In this biweekly feature, we seek to encourage the local church by remembering the times when things were much, much worse.
“Defenestration” seems like an oddly specific word, one with no real reason for existing. How often, we might wonder, does the ejection of someone or something through a window come up, and why would you need a word to talk about it?
If you’re from Prague, though, you know the answer is “more often than you’d expect.”
Prague, in fact, has actually seen not just one, but multiple defenestrations, to the point that historians actually talk with gravitas about the First Defenestration of Prague (1419) and the Second Defenestration of Prague (1618). And even that doesn’t include at least two other famous-but-as-yet-officially-unnumbered Prague defenestrations, which occurred in 1483 and 1948, respectively. It’s almost like no one in Prague knows about window screens or something.
The Second Defenestration, which we’re chiefly concerned with here, was the only one with obvious religious roots—specifically, a complex web of religion, politics, and the hard-to-answer question of who was persecuting whom. The short version is that some of the Protestant subjects of the Holy Roman Empire threw a handful of Catholic regents out a third-story window, because that’s kind of how Catholics and Protestants got along at the time. The more complicated version goes something like this:
Following the Protestant Reformation, which was famously tipped off in Wittenberg in 1517, the Holy Roman Empire was thrown into turmoil and carved up into warring factions of Protestants and Catholics. To avoid a complete breakup of the empire, the various groups reached a compromise called the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which allowed the various territorial kings to determine the religion of their respective subjects—because what else were they going to do? Choose their own religion? That’s crazy talk.
This compromise held true almost everywhere in the empire—everywhere, that is, except in the province of Bohemia, because they felt the need to be different (or “bohemian,” if you will). The king there was Catholic, but he allowed for broad toleration of Protestants, permitting them to continue to worship and even build their churches on public land.
This arrangement held true . . . until it didn’t. After the throne changed hands a couple times, the fate of Bohemian Protestants was thrown into turmoil. In response, some representatives of the Protestant population met with some of the Catholic regents, and they were all like, “Y’all are still gonna let us keep building our churches on royal land, right?” And the regents were all like, “Yeah, haha, nah.”
And so the Protestants reacted how any one of us would have: they threw the Catholics out the window. I mean, obviously.
Despite the three-story drop, all three of them managed to survive—though how they did is lost to the mists of time. According to the Catholic propaganda of the day, they were borne safely to the ground by angels; according to the equivalent Protestant propaganda, they landed in a pile of manure. (Maybe we should split the difference and say they landed in angel manure?) Regardless, no one was hurt—so, no harm, no foul, right?
Oh—except the incident tipped off the continent-wide Thirty Years’ War . . . which, y’know, turned into a whole other thing.