My Konstanz: Jan Hus’ last stand
Above/featured: Old Town from the Bodensee (Lake Constance): visible from left-to-right are respectively the broad-roofed Konzilgebäude (Council Building), Münster (tall Cathedral spire behind sailboat), and the Dominikanerinsel (Dominicans Island). Photo on 23 Sep 2017.
6 July is a national holiday in the Czech Republic; the formal name is “the day Jan Hus was burned at the stake” (Den upálení mistra Jana Husa).
I wrote previously about medieval Bohemian theologian and reformer Jan Hus (John Huss) whose teachings in the relatively novelty of the Czech language and criticisms about abuse and injustice within the Catholic Church predated Martin Luther’s own revolution for change by almost 100 years. Hus’ place within Czech history is fixed onto the nation with a giant memorial sculpture at the centre of Old Town Square in the capital city of Prague. His place is also assured in the European Reformation as seen in full display at the world’s largest Reformation Monument in the German city of Worms. Hus’ conviction and execution and the resulting armed conflicts would give rise not only to the concept of European unity (see also the prominent Czech historical figure George of Poděbrady), but would also give way to the European continental wars of religion.
As key historical aspects for creating unique Bohemian and subsequent Czech identity, Hus’ life, final days, and death are also a part of the historical record in the southern German city of Konstanz (Constance in English, Kostnice in Czech).
How Hus got here
The backdrop was the one of the largest conferences in the Middle Age. The Council of Constance met from 1414 to 1418, during which one key directive of the synod was to decide once and for all a single pope from three candidates. With the Council’s election of Pope Martin V in 1417, the Papal Schism which began in 1378 effectively came to an end; this would also be the one and only time a pope was elected on German soil. As the only meeting of its kind held north of the Alps, this massive medieval assembly gathered tens of thousands of people, including religious, political, civic, and social leaders; scholars and other civic officials; as well as traders and merchants from around the continent.
Constance had become a free Imperial city in the late 12th-century, allowing the city to prosper by trade of many goods around the European continent and onto the Mediterranean to destinations in Africa and the Middle East. The city was chosen to host the 15th-century conference, because the city as bishopric had sufficient space and resources to host, house, and feed a very large number of conference guests. Constance has the nickname “Stadt des Konzils” or the “Council City”, and has been included as part of the Hussite Cultural Route (Hussitische Kulturroute), which traces Hus’ final journey from Prague to Konstanz.
As follower of English philosopher John Wycliffe, Hus spoke out on flagrant abuse and corruption, especially on the sale of indulgences with the act of forgiveness for sin being used as a tool to increase church income. At a time when the church claimed complete spiritual, moral, and civic authority, Hus was an obvious troublemaker, and the central church authority punished him with censure and excommunication. Hus was called to travel from Prague to Konstanz and answer charges of heresy at the Council of Constance. He ignored the pleas of friends and colleagues to stay put (“it’s a trap!”), and armed with an apparent imperial promise of safe passage and conduct, he set off on his journey to Konstanz. Upon arrival in November 1414, the promise was naught and the betrayal complete; Hus was promptly arrested, imprisoned, and tortured in various places throughout the area for several months. In refusing to recant over his criticisms against the church, he was never given a fair trial. The Council convicted him of heresy inside the city’s cathedral on 6 July 1415. Hus was immediately handed over to the civil authority, who condemned him to death by burning at the stake on the same day. Jan Hus is revered as a key historical figure for Czechs and the Bohemian Reformation, just as Martin Luther would be for his role to kick off the German Reformation almost 100 years later.
Hus spots in Konstanz
Today, the picturesque lakeside city is home to 280-thousand people, and it’s where I’ve come to examine the following city locations where Hus and the medieval Council left their mark and provided modern inspirations.
- Dominikanerinsel (Dominicans Island)
- Gedenktafel Konstanzer Konzil (Commemorative plaque)
- Graffiti fürs Konziljubiläum (Graffiti for Council anniversary)
- Hus-Denkmal (Huss Monument)
- Hus-Museum (Huss Museum)
- Hussenstein (Huss Memorial Stone)
- Konzilgebäude (Council Building)
- Münster Unserer Lieben Frau (Cathedral of Our Beloved Lady)
- ‘Costantz’, 1633 map
EN: Dominicans Island.
CZ: Dominikáni ostrov.
Location: Auf der Insel.
On the small island next to the shoreline, a Dominican monastery was constructed in the early 13th-century. Jan Hus was imprisoned within the monastery’s dungeon for a number of months in late-1414 to early-1415. After the location was converted to a cotton factory by the late 18th-century, the site is now home to the 4-star Steigenberger Inselhotel.
Gedenktafel Konstanzer Konzil
EN: Commemorative plaque, Council of Constance.
CZ: Pamětní deska, Kostnický koncil.
Location: Kanzleistrasse, just west of Kaiserbrunnen (Emperior Fountain).
GPS: +47.660333 ° North, +9.174778 ° East.
The Council of Constance had its own imperial seal; the seal from 17 August 1415 appears as a commemorative plaque embedded into the stone pavement on Kanzleistrasse. On the left are the papal seals or “keys” with the phrase Sacre Sinodi Constancien (Holy Council of Constance), and on the right is SPASPE for “Sanctus Paulus Sanctus Petrus” and the figure heads for St. Paul and St. Peter.
Graffiti fürs Konziljubiläum
EN: Graffiti for the Council anniversary.
Location: Alte-Rheinbrücke Unterführung (Old Rhine Bridge underpass).
By mid-2014, local artist and designer Emin Hasirci had completed several “graffiti” murals in the underpass below the Old Rhine Bridge for the 600th anniversary of the beginning of the Council of Constance. The murals include: Jan Huss, King Sigismund, Pope Martin V, Oswald von Wolkenstein, and Imperia. Hundreds of paint spray cans were used for the colourful process with the help of additional local artists.
EN: Huss Monument.
CZ: Pomník mistra Jana Husa.
Location: Lutherplatz, across from Lutherkirche (Luther church).
GPS: +47.661392 ° North, +9.172029 ° East.
Czech artist Adéla Kačabová’s memorial sculpture, “Cesta ke smíření” (Weg zur Versöhnung / Way to Reconciliation), was inaugurated in 2015 on the 600th anniversary of Hus’ martyrdom. The 6-ton sandstone sculpture stands 3-metres tall with a 1-metre base. With additional work by students from an arts school in the eastern Bohemian city of Hořice, the sculptural design with a flaming chalice refers to Hus’ execution by fire, as well as his belief in the sharing of communion bread and wine for all, and not just for priests. The sculpture is placed at Lutherplatz directly opposite the Lutherkirche church; that’s no accident as German reformer Luther acknowledged his role something like a descendant of Hus.
• Hradec Králové region, in Czech.
• Radio Prague International, in German.
• iDNES.cz, in Czech: 21 June 2015 and 4 July 2015.
EN: Huss House & Museum.
CZ: Husův dům.
Location: Hussenstrasse 64, north from Schnetztor.
When Jan Hus arrived in Konstanz, it was widely believed he stayed near Schnteztor at the house of widow Fida Pfister. The house now houses the Hus Museum, with descriptions of his life, work, the call for him to come to Konstanz, the journey he undertook to Konstanz, and his subsequent arrest and conviction. However, there’s doubt whether this house is where he stayed; he likely stayed in a place closer to town centre and the cathedral.
• also, Hither and Thither | RadioCZ (German)
EN: Huss Memorial Stone.
CZ: Husův kámen.
Location: at the intersection of Zum Hussenstein and Alten Graben.
GPS: +47.661093 North, +9.164218 East.
Hus was taken to the fields outside the city wall to the west of the town, an area that was called Im Paradies (Paradise)1. Before he was burned at the stake, Hus is believed to have uttered the following words which are recounted in separate sources:
Heut(e) braten sie eine Gans,
Das bin ich armer Hans.
Nach hundert Jahren kommt ein Schwan,
Den sollen sie ungebraten l’an (lassen).
(( Today, you will roast a lean goose2, but one hundred years from now you will hear a swan sing, whom you will leave unroasted and no trap or net will catch him for you. 3 ))
(( You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil.4 ))
Whether Hus had meant to spite his accusers; whether he had meant the words prophetically because Martin Luther (whose family crest included a swan) would arrive on the scene about one hundred years later; or whether Hus said any of these words at all make for uncanny coincidence and superb storytelling.
For his support of Hus, fellow Bohemian theologian and scholar Jerome of Prague (Jeroným Pražský, Hieronymous Pragensis) was arrested, brought to Konstanz, convicted of heresy, and burned at the stake on 30 May 1416 at roughly the same place where Hus was executed. Jerome became the first martyr of the expanding Hussite movement.
A large boulder surrounding by shrubs and flowers marks the apparent location where Hus was executed by burning at the stake on 6 July 1415. After the memorial stone’s unveiling in 1862, people began to gather here every year on the anniversary of Hus’ execution; visitors included many arrivals from the Czech Republic.
Because Konstanz is within Germany and next door to Switzerland, it’s natural to see street signage in German leading people to the “Hussenstein” (Huss Stone). And while it’s uncommon to see street signs in another language, Hus’ importance to the Czechs means signage in Konstanz also includes the Czech phrase for Hussenstein: “Husův kámen”.
1 Im Paradies: see also 1847 map drawn by J. Eiselein, of the Paradies area outside of the city gate Paradieser Tor, including the fields at Brüel, the location of the former Capuchin cloister (“ehemaliges Capuchiner Kloster”), and the location where Hus and Jerome were burned at the stake.
2 The Czech word “Hus” is translated as “goose“.
3 Poggio Bracciolini (a.k.a. Poggius the Papist), in his 2nd letter to Leonhard Nikolai, “Hus the Heretic”, 1415 (English translation: 1930, 2008).
4 John Fox, “Foxes Book of Martyrs”, Chapter 8, 1563 (present-day translation).
The reference for the image above is: Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Mss.h.h.I.16, p. 660 – “Spiezer Chronik, Diebold Schilling (1485). Within the picture frame shown above, the first two handwritten lines of text are:
Vom Meister Hussen dem Ketzer dz der zuo Costentz verbrent wardt.
(On Master Huss, the heretic, who was burned to death in Constance.)
Possible transcription of late 15th-century German and translation to present-day German and English can be found here. Also, check out this image from another source dated 1490-1510.
EN: Imperia statue.
CZ: socha Impéria.
Location: By the lakeshore next to Konstanzer Hafen (city harbour).
This 15th-century multiyear Council is commemorated (or mocked) by the modern and thoroughly provocative Imperia statue, who stands tall and defiant by the lakeshore. The statue is one of the most photographed landmarks in the city.
“Imperia” stands 9 metres (30 feet) high, and rotates about once every 4 minutes for all to see. She has in her hands the rule of man and the rule of God; the naked figures at left and right resemble the Emperor Sigismund and Pope Martin the Fifth, respectively. Peter Lenk’s scandalous and scathing 1993 sculpture memorializes the Council of Constance. The medieval gathering was chronicled by local citizen Ulrich von Richentalur, who noted the city of seven-thousand at the time was host to over 70-thousand guests; among them were an estimated 700 courtesans.
The caption accompanying the sculpture reads:
Römische Lebedame und Muse. Skulptur 9 m hoch, 18 to schwer. Erbaut 1993 vom Bodmaner Bildhauer Peter Lenk nach einer Geschichte von Honoré de Balzac über das Konstanzer Konzil, 1414-1418 (Fremden-Verkehrsverein Konstanz e.V.).
Courtesan and muse. Sculpture height 9 metres, weight 18 tons. Constructed in 1993 by sculptor Peter Lenk, based on Honoré de Balzac’s story “La Belle Imperia” about the Council of Constance from 1414 to 1418.
EN: Council Building.
CZ: Budova koncilu.
Location: Hafenstrasse 2, next to the lakeshore.
By the late 14th-century, wealthy traders in the city constructed a merchant house (Kaufhaus), which also served as warehouse and meeting house. During the Council of Constance, the building served as the grand meeting space, and it’s here where eligible members of the Council voted Martin V as the new pope on 11 November 1417, effectively bringing the Papal Schism to an end. Today, the building nicknamed “Konzil” is used as event space for meetings, conferences, and concerts. There’s also a restaurant here, and you can sit at the patio with beer or wine, and a view with pedestrians and bicyclists on the shoreline and boats in the waters of the Bodensee.
Münster Unserer Lieben Frau (Konstanzer Dom)
EN: Cathedral of Our Beloved Lady (Constance Cathedral).
CZ: Chrám/Dóm naší milé paní (Kostnická katedrála).
Location: Münsterplatz 1.
In the ruins of the former Roman settlement, a church was founded at this location in the 7th-century before completion and consecration of a Romanesque basilica in the late 11th-century. The intervening centuries saw various phases of construction with the present-day cathedral completed in 1853.
In this church, the Council of Constance found Jan Hus guilty on the charge of heresy for preaching against church practices on 6 July 1415. He was handed over to the civil authority, and promptly sentenced to death by burning at the stake. The central aisle of row 24 may have been where Hus stood to hear judgement from the Council of Konstanz. Legend says the ground where Hus stood on trial changed colour when the Council found him guilty on the charge of heresy.
“Costantz”, in 1633
“Costantz” in 1633, facing west with north to the right; copper engraving by Matthäus Merian. Red labels correspond to the map legend: 1. “Unser Frauen Domkirche” (Cathedral); 11. “Das Kauffhaus, darin das Concilium gehalten” (Market House, Council Building); 16. “Capuciner Closter. Steht an dem Ohrt da Iohann Huss uerbrent worden” (Capuchin cloister, at the place where John Huss was burned: note location outside of medieval city wall); 18. “Prediger Closter” (Dominicans Island).
Source material / Quelle: Costantz, von Matthäus Merian (Stiche) und Martin Zeiller (Texte). In: Matthäus Merians Erben: “Topographia Sueviae“, 2. Auflage, Matthäus Merians Seel. Erben, Franckfurt am Mayn 1656 (Erstauflage: Merian, Franckfurt am Mayn 1643). S. 52–56. Digitalisierung von Universität Köln.
Except for the image of the 1633 Merian woodcut, I made all other photos above on 21 and 23 September 2017 with a Canon EOS6D mark1. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-aUd.
• Konstanz – Stadt des Konzils | Mittelalter im Südwesten: SWR auf YouTube, 43-Minuten.
• Kirche, Ketzer, Kurtisanen – das Konzil von Konstanz: 3sat auf YouTube, 51-Minuten.
• Das Konstanzer Konzil: SWR 2014, 4. Teile.
• Die Richental-Chronik (über Ulrich von Richental, Zeitzeuge des Konzils und der damaligen Stadt): planet wissen, ARD.
• Ulrich Richental: Rasender Reporter beim Konstanzer Konzil: SWR 2014, 2. Teile.
• “Eine Stadt feiert ein Weltereignis“: Der Spiegel, 2 März 2014.
• “Göttlicher Sündenpfuhl am Bodensee“: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 28 Apr 2014.
• “Sex war das Boom-Gewerbe auf dem Kirchenkongress“: Die Welt, 15 Apr 2016.
ur Concilium ze Costenz 1414-1418, a contemporary account written by resident Ulrich von Richental, mid-15th century.
Universitäts-Bibliothek Heidelberg (Augsburg 1483) | Universitäts-Bibliothek Heidelberg (Mannheim 1881)
4 Responses to “My Konstanz: Jan Hus’ last stand”
Thank you for the wonderful tour. Great photos, as always. 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for stopping by, Amy!
[…] on 6 July 1415, Jan Hus was sentenced to death on the charge of heresy. I’ve described locations in Konstanz during Hus’ final […]
Thank you very much for this site giving honor to the faithful martyr Jan Hus. Defininitely one of the greatest ‘heroes of the faith’.