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The Marian Dimension to the First Executions of the Reformation

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This article investigates the Marian dimension to the Reformation’s first executions, the burning of the Augustinian friars Heinrich Voes and Johann van den Esschen in Brussels on July 1, 1523. Using sources generated by their case, it argues that the Reformation debate over how Christians should understand the Virgin Mary became interwoven with their case, and more specifically that their deaths were utilized by the ecclesiastical authorities (both Catholic and pro-Reformation) as a platform to debate Mary’s powers and efficacy. It further reveals the surreptitious nature of ways in which Catholic forces integrated beliefs surrounding the Virgin Mary into their explanation of events of the case, and the equally cunning strategy of their opponents to respond to such implications in implicit rather than overt ways. The result is a more textured and nuanced understanding of the meaning, methods, and utility of the conflict over Marian piety in the early Reformation.

Affiliations: 1: History Department, Luther College, Decorah, IA, USA


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