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Profiles of Mennonite Faith

No. 6, Winter 1999

Jerome Segers and Lijsken Dircks

Jerome Segers and Lijsken Dircks are the Romeo and Juliet of Anabaptist history. Like Shakespeare’s young lovers, Jerome and Lijsken loved one another deeply, were separated against their wills, and died apart. But unlike the story of Romeo and Juliet, the story of Jerome and Lijsken is true, and it stands as a testimony of faith in God under extreme conditions of imprisonment, torture, and execution.

Jerome Segers and Lijsken Dircks were part of the Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century. They believed that salvation was through faith in Jesus Christ; that infant baptism was not taught by Scripture, but that baptism should be practiced by believers; and that instead of merely following church tradition, believers are called to follow the teaching of Scripture. As a result of these deeply-held beliefs, Jerome and Lijsken were both arrested as heretics and imprisoned at Antwerp in Brabant (see photo).

Photograph of Antwerp prison by Jan Gleysteen.

Used by permission

Photograph of Antwerp prison by Jan Gleysteen.

After their arrest, the couple were kept in separate parts of the prison, but they were able to write several letters that have been recorded in the Martyr’s Mirror. In all, Jerome wrote six letters to his wife, and Lijsken wrote three letters to her husband. These letters – so filled with thanks to God and many references to the Scriptures – expressed the couple’s deep love for on another and for God.

Love for one another. In his letters to Lijsken, Jerome addressed her as “my dear wife,” “my dearly beloved wife and sister,” “my most beloved lamb.” Over and over again, he expressed his concern for her well-being. At one point he even said that he would gladly spend a whole year in prison and then be put to death, if only she would be released. Lijsken received with joy each letter from her husband, glad to hear news of his continuing faith and love. In her own letters, she encouraged him with the words of Scripture and continued to commit him to God’s care. When she heard that her husband was troubled on her account, she comforted him. She called him “my beloved husband,” “my dear husband.”

Love for God. As part of their concern for one another, both Jerome and Lijsken encouraged one another to remain faithful to their Lord. They prayed to be worthy of their sufferings for the sake of Jesus. They repeatedly wrote of God’s presence and comfort. They often referred to the words of Scripture.

In spite of their imprisonment, in spite of the threat of death, in spite of the torture in which Jerome was bound to a bench and stretched on a rack, both Jerome and Lijsken remained faithful to their Lord. Even in the midst of their sufferings, they offered thanks and praise to God.

In one of her letters to Jerome, Lijsken wrote, “My dear, beloved husband in the Lord, you have partly passed through the trial, and have remained steadfast. . . . And I beseech the Lord with tears, to make me also fit, to suffer for His name.” In his last letter to Lijsken – written the night he was sentenced to death, Jerome wrote, “I go with a glad heart, to offer up my sacrifice to the praise of the Lord.”

A final testimony. At the time of their arrest, Jerome and Lijsken were already expecting a child, but Jerome did not live long enough to see the baby. On September 2, 1551, Jerome Segers was burned at the stake as a martyr for his faith. Five and a half months later, on February 9, 1552, after giving birth to their child while still in prison, Lijsken also was executed as a heretic.

The day before Lijsken died, the people who gathered outside her prison window heard her sing a hymn, and she was able to speak to them until the authorities removed her to another part of the prison. Then, early the next morning while it was still dark, Lijsken was taken to the river, put in a bag, and drowned. The few who witnessed her death said that her last words were those of Jesus: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”