May 17 2004


Posted by in Uncategorized

An hour or so north from Kalamazoo is Grand Rapids. There is an exhibit about to open there that should be pretty cool, IMO – Gratia Dei. They are arranging for scholars to give presentations as well as the popular culture and child-focused museum bits, and from all of the materials I’ve seen they are working very hard at doing a very good job with the time period.

Such a good job trying to accurately portray every part of medieval life, in fact, they are pulling some of the exhibit in response to concerns about public response in the face of CNN and MSNBC headlines.

I’ve been through the torture implement room at Medieval Times, which certainly seems to be more graphic than this small display had appeared to be, and I agree – this stuff is powerful. I’ve done a lot of reading in regards to the stuff I’ve done on Inquisition trial techniques, and the witch hunts…and even knowing as much as I do (maybe because I know as much as I do) I can tell you it’s sobering.

I see the concerns of many who were interviewed for that news story – however I find that my reaction to the information on the exhibit and current headlines leads me to not be inclined to sweep this important, and yes striking, part of our history under the rug – in fact I think it may be more important than ever to face realistically that which many would like to simply forget. This practice occurred, this mindset was prevalent, and it set into motion that which we have built upon like it or not, and recognition of the need for perfunctory apologies can’t alter that which was. I would really respected a more courageous decision..but they’re running a business, and I understand that.

I have to wonder how looking at ourselves in the greater context of what shaped us (administratively/judicially, socially, religiously) is inappropriate. The political climate or newest headline does not (and should not) change that which is, and I think letting these dictate what historical information is not considered important (or warm and fuzzy) is a bad practice. Yes, graphic images don’t necessarily meet educational needs, especially when the audience may be largely made up of children. I won’t argue that gore = good. I’m a parent, too.

Yes, people are more sensitive to the topic right now. Good. Then they will take this seriously – not as some side-show display, not as some “boring” or “totally inapplicable to today” museum piece to wander past and yawn, and certainly not as something laugh at as they poke their buddy in the ribs and they tell some Beavis-and-Butthead style off-color joke. But, apparently, we’ll need to wait until people aren’t sensitive to the topic to present this piece of our history, a history shared by the Western (the U.S.’s present allies as well as detractors) and non-Western world. I hope that’s a long wait – I never want to see a society totally insensitive to it.

[FWIW I think an exhibit called By the grace of God should, you’d think, have all aspects of the medieval church and religious institutions, and that interaction with the typical medieval individual portrayed in the exhibit – which certainly could involve the possibility of accusation and questioning depending on the time and place.]

“If, when he has been decently tortured, he will not confess the truth, let other kinds of torture be laid before him, and let him be told that he must go through all of these. If, even so, he will not [confess], then a second or third day may be fixed to terrify him, or even in truth as a continuation of his torture (which permitted) but not a repetition; for tortures may not be repeated unless fresh evidence comes in against him; then indeed they may be repeated. But there is no prohibition against the continuation” (Source: Nicolas Eymerich, Directorium Inquisitorum, 1376).

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