Friday, July 4, 2014

Medieval Punishments

Shame was a potent punishment hundreds of years ago.  The man forced to wear this mask had stuck his nose into too many peoples' business; or the horns might indicate he'd been cuckolded by an unfaithful wife; or maybe the person simply had very bad thoughts as symbolized by the snake and the devil.

In tiny villages where people lived their entire lives within a few blocks of each other, one's reputation was important. Being mocked or shamed by all your neighbors was painful, so magistrates found imaginative ways to punish people by placing them in embarrassing contraptions.

The person forced to stand in this cage in the town's main square was jeered by everyone who passed.
The guy who had one too many every Saturday night might find himself being dunked in the river to restore his sobriety.
Truly serious criminals might be tortured by being invited to sit in this chair.
Or arranged somehow in this device designed to stretch their bodies to new heights.

People for whom shame or torture did not work were dispatched via the executioner's ax or on his gallows.  While there were many photos of axes and "head rests" in Rothenburg's Criminal Museum, the information about the executioner or hangman was more fascinating.

People didn't like their bloody trade so they were shunned socially.  They had to sit in a special section in church, be served communion last, and could only marry offspring from another executioner's family.  These men, who carried out the will of the people, seemed to me to, in turn, be punished their entire lives for doing their job.  Hardly seems fair.
The Criminal Museum is full of interesting facts like these.  Exhibits, torture implements, jurisprudence rules, and displays cover four floors in this unique museum.
I'm sure the man I caught in the witch-catcher is innocent.
When David first suggested this place, I was skeptical.  Who wants to see macabre torture devices on a Sunday morning?  But, in fact, the Museum was fascinating as it traced the history of law and punishments over a thousand year period. 
We first saw these hats in the Black Forest Museum in Triberg, but I wasn't the least surprised to see them included in the Criminal Museum too.  Wearing any one of the three would have been a special kind of torture.  Don't you agree?

Practicalities -
The Criminal Museum is one of Rothenburg's highlights.  Be sure to allow at least two hours for its four floors.

1 comment:

  1. Oh yes it looks horrible ! I have visited this kind of Museum in Southern France ... But in fact nowadays are we less "barbarian" ???