Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/303

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

JULY, 1893.


 

THE SPANISH INQUISITION AS AN ALIENIST.
By HENRY CHARLES LEA.

THE degree of responsibility attaching to insane criminals has in all ages been a difficult problem for the dispenser of justice. I am not aware that the contributions made to its elucidation by the Spanish Inquisition have ever received attention, and the history of a few cases which throw light upon this phase of the subject may not be without interest.[1]

On September 20, 1621, Madrid was startled by the report of a shocking sacrilege committed in the chapel of the archiepiscopal prison. A vagrant Catalan, named Benito Ferrer, had been arrested as an impostor for begging in clerical garments without being in orders. The offense was not serious, and after a month's detention he was about to be discharged, when, at the morning mass, as the bell tinkled to announce the elevation of the Host, Benito, who was praying with a rosary in an upper chamber, rushed down like a madman to the chapel, seized the Host, which had been deposited on the communion cloth, broke it, flung the fragments on the floor and trampled on them, exclaiming, "O traitor God of darkness, now you shall pay me!" He was promptly seized and carried to the courtyard, where he was stripped of his cassock, and when some fragments which had lodged in it fell to the ground he endeavored to stamp on them with similar ejaculations. The first care of those present was to gather reverently the pieces of the body of the Lord; the soles of Benito's shoes were carefully scraped, and the dust and sand


  1. I am indebted to the custodians of the Königliche Bibliothek of the University of Halle for the opportunity of consulting the records of these cases.