John Huss languished in prison contending with fetters, fetid air, and sickness, for about two months.
On 6th of July, 1415 the hall of the Council saw the emperor, the princes, the deputies of the sovereigns, the patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, and priests and a vast concourse which the spectacle that day was to witness brought together. The Archbishop of Riga came to the prison to bring Huss to the Council. Mass was being celebrated as they arrived at the church door, and Huss was made to stay outside till it was finished, lest the mystery be profaned by a heretic, nay leader of heretics.
Huss was lead to a seat on a raised platform in view of the whole assembly. On sitting he engaged in earnest but silent prayer. Near him rose a pile of clerical vestments, in readiness for the ceremonies that were to precede the final tragedy. The sermon, usual on such occasions, was preached by the Bishop of Lodi. He chose as his text the words, "That the body of sin might be destroyed". He enlarged on the schism as the source of the heresies and then turned to the matter of Huss declaring, "Destroy heresies and errors, but chiefly that OBSTINATE HERETIC". His direct appeal to Sigismund was barely cloaked with his rhetoric.
The sermon ended, the accusations against Huss were again read, as also the depositions of the witnesses; and then Huss gave his final refusal to abjure. This he accompanied with a brief recapitulation of his proceedings since the commencement of this matter, ending by saying that he had come to this Council of his own free will, "confiding in the safe-conduct of the emperor here present". As he uttered these last words, he looked full at Sigismund, on whose brow the crimson of a deep blush was seen by the whole assembly, whose gaze was at the instant turned towards his majesty.
Sentence of condemnation as a heretic was now passed on Huss. There followed the ceremony of degradation. One after another the priestly vestments, brought thither for that end, were produced and put upon him, and now the prisoner stood full in the gaze of the Council dressed as a priest. They next put into his hand the chalice, as if he were about to celebrate mass. They asked him if now he were willing to abjure. "With what face should I behold the heavens? How should I look on those multitudes of men to whom I have preached the pure Gospel? No; I esteem their salvation more than this poor body, now appointed unto death" was his reply.
Then they took from him the chalice crying, "O accursed Judas, who, having abandoned the counsels of peace, have taken part in that of the Jews, we take from you this cup filled with the blood of Jesus Christ". Huss replied, I hope, by the mercy of God that this very day I shall drink of his cup in his own kingdom; and in one hundred years you shall answer before God and before me". The seven bishops selected for the purpose now came round him, and proceeded to remove the sacerdotal garments - the alb, the stole, and other pieces of attire - in which in mockery they had arrayed him. And as each bishop performed his office, he bestowed his curse upon the martyr. Nothing now remained but to erase the marks of the tonsure.
On this there arose a great dispute among the prelates whether they should use a razor or scissors. "See", said Huss, turning to the emperor, "they cannot agree among themselves how to insult me". They resolved to use the scissors, which were instantly brought, and his hair was cut cross-wise to obliterate the mark of the crown. According to the canon law, the priest so dealt with becomes again a layman, and although the operation does not remove the character, which is indelible, it yet renders him for ever incapable of exercising the functions of the priesthood.
There remained one other mark of ignominy. They put on his head a cap or pyramidal-shaped mitre of paper, on which were painted frightful figures of demons, with the word Arch-Heretic conspicuous in front. Unbowed Huss countered "Most joyfully will I wear this crown of shame for thy sake, O Jesus, who for me didst wear a crown of thorns". The priests then cursed him declaring "Now, we devote thy soul to the devil". Huss looked up to heaven "Now do I commit my spirit into thy hands, O Lord Jesus, for thou hast redeemed me". The priests then consigned him to hell. "This man John Huss, who has no more any office or part in the Church of God, we leave with thee, delivering him up to the civil judgment and power". Swiftly the Emperor promptly passed him over to The Duke of Bavaria who in turn abandoned him equally rapidly to the chief magistrate of Constance and the hands of his officers.
The procession was now formed. The martyr walked between four town sergeants. The princes and deputies, escorted by eight hundred men-at-arms, followed. In the cavalcade, mounted on horseback, were many bishops and priests delicately clad in robes of silk and velvet. The population of Constance followed in mass to see the end.
As Huss passed the episcopal palace he saw his books burning in a huge fire. The procession crossed the bridge and halted in a meadow, between the gardens of the city and the gate of Gottlieben. Here the execution was to take place. Being come to the burning place Huss kneeled reciting penitential psalms. He was overheard offering up short and fervent supplications such as "Lord Jesus, into thy hands I commend my spirit". Bystanders declared, "What his life has been we know not, but verily he prays after a devout and godly fashion". Turning his gaze upward in prayer, the paper crown fell off. One of the soldiers rushed forward and replaced it, declaring insistently "he must be burned with the devils whom he had served".
Huss was roped to the firmly driven stake with ropes and made fast to the beam by a chain that passed round his neck. Huss then repeated his prophetic words You may silence this goose, but a hundred years hence there will arise a swan whose singing you shall not be able to silence".
He stood with his feet on the faggots, which were mixed with straw that they might the more readily ignite. Wood was piled all round him up to the chin. Before applying the torch, Louis of Bavaria and the Marshal of the Empire approached, and for the last time implored him to have a care for his life, and renounce his errors. "What errors shall I renounce? I know myself guilty of none. I call God to witness that all that I have written and preached has been with the view of rescuing souls from sin and perdition; and, therefore, most joyfully will I confirm with my blood that truth which I have written and preached". The dignitaries rapidly withdrew. John Huss had now done talking with men.
Foxe recounts how as the flames leapt up Huss began to sing, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me". Providentially the wind blew and he soon choked into silence. Poggius , the Council's secretary and Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomoni, later pope Pius II , both prominent Romanists give an enduring testimony of the brave witness of both Huss and Later Jerome of Prague. Piccolomoni records in his Historia Bohemica "Both bore themselves with constant mind when their last hour approached. They prepared for the fire as if they were going to a marriage feast. They uttered no cry of pain. When the flames rose they began to sing hymns; and scarce could the vehemency of the fire stop their singing.
Huss had given up the ghost. When the flames had subsided, it was found that only the lower parts of his body were consumed, and that the upper parts, held fast by the chain, hung suspended on the stake. The executioners kindled the fire anew, in order to consume what remained of the martyr. When the flames had a second time subsided, the heart was found still entire amid the ashes. A third time had the fire to be kindled. At last all was burned. The ashes were carefully collected, the very soil was dug up, and all was carted away and thrown into the Rhine; so anxious were his persecutors that not the slightest vestige of John Huss - not even a thread of his raiment, for that too was burned along with his body - should be left upon the earth.
When the martyr bowed his head at the stake it was the infallible Council that was vanquished. It was with Huss that the victory remained; and what a victory! From the moment he expired amid the flames, his name became a power, which will continue to speed on the great cause of truth and light, till the last shackle shall be rent from the intellect, and the conscience emancipated from every usurpation, shall be free to obey the authority of its rightful Lord. What a surprise to his and the Gospel's enemies! "Huss is dead," say they, as they retire from the meadowland pyre. But Huss, like Wickliffe lives. The nations are being stirred; Bohemia is awakening. A hundred years, and Germany and all Christendom will shake off their slumber; and then will come the great reckoning which the martyr's prophetic spirit foretold, "In the course of a hundred years you will answer to God and to me".
Taken from Wylie's History of Protestantism, and edited by Dr Clive Gillis