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 Main Index : History : Sketches of Church History : Part 2, Chapter XXV
Chapter XXIV | Chapter Index | Chapter XXVI

Part 2
CHAPTER XXV: THE HUSSITES (AD 1418-1431)

      The news of Huss's death naturally raised a general feeling of anger in Bohemia, where his followers treated his memory as that of a saint, and kept a festival in his honour. And when the emperor Sigismund, in 1419, succeeded his brother Wenceslaus in the kingdom of Bohemia, he found that he was hated by his new subjects on account of his share in the death of Huss.

      But, although most of the Bohemians might now be called Hussites, there were great divisions among the Hussites themselves. Some had lately begun to insist that in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper both the bread and the wine should be given to all the people, according to our Lord's own example, instead of allowing no one but the priest to receive the wine, according to the Roman practice. These people who insisted on the sacramental cup were called Calixtines, from the Latin calix, which means a cup or chalice. But among those who agreed in this opinion there were serious differences as to some other points.

      In the summer of 1419, the first public communion was celebrated at a place where the town of Tabor was afterwards built. It was a very different kind of ceremony from what had been usual. There were three hundred altars, but they were without any covering; the chalices were of wood, the clergy wore only their every-day dress; and a love-feast followed, at which the rich shared with their poorer brethren. The wilder party among the Hussites were called Taborites, from Tabor, which became the chief abode of this party. They now took to putting their opinions into practice. They declared churches and their ornaments, pictures, images, organs, and the like, to be abominable; and they went about in bands, destroying everything that they thought superstitious. And thus Bohemia, which had been famous for the size and beauty of its churches, was so desolated that hardly a church was left in it; and those which are now standing have almost all been built since the time when the Hussites destroyed the older churches.

      The chief leader of the Taborites was John Ziska, whose name is said by some to mean one-eyed; and at least he had lost an eye in early life. Ziska had such a talent for war that, although his men were only rough peasants, armed with nothing better than clubs, flails, and such like tools, which they had bees accustomed to use in husbandry, he trained them to encounter regular armies, and always came off with victory. He taught his soldiers to make their flails very dangerous weapons by tipping them with iron; and to place their waggons together in such a way that each block of waggons made a sort of little fortress, against which the force of the enemy dashed in vain. But Ziska's bravery and skill were disgraced by his savage fierceness. He never spared an enemy; he took delight in putting clergy and monks to the sword, or in burning them in pitch, and in burning and pulling down churches and monasteries. In the course of the war he lost his remaining eye; but he still continued to act as general with the same skill and success as before. His cruelty became greater continually, and the last year of his life was the bloodiest.

      Ziska died in October, 1424. It is said that he directed that his skin should be taken off his body, and made into the covering of a drum, at the sound of which he expected all enemies to flee in terror, but the story is probably not true. At his death, a part of his old companions called themselves "orphans", as if they had lost their father, and could never find another. But other generals arose to carry on the same kind of war, while their wild followers were wrought up to a sort of fury which nothing could withstand.

      On the side of the Church a holy war was planned, and vast armies, made up from all nations of Europe, were gathered for the invasion of Bohemia. One of these crusades was led by Cardinal Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, and great-uncle of King Henry VI of England; another, by a famous Italian cardinal, Julian Cesarini. But the courage and fury of the Bohemians, with their savage appearance and their strange manner of fighting, drove back all assaults, with immense loss, in one campaign after another, until Cesarini, the leader in the last crusade, was convinced that there was no hope of putting the Bohemians down by force, and that some other means must be tried.

Chapter XXIV | Chapter Index | Chapter XXVI




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