April 15, 1415: Jerome of Prague, a friend of Bohemian reformer Jan Hus, is seized by church authorities meeting at the Council of Constance. Under duress, Jerome recanted his Wycliffe-influenced beliefs and accepted the authority of the pope. However, when a crowd was assembled to hear him repeat the recantation, he changed his speech and eloquently defended both Wycliffe's teachings and the recently executed Hus. Jerome was subsequently burned at the stake (see issue 68: Jan Hus).
April 15, 1452: Italian painter and scholar Leonardo da Vinci is born in Florence, Italy. Among his most famous religious works are the Virgin of the Rocks, The Last Supper, and St. John the Baptist.
April 15, 1638: The castle of Hara, located on the Shimabara Peninsula, Japan, falls to Tokugawa Shogunate forces. Catholic leader Amakusa Shiro Tokisada defended the fortress with 27,000 Christians, over 14,000 of them combatants. They fought valiantly to the end—even the women and children. After the battle, all of the survivors were subsequently beheaded, save one Judas (Yamada) who had plotted to open the castle gate to the enemy.
April 15, 1729: Johann Bach conducts the first and only performance of St. Matthew Passion during his lifetime at a Good FriDay Vespers service in Leipzig, Germany. The choral work has been called "the supreme cultural achievement of all Western civilization," and even the radical skeptic Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) admitted upon hearing it, "One who has completely forgotten Christianity truly hears it here as gospel.
April 15, 1889: Belgian Roman Catholic priest Joseph Damien, a missionary to lepers on Molokai, Hawaii, dies from the disease.
April 15, 1892: Dutch devotional writer Corrie ten Boom, known for hiding Jewish refugees in her home during World War II (an act dramatized in the 1971 film The Hiding Place) is born. She also died on this date in 1983.
April 20, 1139: The Second Lateran Council, led by Pope Innocent II and attended by 1,000 church leaders, opens in Rome. The council focused on reforming the church in the wake of the East-West schism (1054) and preserving the temporal possessions of the clergy.
April 20, 1233 (some say 1232): Pope Gregory IX appoints full-time papal inquisitors and gives the Dominican order authority to carry out the Inquisition. For their vigilant and persistant work, the order won the moniker "Domini canes" or ...