Blasphemy and Christianity in Europe: A History of Persecution

11 April 2024

Auto de fe in Valencia, Spain, July 1826. (Image: Martinet / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)

François-Jean de la Barre was the last person executed for blasphemy in France. He was executed at the age of 19 in 1766 for failing to doff his hat in front of a religious procession. He was tortured, beheaded and burnt with a copy of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary nailed to his torso. Under pressure from the Catholic Church, a statue of La Barre erected in 1897 was removed.

The last known execution for blasphemy took place in Spain in 1826, when the clergymen of the Spanish Inquisition requested schoolteacher Cayetano Ripoll be burned at the stake. However, the civil authority chose to hang him instead. Ripoll had been accused of insulting the Catholic Church and its teachings, and of promoting atheism and radical ideas. The Church authorities, upset that Ripoll had not been burned at the stake, placed his body into a barrel, painted flames on the barrel and buried it in unconsecrated ground.

The practice of burning people for blasphemy was common in Europe during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period. However, by the 18th century, burning had become less common, and other forms of execution were used instead. Here are a few examples of people who were burned in Europe for blasphemy:

Jacques de Molay: Molay was the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, a Christian military order that was disbanded by the Catholic Church in the 14th century. He was burned at the stake in Paris in 1314 for heresy and blasphemy.

Jan Hus: Hus was a Czech priest and reformer who was burned at the stake in 1415 for heresy and blasphemy. He was accused of promoting unorthodox beliefs, including the idea that the Bible should be available in the language of the people.

Joan of Arc: Joan of Arc was a French heroine who was burned at the stake in Rouen, France, in 1431. Although she was not accused of blasphemy specifically, she was accused of heresy for claiming to have received visions from God.

Michael Servetus: Servetus was a Spanish theologian who was burned at the stake in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1553 for heresy and blasphemy. He was accused of holding unorthodox views on the Trinity and of denying the divinity of Jesus.

Guillaume Postel: Postel was a French humanist and linguist who was accused of heresy and blasphemy in the 16th century. Although he was not actually burned at the stake, he was imprisoned and later released on the condition that he would never again publish any of his writings.

Giordano Bruno: Bruno was an Italian philosopher and theologian who was burned at the stake in Rome in 1600 for heresy and blasphemy. He was accused of holding beliefs that were deemed to be contrary to Catholic doctrine, including the belief in the infinity of the universe and the existence of multiple worlds.

Lucilio Vanini: Vanini was an Italian philosopher and writer who was burned at the stake in Toulouse, France, in 1619 for blasphemy and atheism. He was accused of denying the existence of God and of mocking religion.

Adriaan Koerbagh: Koerbagh was a Dutch philosopher and writer who was arrested in Amsterdam in 1668 for blasphemy and atheism. He died in prison before he could be tried, but his writings were burned publicly, and his brother was forced to flee the country.

Thomas Aikenhead: Aikenhead was a Scottish student who was hanged and then burned in Edinburgh in 1697 for blasphemy. He was accused of denying the existence of the Trinity and of making disparaging comments about the Bible. He was the last person in Great Britain to be executed for blasphemy.

A must read article can be found at https://www.badnewsaboutchristianity.com/gea_belief.htm.

Adapted from Chat-GPT.

How the Medieval Church Frightened People Into Obedience

Calvin and Servetus

Jan Hus

The Life of Giordano Bruno

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