1633 – Galileo is forced to recant by the Inquisition

Galileo Galilei is one of the people most credited with creating modern science – he is regarded as the father of physics and of observational astronomy. Among his acheivements are the discovery of Jupiter’s four largest moons, advances in telescope design and construction and his famous demonstration of the constant acceleration of falling objects.

An early advocate of the heliocentric theory – the idea that the Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun – Galileo Galilei was denounced for this heretical view by various members of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately for Galileo, he lived in Italy, which at the time was dominated by the power of the church. He was summoned to Rome and tried for heresy (although his true crime seems to be less his heresies and more his willingness to teach them to others).

He was convicted and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. In addition, he was forced to publicly recant his views – although legend has it that his denial was followed by the muttered words ‘E pur si muove!’ – ‘and yet it moves’ – an explicit contradiction of the Biblical doctrine that the Earth is fixed in space. It will never be known if he actually did say the words – but it’s nice to think that he did.

Referenced in:

Bohemian Rhapsody — Queen

I know, I know, the song only mentions his name… but this is such a cool story, and it’s such a cool song…

1252 — Pope Innocent IV unexpectedly authorizes the Inquisition to torture heretics

The Medieval Inquisition was a series of Inquisitions that slowly merged into a more or less continuous process of arrest and interrogation of suspected heretics. Like all good coppers, the Inquisitors often complained that they were hamstrung by the limitations under which they worked – i.e., that they needed more powers, more authority to use them, and so on. In the middle ages, what that basically meant was torture.

On May 15, Pope Innocent IV, who had been Pope for nine years and would continue in that capacity for another two, issued the now-infamous papal bull ad exstirpanda, which authorized, with some limits, the torture of suspected heretics for the purpose of eliciting confessions. The limitations were as follows:

  • that the torture did not cause loss of life or limb
  • that it was used only once
  • that the Inquisitor deemed the evidence against the accused to be virtually certain

In practice, these limitations were meaningless – loss of life or limb could be deemed accidental, ‘only once’ was often interpreted to mean a series of tortures collectively defined as one, and Inquisitors were somewhat less objective than the bull appeared to assume. Subsequent Popes would expand the scope and powers of the various Inquisitions.

Referenced in:

Soldiers of Christ — Jill Sobule
Sign of the Cross — Iron Maiden