The medieval Church established its monopoly over the spiritual life of Europeans in the Early Middle Ages (c. 476-1000 CE) and consolidated that power throughout the High Middle Ages (1000-1300 CE) and Late Middle Ages (1300-1500 CE). Along the way, the Church became increasingly corrupt as clergy ignored the most basic tenets of Christianity to live lavishly on the tithes of the people. Parish priests became so synonymous with hypocrisy and sin that anti-clericalism was common throughout Europe well before the High Middle Ages and contributed to the development of alternative belief systems that the Church condemned as heresies.
There was little else the common people – or even the nobility – could do about clerical corruption because the Church held the keys to one’s eternal destination. One could only attain salvation and eternal life by following the precepts of the Church, and one’s alternative was an eternity in the torments of hell or a limited, but almost equally unpleasant, stay in the fires of purgatory where one’s sins were burnt away. Heaven, hell, and purgatory were regarded as absolute certainties after death and, since the Church made all the rules regarding where a soul would wind up, people were forced to accept the clergy’s atrocious behavior.
In the early morning light, on the day after Ash Wednesday, the primary day in the Church calendar for Christian penance, Giordano Bruno, one of the most original minds of the sixteenth century, rode into Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori on a mule. Stripped naked and gagged with a leather bridle to prevent him from shouting out heresies to those present in the plaza, Bruno mounted the pile of firewood, charcoal, kindling, and pitch. Tied to the stake, Bruno turned his head away in anger when a crucifix was held up to his face. The pyre was lit and the flames leaped to consume the heretic.
A look back at the victims of the Salem Witch Trials and the mass hysteria that led to their deaths.
On September 22, 1692, eight people were hanged for their alleged crimes as witches. They were among 20 who were killed as a result of the hysteria that took place in the New England village of Salem where fear of demonic possession struck panic among the Puritans and led to more than 200 accusations against anyone suspected of witchcraft.
The Catholic Church may be in the business of saving souls, but amid the spiraling clergy sex abuse crisis, one pioneering legal mind thinks of the church as an organized crime organization.
That’s the view held by David Hickton, a former U.S. attorney in the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Two years ago, shortly after the state Office of Attorney General released a scathing report on widespread clergy sex abuse in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Hickton sought to prove that the church was criminally responsible for the egregious crimes committed by priests on minors.
Witchcraft is an area of history that most people feel familiar with. From the Salem Witch Trials to the witches of Macbeth, the figure of the witch is embedded in our culture. The problem is that most of what we think we know is wrong.
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Answered by Eugene Byrne
Published: August 16, 2012
St Thecla of Iconium (died early first century AD) was supposedly saved from burning by a miraculous downpour. Or there’s Lassi Didriksson, sentenced to burning for sorcery in Iceland in 1675, whose fire was put out by rain three times. The most famous rained-off burning wasn’t an execution, but a trial by fire in which the Italian preacher Girolamo Savonarola (1452–98) would demonstrate his divine protection as the rain fell.
Within the opening chapters of my book, Burning Blood, the witch Aurelia finds herself about to be burned at the stake.
‘Witch, you have been tried and convicted under the benevolent will of God. You are a consort of Satan and shall burn at the stake. Repent now and God may have mercy on your soul. Fail to repent and you shall writhe on that stake just as you shall writhe for eternity in the pits of Hell!’
The rough rope grazed her neck as it tightened, ready to take away her breath and leave nothing but an empty shell to cook in the flames. The cross danced in front of her face, with Christ’s tortured body hanging limply on it, the crown of thorns cutting painfully into his forehead.
‘Bring the flames and let that be the end of it,’ she intoned, her voice cutting through the rabble’s clamouring.
Pope Pius XII’s (1876-1958) actions during the Holocaust remain controversial. For much of the war, he maintained a public front of indifference and remained silent while German atrocities were committed. He refused pleas for help on the grounds of neutrality, while making statements condemning injustices in general. Privately, he sheltered a small number of Jews and spoke to a few select officials, encouraging them to help the Jews.
Protection against Satan and his witch-y minions was a hot commodity in early modern Europe.
By Gwynn Guilford
ReporterPublished January 24, 2018Last updated on July 24, 2018
In 1572, the killings began. That year, authorities in the tiny settlement of St Maximin, in present-day Germany, charged a woman named Eva with using witchcraft to murder a child. Eva confessed under torture; she, along with two women she implicated, were burned at the stake.
The pace of prosecution picked up from there. By the mid-1590s, the territory had burned 500 people as witches—an astonishing feat, for a place that only had 2,200 residents to begin with.
Why is it that early modern Europe had such a fervor for witch hunting? Between 1400 to 1782, when Switzerland tried and executed Europe’s last supposed witch, between 40,000 and 60,000 people were put to death for witchcraft, according to historical consensus. The epicenter of the witch hunts was Europe’s German-speaking heartland, an area that makes up Germany, Switzerland, and northeastern France.