Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote:
The lay Confraternità
or Compagnia di Santa Maria della Morte
were devoted to comforting condemned prisoners, spending the evening before execution with them and accompanying them to the scaffold (or chopping block). What disinguished this (and other confraternities subsequently formed) from the normal practice throughout Europe of having a priest accompany the condemned to the gallows, was the degree of their devotion and some specific practices they used, such as holding up a picture of Jesus, Mary or martyred saints to the face of the condemned (tavoletta
) in the moments leading up to the execution, so that he could meditate on such a holy subject and identify with it while he left the world.
These people were called comforters
, and they produced a book early in the 15th century called the Comforter's Manual
, which was never printed, but was copied by hand well into the 18th century, when capital punishment began to be banned in Italy (first state to do so, Tuscany, 1786). Terpstra says that this devoted transmission in manuscript form indicates that the "confraternal comforters saw their work as a mystery - not unlike the mysteries of the faith guarded by priests or the mysteries of the crafts guarded by artisans and guildsmen." (p. 184)
Book I of the Comforter's Manual
emphasizes that the comforter must bring the criminal to see that in the shadow of the gallows, the fate of the soul is more important than the fate of the body. More to the point, that dark shadow snuffs out any hope at all for saving the body, but it paradoxically brightens the chances for saving the soul. Everything rests in the prisoner's own decision to accept his execution calmly. By doing this and by forgiving all those who have had a hand in securing his death - his enemies or victims, the police and guards, the judge, the executioner - the prisoner can change his very identity. No longer a criminal, he is transformed into a martyr. And like the Good Thief crucified beside Jesus on Calvary, he can anticipate that in the instant after the axe falls or the rope tightens, he will be with Christ in paradise.
(p. 186, my bold)
Another point to be emphasized is that the comforter was not interested in the guilt or innocence of the condemned, only in making sure they save their soul. This is why Jesus and martyrs were meditated on and shown, since they were innocent but went to their death calmly. The condemned prisoner can make the same conversion, and turn their death not into a penalty for guilt but a moment of glorious martyrdom.
Cool find -- I'm sorry it's not at my local library. (Three other books by that author are there, but are on "permanent loan" to some professor.) Please pass along any other insights into the art of executing well.
The Jewish Execution, another form of capital punishment by inverted hanging, was often or even usually accompanied by an attempt to save the soul of the victim, i.e., convert them. This provided a kind of morality play in which the Christians got to feel good about themselves while torturing and killing the condemned Jew. Feeling good about themselves appears to have been a component in the practice described by Terpstra as well.
The larger body of thought was the whole idea of Ars Bene Moriendi, the art of dying well by making sure that everyone died at peace with God. A good life could be squandered by a bad death, while a penitent death could absolve one of a horrid life.
About a year and a half ago I posted an image of a tavolette and a painting (Milan, c.1450) depicting the practice. The images in most of those old posts are gone, but I restored the ones in that post to serve as reference for this thread.
Executed Criminals as Low-Lifes
http://www.tarotforum.net/showpost.php? ... stcount=40
P.S. Given the descriptions which we have found regarding the actual practice of execution by inverted hanging, there would seem to be no possibility of such absolution for the Hanged Man in Tarot. It is a protracted torture and death in which there is no point at which the victim is actually killed. Somewhere along the way, hours or days into his ordeal, he dies. The point of the process is the prolonged agony, public humiliation, and a warning to others, very much like crucifixion or breaking on the wheel. As an example, if the Jews converted then they were given a quick and much more dignified death, while those who did not convert were hung upside down, over a fire, and torn at by dogs... a very BAD death indeed. Does Terpstra discuss the various forms of ultra-degrading and horrific execution, such as that depicted in Tarot?
Ah... an excellent section on the execution ritual in Bologna... very nice. God bless Google Books.
P.P.S. An informative article... unfortunately, sans images. Here are a few snips.
A persistent Aristotelian current in renaissance thought justified and provided impetus to the belief in the efficacy of images for prayer and penance. Aristotle's conception of the fundamental workings of the mind, which he did not distinguish from the soul, involved the transmission of external and internal images. According to him, all impressions of the world (and knowledge) pass through the bodily senses to a mechanism located in the heart, called the proton organon, which transforms them into phantasmata--phantasms or mental images--perceptible to the soul, in this theory of intelligence, thought is regarded as little more than the reception, distribution, and creation of images. Aristotle's notion of cerebral (or cardiac) functions is reflected in the term that he used for the essential operation in the thought process--not 'ideation' or 'cognition', but 'imagination. He summarised such beliefs in the influential statement Numquam sine phantasmate intelligit anima, 'the soul can understand nothing without phantasms'. In this visually-privileged scheme, language and abstract concepts need to be converted into phantasms in order to reach the soul or, as loan Couliano has succinctly remarked, 'the phantasm has absolute primacy over the word'. Implicit is the understanding that both sensory and mental images, of the various components of thought, pass through the intellect to the soul most directly and efficiently.
Feinberg writes that Aquinas believed "the soul's state will remain forever fixed at the moment of death, since 'it is natural to the soul to understand by turning to sense-images [and, therefore,] death won't change the soul's nature, and after death, when the soul has no sense-images to turn to, it presumably won't understand anything naturally'."
Augustine, an authority on deathbed contrition, advocated the crucified Good Thief as a model for repentance, even for non-criminals. (29) Following the dictates of Gregory, the terminally ill were encouraged to imitate Christ's actions on the cross. (30) Gradually, early church rituals expanded to include recitation of the seven penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51,102, 130 and 143), the litanies of the Virgin and saints, and, eventually (by the seventh or eighth century), the Office of the Dead. (31) At the beginning of the thirteenth century, Dominic (1170-1221) and his disciples provided an influential example of the use of images for prayer and penance.
He goes into the Ars Moriendi in some detail, and references some other works that also appear in Terpstra. Really makes me want to read Terpstra, but I guess I'll have to settle for what I can get via Google Books. (There are some great pictures in there, too.)
Imagination All Compact:
Tavolette and Confraternity Rituals for the Condemned in Renaissance Italy
Larry J. Feinberg
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m ... n15950205/
We are either dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, or we are just dwarfs.