Even more remarkable, as a manifestation of popular emotion, was the first apparition of the Flagellants. Suddenly, in 1259, in Perugia, no one knew why, the population was seized with a, fury of devotional penitence, without incitement by friar or priest. The contagion spread, and soon the whole of upper Italy was filled with tens of thousands of penitents. Nobles and peasants, old and young, even to children five years of age, walked solemnly in procession, two by two, naked except a loin-cloth, weeping and praying God for mercy, and scourging themselves with leather thongs to the drawing of blood. The women decently inflicted the penance on themselves in their chambers, but the men marched through the cities by day and night, in the sharpest winter, preceded by priests with crosses and banners, to the churches, where they prostrated themselves before the altars. A contemporary tells us that the fields and mountains echoed with the voices of the sinners calling to God, while music and love-songs were heard no more. A general fever of repentance and amendment seized the people. Usurers and robbers restored their ill-gotten gain ; criminals confessed their sins and renounced their vices ; the prison doors were thrown open, and the captives walked forth ; homicides offered themselves on their knees, with drawn swords, to the kindred of their victims, and were embraced with tears ; old enmities were forgiven, and exiles were permitted to return to their homes. Everywhere was seen the operation of divine grace, and men seemed to be consumed with heavenly fire. The movement even spread to the Rhinelands and throughout Germany and Bohemia ; but whatever hopes were aroused of the regeneration of man vanished with the subsidence of the excitement, which disappeared as rapidly as it came, and was even denounced as a heresy. Uberto Pallavicino took effectual means of keeping the Flagellants out of his city of Milan ; for when he heard of their approach he erected three hundred gibbets by the roadside, at sight of which they abruptly retraced their steps.
- Monach. Paduan. Lib. iii. ann. 1260.— Chron. F. Francisci Pipini ann. 1260. — Gesta Treviror. Archiep. c. 268.-^Closener's Chronik (Chron. der deutschen Stadte, Vin. 73, 104).— Lami, Antichita Toscane, p. 617.— Verri, Storia di Milano, I. 264.
A similar extraordinary movement took place in 1309 (Chron. Corn. Zanfliet ann. 1309), and another, on a larger scale, in 1320 (Guill. Nangiac. Contin. ann. 1320.— Grandes Chroniques V. 245-6.— Amal. Auger. Vit. Pontif. ann. 1320).