Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Foot Torture: The religious seal of approval

In 1231, Pope Gregory IX instituted the Papal inquisition for the apprehension and trial of heretics. This was later extended to include witches, diviners, blasphemers, and other sacrilegious persons. The Pope's original intent for the Inquisition was a court of exception to inquire into and glean the beliefs of those differing from Catholic teaching, and to instruct them in the orthodox doctrine. It was hoped that heretics would see the falsity of their opinion and would return to the Roman Catholic Church. In the event of persistence then to protect the Catholic community from infestation on non-believer suspects were handed to civil authorities for punishment. Unfortunately the tribunals were almost entirely free from any authority, including that of the Pope hence it was impossible to eradicate abuse.

In 1478, Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) issued a papal bull allowing a second variety of the Inquisition, known as the Spanish Inquisition. This was at the specific request of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, of Spain. The regents wanted to unite their countrymen and chose Catholicism. The function of the Spanish Inquisition was to root out non-believers thus purifying the people of Spain. The Inquisitions were administered by both civil and church authorities who gave the Inquisition ultimate power. Run by secular governments much of their activities concerned the legitimacy of "conversos". Most were Jews who had converted either under duress or out of social convenience, and were suspected of secretly practicing the Jewish faith.

Throughout the 15th & 16th centuries the Spanish Inquisition brought about "a reign of terror throughout Europe" which was responsible for the impoverishment, torture, exile, and death of countless people.

In 1483 Tomas de Torquemada became the inquisitor-general for most of Spain. He was responsible for establishing the rules of inquisitorial procedure and creating branches of the Inquisition in various cities. He remained the leader of the Spanish Inquisition for fifteen years and was responsible for the execution of thousands of Spaniards. Accused heretics were identified by the general population and brought before the tribunal. They were given a chance to confess their heresy against the Catholic Church and were also encouraged to indict other heretics. If they admitted their wrongs and turned in other aggressors against the church they were either released or sentenced to a prison penalty. If they would not admit their heresy or indict others the accused were publicly introduced in a large ceremony before they were publicly killed or sentenced to a life in prison.

One form of torment was called the Spanish Chair and described a heavy iron chair in which the victim was secured by straps around his neck, arms and upper legs. Integral with the end of the chair was a pair of iron socks, in which the bare feet of the heretic were secured. A glowing brazier was placed at the feet and to prevent the extremities from heating up too quickly, the skin surface of each foot was basted with lard or oil.

French criminals suffered a similar torture especially in Brittany, where a pan containing the white-hot coals was moved slowly towards their feet until a confession had been extracted. In Italy King Ferdinand VII had a portable chair made of iron and accompanying pan underneath the seat. The Inquisition was eventually "abolished" in 1834 by King Bonaparte in 1834.

Pope Paul III established the Roman Inquisition or Congregation of the Inquisition in 1542 after alarm was spread at the increasing numbers of Protestants. In its first twelve years, the activities of the Roman Inquisition were relatively modest and were restricted almost exclusively to Italy.

When Cardinal Carafa became Pope Paul IV in 1555, he immediately urged a vigorous pursuit of "suspects." One of the main areas of interest was subversive literature and first Index of Forbidden Books was compiled in 1559. Succeeding popes tempered the zeal of the Roman Inquisition, but it was this institution that later put Galileo on trial.

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