Twenty-Seven Crosses in Old Town Square, Part 2

The battle began with the Catholic forces testing the Protestant flank. In the process, the Bohemian flank began to retreat. Although they did attempt to rally later in the battle, they were no match for Ferdinand’s troops. When all was said and done, the Protestants lost 4,000 men; Ferdinand only lost 700.

Following the devastating defeat, King Frederick and his wife fled the country. Ferdinand and the Jesuits quickly took control of Bohemia, forced peasant and noble alike to convert to Catholicism or leave the country, and confiscated Protestant land holdings. It has been estimated that five-sixths of the Bohemian nobility followed the example of Frederick and went into exile. Forty-seven Protestant nobles were arrested and put on trial. More than half, twenty-seven to be exact, were found guilty and sentenced to death.

On June 21, 1621, carpenters began the grisly work of building a wood platform and gallows in Prague’s Old Town Square. On the opposite side of the platform, an area for loyalist to the emperor was erected so that they could reside over the executions. Soldiers took their positions in the street in case of another uprising.

One by one, the condemned spiritual leaders of Bohemia bravely made their way to the platform and bowed before the block. Most lost their heads; a few went to the gallows. In order to instill fear in their subjects, the Catholic Habsburg rulers displayed the heads of the Protestant leaders on Prague’s Bridge Tower where they remained for decades.  This infamous day became known as the Day of Blood.

day_of_blood__prague__21_june_1621_by_fritzvicari-d61pdc2
Day of Blood by Fritz Vicari

Historians tell us that in the time period these events took place, Bohemia enjoyed an advanced culture. However, with the political and religious subjugation of the Czech people by Ferdinand and the Jesuits, the country fell into a dark age. The population went from four million to less than eight-hundred thousand people. There were executions and imprisonments. Torture and starvation became commonplace. Protestants were stripped of all rights and told they could no longer reside in the country. Schools were closed and the Czech language was replaced with German.

Additionally, the Jesuits, who were now assigned the task of restoring the country to Catholicism, proceeded to destroy the national literature of Bohemia because it had been inspired by the great Christian reformer, John Hus. One Jesuit bragged that he single-handedly burned sixty thousand Bohemian volumes.

Sadly, the Habsburg rulers succeeded in their counter-reformation war on Protestantism in the Czech territories. Their rule lasted for another two centuries, which was followed by two world wars, a Nazi invasion, and a communist occupation.

Today, twenty-seven white crosses mark the area of the executions. A plaque with the names of the executed Protestants hangs on a wall nearby. The heads that once hung on the tower were buried under the floor of the Protestant Týn Church in Old Town Square.

Dressing for a Wedding

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