Antiwar Text: The Martyr’s Mirror or The Bloody Theatre

I found an interesting lecture by Julia Kasdorf that she gave at Penn State last April on The Martyrs Mirror, an explicitly anti-war text in the Mennonite tradition.

Mirror of the Martyrs: The Martyr’s Mirror (Thieleman J. van Braght, 1660) and its American Legacy

Author: Julia Kasdorf

Fri, Apr 13, 2007

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The book was first published in 1660 and subsequently republished during times of war to support and encourage pacifism among the Mennonites. From Kasdorf’s description the book contains over 4000 accounts of martydom, often explicit and with illustrations. There are also letters, poems, and ballads written by persons awaiting execution. There is a traveling art exhibit and website called The Mirror of the Martyrs that provides a sample of the text.

What was interesting to me was that The Martyr’s Mirror has been explicitly used by the Mennonite community as an antiwar text to provide models for pacifist behavior.

In 1814 another edition (in German) was printed in response to the War of 1812. Following the Civil War, two more editions were printed (in German and English). Other editions were published during WWI and in 1938 during WWII. It was in the 1938 edition that the illustrations were added to the text. There have been several more editions published in the post-WWII era responding to cultural changes. Currently the book is used in Sunday schools with lesson plans available on the web.

Although The Martyr’s Mirror is a religious text, I wonder if it could be a model for antiwar text outside of a specific religious tradition. It seems to take a different approach than the antiwar art of modern times, which is usually an attempt to show the horrors of war and too often falls into the trap identied by Kenneth Burke in his critic of WWI antiwar art.

The Martyr’s Mirror doesn’t show the horrors of war, but the horrors of pacifism. This text describes in gruesome details (and with illustrations) the torture and death of pacifists. And the compassion and devotion of these people are also described and glorified.

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