It is the 30th of July 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1419.
We’ve been in the 14-teens before, and there was plenty happening. But for a reference point, think of this period as when Shakespeare’s Henry V is taking place, the time when Joan of Arc was becoming the French heroine and English villain, Vlad the Impaler was doing his early Dracula business according to Bram Stoker, and the hunchback of Notre Dame was ringing the bells according to Victor Hugo. The early 1400s, of course, saw the Council of Constance, famous for throwing down against Jan Hus, and the Papal schism saw a pope in Rome, Avignon, and Pisa.
We have traveled to 1419 today to discuss the first defenestration in Prague. You may remember discussing a certain defenestration on this show, but we have another defenestration. A quick note: If you don’t know, “defenestration” means to “de-window” someone, that is, to throw them out of a window. Secondly, when we say “Hussite,” we refer to that group that followed Jan Hus. They criticized the church, argued for a vernacular Bible, and maybe most important to them was receiving communion in both bread and wine, not just the bread which had been the practice. Thirdly, by “Bohemia,” we mean the Western Slavic region which the Czech Republic represents today.
Depending on how you would like to count it, there have been as many as four defenestrations at Prague. Let’s hit them in reverse order, getting to the 1419 defenestration last. In 1948, Czech diplomat Jan Masaryk was found dead on the ground, having fallen from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building where he worked. While it was referred to as a “self-defenestration,” it was discovered that he was likely thrown out the window by Soviet agents.
Of course, the defenestration that gets all the news is the Defenestration at Prague from 1618. This is seen by many historians to be a key event in the initial break out of the 30 Years War. The second defenestration came in 1483. It was pre-Reformation for most of the world, but those Bohemians got in on the game early. Prague was a hotbed of church reform since Jan Huss and his Hussites made their ruckus earlier in the century. The 1483 defenestrations (plural) killed eight local rulers who the reformers saw as jeopardizing their cause.
And it was on this, the 30th of July, in 1419, that Prague had its very first defenestration. Like the 2nd and 3rd, it involved Bohemian Hussite rebels. The leader of the Hussites in 1419 was one Jan Zelivsky, and he led people from his church to a tower where his fellow Hussites had been taken as prisoners. On the march to protest, Zelivsky was reportedly hit on the head with a rock thrown by a guard in the tower. The Hussites, enraged, stormed the tower to free their friends and defenestrated eight officials. This would lead to the 20-year-long Hussite Wars. While our attention is taken up by the concurrent Hundred Years War between France and England, the Hussite Wars were a notable early example for later leaders to insist that bi-confessional states would not work.
The idea of defenestration as an act of defiance goes back at least to the Old Testament book of Kings and the story of Jezebel. Jezebel was, of course, made an example of when she was defenestrated. The symbolism of being in a high place, and then violently not in a high place has revolutionary imagery. And those Bohemians have their history at least four defenestrations with the likely first being carried out on this, the 30th of July, in 1419.
The reading for today comes from a one-time neighbor to the Czechs. This is Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz and the poem “You Whose Name.”
You whose name is aggressor and devourer.
Putrid and sultry, in fermentation.
You mash into pulp sages and prophets,
Criminals and heroes, indifferently.
My vocativus is useless.
You do not hear me, though I address you,
Yet I want to speak, for I am against you.
So what if you gulp me, I am not yours.
You overcome me with exhaustion and fever.
You blur my thought, which protests,
You roll over me, dull unconscious power.
The one who will overcome you is swift, armed:
Mind, spirit, maker, renewer.
He jousts with you in depths and on high,
Equestrian, winged, lofty, silver-scaled.
I have served him in the investiture of forms.
It’s not my concern what he will do with me.
A retinue advances in the sunlight by the lakes.
From white villages Easter bells resound.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 30th of July 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the Dean of Defenestration Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.