Terrible Deeds: Thousand of People Have Been Burned Alive in Christ’s Name

Templar Knights leader Jacques de Molay being led to the stake where he will be burned alive
Knights Templar leader Jacques de Molay being led to the stake where he will be burned alive

The right wing’s anti-Obama outrage-du-jour comes in reaction to the president’s comment at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday about the excesses of religious extremism:

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Republicans don’t like being reminded that Christians have a long history of violence and depravity. In an interview on Fox with Sean Hannity, Charles Krauthammer said he was “stunned that the president could say something so at once banal and offensive.” Rush Limbaugh said the president had insulted the “whole gamut of Christians.” Bill Donahue, a far right Catholic activist, described the president’s comments as “pernicious” and “insulting.”

What these conservative pundits failed to address, however, is the simple but irrefutable fact that what the president said was true.

While Obama did not specifically reference burning people alive, his remarks came just days after ISIS, the apocalyptic Islamic right-wing terror group, stunned the world by releasing video of its execution of a Jordanian pilot by burning him alive, and it was that particular barbarous act that prompted his comment. It is an unfortunate fact that burning people alive is among the “terrible deeds” done by Christians over the centuries. In fact, Christians burned alive between 40,000 and 100,000 people in Europe over the years, all in the name of Christ.

It was a gruesome practice:

A stake was erected for the victim on a spot designed for the following execution and around the stake piles of straw and wood were placed. The victim had their clothes removed and dressed in a shirt imbibed in sulphur; then the executioner would bound them to the stakes. After this, the fire was lit and the victim burned to death.

There were different ways of burning at the stake: the first method used a heap of faggots piled around a wooden stake (it seems that British and Spanish Inquisition had a special preference for this method because of its visual impact). Unfortunately for the victim, this was an extremely agonizing death because they were alive for a long time before the fire reached the head. The second method was more “humane” as it led to a quicker death since the victim died from carbon monoxide poisoning before suffering extreme pain. The third method involved a ladder with the victim tied on it, which was let down onto the fire.

The most famous Christian whom other Christians burned alive was Joan of Arc, but there were others whose lives and deaths were historically noteworthy:

1314: Jacques de Molay, the final (known) leader of the Knights Templar, was burned alive in Paris on a charge of heresy as were 53 other Templars.

1431: Joan of Arc, a hero in France’s 100 Years War, was burned for the crime of heresy by Christian leaders.

1528: Patrick Hamilton, a young college professor in St. Andrews, Scotland, was burned alive for the crime of heresy against the Catholic Church.

1546: Anne Askew: the first Englishwoman known to have demanded a divorce, she was tortured on the rack, then burned alive in London, along with John Lascelles, John Adams and Nicholas Belenian, all of whom were burned alive for the crime of heresy.

1553: Michael Servetus, a Spanish physician, was burned alive for the crime of heresy in Geneva. His execution had the approval of Protestant leader John Calvin.

1555: Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a leader in the English Reformation, was charged with heresy and burned alive on orders of Mary I, “Bloody Mary,” the first Catholic ruler of Great Britain after her father, Henry VIII, converted the country to Protestantism. Cranmer was just one of 274 Protestant heretics who were burned alive at Bloody Mary’s behest.

1563: Agnes Sampson was one of 24 people (23 women and one man) burned alive for the crime of witchcraft in Scotland that year. Sampson was burned on direct orders from James I, sponsor of the King James Bible, for the crime of using sorcery to create storms.

1600: Giordano Bruno, a Dominican priest who espoused scientific theories developed by Copernicus, was burned alive as a heretic during the Inquisition.

1661: Jacques Chausson, a French writer, was burned alive after being accused of being gay.

1680: Catherine Monvoisin, a French doctor also known as La Voisin, whose patients included many noblewomen, was burned alive for the crime of witchcraft.

1749: Abraham ben Abraham was burned alive for the crime of converting from Christianity to Judaism.

One comment

  • May 11, 2015 - 1:25 am | Permalink

    My question or concern is that, why is it that all of the references surrounding Christians burning or killing people are all in the 16th and 17th centuries unlike today where we all see these things happening around us?

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