Monday, July 30, 2012

Defenestration

After Jan Hus was executed for heresy in 1415 (Jan Hus has been discussed here and here), his followers, called Hussites, continued to protest vehemently for the reform of the Church. A very popular Hussite priest of the church of the Virgin Mary of the Snows, Jan Zelivsky, led a procession to the Town Hall in Prague that gathered a large number of citizens. The protest was about the inequality between peasants and the nobility, and about the perceived corruption of the Church that had been successfully preached by Wycliffe. Preachers such as Zelivsky urged people to take up arms to combat their oppression.

After the procession reached Charles Square in the city, someone threw a stone at Zelivsky from a window of the Town Hall. This act caused his followers to enter the building en masse, seize the judge, the burgomaster (the Mayor of Prague), and thirteen members of the town council, and throw them all out a window. Those that did not die in the fall were finished off by the crowd.

This was called the Defenestration of Prague, from the Latin defenestrare, "to throw out a window."* Over a century later, it would be re-named "The First Defenestration of Prague," because the act was so useful that it became a pastime.
Later depiction of a Prague defenestration.
The Catholic Encyclopedia would have you believe that this event so disturbed King Wenceslas IV that he died shortly after due to shock. Perhaps someone should update that page. Wenceslas died over two weeks later, after suffering a heart attack while hunting in the woods around his castle. He had been sympathetic to non-conformists and to the idea of reform, and had been a supporter of Jan Hus. The Defenestration surely would not have pleased him, but a king in his 50s who had seen what Wenceslas had been through was used to controversy. Sadly, his death along with the Prague violence helped kick off the Hussite Wars.

The Defenestration of Prague took place 593 years ago today, in 1419. Consider how you might honor the event as you go through your day!


*Let us pause and reflect on the utility of Latin, to already have a word for this act! It was needed at least for the Latin Bible, so that Jezebel could be defenestrated in 2 Kings 9:33.

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