Located in the main square of Prague, beneath the tower of the old town hall, is a huge monument. I had no idea who the man in the monument was or why he was honoured in this way until I visited the town of Tabor, 90 kms south of the Czech capital.
In 1402, Jan Hus was appointed rector of Charles University in Prague. A Roman Catholic who was influenced by the teachings of Oxfordshire priest John Wycliffe, he began giving popular sermons that called for the reform of the Catholic Church. He was angered by the power and prosperity that they held and the selling of religious items to fund the papal wars. In 1411 he was excommunicated and fled south to preach to the peasants of southern Bohemia. However, the Catholic Church grew unhappy with his defiance and ordered him to Constance where he was burned at the stake on 6th July 1415.
His followers continued their beliefs and the town of Tabor became a centre for their ideology. I learn more about the Hussites and their fight against the Catholic Church in the Hussite Museum, located in the old town hall in the centre of the fortified town. There are a lot of interesting displays and complex models of battles fought. There are also a series of cartoons to appeal to younger visitors and I am aided by an audioguide which translates all of the exhibition panels and is included in the entrance fee.
It’s hard to visit the museum or walk around the town without bumping into Jan Zizka, a Hussite and influential military captain who declared himself ‘the Warrior of God’ and led many successful attacks on the troops of Catholic King Sigismund of Bohemia in the early 15th century. He is often depicted riding a horse with a patch over one eye where he lost his sight during a battle and for the last three years of his life he was actually blind. He may have lost his vision but he is well known for never having lost a battle.
The Hussites proved to be a formidable force and succeeded in defeating the Catholics in many battles resulting in a change to the laws giving them more religious freedom. During the 30 Years War, at the battle of White Mountain in 1620, the Czech and Hungarian allied armies retreated and catholic forces executed 27 protestant nobles, displaying their heads along the Charles Bridge in Prague. The resulting 1648 Peace of Westphalia meant that most Bohemian properties were given to catholic families from Austria, Spain, France and Italy and all forms of Protestantism were outlawed. Despite this, opposition to the Catholic Church continued and even today only 10% of Czechs are Roman Catholic.