Inquiring into Adultery and Other Wicked Deeds: Episcopal Justice in Tenth- and Early Eleventh-Century Italy

Sex medievalInquiring into Adultery and Other Wicked Deeds: Episcopal Justice in Tenth- and Early Eleventh-Century Italy

Sarah Hamilton

Viator, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp.21-44 (2010)


This article suggests that Italian bishops often had recourse to spiritual penalties to exercise their coercive authority over serious offences during the tenth and early eleventh centuries. Tracing the history of episcopal jurisdiction over serious offences from the ninth century, where it was supported by the Carolingian rulers, into the post-Carolingian world of the tenth and early eleventh centuries, it argues for continuity between the earlier and later periods. It thus revises the widely accepted view that episcopal interest in the use of such penalties only reemerged in the period after the Gregorian reform as a consequence of the political marginalization of bishops created by the emergence of the communes.


Arnulf of Milan describes how in 1008 Bishop Olderic of Asti and his brother, the Marquis Manfred, walked barefoot to the patronal church of San Ambrogio in Milan from three miles outside the city, the bishop carrying a book, the marquis a dog. Before the doors of San Ambrogio they ‘confessed their guilt most devotedly’ to Archbishop Arnulf of Milan. Bishop Odelric then placed the symbols of his office – his staff and ring – on the altar, but later took them up again with the permission of the Archbishop. The marquis donated gold to the church which was made into a cross. The two brothers then processed, still barefoot, through the city to the cathedral and there ‘were received in peace by the archbishop, clergy and the entire people’. Their actions constituted the settlement of a dispute which had begun perhaps three years earlier, upon Odelric’s appointment to the see of Asti by the German King, and later Emperor, Henry II on his first expedition into Italy; Odelric seems to have been chosen because of his brother’s support for Henry’s claim to the Italian crown.

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