Travel brochures of the Netherlands tell of windmills, dikes, and boys named Hans with their silver skates. But the years 1531 to 1578 were not so peaceful. Hundreds of Protestants were slaughtered, including a young man named Hans.

Hans Bret supported his widowed mother by working in a bakery in Antwerp. The two belonged to a Protestant group there, and in his spare time Hans studied the Bible and taught new converts in the church, preparing them for baptism. One evening a knock sounded on the bakery door. Hans opened it to find a delegation of officers. The house was surrounded and Hans was arrested. For the next several months, authorities alternately questioned and tortured him. From his dark isolation hole, Hans managed to smuggle letters to his mother.

From him alone we expect our strength to withstand these cruel wolves, so that they have no power over our souls. They are really more cruel than wolves—they are not satisfied with our bodies, tearing at them; but they seek to devour and kill our souls.

Hans’s treatment worsened, and when intense torture failed to break his spirit, he was sentenced to the stake. Early on Saturday, January 4, 1577, the executioner came to Hans’s cell and ordered him to stick out his tongue. Over it he clamped an iron tongue screw, twisting it tightly with a vise grip. Then he seared the end of Hans’s tongue with a red-hot iron so that the tongue would swell and couldn’t slip out of the clamp. The officials didn’t want Hans preaching at his execution. The young man was taken by wagon to the marketplace, secured to a post with winding chains, and burned alive. In the crowd, another Hans watched in horror—Hans de Ries, Bret’s pastor and friend. After the ashes cooled, he sifted through them and retrieved a keepsake—the tongue screw that had fallen from Bret’s consumed body. Shortly after, Hans de Ries married Hans Bret’s mother, and the tongue screw became a symbol of faithfulness that has passed from generation to generation.

Each generation will announce to the next your wonderful and powerful deeds. I will keep thinking about your marvelous glory and your mighty miracles. Everyone will talk about your fearsome deeds, and I will tell all nations how great you are. (Psalm 145:4-6)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Jan.4.

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