The Inquisition.

The Inquisition was founded in 1216 for the purpose of returning the lapsed believer to the Church of Rome, if not by reason then by force. It became an approved institution of the Church under Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241)  It never came into the four Kingdoms that then made up Great Britain, although some of its practices were adopted and practiced on alleged heretics -  many were burnt at the stake for daring to disagree with the priests.

A notable Inquisitor was Bernard Gui, a Dominican monk who later progressed to become Bishop of Lodere,  For seventeen years  from 1307-1323 he exercised  his functions as Inquisitor of Toulouse, and left behind  a "Manual for Inquisitors"  intended for the information and guidance of the young and inexperienced ecclesiastics.

He begins by explaining, erroneously, that the Waldensians are like the Cathari (ie Albigenses) and are so alike that even inquisitors could not tell the difference ( So much for understanding of religion and the issues). Precise instructions are given as to the methods to be employed.

The Summons

The suspected heretic was summoned via the local priest. It was the duty of the priest to convey the summons to his parishioner and the Sunday following at Mass to publicly renew the summons. If the person did not appear he was temporarily excommunicated. Anyone knowing his or her`s hiding place was bound to reveal it or suffer the consequence.

The Arrest

By authority of the Pope and the King (note the order !) the Inquisitor ordered the arrest and took the prisoner into the custody of the Inquisition. The expenses were defrayed by selling the prisoners goods (even before he had been tried and convicted).

The Examination

The Inquisitor and two ecclesiastics, with a notary taking notes, interview the prisoner. Testimonies or statements need not be reproduced exactly but merely the substance of the interview according to what the judges considered the truth. The Inquisitor was exempt from all laws and it was not therefore necessary to adopt any legal form. A heretics guilt could be established in two ways - By Confession; or the Testimony of witnesses.


A confession was preferred to that of testimony by witnesses. To this end Gui recommends the prisoner is kept under arrest  which "if wisely prolonged would ... incline them to conversion and to reveal the names of their brethren in heresy."

The prisoner was kept in a dungeon, shackled and manacled; refusal to cooperate inevitably meant torture.The rack and the strapada - hanging from a beam with feet off the ground so that shoulders came out of joint, were common.  Another was to be suspended over a fire  wearing boots filled with grease or oil. Interviews would be continued whilst torture took place. Guilt having been proved (by the Inquisition`s rules) it was the prisoners responsibility to abjure or persevere with his beliefs. In any event, he would be punished.


A conference  of ecclesiastics and lawyers  took place all subject to the Inquisitor Sentence could be varied by the Inquisitor but not that of death. If the prisoner recanted at the stake he could be returned to the Inquisition who expected immediate disclosure of fellow believers; that he is ready to persecute the sect from which he came; and to solemnly abjure his errors. If he did so he was then punished by imprisonment for life, on a bread and water diet, manacled and shackled.


The Church did not consider the penalties imposed to be punishment, but as penances for the good of the heretic`s soul. In the absence of retraction the judges then had to consider the death penalty. By  way of convoluted thinking they could not pronounce such a penalty and the prisoner was therefore handed over to the secular authority. Sentence of death was inevitable as failure to do so could mean that they themselves would be arraigned  for heresy.

For lesser crimes there were a variety of punishments. A provisionally released prisoner was made to wear a coat with a yellow hammer design on front and back. False witnesses - perjurors, had to wear red coats. Sometimes prisoners would be suspended before the church door so that the public might treat them as it liked. A penitent  had to wear on his clothes two yellow crosses both indoors and out and was subject of outrageous treatment wherever he went. [ In England during the 16th century penitents were forced to carry faggots, indicative of the fire they would suffer if they relapsed, and stand before the church door for several hours, perhaps for several weeks.]

Considerable finances for the Inquisitor was obtained by imposing fines, payable by the heirs of a heretic if he died before settlement. If necessary all property due to an heir was seized. This provided ample funds for the Inquisitor and in addition helped pay for churches, fountains and other buildings. Anything belonging to the heretic was confiscated.

Property used to hide in, or preached in, was destroyed, and no building was allowed on the site in future "It must be forever uninhabited, uncultivated, unenclosed, a receptacle for rubbish."

Martyrdom in Piedmont and Provence.


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