Monday, 21 April 2014


From the rules of Ildefonso College:
  • No one is to be served food outside the dining hall.
  • Members of the college will drink from silver cups (donated to Ildefonso by the founder), so that beverages may be served in a becoming fashion.
  • Each person will also be supplied with a knife, a saltshaker, and a jar of water.
  • Each person will eat the same quantity of food, prepared in the same manner.
  • During lunch and dinner spiritual reading shall not be neglected. Ordinarily the Bible shall be read at lunch. At dinner, other books of saints or doctors may be read, as long as they are approved by the church.
  • If the reader mispronounces words or mumbles, he shall be corrected by a senior lecturer in theology. If no theologian is present, a professor in the faculty of Arts will do the correcting.
  • Let everyone listen attentively to the reader and beware of seditious and scandalous talk, on threat of a harsh penalty proportionate to the seriousness of the offense and the status of the person.
  • Only those whose business it is to prepare and season food are allowed to enter the kitchen or the cellar. Any resident found on the premises will be deprived of his portion of wine for the day.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014


Cover image of Pfefferkorn's book
This description comes from a booklet entitled How the Blind Jews celebrate their Easter (Wie die blinden Juden yr Ostern halten). The author, Johann Pfefferkorn, was a German Jew who converted to Christianity.  The book clearly shows his anti-Semitic bias, but provided German readers with an early (the first?) account of Jewish religious practices.  

  • The flour to be used in the holy meal must be ground with a clean and newly-hewn grindstone and kept in freshly-washed bags. … The houses of the Jews are very smelly and unclean, but at the time of this feast they are quite determined to cleanse all rooms in their houses and to sweep them clean, also to scour clean their utensils, especially pots and bowls, and anything else used in the preparation of food, although they do not use them at this time. Rather, they have dishes specially kept from year to year for this feast. They also polish to a sheen all the silver and pewter dishes…Then they bring them to the rabbi for inspection, whether they are clean and right for use in this feast.
  • On the second day before Easter, after sundown, the head of the household himself goes with a lit candle from room to room and zealously searches the whole house, and if he finds anything unclean, he collects it and burns it to ashes.
  • On the day before Easter, after sundown, they make dough [of clean flour and water fetched from a stream], but without salt or yeast… The head of the household himself takes the dough and with his own hands fashions three cakes.
  • When the cake has been eaten in the proper manner, each person takes up his prayer book. Then, on the command of the father of the family, the door is opened and someone riding a donkey, which has been ordered for this purpose, comes into the room. All who sit there loudly recite the words of the [79th] psalm, like this: “O Lord pour out your wrath over the nations that do not acknowledge you” – meaning us Christians.
  • Around midnight they go to bed and that night act very unchastely, for each of them hopes that the Messiah will be born of him.
 (For Pfefferkorn's anti-Semitic campaign and the resulting controversy with Reuchlin, see my book: The Case against Johann Reuchlin. Religious and Social Controversy in Sixteenth-Century Germany)


Monday, 14 April 2014

EARLY MODERN CURFEW: Life in a college residence.

From the 1510 regulations governing the life in Ildefonso College in Alcala:

The Gated Community.
  • The main gate shall always be locked at dusk. Other gates shall be locked between seven and nine, according to the seasons.
  • Fifteen minutes before the gate is locked the large bell shall be rung nine times to warn visitors to leave.  A councilor will then make the rounds to examine the locks of the gates. Any visitor who is caught after the gates are locked will be lowered by a rope from the window. 
  • The gates will only be unlocked in case of an emergency, when there is need for a physician, for example…and only in the presence of the rector and councilors.
  • Anyone who attempts to unlock a gate in other circumstances, shall be expelled from the College and never admitted again.
The Library. 
  • The library will be open four hours a day.
  • The books shall at all times be chained in their proper place so that they may not easily be taken away. And we forbid that they be lent to anyone.
  • Chaplains and fellows will have their own keys and are responsible for locking up again, on penalty of being deprived of their dinner.
  • Anyone taking a book from the library will be deprived of his dinner for fifteen days on the first occasion. The penalty will be doubled on the second infraction. On the third he shall be expelled from College.
  • If the person is a visitor, he automatically incurs a sentence of excommunication.
  • The books must be dusted at least once a month.


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

EARLY MODERN TREATMENT: Possessed by the Devil and punished by the Inquisition.

In 1552, the wool carder Bartolomé Sanchez of Cardenete sensed that he was possessed by the devil. The Inquisition immediately took an interest in him.

According to trial records, Sanchez attempted to get rid of the Devil by the DIY method:
On the advice of the village priest, I went to do penance at the Dominican monastery.
I wrapped a rope of raw matweed around my body at the waist and gave it about five or six turns so it would cut into my flesh. I prepared five stones that weighed about 25 pounds and put them inside some saddlebags, which I intended to carry to the monastery as a form of penance. I then ordered my son to read some prayers because I was so high and dizzy I couldn’t pray on my own. To drive out the devil, I began shouting Get out, cursed Lucifer, I did not give you permission to come in here.

But the Devil kept plaguing Sanchez, and the Inquisition had him imprisoned. His cell mate, however, testified that he seemed normal: I have not seen Bartolom√© Sanchez out of his senses or understanding…he does nothing but eat and sleep and walk to and fro.

In the final sentencing, Sanchez was nevertheless declared a heretic and apostate, excommunicated and released to the secular arm of justice. All of his property was confiscated…His descendants for two generation were deprived of all and any benefices, dignities, and offices… and ineligible to bear weapons or ride on horseback.

Sanchez abjured his errors publicly:
Mercy! I confess. I want to convert to our Holy Catholic Faith…I fully understood the error I was in and in which the devil kept me fooled…I am sorry for all of it, and I beg God for mercy.

He was released, but had to wear the sanbenito – a shirt that identified him as a former heretic. Every Saturday, moreover, he had to make a short pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Bridge outside the city walls.

Unfortunately Sanchez suffered a relapse. While attending mass, he began shouting and striking at those around him, calling them goddamned buggers…and foaming at the mouth.

In 1560, the Inquisition finally acknowledged that Sanchez was mentally ill and put him into an asylum in Zaragoza.
(Source: Sara Tilghman Nalle, Mad for God)

Sunday, 6 April 2014

EARLY MODERN JOKES. From Poggio Bracciolini’s Facetiae

A priest, who had buried his pet dog in the churchyard, was told this was unlawful. His case was tried in the episcopal court. He pleaded with the bishop: O father, if you only knew the wisdom of that dog! At the close of his life he made his will and left you fifty ducats. The bishop approved of the burial, collected his inheritance, and had the case dismissed.


A woman fell into a river and drowned. Her husband searched for her body but was told he was looking in the wrong place. He ought to search for her downriver. I know what I am doing, replied the man. She was always so stubborn and self-willed and so contrary that she would never float with the current.


An ambassador visited Pope Urban and was told to keep his speech short because His Holiness was ailing. But the man had prepared and memorized a long oration and wasn’t going to let it go to waste. As he went on and on, the pope showed some annoyance, and the ambassador feared his petition would be denied. He corrected his mistake, saying: Holy Father, my instructions are -- if you do not consent to our request, I must repeat my speech.  The pope immediately gave orders to have this business attended to.


Pope Martin was displeased with a letter his secretary had composed and wanted it revised. The man re-submitted the letter on the following day, and the pope was satisfied. What did you change? he asked. Nothing, the secretary said, and told him the following story:
Galeazzo Visconti, the father of Duke of Milan, was excessively corpulent. One day, after he had eaten a very large meal, his breeches felt uncomfortably tight. He summoned his tailor and overwhelmed him with reproaches, accusing him of having made the breeches too narrow and ordering him to enlarge them. The tailor bowed and took them away. At home, he hung the breeches on a peg, and went to bed. But don’t you need to alter the garment? the tailor’s wife asked. No, he said: Tomorrow when his digestion is finished, the breeches will fit. And sure enough, when he returned them the next morning, Visconti said: Perfect! They no longer pinch me anywhere.

Okay, okay, I hear you. Poggio wouldn’t have made it as a stand-up comedian.