It is the 22nd of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1433.
It was the year that Sigismund was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. However, his coronation really marked the end of a storied career. He would hold the office for four years, and this after the office had been vacant since 1378 when Sigismund's father died. He wasn't made Emperor right away, mainly because he didn't have the broad support and requisite titles to assume such a lofty position. When Sigismund died without an heir, the office would be vacant again for years. The next Emperor, Frederick III, would come from a different dynastic house, that of the up and coming Habsburgs.
Understanding Sigismund does a good deal to help us see the church and state in this era, and for our remembrance today. Before becoming the Emperor, Sigismund had married the Queen of Hungary. And upon her death, he was named king. Later, he would take the title of King of the Germans. And then, and most controversially, he would be named the king of Bohemia.
It was under Sigismund that the empire first used the double-headed eagle, which would become synonymous with Imperial and then German power. The two-headed eagle, which goes back to the Hittites, is ubiquitous both in location and interpretation. Sigismund believed that a priest-king would eventually take control of both secular and spiritual realms. Thus, the two-headed eagle could represent each of those realms. Sigismund tried to act as a kind of priest-king when he called for a church council to resolve the papal schism and deal with heresy in the empire. The council he encouraged was the council of Constance in 1414, and it not only resolved the schism but also took out Jan Huss, leader of the Bohemian rebels.
Bohemia was an especially important region for the Emperor to control. For one, it was on the border of the Ottoman Empire. For centuries, this was the crucial link between Europe and the Near and Middle East. It was also a rowdy place, theologically. Sigismund's last years would be caught up in the Hussite wars, named after their martyred hero.
Today, we remember Pavel Cravar, a Hussite and likely Bohemian who made his way to Scotland and was executed in the Market square in St. Andrews on this, the 22nd of August, in 1433.
Cravar, also known as Paul Craw to the Scots, had studied at Prague, Paris, and Montpellier. He was known not only as an effective teacher and preacher, but he also held a medical post under the king of Poland. How he and the Hussites made their way to Scotland is debated. However, the close affinity between Wycliffe and Huss gives us the Oxford to Prague connection. And while Oxford was not keen on any kind of newfangled theology, the young upstart University up the road in Scotland might be just the place to sow the seeds of dissent and reform.
We know little of Cravar's life in Scotland until his execution on this day. He was something of a cause celebre in the later Reformation, with John Knox holding him up to his parishioners as an example of godly dissent and martyrdom. Knox's account of Cravar's execution was likely embellished. In his story, Cravar had a brass ball put in his mouth to keep him from speaking and preaching as he was dragged to the stake. No other accounts mention this.
However, he did, in fact, die. It would mark the beginning of St. Andrews as something of a hotspot for dissent in Britain. While many other martyrs would receive plaques, obelisks, and markers, the story of the Hussite in St. Andrews has only recently been told. It was only in 2016 that the town and University came together to officially recognize Pavel Cravar with a plaque on Market street where he was executed on this, the 22nd of August, in 1433.
The reading for today comes from the enigmatic Austro-Hungarian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. This is his poem "Death," which has a distinct echo of 1 Corinthians 15:55.
Before us great death stands
Our fate held close within his quiet hands.
When with proud joy we lift Life's red wine
To drink deep of the mystic shining cup
And ecstasy through all our being leaps—
Death bows his head and weeps.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher "Scaramouche Scaramouche" Gillespie. And yes, he can do the fandango. 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.