1902 Encyclopedia > Flagellants


FLAGELLANTS. The practice of some form of flagel-lation as a religious observance is of very early origin, and has been more or less followed b}>- nearly every nation, both savage and civilized. Special whipping ceremonies have also had a wide prevalence. According to Herodotus (ii. 40, 61), it was the custom of the ancient Egyptians to beat themselves during or after the sacrifice at the annual festival in honour of their goddess Isis. In Lacedaemon, at the festival of Artemis Orthia or Orthosia, the chief ceremony was that of the Diamastigosis, or flogging of youths before her altar,—a custom which is said to have been introduced by Lycurgus, and which is known to have existed down to the time of Tertullian. From Sparta it spread to other places in Greece, Asia Minor, and Italy (see vol. ii. p. 644). Flagellation was a prominent feature in the Boman festival of the Lupercalia, at which it was the custom of the Luperci to run through the most fre-quented parts of the city, having leathern thongs in their hands, with which they struck all whom they met, the blow being believed to have a salutary influence (see Ovid, Fasti, ii. 425 sqq. ; Plutarch, Ccesar, 61).

The discipline of flagellation was introduced at a very early period into the Christian Church as a punishment; the first recorded instances of it are isolated cases which happened about the beginning of the 5th century; thus Augustine (Ep. 159 ad Marcell.) mentions that in his day flogging was resorted to as a means of discipline, not only by parents and schoolmasters, but also by bishops in their courts ; and Joannes Cassianus, writing about the same period, says of offending monks, " vel plagis emendantur vel expulsione purgantur." In the decrees of several provincial councils the practice is referred to as usual and right. But self-flagellation as a voluntary penance was not introduced till a considerably later period. The custom seems to have made but little progress till about the end of the 11th century, when it was largely recommended by the precepts and example of Cardinal Peter Damian; and in the 13th century fraternities were specially formed for its observance as a regular and public religious ceremony. The first of these was instituted about 1210 through the preaching of St Anthony of Padua, but the new order did not make much progress till about 1260, when, finding a favourable soil in the penitence and fear resulting from the disastrous effects of the long-protracted Guelph and Ghibel-line wars in Italy, it suddenly sprung up into vigorous growth through the exhortations and example of Bainer, a monk of Perugia. Great numbers of the inhabitants of this city, noble and ignoble, old and young, traversed the streets, carrying in their hands leathern thongs, with which, accord-ing to the chronicle of the monk of Padua, " they drew forth blood from their tortured bodies amid sighs and tears, singing at the same time penitential psalms, and en-treating the compassion of the Deity." Many of them-soon began a pilgrimage through the neighbouring towns, and in-creasing in numbers as they went, some journeyed through Lombardy into Provence, and others carried the infection to Rome. As they at first effected a considerable im-provement in the habits of the people, the religious authorities gave them their countenance; but the Ghibel-lines, dreading their political influence, prohibited them from entering their territories. Other bands of flagellants visited Bavaria, Bohemia, Austria, Hungary, and Poland, making many converts on their way; but their exhibitions gradually awakened the disgust of the better classes of society, and the tumult and disorder resulting from such large and promiscuous gatherings soon led to their pro-hibition both by the clergy and the civil rulers. The fraternities again made their appearance after the great plague in the 14th century, this time in Hungary, and spread thence through Germany. From the Continent 120 of them passed over into England, but they were finally obliged to retire without making a single convert. Pope Clement VI. fulminated a bull against the order 20th October 1349 ; and the officers of the Inquisition during the papacy of Gregory XI. persecuted them with such vigour that the sect at last disappeared altogether. An attempt made in Thuringia in 1414 by Conrad Schmidt to revive the order under the name of Cryptoflagellants was suppressed by the trial and execution of that leader and the more prominent among his followers. In the 16th century a milder form of the practice was prevalent in France, especially in the southern parts of the kingdom ; and in various places flagellating companies were formed, who, however, used the discipline chiefly in private, and only occasionally took part in public flagellating processions. Henry III. of France established a whipping brotherhood in Paris, and himself took part in the processions, but find-ing that his conduct so far from conferring on him any political benefit awakened only ridicule, he allowed his zeal for self-mortification to abate. The fraternities were suppressed in France by Henry IV., but until recent times the practice of self-flagellation continued to manifest itself intermittently in the south of France, and also in Italy and Spain ; and so late as 1820 a procession of flagellants took place at Lisbon.

See Muratori, Antiquitates Itálica; Medii ¿Evi; Boileau, His-toria, Flagellantium, translated into English under the name History of the Flagellants, or the Advantages of Discipline ; Helyot, Histoire des ordres monastiques; Gerson, Contra sectum flagellantium; Cooper, Flagellation and the Flagellants ; Schneegans, Die Geissler, namentlich die Geisselfahrt nach Strassburg, 1349, Leipsie, 1840; and especially Forstemann, Die christl. Geisslergesellschaften, Halle, 1828, and the article by Dr Zacher in Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopädie.

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