THE SACRIFICE MADE BY FATHER VINCK
In Maastricht, the direct neighbourhood of the Roman church of Notre Dame has still a strong medieval atmosphere. Along the rivers Maas and Jeker, there are still the brick city-walls with the Hellgate and the little tower of father Vinck.
When strangers go for a city-walk, they can find up to three times the name of father Vinck: first, as the name-giver of the little tower on the city-wall, mentioned above; second, as one of the five beheaded people whose heads have been exhibited on the bastion 'The Five Heads'; and finally, one sees his image in the treasure-chamber of Notre Dame as a pious munk with the eyes raised to heaven.
Most often, in our days, the guides and books tell hardly anything about father Vinck. You have to go to the city-archives to find more information. Maastricht has forgotten the Franciscan friar who has been honoured so much before.
Who was father Vinck? To know that, we have to go back all the way to the first half of the seventeenth century, when Dutchmen and Spaniards fought for the 'iron city' Maastricht in the 'war that lasted eighty years'.
The political situation
Only at the end of the eighty years war, in 1632, the Dutch finally conquered Maastricht. 'Conqueror of Towns' Frederik Hendrik took the city after a siege and bombardment that lasted several weeks.
However, the Spaniards remained camped in the neighbourhood, and caused trouble to the Protestant governors of the city for several years and in many ways.
Since olden times, Maastricht had been governed by two lords together. One lord was the prince-bishop of Liege, the other was the duke of Brabant. The Dutchmen now inherited the rights of the duke that the Spaniards exercised before the surrender.
They formally recognised the rights of the Catholics, but behaved in practice like young hotheads: they gave very few jobs of administration to the Catholics, assigned two large churches to the small number of Protestants, and prohibited the glorious Catholic processions through the city.
Franciscan friars and Jesuits
In Maastricht, the monastery of the Franciscan friars was next the Hellgate. The followers of Saint Francis preached and administered the sacraments. Sometimes they helped nursing the sick.
In the first years of the Dutch occupation pestilence prevailed. The friars who were called 'Cellebroeders', and the nuns of Elisabeth Strouven, were in charge of nursing. The Franciscan friars were responsible for the pastoral care in the first place. For example, the Franciscan friar father Vinck was the spiritual guide of Elisabeth Strouven.
The relations between Catholics and Protestants were not as strained as in the sixteenth century anymore. However, the Protestants had little understanding of the Catholic faith. They thought that priests sometimes absolve from sins that the confessants plan to commit in future.
From the pulpit, the ministers fulminated against 'popish superstition' and against 'Jesuit pressing'.
The Jesuits provided education at the Latin School. Rector Boddens maintained good relations with the government in Brussels (the Spanish) and with the government in the Hague (the Dutch) as well. But the Dutchmen in Maastricht did not trust him.
Poignant detail: the military governor of the city, Bouillon, had become a Catholic. Had the Jesuits converted him? But the Protestants trusted him anyway: he was a military man of honour.
Spanish troups were camped a few kilometres south of Maastricht, near Navagne and the river Maas. The commander Mézières had sent a daring French nobleman, de la Court, to Maastricht as a spy.
De la Court reported himself in Maastricht as a 'deserter', and talked there with bricklayer Rompen. This man showed him a little gate in the city-wall near the Hellgate. The little gate was not used any more, and was walled up with marl stones. One could open it without attracting attention, doing a feigned attack on the city at the same moment on the other side of Maastricht. Then the Spaniards could go into the city through the little gate.
Next that little gate there lived a rich brewer called Lansmans. Mézières contacted Lansmans with the help of a taylor in the town of Visé near Maastricht.
Mézières persuaded the brewer to join the Spaniards for a lot of money. Lansmans did not realise that once again an awful lot of blood might be spent.
Lansmans bought another house next the little gate, which he wanted to let to a clergy-man (because clergy-men were exempt from quartering troops). For this purpose he chose a chaplain, called Sylvius, but this chaplain refused to participate. Sylvius did not tell anything to the Dutchmen, but he consulted other priests how to flee the city in a hay cart. Lansmans planned to lead the Spaniards, when they were entering through the little gate, to the house of the Dutch commander Goltstein, and to the monastery of the Franciscan friars, which was to become the headquarters. Therefore he chose the Franciscan friar father Vinck as his confessor.
In Maastricht, the people loved father Vinck. He was kindhearted and a little naive, and he could preach well. It grieved him when somebody was addicted to some kind of evil, but he preferred to see the good sides of the people.
When Lansmans told the plan to him during confession and the conversation thereafter, the father was glad to hear that the Spaniards could perhaps give the city of Maastricht back to the Catholics. Then the Maastricht people could receive the sacraments unimpeded, and find the way to heaven. He warned the confessant to evite risks for the civil population as much as possible, and to spend the reward on some good cause. Now they had to trust in God. The father took leave of Lansmans saying "have courage, Jan, you will succeed".
Later on he called Lansmans again to consider whether the plan was not too rash. Lansmans referred the father to Mézières.
Vinck went to talk with Mézières. He gave to the commander a letter that he had drafted in French for Lansmans, and received an answer for Lansmans in return. Later on, it turned out that this reply contained an obligation to the value of the reward.
Meanwhile, de la Court in Maastricht made good cheer with the money that he had received from the Spaniards for his assistance. He staked much money while playing cards, and this attracted attention. Commander Goltstein had him arrested. He put him to the rack and forced him to confess that an attempt on the city was being plotted.
De la Court then told a very improbable story: that he only participated to see which people were involved, so that he could help the Dutch to roll up the band.
Possibly he told him Lansmans' name. And he mentioned the Jesuits: he had told the plan to them in a confession in Liege. But the commander had already heard rumours among Lansmans' friends that contained nearly the same indications.
Lansmans thought that his part would seem smaller if he mentioned other people. He told among other things that he had confessed with father Vinck, and that this man gave him the letter with the reward.
In short time the Dutch arrested the following people: bricklayer Caters and de la Court's wife, the Franciscan friar Vinck and chaplain Sylvius, the Jesuits rector Boddens and father Pasman and friar Nottin, and about ten other people. Rompen was already out of the city.
The charges against the Jesuits were very vague. The Dutch considered it suspicious enough if they seemed to have had contacts with Vinck or Lansmans. They could not imagine that no Jesuits were involved.
Torture and execution
Many confessions had only been made after 'sharp examination' on the rack. Sometimes threatening was already sufficient. Father Pasman had told that friar Nottin had once entered the house of Lansmans, and that, once, he had come back from Visé with a report about a possible forthcoming attempt on the city. But the whole city had been talking about such an attempt for months.
From Catholic quarters, there came international diplomatic support for the Jesuits to prevent the executions, but in vain. The Protestants beheaded all suspected persons mentioned above in the course of several weeks. They exhibited the heads of Jan Lansmans, de la Court, Caters, Vinck and Nottin on iron pikes from the bastion 'The Three Doves', that lay nearest to the fortress Navagne.
One has to admit that a man like Lansmans probably deserved punishment, although the inflicted punishment was much too heavy by present standards. He was primarily interested in the money. Some investigators have disputed the competence of the military tribunal, because the half of the magistracy that acted for Liege had no part in it. But the prince-bishop had no authority in military matters.
However, the judgment of father Vinck should be very different. He considered that Protestants, being heretics, have no right to govern, and that their reign was a calamity to the city. He voluntarily gave his life to oppose secularisation, knowing that the souls are in serious danger without the sacraments. Anyway, he could not blab what Lansmans had said in sacramental confession. The other priests probably did not know the exact plans for the attempt.
All the priests behaved exemplarily when they were led to execution, although they were not allowed to receive Catholic spiritual assistance. The Jesuits spoke to their executioners in an ironical way, and father Vinck even talked with them as a friend and full of love. Father Vinck preserved a perfect peace of mind. He joined his own suffering with the Passion of Christ. Thus he made his sacrifice.
The head of father Vinck, exhibited on a pike, was immediately the object of worship from the side of the people. This was the beginning of a tradition that lasted more than three centuries. This tradition is now forgotten for the sake of good relationship with the Dutchmen and the Protestants, and because the people of Maastricht don't exert themselves easily for anything.
In the public library, I found something about the events of 1638 in books written by Jaspar and Ubags.
In the room of the city-archives, they gave me another book which had been written by a gentleman named Vlekke, with the title 'Van 't gruwelijk verraet in den jaere 1638 op Maestricht gepractiseert' ('About the horrible treachery practised in Maastricht in the year 1638'). This book seems to be very reliable.
I found seven more sources. For example, a novel by Schaepkens van Riemst, a writing by a Franciscan friar and an expostulation by minister Ludovicus, demonstrating his prejudice.
I had to leave unread the long Latin report made by the Jesuits. I cannot read the documents in the case, because they are written in old manuscript. So I didn't asked for them.
I have primarily thought about this question: what could have moved Vinck and Lansmans?
(Maastricht, july 1999, H.Reuvers)
click here to go to my homepage