And, the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
Although Thomas Hobbes was writing about the conditions of war in 1651 not much had changed since medieval times. Life was even nastier and shorter if you caught the attention of the Inquisition. The ecclesiastical body set up by the Catholic Church to weed out those people who did not conform to its teachings, the Inquisition, was ruthless. They effectively had declared war on heretics, homosexuals and supposed witches. The Inquisition had the authority to question thoroughly (i.e., torture) its suspects.
The Inquisition in the Languedoc
On our recent trip to Carcassone in the Languedoc region of the South of France, we visited the Inquisition Museum. Unfortunately, the Inquisition held a heavy grip on the area the mid-13th century to the early 18th century. The region was a stronghold of the Cathars, a Christian sect which dared to defy some of the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Inquisition showed no mercy to the Cathars as it swept through the area.
The Inquisition Museum was truly disturbing. I had no idea there were so many different ways to harm people. I usually deal with discomfort with humour and so I got to wondering how the torture would stack up in the modern world.
When I think of torture in the present context, I can’t help but think of ex-Vice President Dick Cheney and Guantanamo Bay. He, of course, would not understand why. After all, Cheney has insisted water boarding is not torture.
The Instruments of the Inquisition
From a scale of 1-5 with with 1 not being torture to 5 being a grudging acceptance that it is, I bring you the Cheney torture scale for 7 medieval torture instruments.
The Judas Chair
The Judas Chair was used on witches. They were sat down on a chair of nails and the boards were slowly tightened until it really hurt. Death was slow because the nails would stem the flow of blood loss from the punctures.
Cheney Torture Scale: 2/5 It’s only a slightly uncomfortable seat. High back wooden chairs are never as comfortable as say a La-Z Boy recliner. Get over it.
The Hell Cage
These cages were usually found on crossroads to serve as a warning to others. Suspects were left naked in the cages. People would die from hunger or thirst if they were left in there long enough.
Cheney Torture Scale: 1/5 Naturists hang out in the fresh air all the time. How is this torture?
These were relatively easy deaths saved for important people. You know how it works.
Cheney Torture Scale: 1/5 How is this even torture? The person just dies with the briefest time of pain.
The Stretching Ladder
This ladder was used to stretch limbs to extract a confession. Usually the suspect would dislocate a shoulder.
Cheney Torture Scale: 1/5 It gives you a good stretch. Much better than yoga.
The saw was a cheap and easy way to torture on the go because usually the Inquisitors travelled without their instruments. Every village would have a saw. Either people were sawed in half completely or only half-way so that they died of blood-loss and pain.
Cheney Torture Scale: 5/5 This method is pretty sick. But somewhat pointless as two halves of a person will not divulge any information.
The Breaking Wheel
The person was tied to a wheel and beaten until the bones were broken. Then the victim was left to be eaten by crows.
Cheney Torture Scale: 2/5 At least the person was lying down. Moreover, the nurturing of wildlife is an important government duty.
The Neck Violin
The neck violin was attached to a person’s neck and arms. They had to march through the streets with a sign proclaiming their misdeed.
Cheney Torture Scale: 1/5 Exercise does a body good.
Believe it or not, these methods are only a small sampling of the devices used by the Inquisition. Their creativity and cruelty seemed to know no bounds.
Visiting the Inquisition Museum
The Inquisition Museum is located in the medieval walled Cite of Carcassone. It is comprised of two parts located in two different houses- the museum and the jail. The Museum has displays and detailed photos of torture instruments and their use. The jail has waxed figures depicting how the accused would be accused and brought to questioning. Draped in cloth, you walk through the dark house and listen to the whispers of accusers and the howl of the accused. I thought it was completely creepy. I would advise caution in visiting this museum with younger children. Teenagers who have seen any number of horror movies will not be bothered by the implied violence and mutilation.