Strange ‘Cages’ On Medieval Church Serve As Grim Reminders Of Its Uneasy History

In the German city of Munster, a historic marketplace draws visitors from around the world. And at the heart of it all is the imposing Gothic edifice of St. Lambert’s Church. But the building’s striking facade is marred by a troubling secret: three man-sized cages left over from the darkest chapter in this city’s past. 

An unthinkable fate

Almost 500 years ago, the Protestant Reformation was in full swing, and religious persecution was rife throughout Europe. In Munster, though, the battle to secure dominance across the population was even bloodier than it was elsewhere. And for three unfortunate citizens, it would lead to an unthinkable fate.

The Munster Rebellion

For more than a year, Anabaptist rebels held the city of Munster against an increasingly violent Catholic siege. But eventually, the establishment emerged victorious, taking key figures captive along the way. For Jan of Leiden, Bernd Kretchtinck, and Bernd Knipperdollinck, that meant unbearable torture, as well as a place in the grimmest annals of European history.


This dark tale actually began some 270 miles east of Munster, in the town of Wittenberg, then part of Saxony. At the time, the Roman Catholic religion was dominant across the region, but dissent was growing fast. With reformers criticizing the church for its hypocrisy and corruption, a new movement was emerging.

Martin Luther

Then, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses — a theological challenge to the leaders of Catholicism — to the door of Wittenberg’s All Saints Church. Although some were horrified by his critique of the religion, others saw it as a call to arms. And with that, the Protestant Reformation began.