Flames and broken promises

Konstanz, Germany: 10 February 2016

I am angry this day.

Promises made to me that one of my favourite backpacks would be repaired by now has not only gone unfulfilled but the repair shop wanted me to pay more money for repairs they are not sure they can actually accomplish.

In my mind´s eye I picture the wretched repair shop being consumed by flames.

I leave the shop in a huff and try a clothing repair shop.

They can´t help, but they direct me to a leather repair shop near Schutzentor (the guard tower) and the Hus House Museum.

The museum reminds me of other broken promises.

1913: It was the year before the storm that would start in Sarajevo would sweep across Europe and across the globe, a world before the First World War.

Louis Armstrong is learning to play the trumpet.

Franz Kafka is in love and writing endlessly beautiful letters to Felice Bauer.

Charlie Chaplin signs his first movie contract.

Rainer Maria Rilke and Sigmund Freud discuss beauty and transience.

Marcel Proust sets out in search of lost time.

While Igor Stravinsky celebrates The Rite of Spring with industrial cacophony, an Austrian postcard painter by the name of Adolf Hitler tries to sell his conventional cityscapes of Munich.

And in the city of Konstanz excitement is building, despite the premonition of ruinous days ahead, the following year marks the 500th anniversary of the Council of Konstanz (1414 – 1418), the biggest congress of the European Middle Ages.

A Renaissance print depicting the Council of Trent

People from all over the then-known world poured to Lake Constance to participate in this unique event.

The Church and the entirety of Christianity had to deal with urgent issues: three Popes and the need for Church reform.

Constance city planners were geared up and ready.

But the winds of war began to blow.

A century passes.

And despite a world still beset with problems, Konstanz is determined that the Council´s 600th anniversary would not go unheralded this time.

2014 marked the beginning of the anniversary and Konstanz remains in full tourist mode.

The Council House which is normally used as a concert venue became an exhibition hall.

The main museums of Konstanz all focused their attention on the Council and life during those days.

Much ado is made of the presence of kings and queens, cardinals and priests present at the Council.

But there remains dark shadows on the celebration of the Council – the stain of blood and the smell of burnt flesh fill the senses of remembrance.

It is the second part of 1414.

The days are cold and the nights are long and fog covers the town as Christendom´s greatest leaders gather to discuss the problems that torment the Church.

The presence of three Popes in Rome, Avignon and Pisa encourage the critics of the Church to speak out, some with furious overeagerness.

One of the most influential Church critics was the English scholar John Wyclif, who criticized the power of popes over political affairs as well as the idea of celibacy in the priesthood and ranks above it.

It can truly be said Wyclif was most hated, but before the Council could convene, Wyclif, at age 30, had a stroke and died.

But Wyclif´s ideas went far afield and a Czech reformer named Jan Hus preached the message of reform.

Jan Hus 2.jpg

The son of a wagon-maker, Hus attracted attention due to his excellent intelligence and his ability to inject excitement and enthusiasm into whole crowds of people with the power of his words and the conviction of his beliefs.

Being a professor of philosophy and theology, Hus was aware of Wyclif´s ideas and made them his own.

Jan Hus was dangerous.

The Council decided to send for him and deal conclusively with “this Bohemian nuisance”.

The patron of the Council, King Sigismund assured Hus of safe conduct both to and from Prague if he would come to Konstanz to present his proposals for Church reform.

Pisanello 024b.jpg

On 3 November 1414 Hus arrived in Konstanz two days before the official opening of the Council.

One of the three Popes, Pope John XXIII was in town as well hoping to promote his legitimacy as Vicar of Christ in person.

Johannes XXIII Gegenpapst.jpg

John also promised Hus protection.

Unmolested for three weeks, Hus lived and preached in town.

But then the reformer was arrested and imprisoned in the dungeon of the Dominician monastery on Constance Island.

Links im Bild die Dominikanerinsel mit dem Steigenberger Inselhotel, dahinter die Alte Rheinbrücke

Sigismund was out of town and could not interfere.

John, hoping to be chosen the sole Pope, remained silent.

Jan Hus experienced terrible weeks.

His cell was located beneath the latrine of the monks, so soon Hus was in poor health.

Hus would be sentenced and burned as a heretic outside the city gates.

Though the Council had proven its power over popes and kings and silenced the voice of its loudest critic…

Though the Council would go on to eliminate the three Popes contesting for power and establish a fourth candidate as the sole pontiff…

After his execution in 1415, the followers of Hus’s religious teachings (known as Hussites) rebelled against their Roman Catholic rulers and defeated five consecutive papal crusades between 1420 and 1431 in what became known as the Hussite Wars.

A century later, as many as 90% of inhabitants of the Czech lands were non-Catholic.

Some still follow the teachings of Hus and his successors.

The Jan Hus House Museum is quite possibly the least heralded museum in Konstanz, yet it is by far my favourite one, for the story of Jan Hus is a fascinating one.

Hus spoke truth to power and preached reason to faith.

He was a powerful thinker in a dangerous time.

He died as he had lived – with courage and conviction.

The house where he lived when he was allowed to preach his message to the people of Konstanz stands as a reminder of how religion can both inspire as well as destroy lives.

If you ever find yourself in Konstanz, pay a visit to the Museum.

All printed matter is translated into various languages, including Czech, and the staff is quite friendly.

The monument in Konstanz where reformer Jan Hus was executed

Let Jan Hus remind us that we should never underestimate the power of one individual to make a change in the world.

(Sources: Florian Illies, 1913: The Year Before the Storm, Ulrich Buttner/Egon Schwär, Histories of the Council of Constance, Wikipedia)





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