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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Iconoclasts
By Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805)
 
From the ‘History of the Revolt of the United Netherlands’: date 1556: Translation of Edward Payson Evans

THE COMMENCEMENT of the attack on images took place in West Flanders and Artois, in the district between Lys and the sea. A frantic band of artisans, boatmen, and peasants, mixed with public prostitutes, beggars, and thievish vagabonds, about three hundred in number, provided with clubs, axes, hammers, ladders, and cords, only few among them furnished with firearms and daggers, cast themselves, inspired with fanatical fury, into the villages and hamlets near St. Omer; burst the gates of such churches and cloisters as they find locked, overthrow the altars, dash to pieces the images of the saints and trample them under foot. Still more inflamed by this execrable deed, and reinforced by fresh accessions, they press forward straightway to Ypres, where they can count on a strong following of Calvinists. Unopposed they break into the cathedral; the walls are mounted with ladders, the pictures are beaten into fragments with hammers, the pulpits and pews hewn to pieces with axes, the altars stripped of their ornaments, and the sacred vessels stolen. This example is immediately followed in Menin, Commines, Verrich, Lille, and Oudenarde; the same fury in a few days seizes the whole of Flanders. At the very time when the first tidings of these events arrived, Antwerp was swarming with a crowd of homeless people, which the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin had brought together in that city. The presence of the Prince of Orange can scarcely keep within bounds the licentious band, who burn to imitate their brothers in St. Omer; but an order of the court which summons him in haste to Brussels, where the regentess is just convening her council of State in order to lay before them the royal letters, obliges him to abandon Antwerp to the wantonness of this band. His departure is the signal for tumult. From fear of the lawless violence of the mob, which manifested itself in derisive allusions in the very first days of the festival, the image of the Virgin, after having been carried about for a short time, was brought for safety to the choir, without being set up as formerly in the middle of the church. This incited some impudent boys of the common people to pay it a visit there, and scoffingly to inquire why it had recently absented itself in such haste? Others mounted the pulpit, where they mimicked the preacher and challenged the papists to contest. A Catholic boatman, who was indignant at this jest, wished to pull them down from thence; and it came to blows in the preacher’s seat. Similar scenes occurred the following evening. The numbers increased, and many came provided with suspicious implements and secret weapons. Finally it occurred to one of them to cry “Long live the Geuses!” Immediately the whole rabble took up the cry, and the Virgin was called upon to do the same. The few Catholics who were there, and who had given up the hope of effecting anything against these desperadoes, left the church after they had locked all the doors except one. As soon as they found themselves alone, it was proposed to sing one of the psalms according to the new melody, which was forbidden by the government. While they were yet singing, they all cast themselves with fury upon the image of the Virgin, piercing it through with swords and daggers, and striking off its head; prostitutes and thieves snatched the great wax-lights from the altars and lighted them to the work. The beautiful organ of the church—a masterpiece of the art of that period—was broken in fragments; the paintings were defaced and the statues dashed to pieces. A crucified Christ of life size, which was set up between the two thieves opposite the high altar,—an old and highly prized work,—was pulled to the ground with cords and cut to pieces with axes, while the two murderers at its side were respectfully spared. The holy wafers were strewed on the ground and trampled under foot; in the wine for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which was accidentally found there, the health of the Geuses was drunk; with the holy oil they greased their shoes. Graves even were rummaged, and the half-decayed corpses taken out and trampled under foot. All this was done with as wonderful regularity as if the parts had been assigned to each one beforehand; every one worked into his neighbor’s hands. Dangerous as this business was, no one met with any injury, notwithstanding the dense darkness, notwithstanding the heavy objects which fell around and near them, while many were scuffling on the highest steps of the ladders. Notwithstanding the many tapers which lighted them in their villainous doings, not a single individual was recognized. With incredible rapidity the deed was accomplished; in a few hours a hundred men, at most, despoiled a temple of seventy altars, and next to St. Peter’s in Rome perhaps the largest and most magnificent in Christendom.  1
 
 
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