Hans Bohm

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A woodcut, dated 1493, from the Nuremberg Chronicle, which shows Böhm preaching.

Hans Böhm,[1] often known as the Drummer of Niklashausen (died 1476), was born in the small village of Helmstadt in the south-central region of Germany known as Franconia was a religious revolutionary. The year of Böhm's birth is unknown; peasants made little impact in the written historical record. Böhm's inconspicuous existence changed abruptly.

Profile[edit]

Böhm lived in the German town of Niklashausen (present-day Baden-Württemberg), where he made his living as a shepherd and street entertainer. One night in 1476, he had a vision of the Virgin Mary. Böhm's conversations with one of the most powerful and beloved saints inspired him to burn his drum in a medieval ritual known as the Bonfire of the Vanities. The ritual served as a public demonstration in which people threw their possessions or vanities into a communal bonfire to signify their dependency on God and adherence to the cult of poverty. More importantly, the Virgin's message was one of social equality.

Böhm was to preach on the sins of the clergy. Peasants and pilgrims should not pay rents to them. Böhm would eventually call for their deaths. Böhm was to also promote the abolition of forced labor, tolls, levies and other payments to the nobles. The woods and waters of the earth were to be held in common for the use of people rather than just the rich. Böhm's sermons calling for a leveling of society were radical in a hierarchical society. The power brokers of the time, the clergy and nobles, deemed such ideas dangerous. Thus, when in short order tens of thousands of peasants from all over Germany converged on Niklashausen to hear the "Drummer Boy"'s speeches, the authorities sensed a real and imminent threat. The resulting peasant revolt began in early May 1476 and culminated with the heresy trial and execution of Böhm on July 19, 1476.

Historical commentary[edit]

Böhm's story represents the dissatisfaction and resentment of peasants for their physical conditions, and demonstrates the only avenue through which they could voice their frustrations: through restructuring religious or spiritual paradigms. Historian Richard Wunderli in his book Peasant Fires provides a detailed study of Böhm and the Nilkashausen peasant revolt of 1476 and the abstruse peasant mentality.

What little is known about Böhm is obtained from the surviving historical documents written by his enemies, namely the clergy and nobles, such as Count Johann of Wertheim, Archbishop Dieter von Isenberg of Mainz, and Bishop Rudolf von Scherenberg of Würzburg. The story was chronicled in 1514 by Johannes Trithemius.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Variously spelled as Bohm, Behem, Böheim, Böham

Sources[edit]

  • The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. II: Basilica - Chambers.
  • Hans Böhm und die Wallfahrt nach Niklashausen im Jahre 1476, C. A. Barack, Würzburg, 1858;
  • Reformers before the Reformation, i, 377–392. C. Ullmann, Edinburgh, 1877
  • Politische und religiöse Volksbewegungen vor der Reformation, pp. 10 sqq., E. Gothein, Breslau, 1878
  • Die religiösen Sekten in Franken vor der Reformation, pp. 57 sqq., H. Haupt, Würzburg, 1882.
  • Peasant Fires: The Drummer of Niklashausen, Richard Wunderli, Indiana University Press