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A burning

The past can be terrible place. One form of punishment was to be burned alive. To illustrate what this actually involves, here is a passage taken from Henry Moore's Protestant martyrology, reprinted in Torture Through The Ages (B.J. Hurwood, Tandem, London, 1974). It concerns the execution of the Reverend Dr John Hooper, Lord Bishop of Gloucester, in the year 1555 on the charge of heresy. Christianity, of course, is sourced from the Middle East.

It was a chilly, gray, and windy morning. In order to minimise his suffering the bishop had placed two bundles of reeds and two bladders full of gunpowder between his trussed up legs. After the doomed prelate had said his prayers, and the executioners had murmured their uneasy apologies, the final act of the tragedy began. Said Moore:

'Command was now given that the fire should be kindled; but, owing to the number of green faggots, it was some time before the flames set fire to the reeds. The wind being very adverse, and the morning very cold, the flames blew from him, so that he was scarcely touched by the fire. Another fire was soon kindled of a more vehement nature: it was now the bladders of gunpowder exploded, but they proved of no service to the suffering prelate. He now prayed with a loud voice.

' "Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me; Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me; Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!"

'And these were the last words he was heard to utter. But even when his face was completely black with the flames, and his tongue swelled so that he could not speak, yet his lips went till they were sunk to the gums; and he knocked his breast with his hands until one of his arms fell off, and then continued knocking with the other while the fat, water, and blood dripped out at his finger ends.

'At length, by renewing of the fire, his strength was gone, and his hand fastened in the iron which was put around him. Soon after, the whole lower part of his body being consumed, he fell over the iron that bound him, into the fire, amidst the horrible yells and acclamations of the bloody crew that surrounded him.

'This holy martyr was more than three quarters of an hour consuming; the inexpressible anguish of which he endured as a lamb, moving neither forwards, backwards, nor to any side: his nether parts were consumed and his bowels fell out some time before he expired. Thus perished in a manner the most horrible that the rage of Hell itself could not devise, in a manner more barbarous than exercised by wild American Indians to their prisoners taken in war, the right reverend father in God, Dr John Hooper, for some time Bishop of Worcester, and afterward of Gloucester.'

9 October 2015

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