In the history of Christianity, at several religious communities have been labeled as Adamites because of their adoption of nudism as a way to imitate the innocence of the biblical Adam and Eve. One group of these Adamite communities was written about by Saint Augustine (c. 354-450), but this ancient group, like other fringe sects of the day, was suffocated by the growing power and influence of the Roman Church. Around a millennia later, however, another group of Adamites was born that shared many of the same qualities as their ancient predecessors.
In 1415, a critic of the Catholic Church and a supporter of church reform named Jan Hus was burned at the stake for his beliefs. Instead of extinguishing his ideas, the execution of Jan Hus riled up a massive Hussite movement in the Czech-populated regions. The Hussites, however, were not homogenous in their beliefs and actions. At least three major factions (Taborites, Utraquists and Orebites) divided the Hussite population. The 15th-century Adamites were among these Hussites and, originally, could be found as a subgroup with the Taborites.
In 1421, the Adamite leader, Peter Kanis, was expelled from the Taborite community. With a few hundred followers, Kanis left the Taborites and set up his own community. Like the ancient Adamites, Peter Kanis and his disciples allegedly shed their clothes, imitating the biblical Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As almost all information about these 15th-century Adamites was recorded by their enemies, it is difficult to obtain a fair view of how Peter Kanis and his followers behaved. Nonetheless, as their critics told it, the Adamites were not only nudists, but debauched fiends engaged in irreligious orgies. Rumor and libel, however, always runs rampant between groups that do not understand each other.
Whatever the truth may have been, the Taborites despised the Adamites. In less than a year after Peter Kanis and his followers had departed to found their own community, the Taborites launched a devastating attack on the Adamites, resulting in the most influential members of the movement being captured and executed by burning. Although some Adamites could still be found roaming the Czech lands after the Taborite attack, the loss of Peter Kanis and other leaders caused the movement to eventually fizzle out.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Print against Adamites, produced c. 1535, [Public Domain] via picryl.com and Creative Commons).