In 1524 a truly unusual uprising took place in key areas of Germany. The Reformation started by Martin Luther had challenged the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church and caused many to question the existing order. The Reformation was strongly supported by the German princes who were tired of being taxed by the Holy Roman Empire. The peasants who observed this change may have been inspired to make some demands of their own. The causes of the revolt are still hotly debated but it seemed to be a combination of economic factors as well as a desire for religious freedom. The German Peasant Revolt was violently suppressed by the aristocracy. It is said that a 100,000 or more peasants were slaughtered, fighting for a better life. Many have criticized Luther for sitting on the fence on the issue of the revolt. While he criticized the Swabian League for the wholesale killing of peasants, he also condemned the peasants in the harshest possible terms. Luther wrote one article titled Against the Murderous Thieving Hordes of Peasants which hardly indicates a middle course. In seems that Martin Luther cared more about his theological revolution than he did the plight of the peasants who were on the lowest social rung of humanity. He failed to sympathize with their miserable conditions because he felt their only purpose in life was to work. Is this a case where once again the church chose to side with the powerful rather than the weak and disenfranchised? Luther’s revolution benefitted the nobility and also improved his own life by eliminating clerical celibacy but he certainly failed to help the truly downtrodden people of his time.
*Portraits of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach with my additions
The Crusader's Misadventures
The Fourth Crusade was initiated by Pope Innocent III and took place from 1202 to 1204. This crusade went terribly wrong and many feel that it created a permanent stain on the history of Christianity. The original purpose of the crusade was to reclaim Jerusalem from Muslim control. The preacher, Fulk of Neuilly, promoted the campaign and encouraged soldiers and noblemen to enlist in the cause. The state of Venice agreed to build ships and train sailors for a price, however, the funds needed to pay the Venetians fell short. In order to insure the financial success of the campaign, the Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, decided to take a leadership role in the crusade. The crusaders, driven by the need for money to further fund their campaign decided to attack and plunder the Christian city of Zara on the Adriatic coast. Sadly, the residents of Zara hung Christian banners from the walls of the city hoping the crusaders would resist violence because it was a Christian city. The Christian crusaders brutally sacked the city of Zara, committing acts of rape, murder and robbery.
While the crusaders spent the winter in Zara, Boniface of Montferrat conspired with the Byzantine Prince Alexios Angelos, who agreed to pay the crusader’s debt and furnish military aid if they installed him as co-emperor of Constantinople. The crusaders proceeded to the City of Constantinople and after intimidating the city leaders into accepting Alexios, a series of complicated events led to the newly installed co-emperor to be murdered.
Unsure of whether they would receive payment, the crusaders decided to sack the city. The Western clergy reassured the crusaders that their cause was just, even though Constantinople was a Christian city. The crusaders burned large portions of the city, destroyed the library of Constantinople, looted and violated churches and monasteries, and raped, murdered and robbed the general populace.
After this, the crusaders gave up their campaign to re-take Jerusalem and returned home. Pope Innocent III allowed the crusaders back into the church and accepted some of the ill-gotten spoils from the sack of Constantinople. This crusade intensified the schism between the eastern and western churches and resulted in Christians killing Christians and caused the death of thousands of innocent people. It’s hard to understand how the leaders of the crusade could believe their murderous rampage had any Christian justification.
Pope Innocent III: He initiated the idea of the Fourth Crusade and called upon kings and noblemen to enlist in the cause.
Fulk of Neuilly: He was a preacher that passionately took up the cause of the Fourth Crusade and convinced many nobles and others to enlist in the fight.
Boniface of Montferrat: He was a count who became one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade. He entered into negotiations with Alexios Angelos to install him as emperor of Constantinople in exchange for money to fund the crusade. This deal eventually led to the sack of the Christian city of Constantinople by Christian crusaders.
Enrico Dandolo: He was the Doge of Venice and became one of the key leaders of the Fourth Crusade. It was probably his idea to sack the city of Zara and Constantinople in order to get payment for the ships built by Venice.
(Medium: oil on panel)
Heretical History: The Münster Revolt
The Munster revolt was the result of the Anabaptist take-over of the city of Munster, Germany in the early 1530s. Like the German Peasant’s War, it was a unique moment in time doomed to failure. While the punishments decreed by the Catholic Church for heresy are well known, less known, are the atrocities committed by Protestants. The Radical Reformation was brutally suppressed by leaders such as Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Luther and John Calvin who advocated the harshest possible treatment for those that deviated from their views. The Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish in America are all that’s left of the Anabaptists today. The Anabaptists were interesting and quite progressive; they were pacifists who believed in conscious baptism, and embraced a communist –like sharing of goods characteristic of the early Jerusalem Church. When the Anabaptists took over the city of Munster, they expelled the Prince-Bishop Franz von Waldeck. In response to this, Waldeck formed alliances with other princes and with their military help laid siege to the city. When the armies finally penetrated the city gates, they slaughteredthe entire Anabaptist population, and publically tortured the Anabaptist leaders, whose bodies were left to rot in cages hoisted onto the city cathedral.
Shocking stories are often told about several Anabaptist leaders such as Jan of Leiden and Jan Matthys during the year long siege of Munster but it should be remembered that events were probably exaggerated to portray the Anabaptists in the worst possible light. The Anabaptists’ ideas were too radical for the time, although today many consider their beliefs to be valid and even progressive. They were victims of not only Catholic oppression but also Protestant violence.
Jan of Leiden: He was an Anabaptist leader and self-proclaimed king during the siege of Münster.
Divara of Harlem: Jan of Leiden proclaimed her to be the queen of Münster and was one of his 14 wives.
Heinrich Gresbeck: He betrayed the Anabaptists occupying the city of Münster. He let the army of Prince-Bishop Franz von Waldeck sneak through the city gates.
Elisabeth Wandscherer: She was one of Jan of Leiden’s wives and was beheaded for criticizing his leadership.
Bernard Knipperdolling: He was one of the city leaders that converted to the Anabaptist cause.
Hille Feyken: She was an Anabaptist woman who was moved by the biblical story of Judith and decided to try to trick Prince-Bishop Franz von Waldeck and his soldiers into accepting a poisoned garment as a gift. Her plot was discovered and she was torture and executed. Because there is no existing portrait of Hille, I used Caravaggio’s painting of Judith to represent her.
Franz von Waldeck: He was the Catholic Prince-Bishop of Munster. After he was forced to leave the city, he appealed to other nobles in neighboring cities to support him with military assistance. He laid siege to the city of Münster for a year before Heinrich Gresbeck secretly let him through the city gates. Waldeck’s soldiers slaughtered every Anabaptist and publically tortured Jan of Leiden and other Anabaptist leaders.
Huldrych Zwingli: Like Martin Luther, he was a leader in the Protestant Reformation. Despite being a humanist, he mercilessly persecuted the Anabaptists who were part of the Radical Reformation.
(Medium: oil on panel)
Heretical History: The Cathar Massacre
The Massacre of the Cathars was one of the most brutal campaigns to be launched by the Roman Catholic Church in 1209. The Cathars were Gnostic Christians who lived in the south of France. Their beliefs deviated from strict orthodoxy; they had their own gospel and embraced a form of Docetism. They also rejected the trappings of wealth and power characteristic of the Catholic Church. The Gnostics led an ascetic existence, believed in gender equality, and were pacifists. Pope Innocent III called for the Cathars to be eradicated which led to the Albigensian Crusade. The residents of whole cities in southern France were burned en masse as heretics. The number of people killed is estimated at over 20,000. It is said that when soldiers expressed confusion about how to distinguish between Catholics and Cathars, Arnaud Amalric (a Cistercian monk) told them to “kill them all, God will know his own”. Many scholars believe that Augustine (known as a Saint in the Catholic Church) provided the church with the justification for violence because he stated “error has no rights”. It is sad that early Christians, having endured torture and death at the hands of the Romans, adopted the same violent tactics once Christianity became the official religion of Rome.
Pope Innocent III: He called for a crusade against the Cathars because they deviated from orthodox Catholicism. The military action is often called the Albigensian Crusade.
Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse: He was a highly educated and enlightened Nobleman, who tolerated the Cathars in the region that he ruled in southern France. He initially defended the Cathars.
Arnaud Amalric: He was a Cistercian Abbot who brutally persecuted the Cathars. When soldiers asked how they could distinguish between Catholics and Cathars he is reputed to have said “kill them all, god will know his own”.
Simon de Montfort: He was a military leader and veteran of several crusades. He was merciless in his attacks on the Cathars and he stood to gain lands in southern France as a reward for his efforts.
(Medium: oil on panel)
Scientists and Heretics: A Memorial
This painting depicts individuals who endured religious persecution for their scientific discoveries or unorthodox religious views.
Galileo Galilei: He was condemned by the Roman Inquisition and placed under house arrest for life due to his promotion of a heliocentric view of the solar system.
Michael Servetus: He was burned at the stake for believing in unorthodox views of the Trinity (most likely a form of Arianism). John Calvin condemned Servetus most severely, it is said that he called for measures that would prolong the suffering of Servetus.
Giordano Bruno: Often called a martyr for science, he was condemned by the Roman Inquisition and burned at the stake for his unorthodox theological views and his scientific theories.
Maria Barbara Carillo: As a Jewess forced to convert to Christianity; she was condemned by the Spanish Inquisition for secretly practicing her Jewish faith. She was burned at the stake at 95 years of age.
Isaac Newton: He was forced to keep his Arian views and his homosexuality a secret his entire life.
Guillaume Belibaste: He was the last Cathar “Parfait” in southern France. He was burned at the stake for his Gnostic Christian beliefs.
Hypatia of Alexandria: She was a scientist and philosopher in ancient Alexandria who was murdered by a Christian mob.
Marguerite Porete: She was a Christian author and mystic who was associated with the Free Spirit Movement of the 13th and 14th centuries. She wrote the book The Mirror of Simple Souls that was condemned as heretical and she was burned at the stake.
“The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next” - Helen Keller
The series of paintings titled Anti-Icons explore the conflicts between science and religion as well as historic controversies over heresy and orthodoxy. While persecution is part of the origin story of Christianity, it is also true that Christians persecuted those outside their religion and individuals who held unorthodox views. Heretics are of particular interest because they are history’s losers; they often held highly original insights that were crushed by the majority view on various religious councils.
Using the tondo format, I revision sacred geometry from rose windows, mandalas, and sun stones to create memorials for individuals and groups that were victimized for holding unorthodox views. I also appropriate images and portraits from various time periods to give the work a sense of historicity.
By drawing attention to negative church practices of the past, I hope to inform the viewer and show the need for critical thinking in the realm of religion. We need to maintain a healthy skepticism of religion because it’s conclusions are so often based on authority, irrational beliefs, and at times, socially regressive scripture. In this way, my work is part history lesson, part critique and part memorial.