Trial by ordeal
Trial by ordeal is a judicial practice by which the guilt or innocence of the accused is determined by subjecting him to an unpleasant, usually dangerous experience. Classically, the test is one of life or death and the proof of innocence is survival. In some cases, the accused is considered innocent if he escapes injury or if his injuries heal. In medieval Europe, like trial by combat, trial by ordeal was considered a judicium Dei: a procedure based on the premise that God would help the innocent by performing a miracle on his behalf. The practice has much earlier roots, however, being attested as far back as the Code of Hammurabi and the Code of Ur-Nammu, and also in animist tribal societies, such as the trial by ingestion of "red water" (calabar bean) in Sierra Leone, where the intended effect is magical rather than invocation of a deity's justice. Water-ordeal. Miniature from the chronicle. In pre-modern society, the ordeal typically ranked along with the oath and witness accounts as the central means by which to reach a judicial verdict. Indeed, the term ordeal, Old English ord?l, has the meaning of "judgment, verdict" (German Urteil, Dutch oordeel), from Proto-Germanic *uzdailjam "that which is dealt out". Priestly cooperation in trials by fire and water was forbidden by Pope Innocent III at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 and replaced by compurgation, later by inquisition. Trials by ordeal became rarer over the Late Middle Ages, often replaced by confessions extracted under torture, but the practice was discontinued only in the 16th century. Ordeal of fire typically r
quired that the accused walk a certain distance, usually nine feet, over red-hot ploughshares or holding a red-hot iron. Innocence was sometimes established by a complete lack of injury, but it was more common for the wound to be bandaged and re-examined three days later by a priest, who would pronounce that God had intervened to heal it, or that it was merely festeringЧin which case the suspect would be exiled or executed. One famous story about the ordeal of ploughshares concerned Edward the Confessor's mother, Emma of Normandy. According to legend, she was accused of adultery with Bishop ?lfwine of Winchester, but proved her innocence by walking barefoot unharmed over burning ploughshares. Another form of the ordeal required that an accused remove a stone from a pot of boiling water, oil, or lead. The assessment of the injury and the consequences of a miracle or lack of one, followed a similar procedure to that described above. An early (non-judicial) example of the test was described by Gregory of Tours in the 7th century. He describes how a Catholic saint, Hyacinth, bested an Arian rival by plucking a stone from a boiling cauldron. Gregory accepted that it took Hyacinth about an hour to complete the task (because the waters were bubbling so ferociously), but he was pleased to record that when the heretic tried, he had the skin boiled off up to his elbow. During the First Crusade, the mystic Peter Bartholomew went through the ordeal by fire in 1099 by his own choice to disprove a charge that his claimed discovery of the Holy Lance was fraudulent. He died as a result of his injuries.