Category Archives: Put to the Sword

1564: Fabricius

(Thanks to John Lothrop Motley for the guest post on the rudely truncated burning of Christopher Smith, an apostate monk turned popular preacher under the name “Fabricius”, at Antwerp on this date in 1564. It originally appeared in Motley’s The Rise of the Dutch Republic: A History. -ed.)

A remarkable tumult occurred in October of this year, at Antwerp. A Carmelite monk, Christopher Smith, commonly called Fabricius, had left a monastery in Bruges, adopted the principles of the Reformation, and taken to himself a wife. He had resided for a time in England; but, invited by his friends, he had afterwards undertaken the dangerous charge of gospel-teacher in the commercial metropolis of the Netherlands.

He was, however, soon betrayed to the authorities by a certain bonnet dealer, popularly called Long Margaret, who had pretended, for the sake of securing the informer’s fee, to be a convert to his doctrines. He was seized and immediately put to the torture. He manfully refused to betray any members of his congregation, as manfully avowed and maintained his religious creed.

He was condemned to the flames, and during the interval which preceded his execution, he comforted his friends by letters of advice, religious consolation and encouragement, which he wrote from his dungeon. He sent a message to the woman who had betrayed him, assuring her of his forgiveness, and exhorting her to repentance. His calmness, wisdom, and gentleness excited the admiration of all.

When, therefore, this humble imitator of Christ was led through the streets of Antwerp to the stake, the popular emotion was at once visible.

To the multitude who thronged about the executioners with threatening aspect, he addressed an urgent remonstrance that they would not compromise their own safety by a tumult in his cause. He invited all, however, to remain steadfast to the great truth for which he was about to lay down his life.

The crowd, as they followed the procession of hangmen, halberdsmen, and magistrates, sang the hundred and thirtieth psalm in full chorus.

As the victim arrived upon the market-place, he knelt upon the ground to pray, for the last time. He was, however, rudely forced to rise by the executioner, who immediately chained him to the stake, and fastened a leathern strap around his throat. At this moment the popular indignation became uncontrollable; stones were showered upon the magistrates and soldiers, who, after a slight resistance, fled for their lives.

The foremost of the insurgents dashed into the enclosed arena, to rescue the prisoner. It was too late. The executioner, even as he fled, had crushed the victim’s head with a sledge hammer, and pierced him through and through with a poniard.

Some of the bystanders maintained afterwards that his fingers and lips were seen to move, as if in feeble prayer, for a little time longer, until, as the fire mounted, he fell into the flames.

For the remainder of the day, after the fire had entirely smouldered to ashes, the charred and half-consumed body of the victim remained on the market-place, a ghastly spectacle to friend and foe. It was afterwards bound to a stone and cast into the Scheld. Such was the doom of Christopher Fabricius, for having preached Christianity in Antwerp.

During the night an anonymous placard, written with blood, was posted upon the wall of the town-house, stating that there were men in the city who would signally avenge his murder. Nothing was done, however, towards the accomplishment of the threat.

The King, when he received the intelligence of the transaction, was furious with indignation, and wrote savage letters to his sister, commanding instant vengeance to be taken upon all concerned in so foul a riot. As one of the persons engaged had, however, been arrested and immediately hanged, and as the rest had effected their escape, the affair was suffered to drop.

1972: Helenira Rezende, Brazil guerrilla

Brazilian Communist guerrilla Helenira Rezende was summarily executed in the field on this date in 1972.

“Preta” to her comrades, she was a silver-tongued student activist at the University of Sao Paulo who had been clapped in prison by the dictatorship.

Rezende was amnestied in December 1968 and went underground, eventually joining the guerrilla movement in the Araguaia River basin.

The 80 or so guerrillas operating in the eastern Amazon aspired to run that Che Guevara rural-insurgency playbook, as it announced in a May 1972 manifesto. It didn’t work: the Brazilian military successfully suppressed the revolution in a series of campaigns over the next two-plus years. Only about 20 of the guerrillas survived.

One of those lucky ones, Angelo Arroyo,* gave an account of her death:

On September 29, there was an ambush that resulted in the death of Helenira Resende. She, along with another companion, was on guard at a high point in the woods. On that occasion, troops came along the road. As they found the passage dangerous, they sent scouts to explore the side of the road, precisely where Helenira and the other companion were. The latter, when he saw the soldiers, fired the machine gun, which did not work. He ran and Helenira did not realize what was happening. When she saw the soldiers were already in front of her. Helenira fired a 16-round shotgun. The other soldier gave a blast of machine-gun fire that struck her. Injured, she pulled out the revolver and shot the soldier, who must have been hit. She was arrested and tortured to death.

Her bayoneted body was secretly buried by sympathetic campesinos and has never been recovered; officially, she’s still considered a fugitive. Her unit adopted the tributary name Destacamento Helenira Rezende; more recently, the University of Sao Paulo’s postgraduate association has been named in her honor.

* He wasn’t lucky for long: Arroyo was assassinated with a fellow Communist leader by military officials in Sao Paulo in 1976.