Carnival is also celebrated in Münster. From a Rhenish perspective, however, it is more of a subdued affair that is celebrated less on the street than at the covered bar. This may have something to do with the fact that the traditional Shrove Monday parade also moves through the Prinzipalmarkt, the city's top address. From there you have a good view of the Lamberti Church and the three cages hanging from its tower. Today they are empty, but in the 16th century the bones of the leaders of a regime that had caused terror as the first "Thousand Year Reich" in Germany rotted there: the "Kingdom of Sion" of the Anabaptists.
It was February 1534 when a certain Jan Mathys moved into the city. It is true that the inhabitants of the episcopal city had become followers of Luther in the previous years. But the age-old traditions of celebrating the beginning of Lent before Easter with all sorts of practical jokes will still have been in the minds of many. But the months that followed would eclipse anything that had been devised to drive away evil spirits. Because fun turned into bloody, deadly seriousness.
He came to town with Jan Mathys. The trained baker from Haarlem in the Netherlands was convinced that God had given him the gift of prophecy. And that made him believe that the end of the world was near. Added to this was a personal charisma that appealed to adherents of the Reformation, such as the Anabaptists, who tended towards mysticism. Since they were increasingly being persecuted in the Netherlands, they found their “New Jerusalem” in Münster.
This was not least due to social reasons. There had been unrest in the wealthy Hanseatic city a few years earlier. The secular craftsmen used violence against the privileged workshops in the numerous monasteries that were under the patronage of the bishop. This drove the Reformation forward. In 1533 the city council was strictly Lutheran, and a treaty with the bishop secured the unstable peace.
He started out as a searching monk and ended up revolutionizing Christianity. With his translation of the Bible and his writings, Martin Luther became a pioneer of modernity.
But the leading reformer in the city, Bernd Rothmann, preached less a Bible-based theology in the spirit of Luther, but swung more and more into the camp of fanatic movements that sought to gain the longingly awaited kingdom of God through spiritual means. This attracted more and more Anabaptists until they finally took power with their prophet Jan Mathys. First, the remaining Catholics were pushed out, and soon the Lutherans, who refused to accept the Baptist regiment, while the urban lower classes – tradespeople, apprentices, day laborers – finally saw the chance to rebel against the rule of the merchants and guilds.
For the bishop, the seizure of power by the radicals was a declaration of war, which he answered with a siege. In the event of a failure, Mathys lost his life. His successor was the trained tailor and bartender Jan Bockelson, named van Leiden after his origins.
Jan van Leiden found the model for his reign in the early Christian community. A Council of Twelve represented the twelve tribes of Israel. The Ten Commandments were raised to the basic law of a theocracy, whose social constitution was the community of goods of all people who expected the imminent beginning of the “Thousand Year Kingdom” of Christ, of which the Revelation of John reports in the run-up to Judgment Day. The bishop's siege troops appeared as heralds. Van Leiden himself rose to become the almighty King John I.
Since then, two consequences of the new order have shaped the memory of this “Thousand Year Reich”. On the one hand, the destruction of all promissory notes, which was interpreted primarily by communist researchers as proof of the social-revolutionary dynamics of the Anabaptist movement. On the other hand, polygamy, which made the "Kingdom of Zion" the antithesis of every moral and civil order.
Van Leiden set a good example by marrying 16 women, including Mathys' widow. This radical break was justified by the Bible saying "be fruitful and multiply" and the excess of women in the city. Of the approximately 11,000 inhabitants, seven to eight thousand are said to have been women.
The school rector Hermann von Kerssenbrock, who experienced the Anabaptist kingdom from his own perspective as a youth and later described it on the basis of a wide range of sources, reports on the consequences: "After the citizens, in whom there was still a glimmer of decency and shame, were oppressed by the superiority of the others , all honesty, chastity, temperance and modesty were abolished.”
Nuns would have used this opportunity to their undoing and lost their virginity, "by allowing the worst gallows ropes, while otherwise closed and carefully guarded by their superiors, lived honorably". "Incurable diseases", apparently venereal diseases, were rampant. Eleven and twelve-year-olds were overwhelmed by men "in their horniness" on the street. Women who refused were locked in a convent. "They indulged in insatiable and unnatural alternation in disorderly sexual intercourse," Kerssenbrock summarized his Philippika. "They demanded that women should be at the mercy of any man who demanded their love, under penalty of execution."
When "some citizens and strangers and lansquenets from other towns wanted to get out of marriage and everyone wanted to have their property back", an uprising broke out, which "King John" and his followers suppressed with extreme brutality. "Anyone who wanted to kill someone could take one and kill him," reports Heinrich Gresbeck, initially a supporter of the Anabaptists, who later offered himself to the bishop as a traitor.
Since the reports were written from the perspective of the victors, they can of course also be malicious topoi to disavow van Leiden and his followers. Nevertheless, details such as the transition from nuns to the Anabaptists or the orgiastic background events of a large celebration of the Lord's Supper on the cathedral square show that "there was actually something like approval," says the Münster medieval scholar Werner Freitag. "The movement is very strongly supported because it also opens up spaces for women - not in the sense of the new forms of marriage, but in the sense of fields of activity, in the sense of participation in this Anabaptist rule."
Apparently they did it pretty wild: frescoes and wall paintings from Pompeii give an impression of the love life of the ancient Romans. The depictions were long considered too drastic and obscene.
Source: The World
It was over on June 24, 1535. After the Anabaptists had finally lived only on grass and rats and their "king" tried to keep up the spirit of resistance with terror alone, deserters opened the gates of the heavily fortified city. Hundreds were massacred or executed. But the leaders were tortured to death with red-hot tongs in January 1536 on the Prinzipalmarkt. Their battered bodies were then displayed in three iron cages on the tower of St. Lambert's, "as a warning and alarm to all restless spirits lest they attempt or dare anything similar in the future".
You can also find "World History" on Facebook. We are happy about a like.
This article was first published in February 2018.