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Long-lost etching plate for famous martyr volume now at Kauffman Museum

GOSHEN, IND./NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Martyrs Mirror Trust, a collaboration between the Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen, Indiana, and Kauffman Museum, North Newton, recently announced the discovery and purchase of a 17th-century copper plate, etched by Dutch artist Jan Luyken for the 1685 edition of Martyrs Mirror.

The recently acquired plate illustrates the martyr story of Jacques d’Auchy, a merchant arrested in 1558 in Harlingen, in what is now the Netherlands, and charged with being an Anabaptist.

The plate depicts d’Auchy in jail, bidding farewell to his grieving, pregnant wife with the prison guard and others in the background. The plate can now be viewed at Kauffman Museum on the Bethel College campus.

“Luyken’s detailed etchings vividly capture the drama of the stories contained in the Martyrs Mirror,” said John D. Roth, director of the Mennonite Historical Library. “Seeing the actual plates that he created to print those illustrations gives a new appreciation both for his skill and for the stories themselves.”

D’Auchy’s account, published in the Martyrs Mirror, includes his confession of faith and a lengthy transcription of his interrogations. He was killed in his prison cell before the official execution could be carried out.

The newly discovered d’Auchy plate, one of 104 by Luyken, is part of a complicated story, some of which remains shrouded in mystery.

In 1780, a group of Amish and Mennonite leaders in Germany collaborated to produce a German-language edition of Martyrs Mirror. They acquired the complete set of 104 copper plates that Luyken had made a century earlier.

According to some accounts, those plates were still in the German Palatinate in 1880. In 1925, a source reported that 90 of the plates were in Munich. By 1944, those same plates were supposedly stored in three boxes in a private home in Grünstadt, back in the Palatinate.

Following the owner’s death, his children discovered one box containing 30 plates. The fate of the other two boxes remains unknown.

In 1977, Old Order Mennonite historian Amos B. Hoover was able to purchase seven of the 30 plates. When the remaining 23 plates became available in 1988, the late John Oyer, then director of the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College, together with Robert Kreider, representing Kauffman Museum at Bethel College, formed the Martyrs Mirror Trust to raise funds to purchase the Luyken plates.

The plates became the focus of a book, Mirror of the Martyrs, that Oyer and Kreider co-authored, and the centerpiece of a traveling exhibit of the same name. When not touring, the exhibit – which has been shown in more than 65 locations in North America – has a permanent home at Kauffman Museum.

Oyer and Kreider surmised that the remaining Luyken plates had been destroyed, perhaps melted down as scrap metal in World War II.

So it came as a surprise when Kauffman Museum technician David Kreider received a phone call in October 2011 from an antiquarian dealer in northern Germany. The dealer had found Kauffman Museum on the “Mirror of the Martyrs” website while researching a recently acquired etching plate.

Although unable to determine where, when or how the plate came into the hands of its previous owner, the dealer generously offered the plate for sale with minimal mark-up. After verifying its authenticity, the Martyrs Mirror Trust purchased the plate.

The pilgrimage of the Jacques d’Auchy plate before 2011 remains a mystery. Was it one of the 14 plates whose whereabouts was unknown in 1925? Or perhaps one of the 60 plates that disappeared after 1944?

“We may never learn the answer,” Roth speculated, “but if one of the missing 74 plates has turned up, might others as well?”

The d’Auchy plate can be viewed at Kauffman Museum through the end of the year when it will return to the Mennonite Historical Library.

For more information about the d’Auchy plate, the “Mirror of the Martyrs” exhibit or the Martyrs Mirror Trust, contact Rachel Pannabecker, director of Kauffman Museum (316-283-1612).

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission to the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture,” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its website, www.bethelks.edu/kauffman/, or Facebook page.