Sunday, July 30, 2006

July 30

Unruly religious fanatics killed seven members of the Prague city council on this date in 1419. Led through the streets of the city by a priest named Jan Zelivsky, the mob consisted of Hussites, followers of the former priest and University of Prague rector Jan Hus, a heretic whom the Catholic Church had excommunicated in 1410 and burnt at the stake in 1415. Hussites offered the usual litany of complaints against the Church, howling madly against its political hierarchy and impenetrable rituals, condemning its many errors -- particularly those pertaining to the Eucharist. On 30 July 1419, the assembled Hussites demanded the release of several prisoners who had been arrested during similar disturbances a few days before. When the councilmen refused, a 59-year-old one-eyed Hussite militiaman named Jan Zizka ordered the crowd to storm the building. At Zizka's urging, the seven councilors were then defenestrated -- tossed from the windows of the New Town Hall -- on to the spears of the Hussite faithful, who finished the job by dismembering the corpses as Zelivsky called upon the Lord to fill the Hussites with holy fury.

The Prague city council enjoyed its revenge in March 1422, however, when Zelivsky was arrested and decapitated. Zizka himself would become one of the great heroes of Czech history, dying in 1424 during the Hussite Wars. As he lay ill, felled by the plague, the by-now completely blind Zizka asked that his skin be turned into a drum so that he might continue to lead his men into battle even after his death.

Zizka's likeness sits today upon the largest horse statue in the world, a 27-foot monstrosity located on Viktov Hill in Prague.