Friday, May. 20, 2011

The Anabaptists of Munster

In the tumultuous years that followed the Protestant Reformation, myriad radical sects emerged, preaching an apocalyptic, millenarianist creed that perturbed even theological dissidents like Martin Luther. The Anabaptists derived their name from the Latin for "one who baptizes over again" and rejected most forms of political organization and social hierarchy in favor of an idealized theocratic commonwealth. In the 1530s, riding on a crest of peasant revolts, a clutch of Anabaptists assumed control of the German town of Munster and hailed it as a New Jerusalem awaiting the return of Christ.

But the situation in Munster was far from the ideal Christian commonwealth. Jan Bockelson, a tailor from the Dutch city of Leiden, declared himself the "Messiah of the last days," took multiple wives, issued coins that prophesied the coming apocalypse and in general made life hell for everyone in the city (except for a few fellow proselytizers who lived lavishly — and, according to some accounts, in a great state of debauch). The Anabaptists' hold over Munster ended in a bloody siege in 1535. Bockelson's genitals reportedly were nailed to the city's gates.