Trials for Sorcery in Early Fourteenth-Century Avignon

Trials for Sorcery in Early Fourteenth-Century Avignon

Session:Politics, Condemnation, and Sorcery in the Fourteenth Century

By Robert Ticknor, Tulane University

This paper dealt with the question of magic and sorcery and the bridge between abstract theological questions and actual magic.

The general category of magic is crucial to the understanding cultural mores in societies. Magic takes a more central position in religion and certain social groups than previously thought; it is not just a sidebar to the witch hunt.

What does it mean to charge someone with witchcraft in the 14th century?When can one use the term “magic”? Historians often look to anthropologists however, some of these definitions don’t fit into phenomena considered “magic” by people in the 14th century. Classic authors and texts by early Christian writers were used as definitions of magic even if these were now obsolete, i.e., the writing of Isadore de Seville. Scholastic and theological treatises don’t offer much in the way of the practice of magic but they do serve as a starting point. Magic and miracles are fundamentally opposed but can look the same. Modern historians blur these lines but in the minds of people in the Middle Ages – there was a very definite separation of these two ideas of magic and miracles.

A case of sorcery in the 14th century: In 1303, a Franciscan friar by the name of Bernard of Délicieux preached a sermon that rose up against the Inquisition; Bernard took over the town and freed people incarcerated by them. Bernard also prophesied the Pope’s death; when the Pope died a few months after his prophesy, Bernard was accused of sorcery in the Pope’s “murder”. In 1317, Bernard was arrested for the Pope’s murder after ‘lying low’ since 1306. Bernard claimed he prophesied the Pope’s death through Scripture, but nonetheless, he was tortured and then released. He was convicted of impeding the Inquisition and then stripped of his clerical status and sentenced to life in prison where he died in 1320.

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