Colorful buildings line the central street of Husinec, the town where Czech reformer Jan Hus was born. (The Yomiuri Shimbun/June 19, 2013)
Colorful buildings line the central street of Husinec, the town where Czech reformer Jan Hus was born. (The Yomiuri Shimbun/June 19, 2013)

Born to a poor farming family in Husinec in what is now the southern Czech Republic almost 650 years ago, Jan Hus remains a revered figure among his countrymen.

The Jan Hus Museum sits at the end of the town's central street, which is lined with attractive buildings. Locals say the museum stands on the site where the house Hus was born in once stood.

"His strength of will in sticking to what he believed was right impresses us," said museum curator Jana Maunova, 30, while standing before a panel depicting Hus being burned at the stake for heresy.

The portraits and statues at the museum show Hus with different visages. Some depict a round face, while others show him with a long visage.

"When the Czech [region] was ruled by the Hapsburg family of Austria, all pictures and books related to Hus were burned. Nobody knows what he really looked like," Maunova said.

Hus grew up in Husinec, which sat on a salt trade route. Locals said he left to study theology at Charles University in Prague because he yearned for the quiet life of a priest.

It is doubtful if he had any idea of the stormy life that awaited him.

Hus became a professor and then rector of Charles University. During this period, he began to sympathize with British preacher John Wycliffe's critiques of the Roman Catholic Church, and he hoped to reform the church.

Hus harshly criticized the church's practice of selling pardons and trading benefices.


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The church did not respond favorably to Hus' criticisms. The pope excommunicated him and he was put on trial for heresy in Konstanz, Germany.

Hus refused to recant his views and was burned at the stake in 1415. His last words are said to have been, "Truth prevails."

In his sermons at a chapel in Prague, Hus used simple language, which won him the support of the common people, as well as many aristocrats.

After his execution, Hus' followers launched a rebellion that lasted about 20 years, and became known as the Hussite Wars. The pope organized a number of crusades to subjugate the Hussites, but the church's forces were defeated every time.

This period is remembered by the Czech people as a glorious period in their history, when they defeated foreign interlopers.

However, when the Hapsburg family gained power over the region in the 17th century, Hussites were persecuted and people were forced to strictly obey the Roman Catholic Church. Hus and his reforms were largely forgotten.

But when nationalist movements gained steam in the 19th century, Hus was resurrected as a symbol of resistance against foreign rule. At the beginning of the 20th century, Tomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, made "Truth prevails" the national slogan.

A bronze statue of Jan Hus in central Husinec; Hus pushed for reforms in the Catholic Church and was burned at the stake about 100 years before Martin
A bronze statue of Jan Hus in central Husinec; Hus pushed for reforms in the Catholic Church and was burned at the stake about 100 years before Martin Luther triggered church reform from Germany. (The Yomiuri Shimbun/June 19, 2013)

Husinec Mayor Ludvik Friedberger, 62, said, "Hus would likely have had complex feelings about the communist governments."

A large bronze statue of Hus stands in the center of the town. It was erected by the communist government during the Cold War. "The Communist Party called Hus a revolutionary who fought against the church's power and promoted him as a comrade," Friedberger said.

More than 20 years have passed since the communist regime fell to a democratic revolution.

"I'm happy that Hus was from our hometown," said Blanca Chermakova, 34, who runs a pet food shop near where the statue stands.

Hus, who left Husinec seeking a quiet life, seems to have finally found a place to rest.