Harlingen, April 1532
But God had mercy… lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow…Philippians 2:27
The day of the wedding dawned in a glow of orange sun, fluffy clouds and an air of anticipation. Soon after cock’s crow people began arriving in pairs or individually, dressed in their best finery. Cornelia was warmly greeted and adored by everyone, as she sat in the best chair and cackled happily at each new arrival. She soon recovered from her initial disappointment that Anna wasn’t marrying Jan, and had joined in wholeheartedly with the flurry of wedding preparations.
Anna’s only wish was that they could have invited all Adriaen’s friends. It wasn’t safe, although she had a feeling that come darkness, more merrymakers might join them. But Jan was there with the miller’s daughter, and Captain Clemens had been found in an Anabaptist home and accepted the invitation.
Jan looked well, and Greta looked even better. Anna greeted the two of them with genuine pleasure. “I’m so glad you were able to come!”
“So am I,” Jan said, grinning. “I wouldn’t miss your wedding for anything.” Anna was relieved that no awkwardness remained between them because of his one-time proposal. It was as if it had never been. She still needed Jan as a friend.
Susanna hurried about the house, checking the roast pig someone had selflessly provided, as well as some chickens and geese. The fresh loaves of the baker’s bread sat invitingly on the windowsill, and a bowl of well-polished apples gleamed beside it. The cellar held well-mellowed sweating barrels of red wine and ale, and great rounds of golden cheese filled the shelves.
The guests greeted each other with handshakes and ‘peace-be-with-you’s’ then wandered about with shining eyes beholding all the treats in store. Not to be missed was Susanna’s bountiful garden, brimming with red and yellow tulips, yellow jonquils and emerging vegetables.
In front of the stable, men were standing, relaxed and chatting, now serious, then a minute later bursting out in laughter. The stable boys, having done their chores before daylight, appeared with freshly scrubbed faces and clean clothes, clearly looking forward to a day off. Melchior Hoffman arrived, with his ruff newly pressed and large beard neatly combed. He looked around with large, solemn eyes, and people put on their best behavior.
The service began shortly after, and for Anna, it passed by in a dream. A year ago, she had just arrived in the Netherlands— alone, broken with grief, and angry at God. She had soon found employment with Simon den Kramer, and met Maeyken and Adriaen, who had welcomed her openheartedly. The little family had helped to lessen her sorrow, and now, after unimaginable and tragic circumstances, they had also given her new faith, new hope, new peace, and a husband. Although much had been lost, and the bittersweet memories would always dwell in her heart, Anna had much to be thankful for, and on this special day, she thanked God for all her blessings.
The guests assembled in Susanna’s spare room, the men, as usual, sitting on one side of the room and the women on the other. Adriaen and Anna sat together at the front of the room, opposite Melchior Hoffman and a few other Diener am Wort. Adriaen handed his wide-brimmed black hat to an attendant, and smoothed the fringe of his brown, chin-length hair with a wide hand. Anna admired him in an impeccable black frock coat and trousers, worn over a snowy white shirt with a starched collar. His brown leather boots had been polished to a fine sheen. She swallowed. He was a handsome bridegroom, indeed.
After opening the ceremony, Melchior read the seventh chapter of Corinthians, then retold the story of Abraham and Sarah from the Old Testament, as well as that of Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Rachel. Finally, it was time for Adriaen and Anna to exchange their vows. Standing side by side with bowed heads, they answered ‘Ja’ to the questions Melchior asked; about believing in the one True God; acknowledging each other as a baptized member of the Gemeente--being free of any other man or woman which would affect their union; promising to live in love, peace, and harmony; and not to forsake each other for as long as God granted them life.
Then, the bridal couple was asked to hold each other’s right hand, and Melchior prayed, “May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, bless this union. May you bring forth fruit of the spirit, fear God, and keep His Commandments. Amen.”
When they resumed their seats, there were few dry eyes in the room. Adriaen and Anna were now husband and wife before God, if not legally. After a few more words of admonishment, everyone knelt to pray, and a hymn was sung. After a closing prayer, the ceremony was over. Anna could hardly believe this was happening to her. She had gone from being a devout Catholic only a year ago, to joining the Anabaptists, to marrying an Anabaptist preacher. What was next?
Board tables were set up in the kitchen and the wedding feast was spread. Everyone was seated around the tables on benches and chairs. Adriaen and Anna sat together at the head of the table, and Anna couldn’t believe the abundance of delicacies the guests had provided. With a twinge, Anna remembered that the Catholic world would be observing Lent right now, and therefore were not allowed to eat meat. At first, it seemed strange to Anna to just eat away, even though it was her wedding. Adriaen had assured her that the New Testament did not require fasting, and it was written, ‘Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath.’
The Dutch did love to eat well. Besides the stuffed roast pig, the ducks, and the geese, there were dishes of herring and onions, platters heaped with vegetables, a variety of cheeses, butter molded into hearts and flower shapes, braided breads, crunchy and sweet krakelingen, the flat poffertjes, and fruity vlaaien, all special foods reserved only for weddings. Sweet red wine was served with the meal, a treat for everyone.
Adriaen encouraged Anna to taste everything, and by the time the meal was over, she felt as stuffed as the pig. The women cleaned up together afterwards, except they wouldn’t allow Anna to help. They sent her outside to the garden with Cornelia, where the apple trees were budding, and every tree and shrub shimmered with fresh, green springtime color. The men had been banished to the barn with more wine, until the house was in order again.
“So, what is it like to be a married woman?” Cornelia asked, smiling.
“Cornelia, it hasn’t soaked in yet. Is this truly my wedding day, or is this a beautiful dream that will disappear by morning?”
“Seems real enough to me. Anna, you’re glowing today, and I’m so happy for you and Adriaen. My wish for you is courage and faith in God when the trials come. May you live in peace here below, and in Heaven.” They were sitting beneath an apple tree, and Cornelia looked angelic with the budding branches surrounding her.
“Thank you, Cornelia. I wish the same, and God’s will be done.”
The rest of the guests soon joined them in the garden, and the rest of the day was spent chatting beneath the trees. The bride and bridegroom were given a comfortable bench and sat together as their guests’ voices hummed around them. Anna wondered if Adriaen was thinking about his first wedding day. Of course, it would have been a much livelier affair, with dancing and plays and musicians. Maeyken would have been a lovely bride.
“What are you thinking about?” Adriaen asked, smiling.
“Me? Oh, honestly, I was wondering about your first wedding, and thinking what a beautiful bride Maeyken must have been.”
“She was, but no more beautiful than you are.” Anna shook her head, finding this hard to believe, but she was glad Adriaen thought so. “The wedding was a rather wild affair,” Adriaen said, “and truth be told, I was glad when the last drunken guest had left. This wedding is small, but so very warm, friendly, and respectable. God must be smiling, whereas my other wedding celebration was rife with dissolution and debauchery, and must have made God weep.”
Later in the day, dusk was creeping up on the wedding party. The guests sighed in satisfaction at the end of a wonderful day filled with brotherly love, and their often-hungry stomachs were filled with delicious food. Just as the guests were preparing to leave, and parting words were being spoken, a dog barked in sudden alarm.
“What’s that?” Anna gasped, holding a cup of wine halfway to her mouth.
“The bailiff! Everybody run!”
In an instant, everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at each other in dumbfounded alarm. Galloping hoofs clattered along the street in their direction, and in a snap of the fingers, the wedding guests scattered. By long practice they had already formed a plan in their minds, and knew exactly where they would run to if the worst happened.
Anna groaned as she ran, not sure where Adriaen was now. He had been in a conversation with the other preachers, but she prayed he’d see her and follow. She looked desperately to the left and the right; which way should she go? She spied a pile of wood. Could she hide there? No, too obvious. Already the soldiers were dismounting and shouting when they saw people running everywhere. Anna saw the baker racing into the woods and decided it was her best bet as well. Lifting the floor-length wedding dress off the ground, she ran like the devil was after her. Her feet in the new leather shoes slapped the ground in a frenzied beat.
Over her shoulder, she saw two of the soldiers remounting as they watched their prey fleeing to the woods. Anna gasped, terror closing in like a steel fist around her heart. Oh Lord, not on her wedding day! Could the little glimpse of paradise disappear so soon? She scrambled beneath low hanging branches and clawed her way through undergrowth, branches tearing at her wedding cap and her new gown. Anywhere to get away. She could no longer see the baker, and she headed for the thickest corner of the woods where the trees stood close together and certainly no horseman could follow.
At least if they followed her on foot, she had a better chance of evading capture. Her breath came in short, terrified gasps as she ploughed deeper into the forest. The tears coursing down her cheeks came from terror and despair, but most of all anger. Couldn’t they leave a woman in peace on her wedding day? Now the bride was running through the forest and the groom was nowhere in sight. But perhaps better to be nowhere in sight than to be captured.
It seemed like ages until she no longer heard her pursuers, but she was hopelessly lost. The sun slowly withdrew into the hills for the night, and dark shadows surrounded her. She collapsed onto the floor of the forest, exhausted and gasping for breath. Hatred for those who hunted innocent people filled her soul with bitter sorrow. She almost hated God for not saving her from this trial, but then quickly fought down the thought. He had the power to smite her dead right here if He chose, and then what? She already felt the flames licking at her feet; and she dared not continue with such unholy thoughts.
She was newly married and newly baptized, and no evil should dwell within her. As a disciple of the Lord, she should be praying instead, even if screaming in frustration would be easier. The only thing she desired was to escape this dark forest and go somewhere safe with Adriaen. Except there was no safe place for an Anabaptist in the Netherlands or anywhere else.
She sat on a mossy piece of ground with tangled bushes all around her, feeling like a rabbit hiding in the brambles to escape a fox. It was a quiet spot with only some chirping insects and twittering birds intruding on the solitude. The sweet, clean fragrance of earth and pine was soothing, and she felt no real fear from the forest. She supposed this spot was as good as any other to spend the night.
As she knelt on the damp earth, she tried her best to pray, and though it wasn’t skilled or practiced, her prayer came from her heart.
“Dear God in Heaven, can you see me? Do you care that I am alone in the forest with darkness coming? You must know how much I want my bridegroom, whom I love so dearly and have waited for so long. I know I am unworthy, but if it is Thy will, please return him to me. Thy will be done. Amen.” Feeling better already, she remembered the Anabaptists saying that God is everywhere. That meant He was here in the deep forest with her. On the soft, mossy forest floor, she slept.
She awoke in the pitch dark of midnight to the sound of someone crashing through the bushes accompanied by lights flashing. Rescue? Or pursuers? Who would be out searching at night?
‘Please God, let it be Adriaen.’
“Aaannnaaa!” A man’s voice echoed eerily through the forest. It wasn’t Adriaen, but any rescuer was welcome right now. She felt damp and chilled, hungry and thirsty. What a way to spend one’s wedding night.
“Hellooo!” she called out, her voice coming out in a croak. She tried again, “Hellooo!”
The snuffling dog found her first and commenced to lick her face eagerly. Following closely behind was the baker and the long cobbler; the wedding guests on a search party for the bride. It was beyond disappointing that the bailiff ruined her wedding night like this. Why oh why?
“Where is Adriaen?”
“He is safe for the moment in an empty farmhouse. He twisted his ankle when he was trying to escape so he’s waiting there and howling for his bride.” The baker chuckled, though the cobbler managed to keep his face straight. “He tried to come on the search party and ended up flat on the ground again, so he admitted defeat. He was frantic and gave us no peace until we agreed to search until we found you, regardless of how long it took.”
“Did the bailiff arrest anyone?”
Their faces saddened, and the cobbler’s face became even longer than usual. “Susanna was caught, and Captain Clemens and the neighbor couple and their son, a stable boy.”
“Oh no! Not Susanna!” This was a heavy blow. After all the work, and the risk she had taken to have the wedding at her house. And the Captain. He had stayed around so he could attend the wedding. If only he had left for the sea instead.
“Is Cornelia safe? And Jan?”
“They are both safe.” Anna was glad for that, but her heart ached for those arrested. She sent another prayer heavenward, asking for strength for her friends to stay true to the end.
The men led the way out of the forest and within an hour they were walking up to the door of a small house nearly hidden in the forest. Adriaen came hobbling to the door, supporting himself with a stick.
“Anna, my wife!” he exclaimed joyfully, “I died a thousand deaths waiting here for you! To be stuck back here waiting was the worst agony I have ever known.” His wife, he said. So it was still, incredibly, true. He let the stick fall and held out his arms.
She rushed into them, careful not to knock him over, then became oblivious to her rescuers as she rejoiced at finding Adriaen safe and whole. The two men slipped quietly away, shaking their heads and chuckling.