This essay looks at the practice of burning corpses in the Middle Ages. Much research has concentrated on the later medieval period; however, the punishment of burning and its specific motivations and rationales for crimes such as heresy, witchcraft, and magic go back to much earlier centuries. Scrutinizing sources for the earliest burnings of heretics and witches up to the eleventh century shows that these burnings were mere lynchings and not the outcome of juridical processes administered by secular or clerical authorities. Not until the twelfth century did authorities assent to such punishments and eventually accept burning as a legal form of punishment. Rejecting a purely theological or symbolic view of the dead consigned to the flames as representing the punishments of hell, this article stresses the parallel between the saints and the cursed. If from a medieval standpoint body and soul maintained a bond after death, the relics of heretics must have seemed as frightening as those of the saints seemed blessed. The essay thus stresses the close relationship between saints and heretics through the exceptional characteristics attributed to their bodies.
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Research Article| January 01 2015
Romedio Schmitz-Esser; The Cursed and the Holy Body: Burning Corpses in the Middle Ages. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 January 2015; 45 (1): 131–157. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-2830052
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