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loose canons
There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

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7: The bathwater Messiah
HEN GOD CLOSES A DOOR, they say, he always opens a window. I don't know what this means, but it seems to have worked for Tanchelm, who had to try various openings, failing as a monk and as a diplomat, before finding his niche as the most successful cult leader of the 12th century.

He toured the Netherlands denouncing the official Church to anyone who would listen. And because he did it rather well, they listened in their thousands.

"You might as well go to a brothel as go to these churches," he cried, and soon they were boycotting the church en masse. Probably some of his listeners kept going to church and just started visiting brothels as well, but I'm guessing.

He preached to his adoring public in the fields. The similarity to John Wesley became less marked when the fame went to his head a little bit, and he announced that he was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit, a second Christ, and, yes, God himself.

And just when you thought that pretty much covered all the options, he also publicly married the Virgin Mary.

He had all crucifixes replaced with his own banner. He told his followers that they were the only true Church, and that they should give him fantastic amounts of money, which they did, apparently as a wedding gift for him and the Perpetual Virgin.

But Tanchelm's greatest moment came when he was inspired to start distributing his bath-water among the flock. He told them to drink it as a replacement for the eucharist. Whether he managed to transubstantiate it is not recorded.

At the height of his popularity, no unbeliever could get near him without being knifed by his bodyguards. In the end, though, he was killed by a local priest – but this was only after he had lost most of his followers to newcomer Norbert of Xanten, who did miracles and talked to the animals.

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