(Hooper himself had to work out a compromise just to be ordained in garb sufficiently modest to satisfy his conscience.)
He survived the fall of his patron Edward Seymour, but the death of Edward VI and the ensuing succession of the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor was Hooper’s demise. Historians may debate whether “Bloody Mary” really deserves her unkind nickname, but had she left a proto-Puritan loose cannon like Hooper unmolested, she would have indeed been a little lamb.
Hooper — naturally — took solace from the Word, “as St. Paul that loved the policy, laws, order, and wisdom of the Romans, yet disliked very much the vice and naughtiness of Nero, unto whom he submitted, and willingly brought into servitude both his body and goods, and rebelled not, though Nero was a naughty emperor, for his office sake, which was the ordinance of God.”
Kyteler was on to her fourth husband and had done well from her previous matches: a little too well, in fact. The various stepchildren from Kyteler’s various marriages were aggrieved that she took the assets she married into, and lavished them on her own son from the first union — a lad sporting the unfortunate handle of William Outlaw, and the unfortunate profession of moneylender.
When these restive relations presented to the local bishop a complaint couched in a supernatural hocus-pocus, family spat met an emerging and violent continent-wide jurisprudence around huntingimpiety. That bishop was English-born and French-trained Franciscan Richard de Ledrede, who saw behind the tissue of rumor and folklore a diabolical hand bent on tearing down the edifice of faith.
In this he was merely a man before his time. Civil law in these parts had previously treated witchcraft as a petty criminal offense, but in the century to come it would be promoted to existential menace, with the body count to match. That transformation was already well underway closer to Europe’s continental heart.
A veritable witches’ brew of dangerous charges against Alice ensued: that she spellbound men to steal their money; that she conducted arcane magical rituals to summon demonic aid; that she took a supernatural familiar to bed; and more. Alice and William had their own clout, however, and the case graduated into a rousing political donnybrook against the controversial bishop, “this vile, rustic vagabond from England”** — who, not obtaining the cooperation expected, outraged and/or terrified his congregants further by placing his diocese under an interdict.*
Alice eventually escaped Ireland no worse the wear — at least bodily — while William Outlaw got off with a penance.
But their politically punchless servant Petronilla (or Petronella) de Meath was left holding the bag and achieving an unwanted milestone. She would be made to confess to a litany that, while familiar by now, must have been exotic stuff in 1324 Kilkenny — a brand-new import courtesy of the church hierarchy. We’ll give this as translated from the Latin Contemporary Narrative of the proceedings by William Renwick Riddell in “The First Execution for Witchcraft in Ireland,” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, Mar. 1917
On this same day was burned Petronilla of Midia, the heretic, one of the accomplices of the said Dame Alice, who after she had been flogged by the Bishop through six parishes for her sorceries, then being in custody, confessed publicly before all the clergy and the people that at the instance of the said Alice she had wholly denied the faith of Christ and of the Church, and that she had at Alice’s instigation sacrificed in three places to devils, in each of which places she had sacrificed three cocks at cross-roads without the city to a certain demon. who called himself Robert Artson (filiam Artis) one of the inferior order from Hell, by shedding their blood and tearing them limb from limb, from the intestines of which, with spiders and black worms like scorpions with a certain plant called millefoil and other plants and disgusting worms along with the brain and the swaddling bands of a child dead without baptism, she, in the skull of a certain thief who had been beheaded, and on the instruction of the said Alice, made many confections, ointments, and powders for afflicting the bodies of the faithful, and for producing love and hatred and for making the faces of certain women on the use of certain incantations appear to certain persons to be hored like goats. She also confessed that many times she at the instance of the said Alice and sometimes in her presence had consulted devils and received responses; and that she had agreed with her (Alice) that she (Alice) should be the mediator between her and the said devil Robert, her (Alice’s) friend.
She also confessed publicly that with her own eyes she was a witness when the said demon in the form of three Ethopians carrying three iron rods in their hands appeared to her said mistress (Alice) in broad daylight and (while she was looking on) knew her (Alice) carnally, and after such a shameful act he with his own hand wiped clean the place where the crime was committed with linen from her bed.
Amongst other things she said that she with her said mistress often made a sentence of excommunication against her own husband with wax candles lighted and repeated expectoration, as their rules required. And though she was indeed herself an adept in this accursed art of theirs, she said she was nothing in comparison with her mistress, from whom she had learned all these things and many more; and indeed in all the realm of the King of England there was none more
skilled or equal to her in this art …
Publicly confessing her detestable crimes, she was burned in presence of an infinite multitude of people with due solemnity.
And this was the first heretical sorceress burned in Ireland.
A podcast about this case for Irish Heritage Week can be found here or here. (Two different links, but the same podcast.)
Feminist artist Judy Chicago set a place for this unfortunate woman at her Dinner Party, an installation piece featuring dining places for 39 notable women from history.
On this date in 1523, a Norman hermit named Jean Vallière was burned at the stake at a Paris pig market, while the books of the humanistic nobleman Louis de Berquin were burned in front of Notre Dame by the Paris parlement.
Berquin would follow Valliere’s fate ere that first decade of Lutheranism was out, but the obscurity who died on this date seems to have been an Augustinian preacher whose zany idea that Jesus was the son of Joseph and not God would have been no more welcomed by Luther than by Rome.
Friend and foe alike tended to project onto Luther any old subversive project that wanted either the imprimatur of theological credibility or the brand of the heresiarch and his “pestilential doctrine full of execrable errors.” (That’s how the Sorbonne condemned Luther in 1521.)
In this case, guilt by association was intended to intimidate with Valliere’s example scholars like Berquin. A most particular threat was a clique of reform-oriented intellectuals at Meaux under the leadership of Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples; d’Etaples that very year of 1523 completed a French translation of the New Testament.
These folk in Meaux persisted only under the personal protection of the French King Francis I and his reformist sister Marguerite of Navarre. Their project of reform within the church never really took, and neither did the Meaux circle commit itself to martyrdom for the new faith(s). But Marguerite of Navarre’s grandson would be the man to settle this century’s French Wars of Religion by conquering as a Huguenot, converting to Catholicism, and ruling illustriously as Henri IV.
This date in 1300 saw the execution in Parma, Italy of Gerard Segarelli, the founder of the order of the Apostolic Brethren who are perhaps better known for Segarelli’s apocalyptic successor, Fra Dolcino.
Despite the tendency of his follower to eclipse his star, Segarelli was himself a formidable religious reformer in a time flowering with expressions of popular piety that regularly confounded the prelates.
Dr. Pierce is completing a forthcoming book on the Apostles.
You view Segarelli as a very different sort of character from Dolcino.
One of the big issues in studying Segarelli is that he’s always tied to Dolcino. I mean, Segarelli does die a heretic, but he’s always tied to the biggest heresy. He actually founds his order in 1260 and he’s not executed until 1300, so that’s 40 years.
Doctrinally, the reason Segarelli didn’t have any issues for so long is that as far as we can tell, he never had an anti-clerical agenda. Unlike Dolcino, he doesn’t go around calling the Church the “Whore of Babylon”.
Even at the end?
No. Basically, the reason he’s executed is that he refuses to renounce his movement, it’s not that he has any doctrinal errors or anything like that.
He’s basically like a Franciscan, just 50 years later. It’s this popular, penitential movement. They have tons of support throughout central Italy, support from the lay people who provide them with shelter and food. They’re basically doing the stuff that Francis and the early Franciscans did, wandering around exhibiting the ascetic lifestyle. And it’s okay for lay people to do this at this point. Everybody does this.
Why does everybody do this? This century has an explosion of penitential religious mass movements.
Personally, I think it has to do with economics — you have the growth of cities, growth of money economy. These are urban movements. Segarelli’s in Parma, the flagellants are in Parma and other cities.
It has to do with living in this world of growing wealth, growing towns, hearing this message of poverty preached from the pulpit and then they look around and say, “wait a minute.”
Different individuals come to this conclusion — Francis, Peter Waldo, Segarelli — I don’t think they had an idea about founding a movement. They were just trying to do something to preserve their souls.
And these other groups like the Franciscans also face an internal tension between the spirit of ascetic poverty and the institutional Church.
Even before Segarelli, the guy who’s the head of the Franciscans in one letter that he wrote said, “people wandering in Italy would rather run into robbers on the road than two begging Franciscans because at least they know the robbers’ intentions.”
A lot of authors say that Segarelli is an offshoot of the poor spiritual Franciscans. But he has no connection. He tried to join the Franciscan order, but the poor order founded by St. Francis says, “yeah, you don’t have the right pedigree to be a Franciscan,” which really goes to show how institutionalized and closed the Franciscans had already become.
Most of the stuff we have about Segarelli for his first 20 years or so is from a rival Franciscan named Salimbene who’s mad that he’s making such headway. He actually says that he can’t believe that his fellow citizens are giving more to Segarelli and his Apostles than they ever did to the Franciscans. And that colors how they talk about them: in his eyes, Segarelli is a rustic from the country.
Did Segarelli preach at all?
He goes around telling people to do penance, and the Franciscan chronicler makes fun of him because he doesn’t say the Latin version, he uses the vernacular: penitenziagite instead of the Latin penitentiam agite.
Most of it was by example. You don’t have access, really, to a Bible as a lay person; this was a way for people to sort of experience the religious life without becoming a nun or a monk.
So for these first decades of his career, if he’s attracting all this criticism, why is he still tolerated?
Because he’s not really a threat. It’s a good way to channel lay piety without it becoming a threat or anything.
Bear in mind, this is after the Waldensians, after the Crusade against the Albigensians — and both of those groups talked about poverty. This gives Church figures a pretty good idea that, hey, maybe we should be accepting of these movements.
The Bishop of Parma accepted Segarelli. There was apparently a group of Apostolic sisters who did the same thing, and the Bishop of Parma sort of wrote a document saying that you get a partial indulgence for giving to them.
Given this institutional semi-support, why wasn’t Segarelli’s movement also corrupted?
There are other leaders than Segarelli, and some do have this issue. One guy is the brother of the podesta of Bologna, a pretty wealthy dude. He takes over this movement and he’s basically using people’s donations to buy horses and ride around in nice clothes. There’s a huge civil war within the Apostles. At one point Segarelli himself gets kidnapped by rival members.
It’s not until the 1280s that they start really running into problems with respect to the Catholic hierarchy, and the problem is because of the general proliferation of the lay movements. Two different popes lay out guidelines saying unestablished religious orders need to join established orders or just disband. But then you see people in the Apostolic movement ignoring that, moving into actually preaching things, which is potentially heretical, and they start attacking the Franciscans, the Friars Minor, by referring to themselves as the Friars Minimi, “the least.” The Franciscans are pretty powerful and they start going against the Apostles.
But Segarelli himself stays clear of this?
Segarelli himself doesn’t really take a leadership role even though he’s the founder. He’s sort of hands-off.
You can argue that he has some issues because he won’t follow authority when they tell him to disband. But it was after the group had been around for so long, it’d be like telling the Franciscans 40 years on, “sorry.” Early in the movement, the Apostles had actually gone to different members of the hurch hierarhy asking for a rule under which they could operate. So they’re not trying to be insurrectionaries.
How does it all break down for the Apostles, then?
It’d be too easy to say that it’s just greedy Franciscans. I think the other part is you have people who are getting into the movement, people like Dolcino, who have other agenda. And the Church is worried that they’re unregulated and without control you get improper doctrine being preached.
When it comes to it, Segarelli just refuses to disband. The Apostles had really grown beyond his personal control anyway. But at one point he escapes from the bishop’s palace where he’s sort of under house arrest and resumes his preaching, and they’re like, “all right, enough.”
What do we know about Segarelli’s relationship with Dolcino?
We think that Dolcino may have joined the order around 1290, but it’s all hearsay. Dolcino talks some about Segarelli.
What’s Segarelli’s long-term legacy?
It’s not heresy to be associated with Segarelli after he’s executed. We have Inquisitional trial records for several years after Segarelli in places like Bologna and other areas. There’s even some evidence that there were followers in France and Germany.
As time goes on, there’s a lot of people in Italy itself like Dolcino who appropriate the movement, so you have modern writers who talk about Segarelli and Dolcino as proto-Communists, or Segarelli as the real Franciscans. Some of them have an axe to grind against the institutional Church.
On this date in 1415, Czech theologian Jan Hus was burned at the stake at Konstanz for heresy.
This statue of Jan Hus in Prague’s Old Town is a tourist magnet. image (cc) autumnal fire
Hus might be the most consequential pre-Lutheran Christian religious reformer, and the Hussite faith he founded still persists to this day.
In his own time, Hus expounded a reformist theology inspired by John Wycliffe, and putting Holy Writ into the vernacular was essential to his program. His religious movement found common cause with a Bohemian political interest in exploiting western Christendom’s clown carful of rival popes to stake out greater national independence.
He eventually met his martyrdom by agreeing to come to the Council of Konstanz (Constance) under a guarantee of safe conduct, where prelates were going to sort out their rival popes and do the periodic Church reform thing.
Instead, Hus was seized and imprisoned — you don’t have to keep promises to heretics, see; it’s all a part of this noble era’s expediently plastic sense of honor — and tried and condemned and implored to recant and finally burned alive.*
But the disobedient movements Hus had kindled in life were not so easily reduced to ash.
In the aftermath of the great ecclesiastic’s execution, a significant conflict erupted in Bohemia. For a generation or so of the Hussite Wars, the man’s followers repelled Catholic incursions before they too finally succumbed.
Even then, it wasn’t over (and still isn’t). Though it wasn’t all specifically about the guy named Jan Hus — these things never are — the Catholic powers that be were still fighting and propagandizing against Hus centuries later, into the Counter-Reformation.
Today, the statue of Jan Hus that everyone flocks to see in Prague’s Old Town Square is flanked by a Catholic church on one side … and a Catholic church that’s become a Hussite church on another.
Since all of the above and a great deal more about Hus and Hussites is readily available at the search engine of your choice, we thought — after the above introduction — to redirect our conversation to a dimension of Jan Hus less widely recognized: his foundational role in the development of the modern written Czech language, and especially its use of diacritics. Hus is generally credited as the creator of the haček or caron.
The religious reform movement associated with the name of Jan Hus (1371-1415) had important consequences for the Czech literary language. Knowledge of the Bible was an important element in the reform program of Hus and his followers: the Bible was to be made available to the people in their own language and priests had to be able to expound it in a clear and straightforward manner … The establishment and continuous polishing and revision of the scriptural text played a great part in the development of the written Czech vernacular. Moreover the Czech translation profoundly influenced the earliest Polish versions of the Bible.
Hus’s own views on the language emerge not only from his practice but also from various theoretical utteranes on the subject. It has been shown that in morphology and vocabulary he tried to modernize the language in accordance with the development of natural speech. In phonology however he took up a more conservative position … Hus was also critical of another element of contemporary Prague speech, the proliferation of Germanisms in the vocabulary. In this he took up a position similar to that of many of his countrymen four or five centuries later and castigated those who said handtuch (Ger. Handtuch) for ubrusec ‘towel,’ šorc (Ger. Schurz) for zástěrka ‘apron,’ trepky (Ger. Treppen) for chódy ‘steps,’ knedlík (Ger. Knödel) for šiška ‘dumpling’ and the like. It is interesting to note that many of the Germanisms to which Hus objected have in fact disappeared from the language; yet others have resisted; knedlík, for example, has become fully domesticated.
It is in all probability to Hus that we must ascribe the establishment of the orthography of modern Czech, for this is essentially based on the diacritic system expounded in the treatise known as De orthographia bohemica. Written at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the tract, though it cannot with absolute certainty be ascribed to Hus, is nevertheless held by the great majority of scholars to be his work. …
The revolutionary innovation advocated in De orthographia bohemica was the introduction of the diacritic system, that is to say the extension of the repertory of graphemes by the user of superscript marks. For the consonants the principle adopted was to use the unmarked Latin letters for sounds which (in the contemporary pronunciation) were identical in Latin and Czech, but to indicate specifically Czech sounds by means of a superscript dot over the letter concerned. Thus … č, š, ž, ř … [which] indicated not palatal articulation but non-Latin-ness. …
It seems most probably that he was influenced by the Hebrew practice of indicating by a dot (dageš) variant phonetic realizations of the same grapheme. We know that Hus learned some Hebrew, and this would seem the most obvious source of this orthographic device. …
The diacritic orthography was not immediately accepted, despite the fact that a handful of early fifteenth-century manuscripts employed it. It gained ground in the later fifteenth and especially in the sixteenth century and became adopted as the standard. With the advent of printing in the late fifteenth century the Gothic (black-letter) form of the Latin alphabet was used for Czech books as it was for German. When the forms of the letters were standardized Hus’s lozenge-shaped dot was changed to the ‘hook’ (haček) which lives on as the reversed circumflex of the present-day Czech alphabet. The indication of vowel length, originally similar to a comma, was systematized as an acute accent (referred to in Czech as čárka) …
By the time the Hussite wars ended in the 1430′s the Czech language was in use in most spheres of national life. It was established as a medium of administrative and legal documents, and it was increasingly used for learned and technical writings … When we consider that the relative uniformity of the phonological and morphological structure of the language remained unimpaired, and that its orthography was in the process of consolidation, we can establish the mid-fifteenth century as the period of origin of the Czech literary language as a normalized, polyvalent, nationally recognized idiom.
Czechs and their normalized, polyvalent, nationally recognized idiom get a public holiday and all the hačeks they can drink in Jan Hus’s honor today.
* Just to make sure everyone got the point, this same council ordered the remains of the long-deceased Wycliffe exhumed and posthumously “executed”.
That Columbus, on his first voyage, took his departure from Gomera indicates the importance assumed by the Canaries in the development of trade with the New World and this, conjoined with their productiveness, as they became settled and cultivated, rendered them a centre of commerce frequented by the ships of all maritime nations, as well as an object of buccaneering raids, in an age when trade and piracy were sometimes indistinguishable. Their proximity to Morocco and the Guinea coast moreover exposed them to attacks from the Moors and gave them an opportunity of accumulating Moorish and negro slaves, whom the piety of the age sought to convert to Christians by the water of baptism. In various ways, therefore, there came to be abundant material for inquisitorial activity, although the JudaizingNew Christians, who furnished the Spanish tribunals with their principal business, appear to have been singularly few.
There was no haste in extending the Spanish Inquisition to the Canaries … It is not until the time of Diego de Muros [Spanish link], who was consecrated in 1496, that we have any evidence of such action … [and even then] every act, from the preliminary arrest to the final decision, was regulated from Seville …
Irregular and imperfect as may have been the organization of the tribunal, it yet managed to accomplish some convictions. In 1510 there was held an auto de fe in which there were three reconciliations for Judaism and one, of a Moorish slave, for reincidence in Mahometan error, while a fifth culprit was penanced for Judaism. Then in 1513 occurred the first relaxation, that of Alonso Fatima, a native Morisco, who had fled to Barbary. This was always deemed sufficient evidence of relapse to former errors, and he was duly burned in effigy. It was probably also to 1516* that may be attributed the first relaxation in person — that of Juan de Xeres of Seville, for Judaism. It shows that the tribunal was indifferently equipped that, when he was sentenced to torture, the physician whose presence was obligatory on such occasions, Doctor Juan Meneses de Gallegas, was required personally to administer it. It was exceedingly severe, extending to eleven jars of water; the accused was unable to endure it; he confessed his faith, was sentenced to relaxation as a relapsed and for fictitious confession, and was executed on Wednesday, June 4th. …
on June 4, 1530, another oblation was offered to God, in an auto celebrated with the same ostentation as the previous one [in 1526, with seven executions]. This time there were no relaxations in person, but there were six effigies burnt of as many Moorish slaves, who had escaped and were drowned in their infidelity while on their way to Africa and liberty. There were also the effigy and bones of Juan de Tarifa, the husband of the Ynes de Tarifa who had denounced herself in 1524; he was of Converso descent and had committed suicide in prison, which was equivalent to self-condemnation. There were three reconciliations, of which two were for Judaism and one for Islam and five penitents for minor offences.
This use of religious terror in service of slavery — the burning of those effigies who had been “drowned in their infidelity on their way to Africa and liberty” — was an overt policy of the tribunal.
Pious zeal for the salvation of these poor savages led to their baptism after capture; they could not be intelligent converts or throw off their native superstitions, and no one seemed able to realize the grim absurdity of adding the terrors of the Inquisition to the horrors of their enslaved existence. When a negro slave-girl was bemoaning her condition, she was kindly consoled with the assurance that baptism preserved her and her children from hell, to which she innocently replied that doing evil and not lack of baptism led to hell. This was heresy, for which she was duly prosecuted.
Under the inquisitorial code the attempt to escape from slavery thus was apostasy, punishable as such if unsuccessful, and expiated if successful by concremation in effigy. This is illustrated in an auto, held by Zayas and Funez, June 24, 1576, in which among sixteen effigies of absentees were those of eight slaves, seven negroes and one Moor. They had undergone baptism, had been bougt by Dona Catalina de la Cuevas and were worked on her sugar plantation. They seized a boat at Orotava and escaped to Morocco, for which they were duly prosecuted as apostates and their effigies were delivered to the flames — a ghastly mockery which does not seem to have produced the desired impression in preventing other misguided beings from flying from their salvation.
* A footnote in the text of our source notes that “in the record concerning Juan de Xeres, the year is omitted, but as Wednesday fell on June 4 in 1511, 1516, 1533 and 1539, the probable date is 1516.”
Dolcino was the millenarian successor of Gerard Segarelli, whose itinerant commune of impoverished penitents — Apostles, they called themselves, to the chagrin of the Church hierarchy — had attracted followers for near half a century before the powers that be smashed it.
The shade of the burned firebrand (and the corporeality of his refugee onetime followers) haunt the murderous monastery of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Here, the paternal Franciscan unraveling the novel’s mystery explains Fra Dolcino’s illicit movement to his naive protege.
We were talking about those excluded from the flock of sheep. For centuries, as pope and emperor tore each other apart in their quarrels over power, the excluded went on living on the fringe, like lepers … all of them were ready to hear, or to produce, every sermon that, harking back to the word of Christ, would condemn the behavior of the dogs and shepherds and would promise their punishment one day. The powerful always realized this. The recovery of the outcasts demanded reduction of the privileges of the powerful, so the excluded who became aware of their exclusion had to be branded as heretics, whatever their doctrine …
the movements of spiritual renewal were blocked; they were channeled within the bounds of an order recognized by the Pope. But what circulated underneath was not channeled. It flowed, on the one hand, into the movements of the flagellants, who endanger no one, or into the armed bands like Fra Dolcino’s …
JP: A lot of people get kind of caught up in the Dolcino part. It’s not about him until the very end.
The group itself originated in 1260, and it lasted 40-some years before it ran into any trouble. Their whole goal when they start is essentially, live a life of poverty like the original Apostles. And apparently that’s a problem for people later.
That’s really all it was about. It’s communal living, it’s not owning things at all, including houses. By 1260, they were better Franciscans than the Franciscans were.
And the Franciscans had a big presence in the city of Parma, where this thing got started, so they were slightly peeved.
So it’s a challenge to the Franciscans?
It’s not trying to show up the Franciscans, but it becomes a challenge.
The “Apostles” wander around, they beg for their food, they tell people to do penance.
The early Franciscans started off the same way, all about poverty, but once they became established, the order became all about money.
And the Apostles are not the only ones mounting this challenge.
Right. Waldensians in France predate the Franciscans by about 30 years or so.* You just have a guy in France who’s a businessman who hears a reading of the gospel saying to give up your possessions and follow Christ. And that’s what he does. He even pays someone to translate the Bible into vernacular French, which is a big no-no.
His group and Segarelli’s group are not an issue as long as they don’t say anything about the doctrine. So long as they don’t say anything about the Trinity or the Eucharist, they’re just calling people to penance — they’re okay.
But the reason these groups come along is that in that period, around 1150 — Europe is experiencing a big economic change. The haves are on the side of the church. This is the core of all of them, and it’s the core of the Dolcino philosophy as well — the church is preaching poverty, but it’s living wealthy.
So they were doing something within the practice of the Church’s community for decades. How did they get so dangerously on the outs?
The bishop of Parma actually patronizes the Apostles and grants indulgences to people who give money to them. They’re not just some kooky group that’s out there even though the main writings about them are by their opponents.**
But what happens is they become really, really popular, and people start following them, and the Franciscans get the hierarchy involved.
There’s nothing doctrinal about them until Dolcino that becomes heresy.
And what specifically is that?
You take Segarelli’s stuff about poverty and radical egalitarianism, and you have Dolcino either witness or know about the execution of Segarelli, and that sort of crystallizes for him that members of the Church are forces of evil.
Basically, Dolcino says that if they would kill this guy for preaching nothing other than poverty, which is their own message, then there’s something wrong.
Because of the persecution — Segarelli’s execution, the Inquisition moving in and questioning people — that kind of pressure is what spurs Dolcino to take off to the northern mountains. That’s sort of the catalyst for him to become apocalyptic.
But even suppressing that takes the Church years.
The chronology is muddy because we only have about three sources, but we think he joined the order before Segarelli was executed. And between 1300 and 1302 or 1303, he’s off in the northeast of Italy near Trento.
He’s from Valsesia, a river valley in the Piedmont, and he eventually returns with a bunch of followers across the mountains — between Novara and Vercelli. It’s an important area because the bishops of the two cities have been fighting each other for access to the valleys, and fighting the local feudal lords, the Biandrate.
This family that’s been controlling the region, they’ve been extending their influence far up the river valley and the farther you go up the valley, the more independent the people are up there; they hate people who encroach on their autonomy and they’ve recently rebelled and kicked them out.
Essentially, Dolcino enters this sovereign territory, and he’s saying to the inhabitants, the wealthy church and the people who live down on the plain are wicked and they’re going to assault you, and sure enough …
And that’s the rebellion that takes place, it’s these farmers and families who live up there against the Crusader army.
The Pope† allowed a papal indulgence for people going on Crusade up there. They essentially recruit a mercenary army.
The irony of it is that the things that Dolcino and his followers are accused of is raiding people’s houses and stealing all their stuff, and raiding churches and stealing all the gold. Well, guess who actually did that? And all the mercenaries needed to say when they plundered was, “uh, yeah, Dolcino did that.”
You have these non-Valsesian Crusaders and mercenaries who sort of move into these territories and basically get beat by the locals several times.
We know there was this final pitched battle. The Dolcinians flee to a mountaintop awaiting the End Times. Essentially what the Crusader army did was they starved them into submission, basically just blockaded the whole area, and then overran a bunch of starving women and children.
“On that day more than a thousand of the heretics perished in the flames, or in the river, or by the sword, in the cruellest of deaths. Thus they who made sport of God the Eternal Father and of the Catholic faith came, on the day of the Last Supper, through hunger, steel, fire, pestilence, and all wretchedness, to shame and disgraceful death, as they deserved.” (Source)
Dolcino also had a female opposite number, and the sect preached egalitarianism. Did they have an egalitarian gender politics as well?
The woman, Margaret or Margherita, it’s hard to tell exactly who she is — there’s all this embellishment. She’s sometimes called the “wife” of Dolcino, or sources call her the “mistress”, which makes it sound seedier. But we don’t actually know if they were involved or not involved. She was a former nun, and we know a little bit about her family, but there’s just not much about her.†
As to gender generally, the sources will say, these Apostles believed that nobody should own any property so they shared all their things and even their women.
So you’re meant to think that they just pass them around, but that wasn’t the case at all; there weren’t orgies and such. In this case, they did stress radical egalitarianism.
This is actually the ideology of the Christians in the first century: they also say, the world we live in is wrong, and it’s about to end — one of the things about the world they live in is, it’s patriarchal, and they come up with radical egalitarianism because there’s not supposed to be any distinctions in heaven and they’re looking forward to that.
We don’t exactly know if, in the end, it was the Dolcinians themselves fighting or the inhabitants of the area who protected them. But whoever it was, the [anti-Dolcino] sources on the battles also say, basically, “oh my God, the women are wearing pants and fighting next to the men.”
What’s the legacy of this whole movement?
In its own time, there were remnants of the Order of the Apostles still in Parma and the area for the next 20 or 30 years. It’s not heresy to be part of the group per se. There are references to sort of straggler parts of the group in France, in Spain, for the next 100 to 200 years, but it’s really hard to tell.
We do know they spread out pretty far. At one point under Segarelli they sent people to Jerusalem.
The people who live in Valsesia still today totally revere Dolcino. You can go on Dolcino hiking tours!
And there’s been this long history of appropriating his meaning.
“Thou, who perchance
Shalt shortly view the sun, this warning thou
Bear to Dolcino: bid him, if he wish not
Here soon to follow me, that with good store
Of food he arm him, lest impris’ning snows
Yield him a victim to Novara’s power,
No easy conquest else.”
-Mohammed, in Dante’s Inferno (He sounds prophetic, but Dante wrote after Dolcino’s death, with the action set while the heresiarch was still alive.)
In 1407, members of the Church went out and built a church consecrated to the fight aganist the heretics near the site where the Dolcinians were wiped out, and the local populace was outraged.
In 1907, Dolcino was appropriated by the Italian socialists. There was a workers’ group that planted a big red flag, and then they built a monument to him, with a plaque on it with the lines from Dante‘s Inferno.
There’s pictures of this monument, with tons of people up on the mountainside and they’re all dressed in their best.
And the monument lasted until the mid-1920s when the fascists blew it up with pro-fascist clerics. It was rebuilt in 1974, and you can see the old Catholic church from it — two opposing claims on Fra Dolcino.
Obviously you’re pretty sympathetic to this movement. What do you think we ought to make of them?
I think for me the key to understanding the whole order is not just to say, “well, everyone understands it wrong.” There’s a sort of willful wrongness to it, that whenever you put apocalypticism in it, it immediately puts people in the crazy category.
But in this period, when people talked about the end of the world, it didn’t necessarily mean they were nuts.
And then the other thing is, they’re not as violent and threatening as they appear on first read. I’m not even sure that they ever lifted a finger against the Crusaders, they may have just fled. Which in a sense means that they hold true to their values to the end.
‡ Margaret was also executed — allegedly turning down several smitten suitors’ offers to marry her if she would abjure. (Margaret was rich.) Although she’s most picturesquely shown burnt to death in front of Fra Dolcino during or before the latter’s torture, the sources seem to be unreliable as to whether she was in fact also executed on June 1, or on some other date.
This interesting, excommunicate sect had persisted for centuries in those hard-to-reach places in Alpine foothills, intermittently ignored and hunted. After Martin Luther, many Protestants inclined to see them as a proto-Reformation movement, or even a counter-papal apostolic succession reaching back to ancient Christianity.
At any rate, they sure weren’t Catholic.
And our friend the Duke decided — perhaps piqued by the murder of a missionary Catholic priest, or for whatever other reason — to mount one of those heresy-extirpating sorties and make them Catholic in 1655.
On April 17, the Marquis of Pianezza appeared with an overwhelming force of mixed Piedmontese, French, and Irish** troops. They conducted a few skirmishes, then made nice with the Waldensian civic leaders and induced them to quartering their troops temporarily further to some expedient pretext.
Alas! alas! these poor people were undone. They had received under their roof the executioners of themselves and their families. The first two days, the 22d and 23d of April, passed in peace, the soldiers sitting at the same table, sleeping under the same roof, and conversing freely with their destined victims …
At last the blow fell like a thunderbolt. At four of the clock on the morning of the 24th April the signal was given from the Castle of La Torre. But who shall describe the scenes that followed? On the instant a thousand assassins began the work of death …
Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, and dashed against the rocks; or, more horrible still, they were held betwixt two soldiers, who, unmoved by their piteous cries and the sight of their quivering limbs, tore them up into two halves. Their bodies were then thrown on the highways and the fields. Sick persons and old people, men and women, were burned alive in their own houses; some were hacked in pieces; some were bound up in the form of a ball, and precipitated over the rocks or rolled down the mountains … Some were slowly dismembered, and fire applied to the wounds to staunch the bleeding and prolong their sufferings; some were flayed alive; some roasted alive; others were disembowelled; some were horribly and shamefully mutilated, and of others the flesh and brains were boiled and actually eaten by these cannibals.
Without doubting the capacity of man’s inhumanity to man, the cannibalism charge reminds that we’re dealing with propaganda alongside historiography. And what great propaganda — like, babies-torn-from-incubators great.
Thumbnails (click for a larger, disturbing view) of selected images of this date’s atrocities from Samuel Morland’s The History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont
And there’s little doubt as to the overall savagery of the affair, which could well have become the opening salvo in a full-scale sectarian cleansing campaign. (A later addendum to Foxe’s Book of Martyrsnarrates the ensuing Piedmontese armed struggle, petering out before any definitive resolution in the field.)
Outrage at this hecatomb spread in Protestant Europe — which would also refer to the day’s doings as the “Bloody Easter,” since it corresponded with the eve of that celebration as reckoned by the Julian Calendar (source).
It was felt especially in Protectorate England, which intervened diplomatically.
A “day of solemn fasting and humiliation” was promulgated in Albion, along with collections for the relief of the survivors. Oliver Cromwell personally put £2,000 into the kitty.
More importantly, he dispatched diplomat Samuel Morland† to force the House of Savoy to lay off the persecution; in fact, he threatened to disrupt high statecraft between England and France unless the French twisted arms on behalf of the Waldensians.
Written correspondence for Morland’s diplomatic tour addressed to Louis XIV of France and various other continental potentates, as well as a fiery bit of oratory that Morland delivered to Savoy, all seem to have originated from the pen of Republican scribbler John Milton — the future author of Paradise Lost.‡
Milton, for whom the whole thing was more than just a day job, was further moved to put his umbrage at the slaughter into sonnet form:
Avenge O Lord thy slaughter’d Saints, whose bones
Lie scatter’d on the Alpine mountains cold,
Ev’n them who kept thy truth so pure of old
When all our Fathers worship’t Stocks and Stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groanes
Who were thy Sheep and in their antient Fold
Slayn by the bloody Piemontese that roll’d
Mother with Infant down the Rocks. Their moans
The Vales redoubl’d to the Hills, and they
To Heav’n. Their martyr’d blood and ashes sow
O’re all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple Tyrant: that from these may grow
A hunder’d-fold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian wo.
* The Waldensians in question here are interchangeably known as the Vaudois for their geographic region, actually above the Piedmont and abutting the Swiss region also known as Vaud. (These pages have visited the latter.)
On this date in 1244, over two hundred Cathar heretics submitted themselves to the stake rather than submit to the Catholic church.
Though not literally the last of the Cathars, that outlawed dualistic sect in the south of France whose extirpation occupied the papacy for much of the 13th century, this date was the last great stand and the signature massacre of the Albigensian Crusade. Afterwards, only minor outposts and isolated individuals would remain available for mop-up duty.
Heretical holdouts, fleeing a malevolent Inquisition established in the Languedoc by victorious Catholic armies, holed up at a few Cathar strongholds of which the most impressive was the mountain citadel of Montsegur.
The spectacular attraction of Montsegur tourists see today is not the legendary Cathar castle — which was razed by its conquerors — but a subsequent rebuild. (cc) image from SarahLouiseHathaway
Finally in 1243-1244, a massive Catholic army invested Montsegur; one can’t help but compare this hopeless confederation of fearless zealouts ranged against the mighty temporal powers to the Jews at Masada — and as with Masada, it were death to succumb to the besiegers.
When Montsegur finally surrendered, two hundred-some — the reported counts differ slightly — were burned at the stake for refusing to renounce their faith; many of them had actually taken sacred vows in the days before Montsegur fell.
They were Nazis, Dude?
The National Socialists’ weird quest to outrace Indiana Jones for mystical artifacts also brought the swastika to Montsegur, under the direction of the occult medievalist Otto Rahn.
Rahn thought the Holy Grail may have been secreted at Montsegur under Cathar protection, a half-literal, half-metaphorical secret goblet carrying the heretics’ forbidden gnostic wisdom from the day of Mani.
(Other Nazis, allegedly including Heinrich Himmler himself, favored the similar-sounding Spanish fortress of Montserrat. Dan Brown prefers the Knights Templar, who could have laid their gauntlets on the cup of Christ when a few Cathars allegedly slipped through Montsegur’s encirclement carrying some unidentified mysterious secret.)
In the year 1554, there was imprisoned at Ghent, in Flanders, for following Christ and living according to God’s commandments, a young brother named David, who, when examined, freely confessed his faith. Being asked what he thought of the sacrament, David said, that he considered it nothing else than idolatry. Then a priest said to him, “Friend, you err greatly, that you so readily confess your faith, for it will cost you your life, if you do not change your mind in time.” Thereupon David sweetly replied, “I am ready to shed my blood for the name of Christ, even though it should be here in this place; for God is my salvation, who will keep me, and preserve me from all evil.” The priest said, “It will not be as good as though you were put to death secretly here in this place; but you will be burnt publicly at the stake, for an everlasting reproach.” He was then brought into the court, where he was condemned to death, and his sentence was read, namely, that he had fallen from the true faith into heresy, and was therefore, according to the imperial edict, sentenced to be strangled and burned. David said, “No one will ever be able to prove by the Scriptures, that the faith for which I must now die is heresy.”
There was also sentenced to death with him a woman named Levina, who rather forsook, not only her six dear children, but also her temporal life, than her dear Lord and Bridegroom Jesus Christ. Arriving on the scaffold, David attempted to kneel down in order to offer up his prayer to God, but he was prevented, and they were immediately driven away to the stakes, standing at which, David said to Levina, “Rejoice, dear sister; for what we suffer here is not to be compared with the eternal good that awaits us.” (Rom. 8:18) When about to offer up their sacrifice, both exclaimed, “Father, into thy hands do we commend our spirits.” A little bag of gunpowder was tied to each of them, whereupon they were strangled and burned. But there happened a manifest miracle of God; for though they were completely burned, and the fire was as good as extinguished, David was seen to move his head, so that the people exclaimed, “He still lives.” The executioner seized the fork, and thrust it three times into his bowels, so that the blood flowed out; yet even after this he was still seen to move, hence, the executioner threw a chain around his neck, and bound him to the stake, and thus broke his neck.
Thus these two valiantly fought their way through, firmly trusting in God, who did not let them be confounded, since they had firmly built their building upon the only foundation; wherefore they shall never perish, but abide forever.