The holy Inquisitions of the Roman Catholic church
“Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with Church dogma must be burned without pity.”
– Pope Innocent III
The Inquisition was an ecclesiastical court and process of the Roman Catholic Church setup for the purpose towards the discovery and punishment of heresy which wielded immense power and brutality in medieval and early modern times. The Inquisitions function was principally assembled to repress all heretics of rights, depriving them of their estate and assets which became subject to the ownership of the Catholic treasury, with each relentlessly sought to destroy anyone who spoke, or even thought differently to the Catholic Church. This system for close to over six centuries became the legal framework throughout most of Europe that orchestrated one of the most confound religious orders in the course of mankind.
At root the word Inquisition signifies as little of evil as the primitive “inquire,” or the adjective inquisitive, but as words, like persons, lose their characters by bad associations, so “Inquisition” has become infamous and hideous as the name of an executive department of the Roman Catholic Church.
All crimes and all vices are contained in this one word Inquisition. Murder, robbery, arson, outrage, torture, treachery, deceit, hypocrisy, cupidity, holiness. No other word in all languages is so hateful as this one that owes its abhorrent preeminence to its association with the Roman Church.
In the Dark Side of Christian History, Helen Ellerbe describes how the same men who had been both prosecutor and judge decided upon the sentence of heresy. Once an Inquisitor arrived to a heresy-ridden district, a 40 day period of grace was usually allowed to all who wished to confess by recanting their faith.
After this period of grace had finished, the inhabitants were then summoned to appear before the Inquisitor. Citizens accused of heresy would be woken in the dead of night, ordered, if not gagged, and then escorted to the holy edifice, or Inquisition prison for closer examination.
In 1244, the Council of Harbonne ordered that in the sentencing of heretics, no husband should be spared because of his wife, nor wife because of her husband, and no parent spared from a helpless child. Once in custody victims waited before their judge anxiously, while he pondered through the document of their accusation. During the first examination, enough of their property was likewise confiscated to cover the expenses of the preliminary investigation.
The accused would then be implicated and asked incriminating and luring questions in a dexterous manner of trickery calculated to entangle most. Many manual’s used and promulgated were by the grand inquisitor Bernardus Guidonis, the Author of Practica Inquisitionis (Practice of the Inquisition) and the Directorium Inquisitorum (Guideline for Inquisitors) completed by Nicolaus Eymerich, grand inquisitor of Aragon. These were the authoritative text-books for the use of inquisitors until the issue of Torquemada’s instructions in 1483, which was an enlarged and revised Directorium.
A Chapter of the Manual is headed “of the torture” and contains these small reflections:
“The torture is not an infallible method to obtain the truth; there are some men so pusillanimous that at the first twinge of pain they will confess crimes they never committed; others there are so valiant and robust that they bear the most cruel torments. Those who have once been placed upon the rack suffer it with great courage, because their limbs accommodate themselves to it with facility or resist with force; others with charms and spells render themselves insensible, and will die before they will confess anything.”
The author gives further directions:
“When sentence of torture has been given, and while the executioner is preparing to apply it, the inquisitor and the grave persons who assist him should make fresh attempts to persuade the accused to confess the truth; the executioners and their assistants, while stripping him, should affect uneasiness, haste, and sadness, endeavoring thus to instill fear into his mind; and when he is stripped naked the inquisitors should take him aside, exhorting him to confess, and promising him his life upon condition of his doing so, provided that he is not a relapsed (one dilated a second time), because in such a case they cannot promise him that.”
Later afterwards in the sixteenth century, Cardinal Giovanni Caraffa, a zealot for the purity of Catholicism who later became the pope himself, also held a stern and gloomy view of moral rectitude for heretics. In 1542, he was appointed by pope Paul III to administer the Inquisition.
The manuscript life of Caraffa gives the following rules drawn up by Caraffa himself:
“Firstly when the faith is in question, there must be no delay; but at the slightest suspicion, rigorous measures must be resorted to with all speed. Secondly, no consideration is to be shown to any prince or prelate, however high his station. Thirdly, extreme severity is rather to be exercised against those who attempt to shield themselves under the protection of any potentate, and fourthly, no man must lower himself by showing toleration toward heretics of any kind.”
The inquisition put their victims to the test (here using the rack)
Most defendants confessed in the long run in order to escape the great anguish and bitter torture.
Once found guilty (regardless) they were handed over to the civil authorities to be “relaxed” (that is of course, burnt alive)
Refusing to confess at the first hearing, saw heretics being remanded to the prisons for several months. The dungeons were situated underground, so that the outcries of the subject might not reach other parts of the building. In some medieval cells, the inauspicious were bound in stocks or chains, unable to move about and forced to sleep standing up or on the ground. In some cases there was no light or ventilation, inmates were generally starved and kept in solitary confinement in the dark and allowed no contact with the outside world, including that of their own family.
In 1252, Pope Innocent IV officially authorized the creation of the horrifying Inquisition torture chambers. It also included anew perpetual imprisonment or death at the stake without the bishops consent. Acquittal of the accused was now virtually impossible. Thus, with a license granted by the pope himself, Inquisitors were free to explore the depths of horror and cruelty. Dressed as black-robed fiends with black cowls over their heads, Inquisitors could extract confessions from just about anyone. The Inquisition invented every conceivable devise to inflict pain by slowly dismembering and dislocating the body.
Many of the devices were inscribed with the motto “Glory be only to God.” Bernardus Guidonis, the Inquisitor in Toulouse instructed the layman as to never argue with the unbeliever, but as to “thrust his sword into the man’s belly as far as it will go.” George Ryley Scott describes how the inquisitors, gorged with their inhumanity, and developed a degree of callousness rarely rivaled in the annals of civilization, with the ecclesiastical authorities condemning every faith outside of Christianity as demonic.
Even the very fact of having a charge brought against you, and of being summoned to the Inquisition was sufficient to strike abject terror into the bravest man or woman. For very few who entered the doors of that halls of torment emerged whole in mind and body. If they escaped with their life, they were, with rare exceptions, maimed, physically or mentally forever. Those who did happen to endure the dungeons generally went mad in captivity, screaming out in despair to escape their purgatories. Others willingly committed suicide during their confinement.
The defendant were known to incriminate themselves at any chance they had to escape the horrors. As Henry Charles Lea describes, one of the conditions of escaping the penalties was that they stated all they knew of other heretics and apostates, under the general terror, there was little hesitation in denouncing not only friends and acquaintances, but the nearest and dearest kindred–parents, children, brothers and sisters–this ultimately and indefinitely prolonged the Inquisitions through their associates.
In the ages of faith, when the priest, was little less than a God himself, a curse from his lips was often more feared than physical torments. To even establish an accusation against a bishop itself required 72 witnesses; against a deacon was 27; against an inferior dignitary was 7, and for non-members of the clergy, 2 was sufficient to convict. Whole communities went mad with grief and fear of the thought towards being denounced to the Inquisition. It spread all over Europe. Men, women, and children, all legally murdered on evidence by a church, which today would only be accepted unless the court and jury specifically composed of the inmates of a lunatic asylum.
During the course, defendants had no rights to counsel or advice, and was even denied the right to know the names of their accusers. No favorable evidence or character witnesses were permitted. In any case, one who even spoke for an accused heretic would be arrested as an accomplice. Never would a prisoner of the Inquisition have seen the accusation against himself, or any other. All efforts relating to time, place, and person were carefully concealed.
Henry Charles Lea describes however that evidence was accepted from witnesses who could not legally testify in any other kind of trial; such as condemned criminals, other heretics, or children even as young as the age of two. The Inquisitor Jean Bodin (1529-96) author of De La Demonomanie des Sorciers (Of the Demonomania of Witches) especially valued child witnesses for extracting confessions, as they were easily persuaded to confess. Children though, were no exception for being prosecuted and tortured themselves. The treatment of witches’ children was particularly brutal.
Suspicion alone of witchcraft would warrant torture. Once a girl was nine and a half, and a boy was ten and a half, they were both liable to inquiry. Younger children below this age were still nevertheless tortured to elicit testimonies that could be used against their own parents. A famous French magistrate was known to have regretted his leniency when, instead of having young children accused of witchcraft burned, he had only sentenced them to be flogged while they watched their parents burn.
The children of those parents murdered usually were force to beg in vain upon the streets, for no one dared feed or shelter them thus incurring a suspicion of heresy upon themselves. The suspicion was sufficient enough to drive away even the closest kindred and friends of the unfortunate. Sympathy for them would be interpreted as sympathy with their heresy.
Put to the torture using the Pulley
-the accused confessed to anything and everything that their tormentors wanted them to admit.
The pulley or strappado was the first torture of the Inquisition usually applied. Executioners would hoist the victim up to the ceiling using a rope with their hands tied securely behind their back. They were then suspended about six feet from the floor. In this position, heavy iron weights, usually amounting to about 45 kg, were attached to their feet. The executioners would then pull on the rope, then suddenly allowing it to slack causing the victim to fall.
The rapid descent would then come to an abrupt stop, bewildering every joint and nerve in the system. In most cases it entailed dislocation. This process was repeated again and again heavier and more intense until the culprit confessed or became unconscious. Christian Monks would stand by to record any confessions, with even records today displaying the transformation of the monks steady handwriting to vigorous shaking after they recanted inside the dungeons.
If a relapsed heretic refused to recant and endure the torture, the contumacious sufferer was then carried to the scaffold and his body bound to a wooden cross. There the executioner, with a bar of iron, would break each leg and arm in two places and left to die. If the heretic was slow to expire, the executioner would then partake to strangulation, and their body was bound to a stake and burnt outside.
Papal Inquisition (1233)
At the close of the 12th century, heresy was spreading rapidly in Southern France. Papal legates were sent by Pope Innocent III into the disaffected district to increase the severity of repressive measures against the Waldenses. In 1200, Peter of Castelnau was made associate inquisitor for Southern France. The powers of the papal legates were increased so as to bring non-compliant bishops within the net. Diego, bishops of Osma, and Dominec came onto the scene. In 1206, Peter and Raoul went as spies among the Albigenses.
Count Raymond of Toulouse abased himself in 1207, before Peter promised to extirpate the heretics he had defended. Dominec advised a crusade against the Albigenses. The pope’s inquisitors tried, condemned, and punished offenders inflicting the death penalty itself with the concurrence of the civil powers.
The Inquisition was also destined to become a permanent institution. The vigor and success of the Papal Legatine Inquisition assured this. The Fourth Lateran Council took the initial steps with Pope Innocent III presiding. The synodal courts were given something of the character of inquisitorial tribunals. Synods were to be held in each province annually, and violations of the Lateran canons rigorously punished.
The condemned were to be left in the hands of the secular power, and their goods were to be confiscated. The secular powers were to be admonished and induced, and, should it prove necessary, were to be compelled to the utmost of their power to exterminate all who were pointed out as heretics by the church. Any prince declining not to purge his land of heresy was to be excommunicated. If he persisted, complaint was to be made to the pope, who was then to absolve his vassals from allegiance and allow the country to be seized by Catholics who should exterminate the heretics. Those who joined in the crusade for the extermination of heretics were to have the some indulgence as the crusaders who went to the Holy Land.
In the face of this inexpugnable record, how futile it is for modern church apologists to pretend that Rome did not shed blood, and was not responsible for the atrocities of the Inquisition. The Council of Toulouse in 1229 adopted a number of canons tending to give permanent character to the Inquisition as an institution.
It made or indicated the machinery for questioning, convicting, and punishing. Heretics were to be excluded from medical practice; the houses in which they were found to be razed to the ground; they were to be delivered to the archbishop, or local authorities; forfeiture or public rights could be removed only by a papal dispensation; any one who allowed a heretic to remain in his country, or who shielded him in the slightest degree, would lose his land, personal property, and official position; the local magistracy joined in the search for heretics; men from the ages of 14, and women from 12, were to make oath and renew it every two years, that they would inform on heretics.
This made every person above those ages a bloodhound to track to torture and kill. Local councils added to these regulations, always in the direction of severity and injustice. The organic development of the Papal Inquisition proceeded rapidly. It was found that bishops, for the various reasons, would not always enforce the cruel canons of the councils.
So Pope Gregory IX in August, 1231, put the Inquisition under the control of the Dominicans, and order especially created for the defense of the church against heresy. Dominican inquisitors were appointed for Aragon, Germany, Austria, Lombardy, and Southern France.
The chronicle of the inquisitor Guilhem Pelhisso shows the most tragic episodes of the reign of terror which wasted Languedoc in France for a century. Guillaume Arnaud, Peter Cella, Bernard of Caux, Jean de St Pierre, Nicholas of Abbeville, Foulques de St Georges, were all the chief inquisitors who played the part of absolute dictatorship, burning at the stake, attacking both the living and the dead.
One of the leading head Inquisitors of Germany was Conrad of Marburg. Stern in temper and narrow in mind, his bigotry was said to be ardent to the pitch of near insanity. Conrad was urged by Pope Gregory IX as to “not to punish the wicked, but as to hurt the innocence with fear.” History shows us how far these Inquisitors answered to this ideal. Conrad murdered and terrified countless people in pursuit of his duties, regarding mental and physical torture as a rapid route to salvation. He was given full discretionary powers, and was not required to hear the cases, but to pronounce judgment, which was to be final and without appeal-justice to those suspect of heresy.
He was authorized to command the aid of the secular arm, to excommunicate protectors of heresy, and to lay interdict on whole districts. During his reign, he claimed to have uncovered nests of “Devil worshippers” and adopted the motto “I would gladly burn a hundred innocent if there was one guilty among them.” Stimulated by this shining example, many Dominicans and Franciscans merged with him, and became his eager assistants. He also sentenced the feline cat to be forever viewed as a tool of manifestation for witches and sorcerers.
During the persecution of heresy in the Rhineland’s by Conrad, one obstinate culprit actually refused to burn in spite of all the efforts of his zealous executioners. A thoughtful priest brought to the roaring pile a consecrated host. This at once dissolved the spell by a mightier magic, and the luckless heretic was speedily reduced to ashes.
Other inquisitors included Peter of Verona in Italy, Robert the Bulgar in northeast France, and Bernardus Guidonis in Toulouse. Guidonis, was considered the most experienced inquisitor of his day, condemning roughly 900 heretics, with recorded sentences pronounced after death against 89 persons during a period of 15 years. Not only was their property confiscated and their heirs disinherited, but they were subject to still further penalties. In the north of France, the Inquisition was marked by a series of melancholy events. Robert le Bougre, spent six years going through the Nivernais, Burgundy, Flanders and Champagne, burning at the stake in every place unfortunates whom he condemned without judgment.
Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834)
In 1478, the Spanish Inquisition was established with the papal approval of Pope Sixtus IV. The reform and extension of the ancient tribunal which had existed from the thirteenth century was mainly to discover and eliminate Jews and Muslims secretly taking up their beliefs in private.
The conduct of this holy office greatly weakened the power and diminished the population of Spain. It was considered the most deadliest and notorious of all Inquisitions, as firstly being, it was the most highly organized and secondly, it was far more exposed and open with the death penalty than that of the papal Inquisition. This holy office became veiled by secrecy, unhesitatingly kept back, falsified, concealed, and forged the reports of thousands of trials.
The first two Inquisitors in the districts of Seville were appointed in 1480 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to round up the most wealthiest heretics; the reason for this, was that the property of those accused, were shared equally between the Catholic throne and the Dominicans.
The Catholic Spanish government also directly paid the expenses, and received the net income of the Inquisition itself from the accused. According to civil law, people convicted of religious treason were sentenced to death and their goods confiscated while the Catholic Church feasted on their estate. Additional Inquisitors were named, including Tomas Torquemada, who the following year was appointed Inquisitor General for all of Spain.
Tomas, who’s duty was to organize the rules of inquisitorial procedures in Seville, Castille and Aragon. He believed punishment of heretics, was the only way to achieve political and religious unity in Spain. Those refusing to accept Catholicism where lead to the stake and burnt alive in a procession and Catholic ceremony known as “auto-de-fe'” (act of faith).
The conclusion of an “auto de fe”.
Huge public burnings took place of those convicted of Heresy.
Roman Inquisition (1542-1700)
In the early 1500’s and 1600’s, the Catholic Church went through a reformation. It consisted of two related movements:
(1) a defensive reaction against the Reformation, a movement begun by Martin Luther in 1517 that gave birth to Protestantism
(2) a Catholic reform which saw Protestants declare war on Catholics
The Roman Catholic Church called the Council of Trent partly as a defense against Protestantism. In 1542, Pope Paul III (1534-49) established the Holy Office as the final court of appeal in trials of heresy. The Church also published a list of books that were forbidden to read. Heretical books were outlawed, and searched out by domiciliary visits. Every book that came was scrutinized minutely with the express object of finding some passage which might be interpreted as being against the principles or interests of the Catholic faith.
The secular coadjutor were also not allowed to learn to read or write without permission. No man was able to aspire to any rank above that of which he already holded. The church insisted on this regulation as a means to obtaining a perfect knowledge of its subordinates.
The censorship of books took three forms:
(1) complete condemnation and suppression
(2) the expunging of certain objectionable passages or parts
(3) the correction of sentences or the deletion of specific words as mentioned
A list of the various books condemned upon any of these three heads was printed every year, after which anyone found to be in the possession of a volume coming under section (1) or an unexpurgated or uncorrected copy of a volume coming under section (2) or (3) was deemed guilty and liable to serve punishment. The author and the publisher of any such book often spent the remainder of their lives in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Its overall goal was to eradicate Protestant influences in Europe.
A number of wars resulting from religious conflicts broke out as well as the Catholic governments tried to stop the spread of Protestantism in the country. Such attempts led to the civil war in France from 1562 to 1598 and a rebellion in the Netherlands between 1565 and 1648. Religion was a major issue in the fighting between Spain and England from 1585 to 1604.
It was also a cause of the Thirty Years’ War 1618 to 1648, which centered in Germany, that eventually involved all of the great nations of Europe halving its population. The estimate of the death toll during the Inquisitions ranged worldwide from 600,000 to as high in the millions covering a span of almost six centuries.
Victor Hugo estimated the number of the victims of the Inquisition at five million, it is said, and certainly the number was much greater than that if we take into account, as we should, the wives and husbands, the parents and children, the brothers and sisters, and other relatives of those tortured and slaughtered by the priestly institution. To these millions should properly be added the others killed in the wars precipitated in the attempt to fasten the Inquisition upon the people of various countries, as the Netherlands and Germany.
The holy Inquisitions of the Roman Catholic church
“Fear is the basis of the whole – fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the
parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand-in-hand.”
– Bertrand Russell
Medieval Torture Devices
Reaching its peak in the 12th century, torture was used in capital cases as well as against suspected heretics. From the mid-14th century to the end of the 18th century, torture was a common and sanctioned part of the legal proceedings of most European countries which was approved by the inquisition in cases of heresy.
The most common means of torture included burning, beating and suffocating, however the techniques below are some of the more extravagant and depraved methods used and allowed by the Roman Catholic Church.
Torture room in the Inquisition cathedral in Nuremberg
The Rack was an instrument of torture often used in the Middle Ages, and a popular means of extricating confession. The victim was tied across a board by their ankles and wrists, rollers at either end of the board were turned by pulling the body in opposite directions until dislocation of every joint occurred. According to Puigblanch, quoted in Mason’s History of the Inquisition,
“in this attitude he experienced eight strong contortions in his limbs, namely, two of the fleshy parts of the arms above the elbows, and two below; one on each thigh, and also on the legs.”
Bound, the heretic, could then be subjected to other forms of torture for the exaltation of their faith.
The Rack was extensively used during the Spanish Inquisition.
Other forms included the detainee being fastened in a groove upon a table on his or her back. Suspended above was a gigantic pendulum, the ball of which had a sharp edge on the lower section, and the pendulum lengthen with every stroke. The victim sees this engine of destruction swinging to and fro only a short distance from ones eyes.
Momentarily the keen edge comes nearer, and at length cuts the skin, and gradually cuts deeper and deeper, until their life has fully expired.
With their feet in the stocks, two pieces of timber clamped together, over and under, both across each leg above the ankles. The soles of their feet then having been greased with lard, a blazing brazier was applied to them, and they were first blistered and then fried. At intervals a board was interposed between the fire and their feet and removed once they disobeyed the command to confess themselves of guilt for which they had been charged.
Being more painful, but less fatal than racking, this was the torture most in vogue when the subject chanced to be of the female sex. It was also favored in cases where children were to be persuaded to testify against their parents. Slighter tortures consisted of binding a piece of iron to a limb and putting a twister mark to force it inwards, as was pressing the fingers with rods between them, or removing a nail from fingers or toes, which were all highly practiced upon persons of not sufficient strength to support the pulley, rack, or fire.
The victim’s nostrils were pinched shut, and eight quarts of fluid were poured down the victim’s throat through a funnel. Other techniques included forcing a cloth down the throat, while pouring water, which made a swallowing reflex pushing it further down into the stomach producing all the agonies of suffocation by drowning until the victim lost consciousness. Instead of water, the torture was sometimes conducted with boiling water or vinegar.
Death occurs from distention or rupturing of the stomach. One of the many cases recorded by the Inquisition, was in 1598 concerning a captured man, who was accused of being a werewolf and “possessed by a demon” while in prison. The official report states only that he had such a thirst that he drank a large tubful of water so that his belly was “distended and hard”, and then later died.
The Heretics Fork
This instrument consisted of two little forks one set against the other, with the four prongs plunged into the flesh, under the chin and above the chest, with hands secured firmly behind their backs. A small collar supported the instrument in such a manner that the victims were usually forced to hold their head erect, thus preventing any movement.
The forks did not penetrate any vital points, and thus suffering was prolonged and death was always nearly avoided. The pointed prongs on each end to crane the persons head made speech or movement near impossible. The Heretics Fork was very common during the height of the Spanish Inquisition.
The pear was a torture device used on females. This device was inserted into the vagina, or mouth of the victim and then expanded by force of the screw to the maximum aperture setting of the victims cavity. The antrum would then irremediably become lacerated, nearly always fatally, ripping the tissue, flesh and membranes.
This item became extensively applied throughout the Spanish Inquisition to force confessions from those accused of Witchcraft. The pointed prongs at the end of the segments serve better to rip into the throat, the intestines or the cervix. Many paid dearly when the Pear was their fate.
The Branks, also sometimes called Dame’s Bridle, or Scold’s Bridle comprised of a metal facial mask and spiked mouth depressor that was implemented on housewives up until the early 19th century. Many clergymen sustained in this husband’s right to handle his wife, and to use “salutary restraints in every case of misbehavior” without the intervention of what some court records of 1824 referred to as “vexatious prosecutions.”
Generally a husband would need only to accuse his wife of disagreeing with his decisions, at which the Branks could be applied. The subject would then be paraded through the streets, or chained to the market cross where she was exposed to public ridicule.
The wheel was one of the most popular and insidious methods of torture and execution practiced. The giant spiked wheel was able to break bodies as it rolled forward, causing the most agonizing and drawn-out death. Other forms include the “braided” wheel, where the victim would be tied to the execution dock or platform. Their limbs were spread and tied to stakes or iron rings on the ground. Slices of wood were placed under the main joints, wrists, ankles, knees, hips, and elbows. The executioner would then smash every joint with the iron-tyred edge of the wheel–however the executioner would avoid fatal blows to give the victim a painful death.
According to a German chronicler, the victim was transformed into a huge screaming puppet writhing in their own blood. It looked like a sea monster with four tentacles, and raw slimy shapeless flesh, mixed with splinters of bone. After the smashing had taken place the victim would literally be “braided” into the wheel and hung horizontally at the top of the pole.
The Breast Ripper
The name of this device speaks for itself. Women condemned of heresy, blasphemy, adultery, and witchcraft often felt the wrath of this device as it violently tore a breast from their torso.
This device was highly put into service during the massacre of the Danes.
These cages were usually hung around the outsides of town halls and ducal palaces, they were also near the town’s hall of justice and surprisingly cathedrals. The victim, naked and exposed, would slowly wither from hunger and thirst. The weather would second the victims death by heat stroke and sunburn in the summer and cold in the winter.
The victims and corpses were usually previously mutilated before being put in the cages to make a more edifying example of the punishment. The cadavers were left in the cages until the bones literally fell apart.
Originally, the garotte was simply hanging by another name. However, during Medieval times, executioners began to refine the use of rope until it became as feared and as vile as any serious punishments. Executioners first used the garotte to end the suffering of heretics broken on the wheel, but by the turn of the 18th century the seed of an idea involving slow strangulation was planted in the minds of lawmakers.
At first, garottes were nothing more than an upright post with a hole bored through. The victim would stand or sit on a seat in front of the post and chanting crowd, and a rope was looped around his or her neck. The ends of the cords were fed through the hole in the post. The executioner would then pull on both ends of the cord, or twist them tourniquet-styled, slowly strangling the victim. Later modifications included a spike fixed into the wood frame at the back of the victim’s neck, parting the vertebrae as the rope tighten.
The Head Crusher
With the victim’s chin placed on the lower bar, a screw then forces the cap down on the victims cranium. The recipients teeth are crushed and forced into the sockets to smash the surrounding bone. The eyes are compressed from their sockets and brain from the fractured skull.
This device, although not a form of capital punishment, is still used for interrogational purposes. It was to inflict extreme agony and shock and leave the victim in its grasp for hours. Other methods included the head screw (below) which was placed around the forehead and tighten. The accused became so frantic by the extreme panic of having their head crushed that they confessed to anything.
Burnt at the Stake
If the Inquisitor wanted to be sure no relics were left behind by an accused and convicted heretic, he would select death by burning at the stake as the preferred method of execution. With few exceptions, death came from being burned alive. Frequently, burning a victim at the stake was cause for a crowd. Not content to merely learn about the spectacle after it was over, the masses wanted to be entertained.
Reflecting on those facts, and understanding such events occurred “under the law,” one can clearly understand how Thomas Hobbes (this is a contemporary biography) came to the conclusions he did about man in a state of nature.
If man is capable of such violence and inhumanity in a state of civilization, of what is he capable when there are no laws and there is no society?
(Carole D. Bos)
The Iron Maiden
The Iron Maiden or Virgin of Nuremberg was a tomb-sized container with folding doors. The object was to inflict punishment, then death. Upon the inside of the door were vicious spikes. As the prisoner was shut inside he or she would be pierced along the length of their body. The talons were not designed to kill outright.
The pinioned prisoner was left to slowly perish in the utmost pain. Some models included two spikes that were driven into the eyes causing blindness. One of these diabolical machines was exhibited in 1892.
One of the most common torture techniques. All one needed to set up a strappado was a sturdy rafter and a rope. The victim’s wrists were bound behind their back, and the rope would be tossed over the beam.
The victim was repeatedly dropped from a height, so that their arms and shoulders would dislocate. This was a punishment of the Secret Tribunal until 1820.
Also known as the bootikens. The legs of the patient were usually placed between two planks of wood, which they binded with cords and wedges. The torturer used a large, heavy hammer to pound the wedges, driving them closer together.
Forceful blows were used to squeeze the legs to jelly, lacerating flesh, protruding the shins, and crushing the bones; sometimes so that marrow gushed out. Once unloosed the bones fall to pieces, rendering the legs useless. This torture was most overwhelming, as one can imagine.
The victim was stripped, hoisted and hung over this pointed pyramid with iron belts. Their legs were stretched out frontwards, or their ankles pulled down by weights. The tormentor would then drop the accused onto the pyramid penetrating both orifices. With their muscles contracted, they were usually unable to relax and fall asleep.
As mentioned by Anne Barstowe, the torturers took high advantage of positions of authority to indulge in the most pornographic sessions of sexual control over heretics.
The Guillotine became the official instrument of execution in France in 1792, during the French Revolution. The device was named for Joseph Ignace Guillotine (1738-1814), a member of the Revolutionary assembly. He regarded the device as a quick and merciful type of execution. A guillotine had two posts joined by a crossbeam at the top. A heavy steel knife with a slanting edge fit in grooves in the posts. A cord held the knife in place.
When the executioner cut the cord, the knife dropped and cut off the victim’s head. It was not until 1981, that France abolished capital punishment, and that the use of the guillotine ended. The Guillotine family were later forced to change their surname’s as a direct result of this invention.
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The Holy Inquisitions
“If women become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that is why they are there.”
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Leader of the German Reformation–a religious movement that led to the ultimate birth of Protestantism
The Holy Witchhunts
The term witch comes from the Old English word wicca, which is derived from the Germanic root wic, meaning to bend or to turn. Such accounts of witchcraft are found extensively in antiquity from Medea who employed sorcery to help Jason win the Golden Fleece, to the Witch of Endor in the Old Testament by whom King Saul consulted.
Most justification of the persecution of witches in Europe all later based themselves on such biblical percepts as commanded through that,
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (with Exodus.22:18 )”,
or that “the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God; and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. (1 Cor. 10:20)”
These imputations from the 8th century and up then saw witchcraft becoming highly associated with apostasy with extensive and very violent campaigns taking place to mark its spread.
Woman’s chamber inside Inquisition Cathedral at Nuremberg.
In The Dark Side of Christian History, Helen Ellerbe provided a baseline on the 300 year period of witch hunting from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, in what R.H. Robbins calls “the shocking nightmare, the foulest crime and deepest shame of western civilization,” that ensured the European abandonment of the belief in magic. The Church created the elaborate concept of devil worship and then, used the persecution of it to wipe out dissent, subordinate the individual to authoritarian control, and openly denigrate women.
The witchhunts became an eruption of orthodox Christianity’s vilification of women, or “the weaker vessel,” in St. Peter’s words. The second century St. Clement of Alexandria wrote:
“Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.”
The sixth century Christian philosopher, Boethius, wrote in The Consolation of Philosophy,
“Woman is a temple built upon a sewer.”
Bishops at the sixth century Council of Macon voted as to whether women had souls. In the tenth century Odo of Cluny declared,
“To embrace a woman is to embrace a sack of manure…”
The thirteenth century St. Thomas Aquinas suggested that God had made a mistake in creating woman:
“nothing [deficient] or defective should have been produced in the first establishment of things; so woman ought not to have been produced then.”
Lutherans at Wittenberg debated whether women were really human beings at all. Orthodox Christians held women responsible for all sin. As the Bible’s Apocrypha states,
“Of woman came the beginning of sin/ And thanks to her, we all must die.”
It is women who are often understood to be impediments to spirituality in a context where God reigns strictly from heaven and demands a renunciation of physical pleasure. As I Corinthians 7:1 states,
“It is a good thing for a man to have nothing to do with a woman.”
The Inquisitors who wrote The Malleus Maleficarum, explained that women are more likely to become witches than men because the female sex is more concerned with things of the flesh than men; being formed from a man’s rib, they are only “imperfect animals” and “crooked” whereas man belongs to a privileged sex from whose midst Christ emerged.
King James I estimated that the ratio of women to men who succumbed to witchcraft was twenty to one. Of those formally persecuted for witchcraft, between 80 to 90 percent were women.
Burning Iron Chair:
consisted of sharpened iron nails that could be heated red hot from below.
The victim would be bound and then slowly roasted
in the open air as the coals heated the iron.
The persecution of witchcraft also enabled the Church to prolong the profitability of the Inquisition. The Inquisition had left regions so economically destitute that the inquisitor Eymeric complained,
“In our days there are no more rich heretics… it is a pity that so salutary an institution as ours should be so uncertain of its future.”
The Inquisition exposed a whole new group of people from whom to collect money. It took every advantage of this opportunity.
The author Barbara Walker notes:
“Victims were charged for the very ropes that bound them and the wood that burned them. Each procedure of torture carried its fee. After the execution of a wealthy witch, officials usually treated themselves to a banquet at the expense of the victim’s estate.”
Burning at the stake was the chief fate of accused witches.
(Image: Library of Congress)
Others where hanged, or crushed.
One way of determinating the guilt of witches,
was the ducking or ducking stool,
in which her hands and feet were tied up together
and then her body was thrown off a bridge into the water.
If she floated, she was declared a witch.
If she sank, and drowned, she was declared innocent.
The process of formally persecuting witches followed the grinding inquisitional procedure. Once accused of witchcraft, it was virtually impossible to escape conviction. After cross-examination, the victim’s body was examined for the witch’s mark. The historian Walter Nigg described the process:
…she was stripped naked and the executioner shaved off all her body hair in order to seek in the hidden places of the body the sign which the devil imprinted on his cohorts.
Warts, freckles, and birthmarks were considered certain tokens of amorous relations with Satan. Should a woman show no sign of a witch’s mark, guilt could still be established by methods such as sticking needles in the accused’s eyes. The confession was then extracted by the hideous methods of torture already developed during earlier phases of the Inquisition.
“Loathe they are to confess without torture,” wrote King James I in his Daemonologie.
A physician serving in witch prisons spoke of women driven half mad:
“by frequent torture… kept in prolonged squalor and darkness of their dungeons… and constantly dragged out to undergo atrocious torment until they would gladly exchange at any moment this most bitter existence for death, are willing to confess whatever crimes are suggested to them rather than to be thrust back into their hideous dungeon amid ever recurring torture.”
Unless the witch died during torture, she was taken to the stake. Since many of the burnings took place in public squares, inquisitors prevented the victims from talking to the crowds by using wooden gags or cutting their tongues out.
“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother,
it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman…
I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function
of bearing children.”
– Saint Augustine (the prominent pioneer of Western theology)
The sexual mutilation of accused witches was not uncommon. With the orthodox understanding that divinity had little or nothing to do with the physical world, sexual desire was perceived to be unGodly. When the men persecuting the accused witches found themselves sexually aroused, they assumed that such desire emanated, not from themselves, but from the woman. They attacked breasts and genitals with pincers, pliers and red-hot irons.
Some rules pardoned sexual abuse by allowing men deemed “zealous Catholics” to visit female prisoners in solitary confinement while not allowing female visitors. The people of Toulouse were so convinced that the inquisitor Foulques de Saint-George arraigned women for no other reason than to sexually abuse them that they took the dangerous and unusual step of gathering evidence against him.
Old, wise healing women were particular targets for witch-hunters as well.
“At this day,” wrote Reginald Scot in 1584, “it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, ‘she is a witch’ or ‘she is a wise woman.'”
Common people of pre-reformational Europe relied upon wise women and men for the treatment of illness rather than upon churchmen, monks or physicians. Robert Burton wrote in 1621:
Sorcerers are too common; cunning men, wizards and white witches, as they call them, in every village, which, if they be sought unto, will help almost all infirmities of body and mind.
By combining their knowledge of medicinal herbs with an entreaty for divine assistance, these healers provided both more affordable and most often more effective medicine than was available elsewhere. Churchmen of the Reformation objected to the magical nature of this sort of healing, to the preference people had for it over the healing that the Church or Church-licensed physicians offered, and to the power that it gave women. As a by-product of the witch hunts, the field of early medicine also transferred to exclusively male hands and the Western herbal tradition was largely destroyed.
Protestant and Catholic rivaled each other in the madness of the hour. Witches were burned no longer in ones and twos, but in scores and hundreds. A bishop of Geneva is said to have burned five hundred within three months, a bishop of Bamburg six hundred, a bishop of Wurzburg nine hundred. Eight hundred were condemned, apparently in one body, by the Senate of Savoy. Nicholaus Remigius, the criminal judge in Lorraine, boasted that in 15 years he had sent to death 900 people for the crime of witchcraft. In one year alone he forced 16 witches to commit suicide.
The Archbishop of Treves burned a hundred and eighteen women and two men, from whom confessions had been extorted that their incantations had prolonged the winter. Paramo boasts that in a century and a half from the commencement of the sect, in 1404, the Holy Office had burned at least 30,000 witches. Cumanus, in Italy, burned 41 women in one province alone. Strasbourg, burned 5000 in a period of 20 years.
It was reported in 1518 when the Senate was officially informed that the inquisitor had burned 70 witches of the Valcamonica, that he had as many in his prisons, and that those suspected or accused amounted to about 5000, or one fourth of the inhabitants of the valleys. In Germany 500 were burned in 1515 and 1516. In 1524, 1000 females accused of being witches died at Como, and for several years subsequently, the number of victims exceeded 100 annually.
In France, about 1520, the fires for the execution of witches blazed in almost every town; in one township in Piedmont there was not a family that had not lost a member; at Verneuil in 1561, women were burned on the charged of having converted themselves into cats. The delusion spread like an epidemic through the villages. Many women were murdered by mobs. At Leith, in Scotland, 9 women were burned together in 1664; the bishops’ palaces of South Germany basically became shambles–the lordly prelates of Salzburg, Wurzburg, and Bamberg taking lead in the butchery.
The executioner of Neisse in Silesia even invented an oven in which he roasted to death 42 women and young girls in one year. Within 9 years he had roasted over a 1000 people, including children 2 to 4 years old. In Wurzburg many children were burned, some no older than 9 years.
“A shameless woman shall be counted as a dog; but she that is shamefaced will fear the Lord.”
“During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for 800 years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry.”
“There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them still remains.”
– Mark Twain
“And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.”
– Jesus Christ. Lev.26:29.
Other convictions of the Christian clergy included the “Werewolf”, which derived from the Saxon term Werwulf, like Beowulf, Bee Wolf. The Wolf being principally identified and named after the first month of the Winter Solstice where it was let loose at doomsday to devour the Sun in Saxony.
The same popular Christian concept for “Hell” also originates from the Saxons by the Goddess Hel from where it is anglicized, with her wolves guarding Helheim, the realm of the underworld. Hel also being a sibling to the giantess Angurboda who created Fenrir, Wolf of the North, as the firstborn Wolf-Son. The technical term for “Lycanthrope” however, or Lycaon, is additionally named via the first Arcadian Wolf King in Greek mythology.
The early Lycaon though being regarded as a Pelasgian who existed in nine year cycles as spouse to the Moon in pre-Hellenic times. The Roman poet Virgil likewise assumed that the first werewolf was Moeris, who was given the secrets of magic, including necromantic readiness of resurrecting the dead from the threefold fate Goddess Moirai. The three Moirai (Fates) now found with the three Maries at the resurrection of the Sun God Jesus in the New Testament.
In prehistoric Balkan cultures of Old Europe as well, the Dog/Bitch was often considered a very sacred companion of the Moon. In Rome, there was a Feronia festival honored to the Wolf Mother.
In France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and northern Italy, vestiges were likewise found with the Moon Goddess Hecate, Artemis and Diana, as venerated by her numerous wolf cultists during ancient and medieval times under her totem “Lupa”, for who was the mother of wild animals and protector of the founders of Rome.
Later in Europe nonetheless, these aged wolf myths became largely arrogated and vastly Christianized. Under the Inquisition, straightforward signs such as claw-like fingernails or pointed ears were all used to distinguish signs of the Lycanthrope. The medieval chronicler Gervase of Tilbury believed that just basking under a full Moon was an effective method in making a metamorphose.
The famed Swiss physician Paracelsus even too considered the brain to be a “microcosmic Moon”. In early Indo-European languages, both “Moon” and “Mind” doubly became etymologically linked. Two names for example of the Roman Goddess were “Luna” and “Mana”, which later gave rise to her devotees being called Lunatics or Maniacs.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, it was the threefold Goddess “Manah”. In Sanskrit “Manas” and “Mens, Menos (Moon)” in Latin was “Blood”. From this root later derived English words to the likes of “Mental”, “Menstruation” or “Menace”. To the Teutons, it was a “Managarmr” (Moon-Dog) in the hunt of the Ragnarok.
This 19th century print shows the werewolves of Normandy, in France.
They were believe to break into cemeteries and dig up corpses to devour.
The ultimate methods used to deal with werewolves were equally varied in Christian times. French lore mostly choose to advocate an exorcism however by speaking the name of Christ the Sun of God, or calling the werewolf “three times” by his true Christian name. Afterwards, it became the renowned silver bullet.
What werewolves were to northern and western Europe, vampires became to eastern Europe up until the 19th century in Albania, Greece, Hungary and Romania. The name “Vampire” supposedly comes from Slavic, feasibly traceable to central Asia where from Hungaria to Thailand derivatives in “vampra” or “vampir” are known with a Lunar Sabbath. The Greeks carried “sarco-menos”, or “flesh made of the Moon”.
The Slavic linguist Franc Miklošic suggested from Kazan Tatar ubyr “Witch.” These contentions likewise were all based on much older myths surrounding Lunar blood which recalled the dead to life from the menstrual cycle. Regular supplies of blood would then impart a kind of life to the undead, that is vampires, or vamps, a woman. A Vampire hence then walked wherever the Moon shone and was most active at the Full Moon looking to drink blood.
In Hebrew, the word for “Blood” likewise became “Mother” deriving from “dam”. In Indo-European languages this too gave way to modern words such as “dam”, “damper”, “damsel”, “madam”, “dame”, “damage”…a curse, meaning “damned”. One English monk even believed the Moon was the Mother of all bodily fluids, and that the body’s most important life giving fluid was blood.
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