Few women would have picked a wet winter day to go visiting. Even less would they have done so in the Flemish town of Meenen during 1572.
In December’s drab colours, Meenen looked the picture of sobriety and peace. Around its steep houses and windmills fields of flax stubble lay empty. But beneath its apparent quietness, fears, hatred, joy, and excitement flowed in the 1570s—and a handful of soldiers lingered about the town square when Pieryntgen van Loosvelt passed it on her way to visit a sick neighbour.
Pieryntgen well knew the danger of her visit. Forty-three years old and unmarried, she had known nothing but hidden strife and danger since her childhood. Since the Spanish Duke of Alba’s coming to Flanders, even greater dangers surrounded her and the Christian congregation to which she belonged. In the space of a few years the duke, with his Conseil des Troubles, had passed twelve thousand sentences of death and banishment on Flemish citizens. But Pieryntgen could not stop doing what she knew Christ had done. When her neighbours were sick or in trouble she went to help them. She told them the way to Christ and his loving community, and her words bore fruit.
This time they bore even more fruit.
On leaving her neighbour’s house, Pieryntgen met the soldiers again. A Spanish officer in charge, Juan de Camargo asked her, “Where do you live?”
Kindly but carefully Pieryntgen answered. The officer became suspicious and arrested her at once.
Two days after her arrest, Pieryntgen faced interrogation and torture in the town jail. They asked her ten questions, all of which she answered with the Scriptures. When they asked her whether she recognised the priest as a vicar of Christ she said: “Christ is my shepherd and priest. He is the true mediator between God and men and his Father’s vicar. He is the clear fountain open to all that are burdened with sin. He is the pool with five entrances where John says all who truly repent shall be washed from their sins.”
When they asked her whether she believed in three persons of the Godhead, Pieryntgen answered: “There are three names in the Divine Being: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But the Father who sent the Son cannot be a person as we think of it, for the heaven is his throne, and the earth is his footstool. Christ calls him a Spirit, and a spirit he says, has neither flesh nor bones. The Holy Ghost who alighted on Christ in the form of a dove, and on the apostles in the form of tongues of fire, is obviously not a person either. But the Son who became a man for us could be seen. People could touch him and he walked among them, doing many signs. He suffered hunger and thirst and wept on occasion. This Christ, indeed, is a person.”
To get Pieryntgen to betray her brothers and sisters of the Anabaptist community, the authorities racked her severely. They left her nothing but an apron to wear and forced a stick into her mouth that broke out her teeth. But she betrayed no one.
During her time in prison, Pieryntgen cried much. She worried that on the day of her execution she would break down and bring disgrace on the Lord’s name. But when Jan de Drijver, the court president, read her sentence she felt relieved and the Lord strengthened her. On her way to the square—the evening before Epiphany in January, 1573—she told the crowd, “Go and buy Testaments and read in them why I must die.” Then she entered the little house of straw they had prepared, and it roared up in flames.
Christ’s body on earth and in heaven shines with the light of Pieryntgen’s faithfulness.
Main source: van Braght, T. J., Der blutige Schauplatz oder Märtyrer-Spiegel, Mennonitisches Verlagshaus, Scottdale, PA, 1915