John of Capistrano in Wrocław

more than a year ago

Sent to Bohemia as a ‘Master Inquisitor’ to eradicate heresy, the famous Franciscan priest John of Capistrano (1386-1456) was invited to Vretslav (as Wrocław was then known) where he enjoyed an enthusiastic reception upon arrival in early 1453 at the age of 67. Ascertaining the ostentatious wealth of Vretslav’s burghers, the ghoulish Capistrano began a series of sermons in St. Elizabeth’s Church decrying the extravagance of wealth and condemning its display. According to city records, so compelling was his oratory that the church could not contain the crowds he drew and he took to preaching from the window of his lodgings at Plac Solny 2 overlooking the square below where his followers piled whatever fine items they had and burned them. Condemning excessive dress, drinking and eating as vice, Capistrano convinced his congregation to add playing cards, dice, board games and other items to the daily bonfires. Soon exhausting the topic, Capistrano turned to his three favourite objects of derision: Hussites, Turks and Jews. Finding none of the former two in Vretslav, it was the Jews that received his most spirited slandering. A rumour of Jewish desecration of the eucharist soon circulated and city authorities used it as a pretence to arrest the city’s Jews and confiscate their property. Capistrano himself oversaw the interrogations during which they were tortured until a satisfactory confession could be extracted, and then condemned to death. The first fourteen victims were tied to wooden boards on the market square, where their flesh was removed with hot tongs before they were quartered alive. According to city records, the rest of the condemned were given the opportunity to convert to Christianity or die. Some, including the Rabbi, instead chose suicide. However 41 others were burned at the stake on Plac Solny on July 4th, 1453. His work accomplished Capistrano took his services elsewhere and was soon sent by the Pope to lead a crusade against the Ottomans at the age of 70. Earning the nickname ‘the Soldier Saint’, Capistrano shortly contracted bubonic plague and died, after which a long line of miracles were accredited to him. He was canonised in 1690 as the patron saint of jurists.


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