Philobiblon: Hille Feyken, Münster's "Judith"

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hille Feyken, Münster's "Judith"

I wanted to pull out one woman's story from the account of the Anabaptist Münster- that of Hille Feyken, a 15-year-old Dutch girl who was inspired by the story of Judith and Holofernes (the one that produces all those overwrought paintings of the young Jewish widow with the Assyrian general's head on a platter).

It isn't hard to imagine a fervently religious 15-year-old maiden, in a tumultous city in which all of the traditional norms had been turned upside down, believing that she could be Judith.

"A contemporary portrait of Hille, with an inset illustration of Judith carrying a sword and the head of Holofernes, shows a pretty young woman as she presumably appeared on the evening of June 16, 1534, when she was met by the Bishop's men outside the walls of Munster. She had ... 'enhanced her already generous attributes of beauty' with fine clothes and jewlery provided by the city treasury. She wore a pearl necklace and three rings, two set with diamonds, and carried with her twelve guilders. She also carried a beautiful shirt for the Bishop [the besieging prince], made of the finest linen. It had been soaked in poison that would kill him instantly." (p. 86)

She must have played her part well, for an official agreed to take her to see the bishop. But then another refugee from the city, one Herman Ramert, arrived, and to show his own "good faith" betrayed the plot. Hille was tortured and confused, but: "She was now ready with calm courage to suffer her punishment, she said, knowing that it was for the glory of God and that her soul would never die. After further torture on the wheel, Hille faced her executioner with a smile, and assured him that he had no power over her . 'We'll see about that,' he answered, and struck off her head." (p.88)

Adolescence and religious fervour are a dangerous combination.

I found only one other internet mention, on an item that also talks about several other prominent women in Munster.


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