1350: Tidericus the organist

Add comment July 2nd, 2019 Headsman

On or very near this date in 1350,* the plague-ravaged city of Visby burned a man remembered as Tidericus (Diderik) the organist.

The Gotland capital at this point stood at the fore of the Hanseatic league; the medieval maritime Laws of Wisbuy reflect its influence. The arrival in this year of the Black Death would begin Visby’s passage from merchant power to its present-day station as the “City of Ruins”. (The beautiful remains of its medieval grandeur make Visby a UNESCO heritage site.)

Small wonder that the city took its abrupt fall from greatness as an infernal conspiracy, the dimensions of which posterity decodes from a few surviving bits of correspondence.

In the midst of the plague, Gotland arrested nine itinerants as well-poisoners. For people struggling to cope with the sudden, inexplicable ravages of Pesta the inference of a malevolent hand ruining the water supply was a natural one; it emerges frequently during pandemics.

Tidericus the organista — either an organ-builder or an organ-player or both — is the only one of the Visby nine whose name we know; it seems that “with no prior coercion, [he] clearly admitted how he would poison all the wells in the cities of Stockholm, Vasteras and Arboga, and every lake, fresh water source, and various wells as he travelled around Sweden, everywhere poisoning away with his concoctions.” See, all they had to do was ask him.

What’s more, at the same time he [Tidericus] admitted that there are many who belong to a certain society which consisted of rich merchants and all the kinds of people who hold office all over the world, as many people know they do, and each of them goes around with silver belts, and they are all half mad or crazed in some other way. Also, they are all marked with a letter written in Greek or Hebrew. In his last moment he said “Need I say more? All Christendom has been poisoned by us villains and the Jews.”

It seems the well-poisoning mission had been funded by merchant-Jews in Germany named Aaron and Moses. A few different letters between Hanseatic cities around this time attest to a similar fear of Semitic contagion, possibly hinting at a wider panic outside the scanty lines of primary documentation. One letter from Lübeck (cited here) mentions a person named Keyenort who burned at the stake after confessing to pocketing three solidi from Jewish agents who wanted him to poison wells across northern Germany and Prussia; another from Torun has a more ambiguous reference to an apparent mass arrest of “baptized Jews”.

A few years after this organist’s coda, the Danes defeated Visby on the battlefield; Danish control would persist until the 17th century and consigned the once-proud Hanseatic port to a distinctly lesser stature. By century’s end, Visby would be the haunt of the Victual Brothers pirates.

* Citations are split between July 1 and 2; the sources are few, indirect, and barely dated so even the outline of events in this post is somewhat inferential.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanseatic League,History,Jews,Murder,Public Executions,Sweden

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