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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/661

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TRIALS BY FIRE AND FIRE-JUGGLERS.

which may be used to heal disease or alleviate pain, but it is a far grander and nobler task to teach the people how to live so that disease and pain will not come upon them.

 

TRIALS BY FIRE AND FIRE-JUGGLERS.
By M. A. De ROCHAS.

IN his very interesting lecture on witches, Dr. Regnard has mentioned that insensibility to suffering was, in the middle ages, considered evidence of diabolical relations. By a singular contradiction of the human mind, this same insensibility was also under certain circumstances attributed to divine intervention; and that which, in one case, brought death upon the accused, was good for his acquittal in another case.

Trial by fire, by means of which Heaven was appealed to for proof of innocence, appears to have originated in India. The Vedas mention it, and travelers still find it in use in all the East. The Greeks also were acquainted with it. "We are ready to hold red-hot iron and walk through flames to prove our innocence!" exclaimed the Thebans in the "Antigone" of Sophocles, who were accused of having abetted in the theft of the body of Polynice.

The first authentic trial of this kind recorded among Christians is related by Gregory of Tours, in the case of Saint Sulpicius, Bishop of Autun. This saint, who lived in the fourth century, was made a bishop, although he was married. His wife could not make up her mind to leave him, but resolved to live with him under a vow of chastity taken according to the laws of the Church. Having learned that the faithful accused them of not observing their vow, the woman had fire brought to her publicly on Christmas-day, and, having held it in her dress for nearly an hour, gave it to the bishop, saying to him, "Take this fire, which will not burn you, so that they may see that the fire of lust has no more effect upon us than these coals have upon our clothes."

Saint Brice, Bishop of Tours, made use of a similar trial to prove his innocence of a crime that was imputed to him. The chronicles, beginning from this epoch, have preserved numerous examples of these trials. They were employed, not only to discover heretics, but also to distinguish genuine relics from false ones. The Council of Saragossa, in 592, ordered that only those relics which the fire had respected should be venerated. The multiplication of these trials in Gaul was probably due to the influence of the conquering race, with whom the custom seems to have been established from time immemorial. In an addition to the Salic law made by Kings Childebert and