Rats … ew.

Rats-at-bowl-onlyTry as I might, I have never been able to get freaked out by rats. They don’t strike me as disgusting. They’re small and fuzzy. I can excuse the ugly tail. Even Steven Spielberg’s best efforts in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade couldn’t make the little critters turn my stomach.

But after reading the lengthy and horrific ordeal of poor Hans Brael, I’m beginning to develop a severe distaste.

Old Brael was the victim of what you might call the 16th Century version of “stop ‘n’ frisk.” While riding down the road in the Alpine area of Pusterthal in 1557, Brael was stopped and questioned by a judge. The judge questioned Brael about who he was and whether he was an Anabaptist. Brael, being too honest, foolish or dumb to answer otherwise, confessed that he was an Anabaptist. For this confession, the judge bound Brael and made him walk the rest of the way to the nearest castle.

At the castle, Brael was examined repeatedly, racked and suspended by his limbs by the authorities, who wanted the names of his fellow church members. Brael reportedly remained steadfast, so he was locked in the tower to rot:

…They put him into a deep, dark and filthy tower, where he could see neither sun nor moon, nor daylight, so that he did not know whether it was day or night, only he perceived now and then that it was night, when it was a little colder in the tower than at other times. It was also so moist and damp in the tower, that his clothes rotted on his body, so that he became almost naked, and was without a single garment for a long time, only he had a coarse blanket that had been given him, which he wrapped around his body and thus sat in misery and darkness. The shirt on his body had so rotted, that he had not a shred left of it, except the collar, which he hung on the wall.

At one time when these children of Pilate had him brought out to try him whether he would not apostatize, the light so hurt his eyes, that he was glad when they let him down again into the dark tower. There also proceeded such a fetid stench from the filth that was in this dark hole, that no one could stay in his presence; when they brought him in, they instantly had to go away from him again; yea, the councilors said themselves, that they had never smelled such a horrible stench. Thus he lay in this filthy tower, in which were also many vermin and loathesome reptiles, so that at first he for a long time protected his head, with an old hat, which had been thrown to him out of pity. The tower, for a long time had not had an occupant; hence the vermin were very numerous, and they caused him much terror, until he got used to it. The vermin sometimes also ate his food, so that when they let down his food, he had to eat it all up, before he set down the dish; otherwise the vermin so covered it, that he could not well eat it. When he got a dish of soup, and set it down but once, they ate it up in a moment in short. He could keep neither bread nor anything else; for as soon as the vermin smelled it, instantly they were at it. However, this was his least care, inasmuch as he was so tormented with hunger, no great abundance being given him so that he could easily eat it up, if he was only well. The vermin sometimes got also in his drink, and drowned therein, until he finally obtained a large stone, which he placed on top of his pitcher.

And so it went all summer until they moved him to another prison and put him in stocks. Apparently, after enough suffering, Brael gained the power to strike men dead. He summoned the judge who had captured him to the prison and cursed him.

The brother said, “The sole reason is; that I cannot forbear showing you, that, as you well know, that you are the chief cause of my imprisonment and miserable sufferings, though I have never in all my life done you an injury.”

The actuary sat there frightened and dumb, saying not a word, save that he had to do it.

The brother said, “Yes, the judgment of God impelled you to it; because you were so bloodthirsty against the pious, it also fell to your lot to fulfill your judgment thereby. You have incurred a heavy judgment; God will certainly find you for this, require it at your hands, and punish you for your sins.”

The actuary was dumbfounded and could not utter a word; so frightened was he; and thus he went away. About a fortnight afterwards he died very suddenly in the night, being both well and dead within a quarter of an hour. God had smitten him with great fear, so that he cried and moaned terribly, and lamented that he had done wrong and sinned.

Brael was seized with “a great joy” upon hearing of the judge’s death (not very Christian-like), and he continued to resist calls for him to confess and obtain release. Finally, the regional authorities at Innsbruck ordered for Brael to be impressed into the navy. He was handed over to a servant, who was to escort him to the sea. Well, the servant was a drunk who got plastered one night in Niederdorf, allowing Brael to escape after two years of harsh imprisonment.

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