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Angelo Clareno joined the Franciscan order around 1274, just in time to become involved in the first serious confrontation between spiritual Franciscans and their leaders. It was in the province of Ancona, and by the 1280s things were bad enough there so that Angelo and others were thrown in prison for several years. They were released when the newly-elected minister general, Raymond Geoffroi, came through on an inspection tour. Raymond, the only minister general whose sympathies lay with the spirituals, ordered Angelo and his colleagues released and, realizing he could do little to protect them from their superiors, sent them to Armenia. Eventually they fell out with Franciscan leaders there too, and by 1294 they were back in Italy presenting themselves to the new pope, Celestine V. He offered them salvation by setting them up as a separate order, but four months after his election Celestine became the only pope on record to resign, the next pope, Bonificace VIII, canceled all his legislation, and Angelo's group seemed about to be thrown back into the arms of the Franciscan leaders , who by this point had even more to hold against them than before. Angelo's group tried to settle the problem by quietly moving to Greece, where they stayed for some years avoiding first their leaders' efforts to get them back and then a papal summons to face disciplinary action.

Around 1304, shortly after Boniface VIII's death, Angelo's group was drifting back into Italy hoping to convince the new pope that they should be recognized as a separate order. By the time they arrived the new pope himself was on his deathbed and some of the brothers settled into hermitages in the kingdom of Naples, where King Charles II and the local inquisitor, Thomas of Aversa, conspired to make their lives miserable. Angelo gives the impression that Thomas was originally rather unconcerned and let the first group he encountered go their way, but he soon learned that the king felt differently and he hurriedly moved to make up for his error. He arrested the next group of spirituals he came across and wrote the king telling him he had captured, not spirituals, but members of Fra Dolcino's sect, which was then considered the most dangerous heretical group in existence. (They are described here as "Lombards" since Dolcino's group was based in Lombardy.) The inquisitor was soon informed of his error, but that only seems to have made him angrier.

Obviously Angelo, who by that point had become leader of the Anconan spirituals, had about as little sympathy for the inquisitor as the latter had for the Anconan spirituals in his clutches. Thus we can hardly expect a balanced picture of what occurred, and Angelo was in any case not with the group. Nevertheless, he received a full report and, while this passage may not tell us exactly what happened, it at least gives us a picture of the sorts of tortures used by the inquisition.

A word is in order about the first torture described. The victim's hands were tied behind his back and he was raised by a rope tied to his wrists. He was then dropped a short distance. This was repeated again and again. (For example, imagine him being raised around twenty feet, then dropped a foot, then dropped another foot and so on.) Eventually the victim's arm sockets and tendons. were permanently damaged.

Then the Lord Andreo wrote the inquisitor informing him trustworthy people had told him that among all those the inquisitor had captured there was only one Lombard. He advised him to attend to the dignity of his inquisitorial office. He advised him as a good friend to stick to the truth in carrying out his duties, because without it neither human nor divine justice is justly performed. When the inquisitor read Lord Andreo's letter he was furious and vengefully turned all his indignation and wrath on the poor brothers he currently held. And he sent to the men of that town, who love the poor brothers deeply, a summons to appear before him in the city of Trevi after a certain number of days, with a fixed fine as penalty if they failed to appear. When they came on the appointed day he had them shut up in an old cistern and kept them there for five days, with no more ventilation than if he'd shut them up in a wine cask, not even letting them out to attend to the necessities of nature. After five days this new Dacian had a certain place in the city hastily prepared so they could be tortured by the executioners. But when he saw that the bishop and other principle people in the city took the spectacle of such men being tortured very poorly, he changed his mind and, passing through Boiano, ascended to the castle of Maginando, a remote place with a lord vicious enough to conspire in his own evil plans. There he had the prisoners, whom he had dragged along behind him in chains and who were exhausted by the trip, placed under heavy guard. The next day he visited them and, binding himself with a terrible oath, said, "Unless you confess to me that you are heretics, may God do thus and so to me if I don't kill all of you right here with a variety of tortures and torments. If, as I ask, you do confess to me that you do or did err in something or other, I'll give you a light penance and set you free immediately." The brothers replied that he should not ask them to say something that wasn't true. Telling such a wicked lie would cause death to their souls and offense to God. The furious inquisitor selected one of them who seemed more fervent than the others and was a priest, and ordered that he be tortured. The torturer entered with his assistants and tied the prisoner's hands behind his back. Then he had him raised up by means of a pulley attached to the roof of the house, which was very high. After the prisoner had hung there for an hour the rope was released suddenly. The idea was that, broken by the intense pain, he would be defeated and confess that he had once been a heretic. After he had been raised and suddenly dropped many times they asked whether he would confess that he was or had been a heretic. He replied, I'm a faithful and catholic Christian, always have been, and always will be.. If I said anything else to you shouldn't believe me, because I would only have said it to escape the torture.. Let this be my perpetual confession to you, because it's the truth. Anything else would be a lie extorted by torture."

Driven out of his mind by anger, the inquisitor ordered that, dressed in a short tunic, the prisoner be put first in a bath of hot water, then of cold. Then, with a stone tied to his feet, he was raised up again, kept there for a while, and dropped again, and his shins were poked with reeds as sharp as swords. Again and again he was hauled up until, on the thirteenth elevation, the rope broke and he fell from a great height with the stone still tied to his feet. As that destroyer of the faithful stood looking at him, he lay there only half alive, with his body shattered. The treacherous man's servant's took the body and disposed of it in a cesspool.

That inquisitor, although he was a learned man and of noble family, was so demented by fury that he began to inflict torture with his own hands. When one of the brothers who was to be tortured devoutly recommended himself to Christ, he was so insane with anger that he struck the man on the head and neck. He hit the man so hard that he drove him to the ground like a ball. For days afterward the man's neck and head hurt and his ears rang. Another brother had his head bound in the inquisitor's presence, and the binding was tightened until the torturers heard the bones in his head crack, after which they ended the torture and took him away for dead.


Translation by David Burr [[email protected]]. See his home page. He indicated that the translations are available for educational use. He intends to expand the number of translations, so keep a note of his home page.

Paul Halsall Jan 1996
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© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 6 October 2023 [CV]