Posts filed under 'Disemboweled'

1066: John Scotus, sacrificed to Radegast

Add comment November 10th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1066, John Scotus was sacrificed to the Slavic god Radegast.

That’s Scotus not as in the Supreme Court of the United States, but as in Scotland: our man Johannes (English Wikipedia entry | German) was an Hibernian prelate, possibly previously the Bishop of Orkney and/or the Bishop of Glasgow, who came to Saxony in 1053 as the first Bishop of Mecklenburg.

The land was governed by the Slavic Obotrites (Abodrites), commonly known in western chronicles as the Wends. Predominantly pagan, they were at the time of John’s invitation ruled by a Christian king, Gottschalk. This man’s father had converted to Christianity, and Gottschalk himself during his life had apostatized and then re-converted — illustrating the fraught balance between the confessions. A century hence, these northern unbelievers would face the blades of Christendom’s crusaders.


Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky is the enduring silver screen remnant of the Northern Crusades of the 12th-13th centuries, but the very first of these campaigns was an 1147 crusade against the Wends.

As one might infer, then, Gottschalk’s aspiration to bring his kingdom over to his faith* did not go to plan, even though (according to the near-contemporary chronicle by Adam of Bremen) he “baptized many thousands of pagans.” Many more thousands than that remained un-moved by his sermons in alien Latin; overall, pagans held perhaps a 2:1 or greater preponderance over Christians among these people.

Wound-up Wends rebelled in 1066, deposing and murdering Gottschalk while his heirs fled into exile. John Scotus was not so nimble as the latter, and his political protection having disappeared, “the aged Bishop John was taken with other Christians in Magnopolis [Mecklenburg Castle] and held for a triumph. And because he confessed Christ he was beaten with rods and then was led in mockery through one city of the Slavs after another. Since he could not be turned from the profession of Christ his hands and feet were lopped off and his body was thrown into the road. His head, however, the barbarians cut off, fixed on a spear, and offered to their god Redigast in token of their victory. These things were done in the chief city of the Slavs, Rethra, on the fourth Ides** of November.” (Cf. Adam of Bremen)

The Obotrites were definitively back in the pagan camp for the foreseeable. There was no successor Bishop of Mecklenburg for nearly a century.

* Religion was also a wedge for Gottschalk’s political perspective, of mastering pagan nobility within his realm, and allying to neighboring Christian princes abroad.

** The Ides of November was the 13th; by Latin locution, using Romans’ inclusive numbering, the “second Ides” was the “second” [first] day before that, i.e., the 12th — and the “fourth Ides” the 10th.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 11th Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Disemboweled,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture

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Feast Day of St. Erasmus (St. Elmo)

Add comment June 2nd, 2019 Headsman

June 2 is the feast date of early Christian martyr Saint Erasmus of Formia.

If a real historical figure, Erasmus of Formia was a martyr from the persecutions of Diocletian, but the most sure thing about him is that his legend has accumulated like barnacles a variety of “spurious” myth and folklore. It’s an agglomeration that reached a critical mass sufficient to elevate him to the ranks of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, medieval Christendom’s roster of popular big-time intercessors.

He was supposedly a Syrian who landed in Italy as a prelate; there’s a St. Erasmus of Antioch who might either be the same guy in his previous guise or a completely different fellow whose conflated feats explain how Erasmus (of Formia) was both a bishop and a hermit. Oddly enough the Roman Martyrology doesn’t even say that he was put to death for the faith, for Erasmus “was first scourged with leaded whips and then severely beaten with rods; he had also rosin, brimstone, lead, pitch, wax, and oil poured over him, without receiving any injury. Afterwards, under Maximian, he was again subjected to various most horrible tortures at Mola, but was still preserved from death by the power of God for the strengthening of others in the faith. Finally, celebrated for his sufferings, and called by God, he closed his life by a peaceful and holy end.”

Later legends do much him much better for drama and Executed Today eligibility, crediting him with a gory disemboweling death. It’s possible that this association proceeds from Erasmus’s official patronage of sailors: it is he who is the namesake of St. Elmo’s Fire, the electric blue light that gathers to a ship’s mast during a storm,* and his nautical portfolio made his iconographic device the windlass, a winch-and-rope crank that devotees have found suggestive (since so many saints are depicted carrying the instruments of their own martyrdoms) of a device for spooling a man’s intestines. Over time, execution by mechanical evisceration became by popular consensus the passion of Saint Elmo.

“This is one example,” writes Rosa Giorgi in Saints in Art “where imagery influenced hagiography.”


The Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus, by Sebastiano Ricci (c. 1694-1697).


The Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus, by Nicolas Poussin (1628).


Central panel of a triptych of Saint Erasmus’s martyrdom by Dieric Bouts (before 1466).

For wincingly obvious reasons, he’s also the saint to call on for any variety of abdominal distress, from stomach and intestinal maladies to the pangs of birth.

* And also a Brat Pack film.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Disemboweled,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Italy,Not Executed,Popular Culture,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Torture,Uncertain Dates

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