Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – The Nineteen Holy Martyrs of Gorcum

Martyrs of Gorkum, Cesare Fracassino, 1838-1868, Vatican CityArticle

The Roman Martyrology says, on the ninth day of this month: “At Brill, in Holland, the suffering of the nineteen martyrs of Gorcum, who, for defending the authority of the Roman Church and the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, were derided and tormented by the Calvinists, and ended their martyrdom by death.” The history of the martyrdom of these glorious confessors of Christ is as follows:

After Luther and Calvin had caused a great part of Germany to forsake the true faith, and devastated it by a thousand disturbances and revolutions, the inhabitants of the Netherlands began also to rise against their lawful sovereign, the King of Spain, in order to extort the so-called “Liberty of conscience.” The Prince William of Orange, the Count de la Mark, the Count of Lumaye, the Prince of Nassau and the Duke of Bergen assisted these rebels, who at first were called “Geussen,” or beggars. In 1572, they took by force the towns of Brill, Utrecht and others, and attacked Gorcum. The Spanish Governor, Gaspar Turk; retired into the castle, as also the two priests of the town, the Franciscans, who had a convent there, and a few other Catholics. The chief of the Calvinists, after having taken the small town, demanded the surrender of the castle, with the declaration on oath, that all persons, lay or clerical, should be allowed to pass out unmolested. It became, however, manifest that those who are not true to their God cannot be trusted, should they even seal their promise with an oath. They dragged the commanding officer bound in chains into the prison, and hung a Catholic citizen, who had called one of the Calvinists a thief, because he had stolen a chalice from the church. The other Catholics were threatened with all possible pains and torments.

The greatest rage of the heretics, however, discharged itself upon the clergy. They were all cast into a frightful dungeon. At dinner time, meat was placed before them, but as it was Friday, they were convinced that the heretics would regard it as a sign that they had forsaken their faith if they partook of it; hence they resolved rather to starve than to transgress the laws of the church. Only one of them, who thought that he was not doing wrong in eating meat under the circumstances, did so, and thereby lost the crown of martyrdom. The suffering of the imprisoned clergy is not to be described; the heretic soldiers came as often as they pleased to them, arid maltreated them in all possible ways. Sometimes they buffeted them, spurned them with their feet, whipped them barbarously, and threatened to crucify them all. On the very first evening of their imprisonment, one of the most wicked came to them and ordered the “black coats,” meaning the secular priests, to come forward. Leonard Wechel, the oldest of them, believing that his last hour had arrived, went fearlessly up, and kneeling down, bared his neck to receive the fatal stroke. The soldier, however, demanded only money, and when they had satisfied his demand, he retired. Nicholas Poppel, a younger priest, had not so much lenity shown him, on account of his having preached with great zeal against heresy. One of the soldiers placed a pistol to his mouth, saying: “How is it, Pastor, you have so often said in the pulpit that you were ready to die for your faith; are you still of the Same opinion?” “Yes,” replied Nicholas, “I rejoice to give my life for my faith, and especially for the chief doctrine which you reject – the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.” The heretic, surprised at this fearless confession, desired to know where the treasures of the castle were secreted. As Nicholas knew nothing about them, he was dismissed after a long torture. It was now the turn of the Franciscans, The soldiers took the girdle from the Father Guardian, laid it around his neck, and swung him on a door, up and down, until the girdle broke and the Father sank upon the floor without a sign of life. To ascertain if he was yet alive, they took a burning candle and held it close to every part of his face, and even put it into his open mouth. As no sign of life appeared, they said: “It is only a monk; nobody will miss him.” The Father, however, slowly regained consciousness, and animated all his fellow-sufferers to remain faithful in their approaching martyrdom.

The following day, the heretics renewed their cruelties upon these constant confessors of Christ. Among other ill-treatments, they buffeted them in such a manner that the blood flowed both from mouth and nostrils. Willehad, a Franciscan, ninety years of age, said, after every stroke: “Thanks be to God!” On another day, they led them, bound two and two together, out of the prison, and forced them to sing the “Te Deum Laudamus,” as if in a procession, to the amusement and derision of the other soldiers, who were sitting at table. After this, they brought dice to them, saying that they should throw them and see which should be first hung. “There needs no casting dice,” said the Father Guardian, “I am ready, and have already had a foretaste of hanging.” The godless men, astonished in spite of them- selves at such heroism, contented themselves with abusing the holy church and the clergy, and sent the prisoners back to their dungeon. Meanwhile the Catholic citizens of Gorcum, in great indignation at such lawless acts, firmly demanded of the commanding officer of the “Beggars” that he should keep his oath and release the Catholics, as well the clergy as the laity. A deputation was also sent to the Prince of Orange, to request him to enforce the fulfillment of the promise made at the surrender of the castle. The Calvinists, who knew that the Prince would act in accordance with the treaty, resolved not to wait for his order, but sent all the ecclesiastics to Brill, to the Count of Lumaye, who was an embittered enemy of the Catholic clergy. They were therefore placed, during the night, on board of a boat and taken to Brill, where the Count received them with a storm of invectives and abuse. A gallows stood upon the banks of the river, not far from Brill, around which the prisoners, two and two, had to walk three times, and finally to kneel down and sing the “Salve Regina.” The same they were forced to do in the market-place of the town, where another gallows had been erected. They had to sing the litany of the Saints there, during which they were buffeted and whipped so severely, that Father Van Vic, a stately man, said: “What kind of people are these? I have been a prisoner to both Turks and Saracens, but have never received such treatment.” After this, the prisoners were cast into a dark and filthy dungeon. In the afternoon of the same day, they were brought into court and asked if they would forsake their religion. Three of them answered timidly, and were separated from the others, who were all ready to die for their religion. The next day, only seven of the most distinguished of them were called into the court, and were asked only to deny the authority of the Pope, and the presence of Christ in the Blessed Eucharist But the servants of the Almighty, indignant at this wicked demand, said they would rather endure all kinds of torments than deny the least of the articles of the Catholic faith. The zealous priest, Leonard, also made a speech, the boldness of which so confounded the president, that he knew not what to answer. The Count of Lumaye, enraged at this, sentenced them all to die, and although the order of the Prince of Orange had arrived to give the prisoners their liberty in accordance with the treaty, he changed not his resolution, but commanded the sentence to be executed that very night.

At one o’clock in the morning of the 9th of July, 1572, the fearless Christian heroes were led out of the town to the convent of Ruggen, which lately had been plundered by the Calvinists. The martyrs were gathered into a large bam, which was traversed by two heavy beams. At the sight of the place where they were to receive the crown of martyrdom, they all rejoiced, and encouraged each other not to falter in their fidelity to Christ. The Father Guardian was the first whom the heretics hung to one of the beams, wantonly tormenting him the while. He spoke Words of comfort to his companions as long as he could speak. After his death, they strangled in a similar manner the remaining eighteen. Eleven of them were of the Seraphic Order of Franciscans; one, John of Asterwick, belonged to the Order of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine; two were of the Premonstratensian Order; one was a Dominican; and the other four secular priests, two of Gorcum, two from elsewhere. When Father Van Vic was ascending the ladder, a Calvinist preacher came near him to persuade him to deny his faith; but the Father, in his holy zeal, spurned him with his foot from the ladder, which prevented others from further molesting them. Thus did these nineteen valiant confessors of Christ end their lives, and receive the glorious crown of martyrdom.

The heretics spared not even the dead bodies, but cutting off their noses, ears and other members, placed hats and helmets on them and treated them with wanton disrespect. We must not omit to mention the sad ending of some of the fellow-prisoners of these holy martyrs. A lay-brother yielded to the demands of the Calvinists, at the very moment when he was to be executed, and thus escaped death. He happily repented, after some time, and returned to the true Church. More unhappy was the pastor of Marsdam. He denied the authority of the Pope, and consented to obey all the demands of the heretics. These, however, not believing him, hung him without mercy. Just as unhappy was the- end of a religious. Already with his foot on the ladder, he renounced the true faith and enrolled himself among the soldiers. Only three months later, he was accused of poisoning the officer on whom he waited; and thus, as miscreant, he suffered the same death on the gallows, which he could have died as a glorious martyr.

The martyrdom of these holy confessors of the Catholic faith took place in 1572. Their holy relics were bought, for a large sum of money, from the Count of Lumaye, and were transported to Catholic places. God honored them by many miracles. On the night of their execution, they all appeared, arrayed in bright shining garments and precious crowns upon their heads, to the honorable Matthew Torano, of Gotcum, who at that moment was sending to the throne of the Almighty, his prayers for the welfare of his country.

Practical Considerations

How cruelly did the wickedness of heresy deal with these holy martyrs, although they were all persons consecrated to God! And why were they thus cruelly treated? Because they were Catholics, and would not deny a single article of their faith. Was that a reason for such barbarity? Liberty belongs to all. Liberty of conscience is, in the opinion of the heretics, a precious jewel, for the possession of which they have fought so many bloody battles, and have occasioned so much evil. They, however, esteem it only when it is to their own advantage. May God open the eyes of all that are blinded by error, and may His grace prepare their hearts to receive the truth and save so many noble souls from eternal destruction! Let us now consider the lives of the holy martyrs, in which we shall find two points especially, which are greatly to their honor, and which will serve for our instruction.

• The holy martyrs chose to die, rather than deny a single article of their faith. This was their duty; for, heed it well: whoever denies one article of the true faith, or doubts it voluntarily, violates the whole faith, and ceases to be a Catholic before God. For, he only is a Catholic, who is baptized and believes everything that God, by His Church, proposes to him to believe. Heed it well; everything, without exception. Oh! how greatly do I fear that many, who are called Catholics, have long ceased to be such before God. Their faith is lost, because they doubt sometimes this, sometimes the other article, and thus side partly with the Catholics, partly with those who are not Catholics. Sometimes they believe not in purgatory; at another time they doubt that punishment in the other world is eternal. At this moment, they cannot believe that God condemns man for the crime of unchastity, at the next, they strongly doubt that the Almighty knows everything, and rules all things. Be not seduced by such as would make you doubt the least article of your faith. You must believe everything that God, by His Holy Church, bids you believe; otherwise you are no Catholic, do not belong to the true Church, and have no hope of salvation. Thomas is called by Christ, “unbelieving,” because he would not believe the one article of the resurrection. “Be not faithless but believing.” (John 20) Hence you belong to the unbelievers, if you doubt or deny a single article of faith. And why will you doubt one when you believe in others? The same God who revealed the article which you believe, has also revealed those you doubt or deny. The true Church assures you of this fact. Why then do you believe God in this and not in the other? Can He err in one, and not in the other? How terrible a wickedness it would be only to think so!

• The holy martyrs preferred to suffer hunger and thirst and torments rather than trespass against the laws of the Church by eating meat. This was also their duty, as the heretics would have looked upon their eating meat on a Friday, as a sign of their forsaking the true faith or as a contempt of the Church. Whoever will be an obedient child of the Church, must act in like manner, if he will not be condemned; as he is obliged to confess his faith not only with the lips, but by works. Woe to those who in the eyes of the heretics, wantonly transgress the laws of the Church, or perhaps even deride them like the heretics! They will one day experience what has been so often preached, but at which they smiled; that one commits great sin, and is in danger of being condemned by trespassing against the laws of the Church. If you will gain salvation keep away from the wicked rebels and despisers of the Church. You know the words of Christ: “If he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican.” (Matthew 18) Can you promise a heathen salvation? If you say, with the rebels and scoffers, that it is enough when one keeps the commandments of God, I ask you: are you not obliged, by virtue of the laws of God, to keep the commandments of the Church, as you are, by virtue of them, obliged to keep the laws of a a legitimate, temporal authority? Or can you trespass against the laws of the Church, without effectually trespassing against the laws of God, who has so peremptorily and under the greatest penalty, commanded all to obey His Church, and who has said so distinctly: “He that despises you, despises me!” (Luke 10) “For they have not rejected thee, but me.” (1st Kings 13) Hence, you reject God by trespassing against the laws of the Church. Do you believe that you can thus save your soul?

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “The Nineteen Holy Martyrs of Gorcum”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 24 March 2018. Web. 17 November 2018. <>