Above/featured: Jan Hus Monument, Old Town Square – 4 Jul 2008 (HL, 450D).
Most visitors to the Czech capital city of Prague will pass by and overlook the large sculpture near the middle of Old Town Square. The central figure in the monument is one of the most important historical figures for capital and country.
Although he may not be as well known outside of the European continent, Jan Hus is a massive historical figure within central Europe. Jan Hus was declared the greatest hero of the Czech nation in a 2015 survey by Czech Radio. In Konstanz on 6 July 1415, Jan Hus was sentenced to death on the charge of heresy. In recognition of his attempts to reform the Catholic Church and to foster and encourage Bohemian identity, July 6 is commemorated annually as a national holiday in the Czech Republic: the holiday is known as “Den upálení Mistra Jana Husa,” which translates to “day of the burning of Jan Hus.”
An Early Reformer
Jan Hus dared to challenge the corrupt papal practices and church hierarchy, pointing the way for Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Inspired by English reformer John Wycliffe, Hus taught from Wycliffe’s reformist writings and considered himself a “Wyclifist,” which in Hus’ day would have been at the very least intolerable to the church and at the very worst grounds for excommunication and being labeled a heretic. He was furious by the selling of papal indulgences: by the practice itself, and that the practice directed on people in Bohemia raised money for military engagement far from Bohemia as multiple Popes vied for supremacy during the Western Papal Schism. Hus also began defining the concept of a Czech nation for the Czech people, and also made significant contributions to the Czech language by advocating simplifications to written conventions. A book about a system of spelling “Bohemian Orthography” (Orthographia bohemica, Ortografie česká) is possibly attributed to Jan Hus’ authorship with the book’s completion between 1406 and 1412 AD/CE.
Over centuries, the Catholic Church operated with total authority on religion, science, and politics and far-reaching aspects on daily life. It’s a nice racket to claim you’re the only legitimate path to God and salvation. What Jan Hus and (subsequently Martin Luther) set in motion when they openly challenged the superiority of the Church was an idea of an individual’s direct path to their own thoughts and emotions in the world and to God. Having someone in your own house openly complaining and challenging the profitable and powerful “middle man” did not endear these Hus or Luther to the Church.
For helping to bring about the Bohemian Reformation in the 15th-century, Jan Hus is described:
Jan Hus (1369-1415), a predecessor of Martin Luther, was an early 15th century Czech theologian and scholar. He advocated church reforms, such as using Czech as the liturgical language, aligning the church’s practices with teachings contained in the Bible, limiting the power of the church to spiritual matters, and stopping the sale of indulgences. Consequently, he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church in 1412 for insubordination. He was summoned to the ecclesiastical Council of Constance in 1414, where he was ordered to recant his teachings. Refusing to recant and comply, the council declared Hus heretic and sentenced him to death by burning at the stake on 6 July 1415.
News of Hus’ martyrdom sparked outrage, anger, and often violent protests among Czechs, and the movement eventually ignited the Hussite wars between Hus’ followers (early Protestants) and the Catholic Church. Armed conflict ended with infighting among the Hussites, and ultimately defeat of the Hussites at the hands of Catholic forces.
Hus’ death brought about important consequences:
• 1st Defenestration of Prague in 1419, sparking regional Hussite Wars until about 1434.
• The rise of Jiří z Poděbrad (George of Poděbrady).
• The Hussite movement precedes Luther’s Reformation by about 100 years.
• 2nd Defenestration of Prague in 1618, triggered international continent-wide Thirty Years War.
• The world’s largest Reformation monument recognizes Hus, Wycliffe, and Luther as key members of church reformation.
• Pope John Paul II’s 1999 apology, about Hus’ execution in 1415.
After the 1412 papal bull or edict proclaiming Hus’ excommunication from the church, Hus went into exile and in 1413 wrote to Christian of Prachatice (Křišťan z Prachatic) a letter in Latin which included the phrase “super omnia vincit veritas“, which translates to “truth always wins” or “truth conquers all” in English***. In Czech, the phrase is “pravda vítězí nad vším“, from which the motto “Pravda vítězí” (truth prevails) appears in the country’s presidential banner.
*** ” … Currat mundus sicut Deus eum permiserit currere; melius est bene mori, quam male vivere, propter mortis supplicum, non est peccandum; praesentem vitam finire in gratia est exire de miseria; qui addit scientiam addit laborem; qui veritatem loquitur, caput sibi perculitur; qui mortem metuit, amittit gaudia vitae; super omnia vincit veritas. Vincit qui occiditur quia nulla nocet adversitas si nulla ei dominatur iniquitas.”
The above Latin excerpt is on Google Books, from “Geschichte von Böhmen: größtentheils nach Urkunden und Handschriften. Böhmen unter König Wenzel IV., bis zum Ausbruch des Hussitenkrieges: vom Jahre 1378-1419“, Volume 3, Issue 1, by František Palacký (Kronberger und Riwnac/Tempsky, 1845), p. 298.
An English translation appears on archive.org, from “John Huss: His Life, Teachings and Death, After Five Hundred Years“, by David Schley Schaff (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915), p. 58.
Another English translation appears on archive.org, from Letter 27 (XXVII), in “Jan Huss, The Letters of John Hus. With Introductions and Explanatory Notes“, by Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), pp. 119-122. The Workman and Pope work is also available at the Online Library of Liberty.
Pomník mistra Jana Husa (Jan Hus Monument)
Czech sculptor Ladislav Šaloun with architect Antonín Pfeifer’s help worked for over 10 years on the design and construction of the Jan Hus Memorial. The memorial was inaugurated at Prague’s Old Town Square on 6 July 1915 to mark the 500th anniversary of Jan Hus’ martyrdom. Jan Hus is seen looking up and towards the Church of Our Lady before Týn which was the primary church for the Hussites between 1419 and 1621. As Prague was under the rule of the Habsburg (i.e., Catholic) Empire in 1915, the authorities of the day refused to acknowledge the memorial and forbade an official event for the monument’s inauguration. In quiet protest, city residents proceeded to blanket the new monument with flowers. Over centuries, Jan Hus became an enduring symbol for the people of Bohemia and an independent Czech national identity. By extension, the Jan Hus memorial has also become a symbol of opposition against foreign rule (for example, Jan Palach during the early years of Communist rule).
Cultural monument of the Czech Republic: Národní památkový ústav, Památkový katalog (National Heritage Institute, Memorial Catalog): register no. 38167/1-11, catalog no. 1000150135.
Betlémská kaple (Bethlehem Chapel)
The Bethlehem Chapel was a late 14th-century religious building where Jan Hus preached and became Rector in 1402. Until 1412, Hus was popular and attracted many people to the chapel for his sermons where he would openly call for reform within the Catholic Church. Instead of Latin (Rome) or German (Holy Roman Empire), he spoke and wrote to his congregation in Czech so all could hear and read. He also wanted every layperson to receive both forms of communion which was forbidden by the church. Hus the accidental rebel would soon find voice.
After damage in World War 2 and post-war neglect, the present-day building is a 1950s restoration by the ruling Communist state, because they viewed the Hussite movement as a useful political tool to emphasize the plight and revolution of the working class. The reconstruction was not historically accurate, as the state was no fan of religion. The present-day church is considered relatively plain, but the location itself remains prominent for having been home to Jan Hus.
Cultural monument of the Czech Republic: Národní památkový ústav, Památkový katalog (National Heritage Institute, Memorial Catalog): register no. 11734/1-129, catalog no. 1000001492.
The Jan Hus monument in Old Town Square and Bethlehem Chapel are both located within the “Historic Centre of Prague” which in 1992 has been inscribed by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. I made all photos with Canon cameras 450D (450D) and 6D mark 1 (6D1) on multiple visits in 2008, 2010, 2013, and 2016. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-8XD.