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A Year: Day to Day Men: 30th of July, Solar Year 2018

Reading His Messages

The first Defenestration of Prague occurred on July 30, 1419.

In the early 15th century there was a fair amount of discontent internally within the Catholic Church; in particular, regular folks were angry over the relative amount of wealth held by the clergy and nobility compared with the grinding poverty of the peasant class. As a result , reforming and sometimes radical preachers arose to protest these grievances.

Jan Želivsky was a prominent Czech priest during the Hussite Reformation which was started by reformer John Huss. Želivsky preached at Church of Our Lady of the Snows in Prague. He was one of a few moderate Utraquist priests of the reformation movement at that time and strongly influential. His sermons were noted both for their eloquence and their apocalyptic descriptions.

The first defenestration of Prague began when radical Hussites wanted to free several moderate Hussites imprisoned by the magistrates. The town council had refused to exchange their Hussite prisoners. Jan Želivsky led his congregation on a protest procession through the streets of Prague to the New Town Hall on Town Square.

While they were marching, a stone was thrown at Želivský from the window of the town hall, allegedly hitting him. This enraged the mob and they stormed the town hall. Once inside the hall, the group defenestrated the judge and council members. Some thirty radical Hussites threw the judge and seven members of the Prague Town Council out of the upper stories windows of the New Town Hall, sending them to their deaths on the pikes of the Hussite Army below. The shock of the news caused the Czech king, Wenceslas IV, to die of a heart attack.

The consequences for this defenestration of Prague’s leaders were rather severe. John Huss was burned at the stake after being betrayed with a safe conduct, setting up the tension for Martin Luther a century later under similar circumstances. After that, the rest of Europe fought a “crusade” against the Hussites, who managed to fight them off for twenty years before suffering some military defeats.

The remaining Hussites agreed to a compromise solution that ended up setting up an Utraquist rite that helped portend the Protestant Reformation and led to a complex religious situation in Bohemia. The First Defenestration of Prague could be considered a qualified success, showing the powerlessness of the Luxemburg dynasty and giving the Bohemian nobility significant freedom of religion, though short of the total liberty that many of them wanted.

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