What your mother never told you .. .. .
CHRISTIAN JUSTICE IN THE DARK AGES: The Rack
The Rack was an essential piece of torture equipment in every European prison from the start of the Roman Republic and was used right up to the end of the 1700’s the ending of which coincided with that great rebellion against the French Catholic aristocrats, the French Revolution. But the torture of the Catholic Spanish Inquisition, notably the monastery in Madrid, continued to be practiced up to 1808CE. – only being terminated by force of arms by Napoleon Boneapart himself. The Christian “Dark Ages” of torture and abject terror of the masses lasted for 1483 long years.
The Inquisition finally ended in 1870 when the Papal States were dissolved. [The Reformation of the Monasteries or more accurately the removal of the torture equipment, was claimed by the history books, to have been completed in 1526-29 CE – but in fact torture continued on for an extra 283 years. So much for the “force for good” as claimed for itself by the Christian religion!]*
Torture was used by aristocrats, Catholic Inquisitors and the civil authorities on those who challenged their power of authority or angered them somehow, and not least, those people deemed to have thoughts outside the teaching of the Holy Bible – heretics. This execution by torture was practiced for over two thousand years, from Roman slaves to Christian Heretics and Pagans. An estimate of nearly five million people, innocent people died in a most terrible way.
The Rack is where a victim has his arms and legs pulled in opposite directions by means of ropes and winches in order to dismantle it. This could be done in three clearly recognizable stages also known at the time of the Inquisition as the ‘Questions of Degree.’ The human body could be lengthened by as much as twelve inches by the progressive dislocation of the joints of the arms, spine and legs.
The three recognizable stages of dismemberment of the human body.
1) The “Question of the First Degree” was where the criminal suffers severe dislocation of the shoulders as a result of his arms being pulled up behind his or her back. (This effect could also be achieved by suspending the criminal from a monastery Hell-Hole ceiling or in police cells, as now.)
2) The “Question of the Second Degree” was where the muscles of the knee, hip and elbow arepartially torn apart and the joints get almost forced out of their sockets.
3) The “Question of the Third Degree” was where the muscles are fully torn apart from legs, thorax and abdomen, the spinal column is dismembered and all the above joints very audibly separate from their sockets, one by one.
Death soon followed, this “Third Degree.” These were the three stages or “degrees” talked of even today. Occasionally, you will hear Englishmen talking of “giving him the Third Degree” that is, torture and destruction of someone they dislike! Frequently people talk of “racking their brains” for an answer to something.
The rack in its original form was a large “A” frame trestle of which the main feature was a long top bar fitted with pulley wheels at either end, with winches below. In time, more refined racks were developed. These later developments of the rack still retained the pulley wheels and winches of course, but some cruel refinements were added.
One such refinement was a horizontal floor bench which had a single knife edge support for the “small of the back” to take the weight of the criminal’s body when at rest from torture. This required the installation of arm manacles or wooden arm stocks to enable repeated location exactly over the knife blade. The criminal would then not know which process was more painful.
Another was where a vertical ladder rack was used to hold the criminal upright to enable him to see and look down on his laughing torturers while being torn apart. In this case, as a relief from the body tension, the criminal would be lowered down and be obliged to rest his feet on sharp spikes.
The Inquisitor, who was often the Monastery Abbott, would decide as to what extent or “degree” torture was to be applied. His workers or “Jacks” would then do the required damage according to his wishes. (Jacks were the name given to the men inflicting the torture at that time. The Jack given in a set of modern-day playing cards would in reality be the King’s chief torturer – a powerful man greatly feared throughout the “Dark Ages “of Christian Europe.)
The torture could be applied repeatedly for weeks or even months according to the stamina of the criminal. After torture, he would be kept in a filthy, dirty dungeon, crowded with other people, all insane or close to it.
Those criminals condemned first to torture and then burning alive would only have their arms elongated – “The Question of the First Degree” as the rest of the body was needed intact for a good showing on the carnival parade to the fire and for the stake to hold its victim as the fire was lit.
(* The Catholic Church, claiming to be a force for good in the world, never halted these practices when they came to power, but took them over and practiced it, themselves, to Heretics and so on!! Old habits die hard and even in 1975 a young man was executed by Garrotte in Fascist Spain. ( – this is where a nail is slowly screwed into the base of the scull.).
(Illustration from the Folk Museum Exhibition, Freiburg, Germany 1992)
Adjutorium, March, 2007