Braving frigid winds and a temperature below the freezing point, about 100 people gathered Nov. 10 at Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, Man., to dedicate a statue honoring an Anabaptist martyr defined by an act on thawing ice.
Based on an engraving of Dirk Willems by Jan Luyken in Martyrs Mirror, the life-size bronze monument by Manitoba sculptor Peter Sawatzky is intended to recognize the Anabaptist ideals of peacemaking.
Financed with more than $100,000 in donations, the statue depicts Willems rescuing his jailer, who had fallen through ice into frozen water as he pursued the Anabaptist fleeing captivity.
“With this action, Willems clearly expressed his respect for all people; nonetheless he was recaptured and executed,” wrote Mennonite Heritage Village executive director Barry Dyck in The Carillon of Steinbach. “We are grateful to now have this monument, with the profound teaching of its story, on our grounds for our museum visitors to contemplate.”
About 4,000 Anabaptist martyrs were killed in Europe in the 1500s for refusing to baptize infants, believing baptism should only follow confession of faith. Willems’ dramatic story is perhaps the most well-known.
The statue was a joint venture between the museum and a local committee established about five years ago to create a monument honoring conscientious objectors.
The committee placed that monument on the Mennonite Heritage Village grounds in 2016.
“As the committee’s work progressed, its vision also grew to include an additional monument that would prompt our visitors to think about resolving conflict in nonviolent ways,” Dyck wrote. “The addition of an interpretive center to provide space and media for teaching and reflection is a third component of their expanded vision.”
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