Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages/Book III/"Formulae Liturgicae" in use at Ordeals

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"FORMULAE LITURGICAE" IN USE AT ORDEALS. (Published by Gengler: "Germanische Rechtsdenkmaler," pp. 759-765; also by de Roziere, Recueil II., 770-884.)


After the accusation has been lawfully made, and three days have been passed in fasting and prayer, the priest, clad in his sacred vestments with the exception of his outside garment, shall take with a tongs the iron placed before the altar; and, singing the hymn of the three youths, namely, "Bless him all his works," he shall bear it to the fire, and shall say this prayer over the place where fire is to carry out the Judgment: "Bless, O Lord God, this place, that there may be for us in it sanctity, chastity, virtue and victory, and sanctimony, humility, goodness, gentleness and plenitude of law, and obedience to God the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost."—After this, the iron shall be placed in the fire and shall be sprinkled with holy water;. and while it is heating, he shall celebrate mass. But when the priest shall have taken the Eucharist, he shall adjure the man who is to be tried .... and shall cause him to take the communion.—Then the priest shall sprinkle holy water above the iron and shall say: "The blessing of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost descend upon this iron for the discerning of the right judgment of God." And straightway the accused shall carry the iron to a distance of nine feet. Finally his hand shall be covered under seal for three days, and if festering blood be found in the track of the iron, he shall be judged guilty. But if, however, he shall go forth uninjured, praise shall be rendered to God.


Lord God omnipotent ... we invoke Thee, and, as suppliants, exhort Thy majesty, that in this judgment and test Thou will'st order to be of no avail all the wiles of diabolical fraud and ingenuity, the incantations either of men or of women, also the properties of herbs; so that to all those standing around it may be apparent, that Thou art just and lovest justice, and that there is none who may resist Thy majesty. And so Lord, Ruler of the heavens and the earth, creator of the waters, king of thy whole creation, in Thy holy name and strength we bless these ploughshares, that they may render a true judgment; so that if so be that that man is innocent of the charge in this matter which we are discussing and treating of amongst us, who walks over them with naked feet: thou, O omnipotent God, as thou didst deliver the three youths from the fiery furnace, and Susanna from the false charge, and Daniel from the den of lions,—so thou raay'st see fit, by Thy potent strength, to preserve the feet of the innocent safe and uninjured. If, moreover, that man be guilty in the aforesaid matter; and, the devil persuading, shall have dared to tempt Thy power, and shall walk over them: do Thou, who are just and a Judge, make a manifest burn to appear on his feet, to Thy honour and praise and glory; to the constancy and confidence in Thy name, moreover, of us thy servants; to the confusion and repentance of their sins of the perfidious and the blind; so that, against their will, they may perceive, what willingly they would not,—that Thou, living and reigning from ages to ages, art the judge of the living and the dead. Amen.


Having performed the mass the priest shall descend to the place appointed, where the trial itself shall be gone through with; he shall carry with him the book of the gospels and a cross, and shall chant a moderate litany; and when he shall have completed that litany, he shall exorcize and bless that water before it boils.—After this he shall divest him (the accused) of his garments, and shall clothe him or them with clean vestments of the church—that is, with the garment of an exorcist or of a deacon—and shall cause him or them to kiss the gospel and the cross of Christ; and he shall sprinkle over them some of the water itself; and to those who are about to go in to the Judgment of God, to all of them, he shall give to drink of that same holy water. And when he shall have given it, moreover, he shall say to each one: "I have given this water to thee or to you for a sign to-day." Then pieces of wood shall be placed under the cauldron, and the priest shall say .... prayers when the water itself shall have begun to grow warm.—And he who puts his hand in the water for the trial itself, shall say the Lord's prayer, and shall sign himself with the sign of the cross; and that boiling water shall hastily be put down near the fire, and the judge shall suspend that stone, bound to that measure, within that same water in the accustomed way; and thus he who enters to be tried by the judgment shall extract it thence in the name of God himself. Afterwards, with great diligence, his hand shall thus be wrapped up, signed with the seal of the judge, until the third day; when it shall be viewed and judged of by suitable men.


Consecration to he said over the man. May omnipotent God, who did order baptism to be made by water, and did grant remission of sins to men through baptism: may He, through His mercy, decree a right judgment through that water. If, namely, thou art guilty in that matter, may the water which received thee in baptism not receive thee now; if, however, thou art innocent, may the water which received thee in baptism receive thee now. Through Christ our Lord.

Afterwards he shall exorcise the water thus: I adjure thee, water, in the name of the Father Almighty, who did create thee in the beginning, who also did order thee to be separated from the waters above, . . . that in no manner thou receive this man, if he be in any way guilty of the charge that is brought against him; by deed, namely, or by consent, or by knowledge, or in any way: but make him to swim above thee. And may no process be employed against thee, and no magic which may be able to conceal that (fact of his guilt).


(Prayer.) Holy Father, omnipotent, eternal God, maker of all things visible and of all things spiritual; who dost look into secret places, and dost know all things; who dost search the hearts of men, and dost rule as God, I pray Thee, hear the words of my prayer: that whoever has committed or carried out or consented to that theft,—that bread and cheese may not be able to pass through his throat.

(Exorcism.) "I exorcize thee, most unclean dragon, ancient serpent, dark night, through the word of truth and the sign of light, through our Lord Jesus Christ the immaculate Lamb generated by the Most High, conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary—whose coming Gabriel the archangel did announce; whom seeing, John did call out: this is the living and true Son of God—that in no wise may'st thou permit that man to eat this bread and cheese, who has committed this theft or consented to it or advised it. Adjured through Him who is to come to judge the quick and the dead, do thou close his throat with a band, not, however, unto death."

And thou shalt repeat those prayers three times. And, before thou sayest those prayers, thou should' st write on the bread itself the Lord's prayer. And of that bread thou should'st weigh out ten denars weight, and of the cheese likewise. And thou should'st place the bread and the cheese at the same time in his mouth, and make two crosses of poplar wood, and put one under his right foot; and the other cross the priest shall hold with his hand above his (the accused's) head, and shall throw above his head that theft written on a tablet. And when thou dost place that bread in his mouth, thou should'st say the following conjuration:

(Conjuration.) I conjure thee, man, through the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and through the twentyfour elders who daily sound praises before God, and through the twelve patriarchs, through the twelve prophets, and through the twelve apostles, and the evangelists, through the martyrs, through the confessors, through the virgins, and through all the saints, and through our Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our salvation and for our sins, did suffer His hands to be affixed to the cross: that if thou werst a partner in this theft, or did'st know of it, or have any fault in it, that bread and cheese may not pass thy gullet and throat: but that thou may'st tremble like an aspen-leaf, amen; and not have rest, man, until thou dost vomit it forth with blood, if thou hast committed aught in the matter of the aforesaid theft. Through Him who liveth, etc.


One piece of wood shall be made with a button on top, and shall be put in a psalter above this verse: "Thou art just O Lord and righteous are Thy judgments," and the psalter being closed shall be strongly pressed, the button projecting. Another piece of wood also shall be made with a hole in it, in which the button of the former piece shall be placed so that the psalter hangs from it and can be turned. Let two persons, moreover, hold the wood, the psalter hanging in the middle; and let him who is suspected be placed before them. And one of those who holds the psalter shall say to the other, thrice, as follows: "He has this thing" (i.e. the thing stolen). The other shall reply thrice: "He has it not." Then the priest shall say: "This He will deign to make manifest unto us, by whose judgment are ruled things terrestrial and things celestial. Thou art just, O Lord, and righteous are Thy judgments. Turn away the evils of my enemies, and destroy them with Thy truth."

(Prayer.) Omnipotent, everlasting God, who did' st create all things from nothing, and did'st form man from the clay of the earth, we pray thee as suppliants through the intercession of Mary the most holy mother of God .... that Thou do make trial for us concerning this matter about which we are uncertain: so that if so be that this man is guiltless, that book which we hold in our hands shall (in revolving) follow the ordinary course of the sun; but if he be guilty that book shall move backwards.