The Presence of the Past: History, Memory, and the Making of St. Jan Hus

Haberkern, Phillip Nelson, Doctor of Philosophy, University of Virginia
Midelfort, H C E, Department of History, University of Virginia

Jan Hus, a popular preacher and reforming priest from Prague, was executed for heresy by the Council of Constance on July 6, 1415. This dissertation examines the commemoration of Hus by both fifteenth-century Bohemian religious dissidents and sixteenth-century German Lutherans in order to see how a heretic could be transformed into a saint through the memorialization and veneration of his followers. This process of transformation, which took place over nearly 150 years, was ultimately an attempt by both groups to create a usable past for themselves – a past in which neither popes nor emperors were the sole determinants of orthodoxy, but where adherence to biblical norms and the willingness to suffer were the true marks of sanctity. The commemoration of Hus took place in a variety of media, and it was the work of many individuals and groups. Thus, this work traces the use of sermons, liturgy, vernacular song, visual artwork, pamphlets, theological tracts, and religious plays to create and celebrate the memory of Jan Hus. The analysis of these sources reveals that the commemoration of Hus changed and developed over time; depending on the specific exigencies that confronted the Bohemian Hussites and German Lutherans, different aspects of Hus‘s teachings and life became more prominent in representations and memorializations of him. Within the variations that existed among the commemorations, one major evolutionary trend persisted. Whereas Hus‘s Bohemian descendants considered him to be a traditional patron saint and holy man who merited liturgical commemoration and the celebration of a feast day in his honor, sixteenth-century Lutherans considered Hus to have been a prophet of their own movement and the first man to have spoken out against the papal Antichrist in Rome. Despite this shift from patron to prophet, Hus maintained a central place in both groups‘ relationship to their past: a past that was constructed, selective, ideologically useful, and intimately connected to the conflicts and interests of the present.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Jan Hus, heretic, saint
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