Why 3 Man-Sized Cages Hang From a Medieval German Church Steeple

The Catholic Church ruled both the spiritual and physical lives of Europeans during the period of the Holy Roman Empire. Then Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation, leading to formation of the Lutheran Church. Other breakaway groups founded other denominations with theologies that wandered further from Catholic doctrine. In some places, that led to war, because one's salvation was not to be trusted to free will, and neither was political power. In the city of Münster, a gruesome artifact reminds citizens of those dark days.

Visitors to St. Lambert’s church in Münster, Germany may notice something odd about the building’s facade. Three gleaming iron cages, 7 feet tall and a yard wide and deep, hang empty from the church spire. Once home to the mutilated bodies of three revolutionaries who shaped one of the strangest chapters in the Protestant Reformation, the cages have hung there for nearly 500 years. They remain on the spire as a testament to their former occupants’ experiment in religious utopia—and the tremors they sent through German religious and political life for years after their occupants' deaths.

The citizens of Münster held relatively liberal religious views in 1530. To the local bishop, their tolerance of Protestants was radical and even heretical and, worst of all, threatened his power. The Lutherans moved in, and then the Anabaptists, and neither takeover was peaceful. Over the next six years, the city was a battleground between the sects. The war took odd turns with forced baptisms, polygamy, famine, torture, prophesy, and violent battles. Read an account of the bizarre war in Münster that ended with the public cages that still hang there, at Mental Floss.

(Image credit: Flixckr user ptwo)


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