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loose canons
There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

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12: The Monster of Münster
HE ANABAPTISTS: quaint pacifists with a hang up about buttons who invented voluntary religion. If that (or anything else) is what you thought, meet Jan Van Leyden, the man who made "Anabaptist" the scariest word in Europe.

When Jan turned up in Münster, Germany, in 1534, they'd already made a good start without him: an armed uprising, taking over the council, flooding the city with Anabaptist immigrants, and proclaiming that the world would be over by Easter, leaving Münster as the New Jerusalem.

Now, with his help, they made believer's baptism compulsory, abolished private property, introduced the death penalty for dissent and found themselves beseiged by the local bishop's army.

When Easter came, the head Anabaptist stepped out in faith against the Catholic army and got hacked to pieces. Jan saw his chance and took over. His first act as leader was to run naked and jabbering through the streets before collapsing into a three-day charismatic coma. He returned to the earthly realm with a new constitution that made him sole ruler of Münster.

All books but the Bible were burnt: the word of God would be their only law. First of all this meant imposing a strict moral code, with the death penalty for adultery.

Then, what with fighting the Catholics and killing fornicators, it turned out they had more than three time as many men as women, so, again on Old Testament principles, they reintroduced polygamy. Jan himself, to give the lead as befits a man of God, got himself fifteen teenage wives within six months.

And as there's no marriage ceremony in the Bible, all you had to do was move the lass into your spare room.

A surprising lack of domestic harmony followed this programme. So Jan looked in the Bible again, found that Moses allowed divorce and said, "If you don't like your missus, send her away". Simple as that.

So no wedding, no divorce, just as many women as your man wants for as long as he wants. From Puritan regime to free love commune in a matter of months, and every step of the way was in the Bible. They also found they had to extend the death penalty for those women godless enough to turn down the first offer of holy matrimony they received. So not entirely free love, maybe.

Next, God told one of Jan's followers that Jan was to be crowned King of the World.

"But I'm not worthy!" cried Jan, when it was publicly announced.

"No, you're not," agreed several of the audience. He had them killed.

In his new capacity, he renamed the days of the week and all the streets and children of Münster.

All servants of the Lord have their bad days, though. Jan's worst came when he woke to find a traitor had let the bishop in. The Anabaptist kingdom of Münster was destroyed and Jan himself, in the Loose Canons house style, was tortured to death with hot irons.

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St Simeon
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