AMAZING STORIES from the past
Hung, boiled and beheaded
The death penalty - inflicted
in a wide variety of barbaric
ways - was a common
feature of life in past
On the evening of August 5, 1621, an accused criminal trotted along next to the hangman. She had not the slightest awareness of her guilt. But with a single shove, she had killed a heavily pregnant farmer's wife, a capital offence that, according to the law, could only be atoned for through death. Yet in this case the
enforcement of the death sentence must have struck even the Leipzig public executioner who carried it out as unusual. For the accused was a cow.
Cases of this kind were not uncommon: in 1403, at Mantes in France, a sow was hanged for eating a child. In 1474 a cockerel that had had the temerity to lay an egg - incontrovertible proof that it must be in league with the Devil - was put to death. And because the executioner then discovered two more eggs in its body cavity, the corpse of the dastardly bird was also burned. That the 'cockerel' might simply have been a hen with a cockerel's plumage was never considered. In 1665, the hangman of Merano, in northern Italy, carried out a death sentence for sodomy - but not against the guilty man, who was I merely condemned to serve as a galley slave - but against the calf that the accused sodomite had supposedly 'seduced'. Although these cases appear ludicrous to us, they are examples of the medieval concept of justice. It was irrelevant whether or why the culprit had been motivated to commit an unlawful act. What was important was the need to avert the wrath of God - in the form of failed harvests, or storms - that would inevitably ensue if a sin was left unatoned. So the death penalty did not just ensure law and order; it was also a means of keeping peace with God.
AN ORDINARY PROFESSION?
Whatever the motivation behind capital punishment, someone still had to carry out the sentence. And slough he killed legally, the social position of the executioner was on a par with that of an outlaw. The ostracism was so extreme that any contact with an executioner was taboo. In 1546, a man who had dared to drink in the company of a hangman was expelled from his guild. Shamed, the man killed himself.
On the other hand, public executions offered a superb, if horrifying, piece of public theatre. An especially grisly execution took place in Vienna in 1463. Wolfgang Holzer had become too closely involved in an internecine dispute among members of the ruling Habsburg dynasty and had been condemned to die. As the condemned man was led to the scaffold, the assembled crowd bayed insults at him, flung mud at him and tugged at his hair. The executioner then cut open the man's chest while he was still alive and tore out the heart, which he held up to the howling mob. Finally, he cut the heart into four pieces, which were displayed at the gates and approach roads to the city as a warning to others.
BLOODLUST AND COMPASSION
Methods of execution
Breaking on the wheel
Victims were tied onto a cartwheel, after first having their legs and arms broken.
Used mainly as a way of executing women. The condemned was trussed up, thrown in the water and pushed under with poles.
In the reign of Henry VIII, poisoners were put into a vat of water that was gradually heated to boiling point.
The principle behind the first mechanical execution device was later adopted in the guillotine. The falling blade was designed to kill quickly and painlessly.
Did executioners take any pleasure from their duties? The public executioner in Dresden claimed he could lead a man who had been beheaded by the hand for a few metres. The Elector of Saxony was keen to verify this for himself. So when the next beheading took place, the executioner stuck a piece of turf on the neck stump of his victim to staunch the flow of blood, and walked hand in hand with the beheaded man. The Elector ennobled the hangman and granted him the land on which he and his victim had promenaded. In the late 15th century, the Hamburg executioner dispatched 75 pirates in an hour. He strung them up six at a time, a practice that was later prohibited, as it didn't provide enough entertainment.
In other cases there was evidence of a degree of compassion shown by the executioner. A small bag of gunpowder would be tied under the chin of a person condemned to be burnt at the stake to shorten his suffering. And one of the main reasons for blindfolding miscreants before they died was to stop the executioner from being troubled by pangs of conscience. He would not have to look into a person's eyes as they begged for mercy. For if an executioner failed to carry out an sentence, he might be pursued by a howling mob, outraged at the loss of their afternoon's entertainment. He would lose his position, and at worst he might also pay with his life.
RAISED FROM THE DEAD
Hundreds of bizarre myths and legends surround the death penalty. The 'hanged man who thawed' was executed in the bitter winter of 1681 and cut down to be dissected for medical research. In the warmth of the dissecting room, he not only thawed out but came back to life. According to the principle that a person could only be punished once for the same crime, he was then freed to enjoy his reprieve.
Stories like these flourished around places of execution. Splinters of wood from gallows were thought to prevent warts, while the blood of a beheaded person, if drunk while warm, could cure epilepsy. Only with the Enlightenment in the 18th
century did the idea of the death penalty start to be challenged. Gradually, in certain cases, it was superseded by imprisonment. Yet even the philosopher Immanuel Kant believed that the most serious of crimes should be answered with the most serious of penalties. When the first general proscriptions of the death penalty were issued, wrongdoers were made to perform forced labour or transported, tantamount to condemning a person to death by instalments.
The death penalty is still in force today in more than 70 countries, including the superpowers of China and parts of the USA. The world's oldest punishment has lost none of its power to terrify.
GOD HAD THE "DEATH PENALTY" ON THE "BOOKS" SHALL WE SAY, IN ANCIENT ISRAEL. TODAY CERTAIN NATIONS LIKE CANADA THINK ANY DEATH SENTENCE FOR ANY KILLING, INCLUDING POLICE, CHILDREN, MASS MURDERERS AND ETC. IS BARBARIC. SUCH A MIND-SET IS TOTALLY INSANE AND IS AGAINST THE JUSTICE OF GOD. THE DEATH SENTENCE FOR CERTAIN KILLINGS IS NOT LOOKED UPON BY GOD, AS IS BY SECULAR MAN. GOD IS ABLE TO RAISE THE DEAD, AS HE WILL IN THE SECOND RESURRECTION MENTIONED IN REVELATION 20, TO THEN GRANT PEOPLE A CALLING TO SALVATION.