In 1781 Joseph II, who was King of Austria and Emperor of what was once called the Holy Roman Empire, was making a tour incognito throughout his dominions, and in due course, came to the little town of Lakenstein. Heavy rains having made the roads impassable, the Emperor resolved to pass the night in a neighboring inn.
After night had set in, several of the inhabitants came and told the innkeeper that some mysterious personages with dark lanterns had been seen to enter a detached cottage outside the city; and they affirmed that these individuals practiced sorcery, and in consequence of their doings the local inhabitants had suffered serious trouble.
Tempted by chance of some adventure, the emperor, who had assumed the name of Count Falkenstein, decided to go and see for himself what was taking place in this conventicle of darkness. Sentinels were placed around the cottage, while the King, who acted as leader, knocked at the door. The occupier, Senitz, opened the door to him, and thus addressed his unknown visitor– “What do you want disturbing an honest man at this hour of the night?” “If you are indeed an honest man,” replied the Emperor, “you have nothing to fear; but if you are otherwise, prepare for the worst.” So saying, the monarch entered the cottage, and in its principal room he found a dozen peasants seated round a little table, on which was a great book opened. The Emperor, having seated himself upon the brickwork of the copper in order not to disturb the little party, bade Senitz proceed with his reading or his preaching.
Senitz did as he was bid, and proceeded with his reading of the third chapter of John’s Gospel. In a very short time the Emperor expressed his astonishment, and was profoundly moved at the scene in which, by dint of such strange circumstances he was an assistant. ”Here,” said he with tears in his eyes, “I have met, for the first time, with men who knew how to read the Bible!”
Taking farewell of Senitz, Joseph made him promise that he would soon come to Vienna, and inquire for the palace, and ask for Count Falkenstein, who would certainly consent to plead before his sovereign the cause of the poor, persecuted, pious men. Senitz was not slow to avail himself of this invitation. But what was his surprise to find the Count Falkenstein to be no other than the Emperor himself! The Emperor grasped Senitz by both hands warmly, and then took a roll of parchment upon which had been written the Edict of Tolerance, and handed it to the simple, pious peasant.
In unrolling it, in order to take a more detailed look at it, Senitz found concealed in it a check for 500 florins (£1003, 15s. = 1679.62 US Dollars), with this notification, “For the construction of a chapel.” So on the facade of this Protestant place of worship at Lakenstein, may be read today the commemorative inscription, “The gift of the Emperor.”
Thus, the Christian fidelity of a poor agricultural laborer became, in the design of God, the means of obtaining civil and religious liberty to thousands of Protestants who had been forced to endure persecution for a century and a half.
Written by, W. L. Lang