' [p. 741]

Dirk has become one of the most celebrated martyrs. Jan Luyken's engraving of the rescuing scene (above) is probably the single most powerful image of Anabaptist martyrdom. Recently the town of Asperen has named a street in Dirk's honor: the Dirk Willemszstraat.

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