Part II: Interrogation of
By Fr. Ricardo of Seville O.P.
Transcribed by Gilles of Bellegarde
the Holy Office of Carcassonne, 1337
Translated by Louis Leclerc, 1972
THE FOURTH AND FINAL PERSON brought before the sacred court this day was the town’s noted natural philosopher, Master Ieronimus.
Q: Next is that alchemist rascal, I believe. Bring forth Heronimo.
The Assistant Inquisitor ordered the soldiers to bring out a wooden chest filled with metal tubes and instruments. One curious device was made of various sizes of lenses lined up along a beam mounted on a swivel, which they set up in front of the inquisitors.
Q: So you are a philosopher, are you?
A: Merely a humble student of Nature, my lord. I leave the more important matters of morality and theology to the truly learned experts such as your worthy selves.
Q: Well-spoken for a madman, but to be expected from a charlatan. So, fellow, what is this thing before us?
A: Ah that, my lord, is my wondrous Ampliospectus, what the vulgar might call a “Sight Enlarger” and a marvelous thing it is indeed, if I do say so myself. Please, feel free to examine it. If your graces will allow me to prove that I am neither confused nor cunning, I can easily adjust it to show you some amazing wonders.
Q: Such as some demons to snare whoever gazes on them? No, I think not. Just tell us what this magic mirror contraption does.
A: No sorcery involved, reverend sirs, only the laws of Nature that the Creator ordained. It works just as these eyeglasses of mine and those of your grace do. In fact, that is how I came to make the Ampliospectus. My pair of Italian spectacles broke once, and I noticed that objects seen through both lenses appeared even larger. So I ground more lenses myself and mounted them thusly.
Q: But what does it do?
A: The Ampliospectus makes whatever small or distant thing you gaze at through it seem bigger and closer. And with it I have discovered many fabulous wonders of creation that show forth the greatness and majesty of God.
Some of Heronimo’s inventions from his notebooks. Clockwise, left to right: His Ampliospectus or Sight Enlarger, with various lens and sample stands, the Great Clock of Bellegarde, the lens from the oculus occultus, and the infamous – and for centuries thought mere legend – Vials of Life and Death.
Q: Have you now? Such as?
A: Well, when I looked at the Moon, I could see high peaks and vast plains. It is a world like our own, my lord. And not just the Moon: Venus, too, I found, to be a world also, round as a ball, showing phases just like the Moon.
And mighty Jupiter rules over moons of its own that dance around it like courtiers.
The Milky Way, I saw to my delight, is an uncounted multitude of stars, too tiny to be individually seen, like grains of sand along the beach. Their faintness, I believe, but shows their great distances from us.
Our glorious Sun is but the nearest star of all, just as the stars are Suns far away. The sky is not a series of domes just above the clouds but unthinkably larger.
And all things are somehow suspended from it in an immense void.
As hens are circled by chicks, so perhaps stars keep also courts of living worlds as does ours, other lands peopled by beings not unlike ourselves.
Some who might even trek between stars across vast gulfs of Heaven in mighty ships riding starlight like the wind.
A: Cease spouting this madness! Do not play the lunatic, I warn you, like some fellow who bites the heads off chickens at a carnival! You cannot escape God’s justice so.
Bishop Pierre spoke: Pray, my lord. I know this fellow. He habitually prates on so. And while there is much he says no man can fathom; I have never known him to lie or deceive. We may not understand this strange speech, but I have seen him produce such marvels that I do not doubt that if old Heronimo says he saw it, I believe him. If this “science” is lunacy, it is a most effective kind. But whether these wonders are truly of God or the Devil, however, I know not.
A: They are of neither, good lords, but of Nature! And I haven’t even related the most astounding discoveries of all. For when I turned the Ampliospectus around to look at a drop of water, my lords, I saw living —
The Chief Inquisitor smashed the instrument to the floor.
Q: Enough of this diabolical mummery! I will hear no more of this blasphemy.
A: Blasphemy? Your pardon, lord, all I sought was to explain how this has increased my faith in God.
Q: Bah! Even devils believe and tremble. What I want to know is how you use these instruments to spy on and bewitch your neighbors, as numerous complaints here before us allege.
A: All right then. Perhaps, perhaps I can explain that. I confess that I did peek into certain windows in the town to test my instrument and I ought not to have. And yes, I thought to test the keenness of the glasses by working with agreeable images.
So I have looked – for science sake only, of course – occasionally at maidens bathing or dressing, or undressing, or sleeping, for rather long periods trying to get the arrangement just right. I suppose I could have been spotted once or possibly several times, and my innocent activities mistaken for something else.
But my lords, I assure you, that was all!
Even I, who with my Ampliospectus did behold mountains on the moon and creatures sporting in the dew, have no mirror to bedazzle the soul. That art belongs to another age as yet undreamed of.
The Chief Inquisitor ordered that it be noted that the accused has denied the charges of sorcery, but did admit to public lewdness and lechery.
Q: We will talk much more about that later, I promise you, Master Ignoramus. As for now, I must ask if this so-called “Vision of the Pelluvium Sanctissimum” you have been said to have seen. Has also helped with your faith in God?
A: Most assuredly it would, for what other purpose would such a grace be given?
The Chief Inquisitor instructed a soldier to strike the accused.
Q: Content yourself with this: we rely not on grace, nor such crudity as this. We have access to all manner of more refined devices to pry the truth out, the cunning of which, you, of all men, would appreciate. Do not make me explain their uses.
So then, again, we ask: you answer. The question is not only if you have had this “vision” but why you prevaricate.
A: Instruct me, my lords, I pray. Which would you like?
The Chief Inquisitor told the soldier to strike the accused again.
A: Enough, I, I saw something once, a light, in the church long ago. It might be what they call “the Vision”; I hesitate for fear of treading in fields beyond my knowledge.
Q: So it’s humility that keeps you silent? Let us hear your wisdom, o philosopher of nature.
A: What I saw was real, I doubt it not. It was not in the minds, lest there is some sorcery that can make an entire company – including august men of God such as the blessed Friar Lorenzo – see and believe a diabolical illusion but a real vision, a shining spot where none should be…
[Ed.: The transcript ends abruptly at this point.]