The Inquisition in Cartagena, Colombia lasted from 1610 until (with sporadic interruptions) 1821. Some of the instruments used to extract confessions from heretics are on display at the Palace of the Inquisition.
I wasn’t going to show these, as they’re pretty grim, and even grimmer if you realize how they were used. But Eric MacDonald persuaded me otherwise.
Catholics, this used to be the business of your church, and not just in Europe. How much pain would have been spared had there not been faith?
I’ll link each instrument to a description of how it was used.
The heretic’s fork was a torture device, loosely consisting of a length of metal with two opposed bi-pronged “forks” as well as an attached belt or strap. The device was placed between the breast bone and throat just under the chin and secured with a leather strap around the neck, while the victim was hung from the ceiling or otherwise suspended in a way so that they could not lie down. A person wearing it couldn’t fall asleep. The moment their head dropped with fatigue, the prongs pierced their throat or chest, causing great pain.This very simple instrument created long periods of sleep deprivation. People were awake for days, which made confessions more likely. Traditionally, the fork was engraved with the Latin word abiuro(meaning “I recant”), and was used by the various Inquisitions.
The rack is a torture device consisting of a rectangular, usually wooden frame, slightly raised from the ground, with a roller at one, or both, ends, having at one end a fixed bar to which the legs were fastened, and at the other a movable bar to which the hands were tied. The victim’s ankles are fastened to one roller, and the wrists are chained to the other. As the interrogation progresses, a handle and ratchet attached to the top roller are used to very gradually stepwise increase the tension on the chains, inducing excruciating pain. By means of pulleys and levers this roller could be rotated on its own axis, thus straining the ropes until the sufferer’s joints were dislocated and eventually separated. Additionally, if muscle fibers are stretched excessively, they lose their ability to contract, rendering them ineffective.One gruesome aspect of being stretched too far on the rack is the loud popping noises made by snapping cartilage, ligaments, or bones. One powerful method for putting pressure upon prisoners was to force them to watch someone else being subjected to the rack.
The breast ripper, a device specially reserved for women:
Used as a way to punish women, the breast ripper was a painful and cruel way to mutilate a woman’s breasts. This instrument was mostly reserved for women accused of conducting a miscarriage or those accused of adultery. The claws were used either hot or cold on the victim’s exposed breasts. If the victim wasn’t killed she would be scarred for life as her breasts were literally torn apart. A common variant of the breast ripper is often referred to as “The Spider” which is a similar instrument attached to a wall. The victim’s breasts were fixed to the claws and the woman was pulled by the torturer away from the wall; successfully removing them.
I forgot to photograph this, but this is exactly what it looked like (along with a medieval illustration of its use):
There is not much that need be said after having examined the accompanying illustrations. The saw here on view is antique but cannot be associated specifically with the homonymous torture, a process that can be carried out with any large-toothed, four-handed woodsman’s saw. The present example is such a one, and certainly a couple of centuries old, or more. History abounds in martyrs –religious, lay and antireligious– who suffered this fate, one that may be worse even than being burnt at the stake with a slow, small fire, or being dipped into boiling oil. Owing to his inverted position, which assures ample oxygenation of the brain and impedes the general loss of blood, the victim does not lose consciousness until the saw reaches the navel –and even the breast, if one is to believe accounts of the early eighteen-hundreds.
The garrote particularly refers to the execution device used by the Spaniards until as recently as 1974. In Spain, it was abolished, as well as the death penalty, in 1978 with the new constitution. Originally, it was an execution where the convict was killed by hitting him with a club (garrote in Spanish). Later, it was refined and consisted of a seat to restrain the condemned person, while the executioner tightened a metal band around his/her neck with a crank or a wheel until suffocation of the condemned person was accomplished. Some versions of this device incorporated a fixed metal blade or spike directed at the spinal cord to hasten the breaking of the neck. [This version had an attachment to pierce the spinal cord.]
The head crusher was widely used during most of the Middle Ages, especially the Inquisition. With the chin placed over the bottom bar and the head under the upper cap, the torturer slowly turned the screw pressing the bar against the cap. This resulted in the head being slowly compressed. First the teeth are shattered into the jaw; then the victim slowly died with agonizing pain, but not before his eyes were squeezed from his sockets. This instrument was a formidable way to extract confessions from victims as the period of pain could be prolonged for many hours if the torturer chose to. This could be done by repeatedly turning the screw both ways. If the torture was stopped midway, the victim often had irreparable damage done to the brain, jaw or eyes. Many variants of this instrument existed, some that had small containers in front of the eyes to receive them as they fell out of their sockets.