Of Manchester and the Moravians, Part One: Out of That Window With You!

In this post, Sue explores the early roots of the Moravian settlement in Fairfield, Droylsden.

Visitors are often the best source of information on exhibits – and recently my appreciation of two small, easily missed prints in the Utopias exhibition were brought to life by throw-away comments that I overheard from my post in the Mezzanine – a visitor mentioned that she’d worked in a Moravian school and that the United Brethren (another name for the Moravian Church) had been founded by Jan Hus, a progressive and revolutionary preacher in the 1400s, whose doctrines have revolutionised European thought.

Interest piqued, I began my search – and who could have imagined that the story of a Utopian settlement near Droylsden could have started with throwing councillors out of the window of a local government building in 1419?

A piece depicting the Moravian settlement at Fairfield, Droylsden, near Manchester. C.1700s-1800s. On loan from Manchester Art Gallery.
James Parry (1805-1871) after E Erxelben. ‘Fairfield, A Settlement of the United Brethren near Manchester.’ On loan from Manchester art Gallery.

Jan Hus

Moravia is an area of the modern Czech Republic but back in the 1400s it was under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church. It was home to one of the main players in the religious and social reformations that were sweeping across Europe at the time – Jan Hus.

Woodcut print of Jan Hus from Sebastian Munster’s Cosmographie Universalis, C.1544. Source: WikiCommons.

Jan Hus was first dean of the philosophical faculty and then Rector at the Charles University of Prague. He became confessor to Queen Sophia.  Influenced by the writings of John Wycliffe (a dissident Roman Catholic priest who translated the Bible into English), he preached in the Czech language. Hus believed in the supremacy of the Bible over the hierarchies of the church and opposed the selling of indulgences. The Pope set specific actions for the remission of sin, so that the repetition of certain prayers, pilgrimage, and so on, could grant you time off from purgatory and damnation.  Later, Pardoners went about selling indulgences to the scared and repentant sinners which, in effect, monetised salvation!

‘The Devil Selling Indulgences’ from the Jena Codex, C.1490-1510. Source: WikiCommons.

Hus was a believer in education for all and the translation of holy writings into the common language, meaning that people would be able to read and interpret the scriptures for themselves – a further threat to church authority.  He thought that priests should be able to marry and you could even say he believed in feminism, preaching that; “Women were made in the image of God and should fear no man.”  Female followers preached, served on church councils, and even fought alongside men during the Hussite Wars. 

The outcome of all this was that, in 1415, Jan Hus was ordered to Konstanz in Germany, seat of the Holy Roman Empire, where he was burned alive at the stake for heresy after being tricked into believing he had safe-conduct.  The following period of persecution of the followers of Jan Hus and other reformers resulted in…

Chucking People Out Of Windows and the Seven Years War (content we’re all here for)

Out of that window, you!
‘Der Prager Fenstersturz auf einem zeitgenössischen Flugblatt’ (The Prague lintel on a contemporary pamphlet), c.1618.
Source: WikiCommons

In 1419, Jan Želivský, a Hussite priest, led his congregation in procession through Prague, past the New Town Hall.  They were enraged by the harassment they’d suffered at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church and the collusion of King Wenceslas IV and the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund in the death of Jan Hus and when stones were thrown from the Town Hall at the procession, they entered the council chamber and threw the councillors out of the window.  This is the first Defenestration of Prague.  

The consequence was that Europe was plunged into the Hussite or Seven Years War.  The second Defenestration of Prague came about in 1483, again due to the religious repression of the Hussites, and the third was in 1618, which was the start of the Thirty Years War; Europe again at arms for religious differences.

At this point, I would like to share my delight that a new word had to be coined explicitly for these occurrences.  Defenestration as defined by the O.E.D. is “the action of throwing (esp. a person) out of a window” and I would add to that, “with an unambiguous political purpose”.  In business terms it has come to mean the rapid elimination of someone from office and,  in I.T., the removal of the Windows Operating System from a computer.

There have been at least three significant Defenestrations of Prague, and two they don’t talk about. The term wasn’t introduced until the third Defenestration (or second, depending on how you’re counting) and I like to think by that time it was considered necessary to have a word handy for that thing they kept doing.

It was at this last Defenestration that eyewitnesses maintained that survivors were wafted to safety by angels, but later reports stated that they had landed in a warm dung-heap, breaking their fall. The Emperor later ennobled one of them with the title Baron von Hohenfall (Baron of Highfall).

To be continued…

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