Union of Utrecht: hedge sermons
Dirk Cater speaking — 'Will you join us? Cross-eyed Gerrit is about to preach his first sermon at the Tolsteeg Gate. I have been listening to sermons by Protestant speakers for some time now. This was still too risky in Utrecht. After all, we are closely watched by Catholic priests. That is why I went to Culemborg almost every weekend on foot. That's quite a hike, that I can tell you. Now Cross-eyed Gerrit finally dares to speak out against all the splendour of the Catholic Church. Secretly, though, and outside the city. Only where there are hedges can we meet safely. But I am done with it. While the Catholics are allowed to listen to sermons safely and dryly, we are called heretics. This has to change!'
In the first half of the sixteenth century, Utrecht was still what it was in the Middle Ages: a religious center. Until the year 1566, the city was almost entirely Catholic and loyal to Spanish rule. Yet, there was swelling criticism of the Roman Catholic Church. Slowly but surely the Calvinists - or heretics, as they are called by their contemporaries - speak up about their dislike of all the splendor of the Catholic Church. For now, this dissent is only audible just outside the city walls, not in a church, but in the open air. The secret meetings of the Calvinists are called hedge sermons. The "hedge" here mainly had the meaning: "outside the city, where there are hedges", where it's safer. On August 18, 1566, the monk called "Cross-eyed Gerrit" by Utrechters secretly held his first church service in an orchard outside the city gate. In his hedge sermon, Cross-eyed Gerrit speaks out against church authorities and calls for resistance. Soon, the monk's words are translated into action.
Dirk Cater is an Utrecht merchant in the middle of all of this. He is a calvinist and decides to join the fight of the Utrecht calvinists for equality and freedom of religious expression. You will get to know him better at the next stop!