Part I: Initial Investigations
By Fr. Ricardo of Seville O.P.
Transcribed by Gilles of Bellegarde
the Holy Office of Carcassonne, 1337
Translated by Louis Leclerc, 1972
THE DAY following the proclamation of the Inquisition and the appeal for information on heretics and their reconciliation to the people, the preliminary interrogations began. While the Chief Inquisitor looked through the first accusations, the Assistant Inquisitor began questioning the secular clergy of Bellegarde.
Present as interrogator was Assistant Inquisitor Friar Ricardo, with secretary, Gilles of Bellegarde, recording.
First witness: Parish priest Gui of Aigremont
Q: Now, Father Gui, have you ever dealt with heretics before?
A: No, my lord. Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Please, call me Father Ricardo. And relax - you're not on trial here. Yet.
A: As you say, my - Father Ricardo.
Q: You said, “not that you're aware of.” What do you mean?
A: Well, sir, you know how it is. People have questions about God and the saints. I try to answer them as best I can, but I'm not very learned, you see, and I'm afraid I might confuse them. I really just like doing weddings and baptisms, prayers at banquets, blessing of crops, you know, happy occasions. I don't pry deeply into anyone's spiritual life.
Q: No? Interesting… Well, if you ran into a heretic, what would you do?
A: I, I would try to determine if the person really was one and argue him out of it, try to get him to confess. But if it was beyond me, and it quickly would be, because I’m no good at theology, I'd tell my good lord bishop right away.
Q: Are you aware that you are required to report any and all cases of heretical thought or behavior directly and promptly to the Holy Office?
A: No, no, sir, I didn't know that. The seal of the confessional –
Q: Is void in these cases.
A: Really? Why, I never...
Q: You do now.
A: Yes, father, I do. If anything ever comes up, anything. Certainly, right away.
Q: Good. Now, what are the five biggest challenges overall you have faced as a priest?
A: What? Ah, challenges? Does this count? (laughs nervously). Well, I would have to say staying celibate, making sure I get promised donations, and then, counseling, such a bore, and of course, being a good role model. Did I mention celibacy?
Q: Yes, I got that. Have you ever abused your office? Do you know what “solicitation in the confessional” means?
A: Yes sir. I mean, no sire. I mean, no, Father, I have never abused my office, not really, but yes, I have heard that phrase, but I have never asked for anything in confession, not even a small fee. Oh, people say I eat too much at feasts, and perhaps – rarely, very rarely – I keep more than I should, but that’s it, father. I swear. Oh, there was that one girl, Isolde, once, but I confessed to the bishop and served my penance, and there was no scandal. Nobody knew. I swear, I’m not the father of her bastard. Everyone knows that.
Q: I see. So what else do you find challenging?
A: Ah, that would be funerals, then, sir. It's sometimes hard appearing as compassionate as I should. Especially for the worthless poor who are better off dead anyway. Did, did I do all right, sir?
Q: You did fine. But you should be more actively interested in the spiritual welfare of your parishioners, don’t you think?
A: Yes, father. Of course, father. I’ll try to be more inquisitive.
Q: Do so; I hope that next time, you'll have something more useful.
A: I’ll try sir, thank you sir…
The witness was released, but testimony held for possible recall.
On Thursday, the first four accused were arraigned before the court of inquiry. Chief Inquisitor D’Laval graciously decided that due to widespread hostility and suspicion that this session would be open to allow the people to watch justice be done.
First to be seized and brought before the court was Agatha, a crone of the town, a midwife by trade accused by her neighbors of sorcery. Present were the Inquisitors, Friars Jehan D’Laval and Ricardo, Bishop Pierre, serving as the panel of judges, and recording secretary, your servant, Gilles of Bellegarde. The Chief Inquisitor led the questioning.
Q: Fevers, you say, woman? You can cure them with moldy old bread?
A: Some, my lord, and infections too.
Q: Impossible. Unless witchcraft is involved. What devils have you evoked?
A: My lord, I’m a simple old woman. I know naught of devils or witchery. All I know is what I’ve tried that actually helps people.
Q: Doubtless through the aid of Satan, who seeks to deceive you, Dame Agatha.
A: But I have never prayed to the Devil! I don’t even know how. Why then would he help me?
Q: To fool others as well, of course. I think we will need to examine this more closely. Take her away.
Bishop Pierre: I agree completely, my lord.
A: My lords, truly I meant no harm. And I pray to the Blessed Mother always for my charges.
Q: That’s what they all say.
The woman was placed in the women’s cell in the Chateau’s dungeon to be held for further questioning.
The next accused brought forward was a peasant named Waldo.
Q: Ah yes, interesting. I've never seen so many complaints about one person, nor any so varied. I do not know how the same man could be accused of worshipping the Devil and of also denying he exists.
Q: Do you have any explanation for this, Waldo?
A: No, my lord.
Q: Have you any enemies in this town, by any chance, peasant?
A: I should hope not, my lord. I strive to live in peace with all my neighbors like a good Christian.
Instructed to record all things, the secretary notes that the crowd laughed.
A: But in truth, there's a certain widow who might be unhappy that my cow has a stubborn liking for her garden. Then there are those thieving merchants I sued for cheating me. And now that I think about it, the baker next door still wakes me in the middle of the night, but the lazy watchmen no longer answer my appeals. And there’s those wicked brats who constantly mock me in the street and steal my apples, I suppose. But I treat them all with kindness, sirs, and bear no ill will towards no-one, no, not even against that puffed-up parish priest who still bears a nasty grudge simply because I once innocently referred to his niece as his wife. An accident, I swear.
Believe me, good fathers, the miscreants who feel the taste of my cane deserve every whack, I assure you!
Despite the efforts of the friars to keep order, the crowd grew restive.
One voice shouted: What about the widows you took advantage of?
Another voice: And the orphans you've cheated?
Q: Quiet, the lot of you, or we will have this court cleared!
Well, Waldo, you may be the vilest member of this community but I cannot show that you a heretic nor even a great sinner.
The mob did moan in disappointment.
Q: Nonetheless, we will have you flogged for the satisfaction of the people and the edification of the young. Take him outside and give him two score of the best. Then let him go.
The crowd cheered as the peasant was dragged off. The Chief Inquisitor demanded order.
Q: Silence! No rowdiness or you may all join him.
The peasant was given forty lashes, and released only to be pelted by the crowd until rescued and set free outside of town by order of Baron Raymond.
The third accused person for the session was brought forward: Wilbert, a farmer accused of mocking the Church.
Q: It says here, freeman, that you were heard saying that your horse could pass water as holy as any that the bishop blesses. Is this true?
A: Why yes, my lord, often I have said that very thing. It is no lie, but I never meant it as an insult to good Bishop Pierre, whom I respect as the very voice of God in Bellegarde.
Bishop Pierre: Most commendable, I’m sure. But what did you mean then?
A: Well, my lord, ‘tis thus: My horse, Master Eduard, is no ordinary horse, you see. He told me so.
Q: Your horse told you so?
A: Aye, my lord. My steed talks, and very well, too, like a highborn gentleman such as yourself for he is a stallion of noble lineage. But he's very, very shy, you see. Master Eduard speaks only to me.
Bishop Pierre: Naturally. And as a “master,” doubtless only in Latin.
A: Nay, my lord. Only French.
Q: Do you jest with us, villain?
A: Never, lord! Though Master Eduard most plainly told me that his water was holy, I knew no one would believe me unless I tried it myself. So I’ve been drinking his horse piss, just like he said, and I feel wonderful!
The peasant pulled a flask out from under his jerkin and set it on the desk.
A: Would you care to try some, my lords?
The freeman Wilbert was whipped, and placed in the Abbey’s care for confinement, counseling, and observation, disposition uncertain. Soldiers were sent to bring his horse, Eduard, in for questioning. However, after refusing to talk, the beast escaped without a word when hot irons were produced.
[Ed.: Portions of several individual interrogations taken early in the process were found in the Holy Office’s archives at Carcassonne, showing how techniques other than torture were employed to gain information.]
After the midday meal, the individual sessions were resumed. Philippe the Tailor was brought before the bench. Present was Friar Ricardo and Gilles, recording.
Q: Good morning. You must be Philippe. Comfy?
A: Yes, my lord. Well enough, so far, my lord.
Q: Excellent, excellent.
A: I must say, lord, I'm rather surprised. I didn't expect cushions.
Q: No one ever does. But we don't want you to suffer unnecessarily. That's not what this is all about, is it?
At his command, the secretary rings small bell.
Q: The master inquisitor will be in momentarily. If you need anything, just yell. Sorry, just one of our little jests.
Friar Ricardo makes way for the Chief Inquisitor.
Q: Well, well. Philippe, yes? Now, what seems to be the problem...
[Ed. Records of another early interrogation of an unidentified man have also been found, apparently towards the end of the session.]
A: It was then, I think, as we buried my mother; that I changed somehow. I remember looking at the priest, and thinking about all the Masses said, the pilgrimages, the countless candles we'd lit before images of the saints, and how none of it worked. She still died and in pain that made you weep to witness.
Q: I see. And how did that make you feel?
A: Horrible. At first, I stopped believing in anything. I could not accept that I was, was so angry at God. But slowly, I came to realize just how enraged I felt. And the more I thought about it, the more I did believe, but I got the idea that there was something wrong, something basically wrong with Him, not with me. With God.
Q: And that was when you gave your soul over to Satan?
A: Interesting way of putting it. I never thought about it that way before.
Q: Well, I see by the sand that our time today is just about over. Sorry about that. It always seems to run out just when it gets interesting. But this will give you plenty of time to think until we meet again.
The prisoner was released from the rack.
A: Yes, I suppose so. You know, I've made a real breakthrough here today. Do you suppose if I could just stop hating God, I might finally forgive myself, too?
Q: Yes, let’s hope so. Well, I'll see you again next week.
A: As you wish, Father. And thank you.
Q: What? Oh, you're welcome.
The prisoner was returned to his cell.
Q: Did you get that? A confession! And so easy for once. Schedule this one for next week, same time. Oh, and make a note that the irons should already be hot. I don't want to waste any time.
The secretary respectfully inquired if he had heard wrong, for the man had also expressed contrition such as the angels in Heaven would surely rejoice over. The Inquisitor graciously instructed the secretary in the error of his ways, and I will never question the wisdom of the Lord Inquisitor again. I will write his words exactly as said.
Q: Naïve fool, you have much to learn. He’s admitted he hates God, which makes him Satan’s friend. You can't trust anything he says. We must torture him at least a little, just to be sure he really means to return to Holy Mother Church. If so, God will rejoice, but we will see first that He is not mocked. Soon he must confess his heresy. No one questions the Inquisition. No one.
The next prisoner was called...