Maeyken Boosers’ Pear: A Mennonite Relic at the Library


Figure 1. A dried pear that belonged to Maeyken Booser, Collection of the Mennonite Church of Amsterdam (VDGA), on loan to the Special Collections, University of Amsterdam.  

There are a very small number of extant objects that have direct connections with the stories of early Anabaptist and Mennonite martyrs: the list of currently known items includes a part of a serviette owned by Thomas von Imbroich (1533-1558); a pear that Maeyken Boosers (d. 1564) gave to her relative (probably her son) Hans Booser in the time leading up to her execution; and a tongue screw, which was used on Hans Bret (d. 1577)1. The tongue screw is in private ownership, and the other two objects are a part of the collection of the Mennonite Church of Amsterdam (VDGA), on loan to the University of Amsterdam2. The Amsterdam Mennonite Church’s collection also includes the only extant handwritten letter by Menno Simons.3

The pear, cloth, and the tongue screw are historical items that occupy a middle ground between artifacts and memorial objects. These are not only of interest for scholarly research, but also items that have been considered to be of emotional or even devotional importance within the centuries-long Mennonite story.

I recently had the chance to see Maeyken Boosers’ pear in the Zaal Mennonitica (Mennonite Room) at the Special Collections library of the University of Amsterdam. Withered, shrunken, and extremely delicate, the 455 year old dried pear does not look much like a fruit any longer (figure 1). The story of Maeyken Boosers is well preserved in Dutch Mennonite circles and in the Mennonite martyrological literary tradition. Boosers was executed in Doornik (present day Tournai, Belgium) following imprisonment and torture. Notes to her family describe these trials, while demonstrating her dedication to her faith. Her story circulated as a song, “Die op den Heere betrouwen” (Those who trust in the Lord), which made its way into the late sixteenth-century Dutch Mennonite martyrology, Offer des Heeren4. Seventeenth-century martyrologies, including the Martyrs Mirror include several of her letters to her family.5 Maeyken passed along the pear to a member of her family during a visit to her in prison before her execution.6 Since then, the object has been protected and passed down over the centuries by her Dutch descendants.7 In the nineteenth century the pear found its way from the Booser family (sometimes written Boosers/de Booser) to the related Van Geuns family, after which time it entered into the Amsterdam Mennonite Church’s collection in the twentieth century.8

At present, the pear is stored in a simple oval box with a hand written label indicating the   contents (figure 2). However, up until the nineteenth century, it appears that the pear was kept in a silver casing. According to Samuel Cramer, writing about the “Mennonite relics” at the turn of the twentieth century, several of the older members of the Van Geuns family still remembered the silver container.9


Figure 2. The current container for the pear is labeled “Een gedroogde Peer/Gedachtenis van Mayken Booser/ 1564]” [A dried pear/Memorial of Mayken Booser/ 1564].

A handwritten note, which has long accompanied the pear, offers a short account about the origins of the pear. The message is signed, “Jan de Booser.” He is thought to be the grandson of Maeyken – the son of Hans Booser, who received the pear from Maeyken in prison. Jan de Booser, who lived in Grossenfehn in East-Friesland, died around 1630, meaning that the note likely dates to the late sixteenth- or early seventeenth century.10 The note states, “[t]his pear was given by Mayke Boosers to our dear father [beste vader] Hans de Booser in Doornik in the prison to be honoured as an eternal memorial” for Maeyken who was “sacrificed on September 10, 1564” (figure 3).11

The text is transcribed again in later penmanship beneath the early modern hand, followed by addition instructions to see the account in Thieleman Jansz. van Braght’s Martyrs Mirror, volume II, p. 302. This is likely an inscription added by a later member of the Booser or Van Geuns family. The more modern hand also adjusts the death date to September 18, which matches with the date given in the Mennonite martyrs books.12 This handwritten note was briefly lost in the nineteenth century. Cramer details the rediscovery and reacquisition of the letter by Dr. J.B. Van Geuns, a member of the family then in possession of the pear.13

The careful preservation of this pear, together with the fact that it used to be kept in a fine silver casing certainly lends itself to the characterisation of the object as a “relic” in some respects.  Furthermore, the pear is referred to as a relic in the existing literature on this object; namely, the articles by Cramer and the Mennonite Encyclopedia entry on “Mennonite relics.”14 In other ways, the term is perhaps not appropriate, given the historical Mennonite perspectives on relic veneration, and given the history of the pear as an object. In broader Christian tradition, relics are objects or physical remains thought to be from early Christian apostles, saints, martyrs, and even Christ. Since the origin and spread of Anabaptist movements around Europe in the sixteenth century, Mennonites have eschewed the veneration relics along with the veneration of saints, images, and the Host. These theological decisions have shaped the appearance of Mennonite churches, as well as the form of Mennonite worship. While relics housed in fine reliquaries have a long history of attracting pilgrims and generating a tradition of miracle stories in the Catholic tradition, Mennonite churches have not systematically kept or searched for “relics,” and Mennonites have historically excluded important heritage objects – whether artifacts or memorial items – from within the church sanctuary. The pear is very explicitly an object intended as a memorial for Maeyken Boosers – this is stated in Jan de Booser’s note. However, the known history and provenance of the pear suggest that it was treasured for sentimental and devotional reasons within the family sphere. In keeping with long engrained Mennonite theological practice, it was not placed within a Mennonite worship space as an object to be venerated. Now, the pear is stored among rare books, letters, and prints, in a library. The aim in this post is not necessarily to arrive at a definitive conclusion about how we should relate to Maeyken’s pear and the other objects that belonged to Mennonite martyrs – as artifacts, memorial objects, or indeed as “relics.” However, it is always interesting to check in on the question of how we as Mennonites relate to material culture that pertains to our socio-religious history. As a memorial object in a library setting the pear certainly continues to garner some attention (and spark some scholarly library pilgrimages) from within the global Mennonite faith community and the networks of Mennonite history aficionados.


  1. Christian Neff, “Relics of the Martyrs,” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, Web, http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Relics_of_the_Martyrs&oldid=146122.
  2. Ibid. The pear is being housed within the University of Amsterdam’s Special Collections, and the cloth of Thomas von Imbroich is likely also there. See H.W. Meihuizen, Catalogus: Historische tentoonstelling achste doopsgezinde wereldcongres, Amsterdam RAI (Amsterdam: 1967), p. 25, cat. no. 40.  
  3. This is also on loan to the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. See I.B. Horst, “De strijd om het fundament des geloofs: van melchioriten tot menisten,” in Wederdopers, menisten, doopsgezinden in Nederland: 1530-1980,  S. Groenveld, J.P. Jacobszoon, S.L. Verheus ed. (Zutphen: Walburg Pers, 1993), p. 35, figure 21.
  4. The martyrology went through many editions in the last decades of the sixteenth century.  Karel Vos and Nanne van der Zijpp, “Maeyken Boosers (d. 1564),” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, Web. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Maeyken_Boosers_(d._1564)&oldid=162649 .
  5. Thieleman van Braght, Het Bloedigh Tooneel of Martelaers Spiegel der Doopsgesinde of Weereloose Christenen, Die om ‘t getuygenis van Jesus haren Salighmaker geleden hebben ende gedood zijn van Christi tijd of tot desen tijd toe. 2nd ed. (Amsterdam: Hieronymus Sweerts, etc., 1685), part II, 302 ff.; in English translation, Van Braght, The Bloody Theatre or Martyrs’ Mirror of the Defenseless Christians Who Baptized Only upon Confession of Faith and Who Suffered and Died for the Testimony of Jesus Their Saviour . . . to the Year A.D. 1660 (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1951), pp. 667-669.
  6. Samuel Cramer, “Het reliek van Mayken Boosers,” De zondagsbode. Doopsgezind weekblad,  P. Feenstra Jr. Ed., vol. 15 (1902), p. 79.
  7. Samuel Cramer, “Martelaarsrelieken,” Doopsgezinde Bijdragen, vol. 38 (1898), pp. 115-116.
  8. Ibid., pp. 115-116.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Cramer, “Het reliek van Mayken Boosers,” De zondagsbode, p. 79
  11. Original Dutch: “dese peere heeft Mayke Boosers/ an onse beste vader Hans de Booser binnen doornick int gevangenhuisz ver eert tot een eeuwyge gedachtenis/ geschiet Anno 1564 den 10 Septemb [sic.] op geoffert/ [signed] Jan de Booser”]
  12. The early modern handwritten note reads “September 10.” Cramer is first to note the discrepancy in date. Cramer, “Het reliek van Mayken Boosers,” De zondagsbode, p. 79.
  13. When Samuel Cramer first wrote about the pear in his 1898 article, the note remained lost. He wrote only on the basis of the pear, the martyr accounts, and the family recollections. His 1902 articles on the pear note that the paper has been found once again, and he offers a transcription. See Samuel Cramer, “Martelaarszaken,” Doopsgezinde Bijdragen vol. 42 (1902): pp. 150-171 especually, 168-170, transcription in Dutch on p. 168.
  14. Christian Neff, “Relics of the Martyrs,” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Relics_of_the_Martyrs&oldid=146122. (also in Mennonite Encyclopedia, print edition from the 1950s).

Beyond the Martyrs Mirror: The Prints of Jan Luyken

Originally exhibited at the Regier Art Gallery, Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas, October 30 to December 4, 2015. Excerpted from an article of the same name in Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage 41 no.1 (January 2018): 10-29

by Rachel Epp Buller

Jan Luyken (also spelled Luiken) was born in Amsterdam into a middle-class family led by a school-teaching father who was devout in faith and committed to intellectual study. After his formal schooling, Luyken apprenticed in the workshop of a local painter, Martin Saeghmolen, and then learned etching and engraving from printmaker Coenraet Decker. He also met regularly with a group of friends, who called themselves De Wijngaardranken (The Vine Tendrils), to write poetry. In 1672, at the age of twenty-three, Luyken married Maria den Oudens. Of their five children, only their son Caspar survived childbirth. At the time of their marriage, Luyken joined the Anabaptist movement at his wife’s instigation, but he did not fully commit until having visions and experiencing a powerful religious conversion in 1673. Luyken remained committed to the Anabaptist church and to piety for the rest of his life.

Following Luyken’s death in 1712, fellow artist Pieter Sluiter etched Luyken’s portrait, shown at left, and published it together with a six-line poem by Adriaan Spinniker that encapsulates how his contemporaries viewed him:1

The desire for God and good deeds, which burns in LUIKEN’s heart
Shown in his behavior, and etchings, and poetry,
Spread thus its glow in the modest countenance,
Which gaze made each aspire to share his way of living.
Thou, who dost always view and read his work with pleasure,
Look frequently at this face, as incentive for thy spirit.

Professional Work

Although he is known predominantly in today’s Anabaptist communities for his iconic etchings in the Martyrs Mirror by Thieleman J. van Braght (1685), Jan Luyken produced over three thousand other works that included paintings (of which only a few survive), drawings, prints, and poems. Luyken published twelve books focused on piety and Scripture, for which he both created prints and wrote poetry. He also produced illustrations for nearly five hundred books by other authors in disciplines as varied as biology, chemistry, geography, shipbuilding, early Christian history, and Dutch history, among others. The books and prints in this exhibition offer a closer look into the breadth of Luyken’s work.

Many of Luyken’s prints fall into the category of emblem literature. Throughout sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, but particularly in the Low Countries, artists and writers favored the use of emblems, which combined images and verses for didactic ends. Emblems generally included a title or motto, an illustration, and an explanation in prose or poetic form. Taken together, these three pieces sought to impart a moral lesson to the viewer or reader. Luyken’s emblems offered meditations on living a godly life and on attaining the path to salvation, using a wide variety of symbolism that would have been easily understandable to his contemporaries.

De Onwaardige Wereld vertoond in Zinnebeelden (The Unworthy World, as told in Emblems), 1710

Dangerous-Stand

The Dangerous Stand, from The Unworthy World (Menno Simons Historical Library photo)

Dutch artists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries commonly depicted immoral or dangerous behavior, partly as an instructional device to their viewers. In this book of religious emblems, Luyken pictured “the unworthy world” as a warning to urge his readers onto the right path of Christian life. In the scene displayed here, a mortal hangs by a thread above the fires of hell while the specter of death waits to snip his life thread with scissors. If only the man will change his ways, he might be saved. The accompanying verse, Matthew 10:28, reminds us that a better fate awaits us beyond this life if we so choose it: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Dangerous Stand), from De Onwaardige Wereld (The Unworthy World), 1710. Reproduced in Het Werk Van Jan en Casper Luyken door P. Van Eeghen, vol. 2, 1905

Preperatory-for-dangerous-stand-1

Preparatory drawing for The Dangerous Stand (Menno Simons Historical Library photo)

A catalogue raisonné lists all of the works created by a particular artist. This compendium of the works of Jan and Caspar Luyken includes not only the finished prints but also the sketches and preparatory drawings made in advance of the completed works. Looking at this drawing in comparison to the eventual print (see page 15) shows how Luyken worked out the basic composition in the drawing but added a much higher level of detail and linework to the finished product. Notice also how the compositions are reversed since Luyken would have drawn this image onto the copper plate, only to have it printed as a mirror image.

Tafereelen der Eerst Christenen (Scenes of the First Christians). With prints by Jan Luyken and verses by Pieter Langendijk and Claas Bruin, 1722; reprinted 1740, Bedieninge des Doops in een rivier” (Ministry of Baptism in the River)

baptism

Ministry of Baptism in the River, from Scenes of the First Christians (Menno Simons Historical Library photo)

Even posthumously, Jan Luyken’s work continued to garner much attention. Ten years after Luyken’s death, ninety-two of his engravings were published in this volume of early church history. Poems by Pieter Langendijk and six-line verses by Claas Bruin accompany each of Luyken’s images. Not surprisingly, given Luyken’s Anabaptist connections, one of the scenes he chose to include in his series of early Christians is a scene of adult baptism. Notice how Luyken’s compositional lines lead our eyes to the baptism in the center of the image, with small background figures building up to larger foreground figures and with circular ripples of water surrounding the key players.

De Schriftuurlyke Geschiedenissen en Gelykenissen, Van het oude en nieuwe verbond [Scriptural Histories and Parables of the Old and New Testaments], 1712

Genesis III: 1-7, from De Schriftuurlyke Geschiedenissen en Gelykenissen, Van het oude en nieuwe verbond (Scriptural Histories and Parables of the Old and New Testaments), 1712

adam-and-eve

Genesis 3:1-7, from Scriptural Histories and Parables of the Old and New Testaments (Menno Simons Historical Library photo)

In picturing the fall of humanity from the Garden of Eden, Luyken placed the blame squarely on the figure of Eve through both image and text. In the print, Eve occupies the center of the composition and points to the tree of knowledge while she hands the apple to Adam. The rhyming verse that accompanies the image, which Luyken titled “Man Seduced,” laments the bitter outcome of Eve’s temptation.

Jan Luyken, De Schriftuurlyke Geschiedenissen en Gelykenissen, Van het nieuwe verbond (The Scriptural Stories and Parables of the New Testament), 1712

Luke-4-with-verse

Image for Luke 2:6-7, from The Scriptural Stories and Parables of the New Testament (Menno Simons Historical Library photo)

In this visual retelling of the New Testament, Luyken highlighted both somewhat obscure and well-known stories. The scene depicted here illustrates the two most familiar verses of the nativity story in Luke’s gospel:

6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Notice how Luyken positioned the Christ Child at the center of the composition, surrounded by the parents, the shepherds, and the animals of the stable. Luyken’s rhyming poem on the theme of Christ’s birth accompanies the print.

Wreede moordt der Spanjaarden tot Naarden, den eersten December des jaars 1572 [Cruel Murder by the Spanish at Naarden, 1 December 1572], 1677-79, from Hugo de Groot, Nederlandtsche Jaerboeken en Historien (Netherlandish Yearbook and History), 1681

Naarden

Cruel Murder by the Spanish at Naarde, from Netherlandish Yearbook and History (Rijksmuseum photo)

In historical prints such as this, Luyken displayed a rare patriotic sentiment. The scene depicted here marks an episode in what came to be known as the Spanish Fury, a series of bloody confrontations in the sixteenth century when Spanish troops sacked and pillaged Dutch towns in an effort to maintain Catholic rule and allegiance to the Spanish Crown. Luyken pictured the chaos of the battle, and the closed-in setting suggests that the citizens of Naarden had no way to escape the villainous Spanish soldiers.


Dr. Rachel Epp Buller is a feminist art historian, print maker, book artist, and mother of three whose art and scholarship often speak to these intersections. She speaks and publishes widely on the maternal body in contemporary art, including her book Reconciling Art and Mothering (Ashgate/Routledge). She privileges collaboration in her work, which has resulted in various outcomes, including the edited collection Mothering Mennonite, with Kerry Fast (Demeter Press); an exhibition and book, Alice Lex-Nerlinger, Fotomonteurin und Malerin / Photomontage Artist and Painter, with Das Verborgene Museum in Berlin; and the exhibition “Beyond the Martyrs Mirror: The Prints of Jan Luyken,” with Bethel College student Alexandra Shoup, exhibit designer  David Kreider and archivist John Thiesen at the Mennonite Library and Archives. She is a Fulbright scholar, a board member of the National Women’s Caucus for Art, a regional coordinator for the international Feminist Art Project, and current associate professor of visual arts and design at Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas.


  1. Josephine V. Brown, “Biography of Jan Luiken,” Digital Collections, Pitts Theology Library, http://www.pitts.emory.edu/collections/digitalcollections/luiken.cfm 

Unique etchings by Jan Luiken

Bowyer_Bible_Volume_1_Print_7._Portrait_of_Jan_Luyken._BronenPortrait of Jan Luiken File created by Phillip Medhurst – Photo by Harry Kossuth, FAL,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8987881

When the name Jan Luiken is mentioned in Anabaptist circles, most think of his brilliant etchings in the Martyrs’ Mirror. His depiction of the martyr Dirk Willems may be the most famous, appearing on book covers, adapted artwork, and even secular psychology textbooks.

 

Dirk.willems.rescue.ncsDirk Willems rescues his captor. Public Domain,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=544931

 

IMG_20160802_135903_119.jpgLuiken etching found in the textbook “Exploring Psychology“ used by my husband when he taught a General Psychology course at James Madison University last fall.

 

But Luiken’s oeuvre goes far beyond his martyr drawings. Born in April 16, 1649 in Amsterdam, he was a Mennonite who made his living during the Dutch Golden Age as an illustrator, taking on numerous projects that spanned genres and topics. 

The Menno Simons Historical Library at Eastern Mennonite University is fortunate to have a considerable collection of books containing Luiken’s artwork. The content of these books ranges from exotic topics like the Laplanders of northern Finland to pirates on the North African coast and to more domestic portraits of tradesman and interiors of Dutch homes. Here I will highlight just a few interesting books and etchings in our collection.

The first illustrations are from a 1684 book entitled “Historie van Barbaryen, en des zelfs Zee-Roovers”—which discusses the history of the Barbary (North African) coast and pirates.

IMG_6263Title page
IMG_6262The new king of Algeria
IMG_6264A battle at sea

The next illustrations are from a 1682 book about the history of the Lapland region of Finland. Luiken’s illustrations show the customs and activities of the Lapland or Sami people.

IMG_6266Baptisms
IMG_6265Skiing and sledding

His illustrations in 1711’s “Het leerzaam huisraad” depict objects in a typical Dutch household.

IMG_6257The bed
IMG_6258The dishes

Likewise, his illustrations in “Het Menselyk Bedryf” depict various occupations of his day.

IMG_6259The painter
IMG_6261The fisher

Lois Bowman, Librarian Emeritus at EMU and former librarian in the Menno Simons Historical Library, has done a great deal of work cataloging our rare book collection and worked closely with the Jan Luiken Collection. She notes that the detail in Luiken’s work distinguishes it from other contemporary etchings; in addition to the main subject there are often background goings-on in his pictures that add a depth and realness to the illustration. The next time you encounter Luiken’s works either in the Martyrs’ Mirror or in other books, take some time to examine the etchings and note his attention to detail and skill. You are likely find something new and unique to appreciate!