(an excerpt from Killing the Bible)
“This morning was little different than any other in the small, English village during the last day of the year. Foggy. Damp and chilling. However, over in the churchyard cemetery, there was furious digging, as though time would run out. The old, groaning year was AD 1428 and Pope Martin would finally have revenge on this heretic English man who had started such a heinous and damaging revolution. The pope’s emissaries were standing by the six-foot-deep hole in their black robes and hoods, and there was a white-hot fire already burning just a few feet away between the graveyard and the river. The diggers were poor Englishmen, just making a living. The hooded monks encouraged them with threats: “Hurry, Hurry, you fools.” They were not of hardy British stock, and the weather caused their bodies to shiver as they peered into the black hole. Thunk, thunk, the shovels hit the wooden top of the coffin. There were smiles all around. “Quickly now,” the holiest hood commanded. Soon, the simple oak casket was hauled onto the ground and the top pried off. The diggers were ordered to lift the remains out of the cold boards and throw them into a plain, burlap bag.
The fire was stoked so as to be the highest temperature. It was throwing off sparks, and the rising flames lit up the morning sky as the group neared with the bag. “Farlo!” (Do it!), again came a command; this time the holy hood was in such a hurry that he lost himself and spoke in the language of the papists. And with that, the bag was hurled into the middle of the flame to be consumed within minutes. It burned and smoked as it was stirred from a distance, with a ten-foot pole, as was customary. No “holy one” would dare take a chance at touching the heretic’s bones.
With the sunrise, spectators came to the scene of the papal work group. As the morning star was gone and the running of the river began to glisten under the first rays of daylight, more parishioners arrived to see what had been advertised as final justice and a lesson to those who would rebel against His Holiness. As the crowd slowly reached several dozen and the fire died down, the friar of the parish was ordered to take a shovel and scoop up all the ashes into a large copper pot. The fire was out but it still looked alive as the ash particles, lighter than air now, smoked out of the cauldron.
The holy hood spoke again, this time in more of a monotone, as the pot was carried via other ten-foot poles through its handle rings and held, quivering, over the river’s edge. “His Holiness, Martin the Fifth, decrees and ordains that from henceforth the name of this heretic shall never be spoken except to learn from his heretical deeds, which are never to be repeated.”
Without further delay, the pot was tipped and the ashes were scattered into the River Swift. As they hit the water, they were immediately consumed by the current and taken downstream. There was only a “hiss” as dying embers met their end. The container was thrown in after them, –as it was now defiled, and the poles were cast in as well. The service was over, and as drizzle turned into a soft rain, the silent crowd dispersed to their homes for late breakfast, and the hooded priests disappeared.
As ordered by the hierarchy, the parish priest supervised the diggers in their last task of the morning, the removal of the headstone. It was pried out of the earth and thrown into the stony field behind the chapel, but flipped as it hit the hard ground and lay with the name upright. The etched words were still easily visible. The name read, John Wycliffe, and when he died, December 31st, 1384. Forty-four years ago to the very day.
What was the awful crime of this man? Had he been a murderer, a vile robber, a leader of mutinous armies against the church? No, but he was hated just the same. He had started the demise of the most notorious system the Devil had ever devised, and had sparked the Reformation that now threatened to split and gnaw the edges off of the Holy See. How had he done it? John Wycliffe had committed the sin of translating the Holy Bible from Latin into English so that his people could read it for themselves and hear the words of Jesus in their own tongue for the first time. He had encouraged them to memorize the Lord’s Prayer and to pray directly to the Father of all Creation as their ABBA, Daddy. For this, Wycliffe was threatened with burning at the stake, but his powerful friends shielded him,—until this dreary, digging day.
John Foxe, author of the foremost book listing martyrs of the Christian faith, wrote these words in his remarks about the burning of the bones of John Wycliffe. He likened the ashes of John to the Word that flowed to the people of God: “And, like the River Swift which runs into the Avon and the Avon into the Severn and the Severn into the Bristol Channel which empties into the oceans of the world, so did the proliferation of God’s Word go to the ends of the earth.”
On that great day, when the trump shall sound and the dead in Christ shall rise first, Brother John will recompose into a heavenly body from a thousand ocean waves and rise to meet his Lord and Savior in the air. The Morning Star of the Reformation joining hands, at last, with his Bright and Morning Star.
*reference – Burning of Wycliffe’s Bones, Foxes Book of Martyrs