John of Nicklaushausen

John Of Nicklaushausen, a German religious fanatic, flourished, in the second half of the 15th century, at Nicklaushausen, in the diocese of Wurzburg. He was earning his livelihood as a swineherd when it suddenly occurred to him that an attack upon the clergy, and a summons to them to reform their profligate ways, might meet with applause from the people, to whom at this time "the clergy, as a body, had become a stench in their nostrils." He was not slow openly and loudly to proclaim his mission (in 1476), to which he claimed he had been inspired by the Virgin Mary, and soon immense flocks gathered about him, who came from the Rhine lands to Misnia, and from Saxony to Bavaria, so that at times he preached to a congregation of 20,000 or 30,000 men. "His doctrines," says Lea (Hist. Celibacy, p. 397), "were revolutionary, for he denounced oppression both secular and clerical; but he was particularly severe upon the vices of the ecclesiastical body. A special revelation of the Virgin had informed him that God could no longer endure them, and that the world could not, without a speedy reformation, be saved from the divine wrath consequent upon them" (comp. Trithemius, Chronicles Hirsang. ann. 1476). The unfortunate man, who was a fit precursor of Müncer and John of Leyden, was seized by the bishop of Wurzburg, the fanatical zeal of his unarmed followers easily subdued, and he himself suffered, for his rashness, death at the stake a few days after his trial. (J.H.W.)

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