Guilt, Depression & The Dobby Effect (LaRae LaBouff)

NOTE: This article is taken from the PsychCentral Blog. The 2007 study referenced is included at the end of the article.

In a 2007 study, researchers found that often people who feel guilty will self-punish by depriving themselves of pleasure or inflicting harm on themselves. They call this The Dobby Effect. For those who have never read the Harry Potter series, Dobby is a magical creature, a house-elf, that is bound by magic to obey his master’s every command. If a house-elf does not obey, they are forced to punish themselves. For example, at various points through the books, Dobby is known to do everything from hit himself in the face to ironing his hands or shutting his ears in the oven door [NOTE: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, if the house-elves (i.e. monastic disciples) disobey a command, they are forced to punish themselves with various forms of hardshipOnce, a nun would not stop talking and Geronda Ephraim told her to go sew her mouth shut. She went to her cell, took her sewing kit and sewed her mouth shut. It is unknown if she sterilized the needle first. She came back, showed Geronda Ephraim her mouth sewn shut and he marveled at her precision in obedience. Interestingly, sewing one’s mouth shut is popular among the BDSM community, much like Fr. George Passias’ foot and cake crush fetish].

Sewn shut

At first glance, these actions seem comical. It seems ridiculous that someone would go to such extreme measures as self-mutilation simply because they disobeyed a command. Well, about 1 in 6 people purposefully injure themselves every year, and for reasons much less than disobeying an enchantment. For most, the reason is exaggerated, if there is a reason at all. [NOTE: The Orthodox Church has various saints that have performed extreme measures of self-harm in an attempt to hinder themselves from falling into sin. These acts are lauded as heroic feats pleasing to God. In their hagiographies it is usually noted that after performing such acts of self harm or self-mutilation, God’s grace alleviated the warfare they were experiencing, or removed it altogether. Examples of such extreme measures are (1) St. Benedict, who cast himself into a thorn bush while naked to escape the wily temptation of a woman; (2) St. Martinian of Caesaria who placed his hand in fire in order not to fornicate with a woman. It is interesting to note that many of the holy acts of self-harm found in the Synaxarion are also prevalent in BDSM, and body modification communities].

Temptation of Saint Benedict and Thornbush, Saint Benoit-sur-Loire Abbey, 11th century
Temptation of Saint Benedict and Thornbush, Saint Benoit-sur-Loire Abbey, 11th century.

That’s the problem with depression and guilt. It goes too far. When you feel trapped in your guilt, self-punishment may feel like the only way out. If you can deprive yourself of something for longer, or if you can cause yourself enough pain, then maybe the feeling will go away. [NOTE: In the monasteries, sometimes one’s misdemeanors become like a caste mark on their forehead. Though one is absolved of their misdemeanors, they become their defining characteristic. These disobediences often become the topic of conversation among monastics (this especially occurs when monastics visit other monasteries and gossip/idle talk about such incidents). Like an invisible mark of Cain, a monastic’s misdemeanors can follow them for the rest of their monastic life. This happens via gossip, mockery, forced public confession in front of the group, private shaming, public shaming and/or  repeated rebukes incorporating these things. That is of course, if they aren’t driven from the monastery].

The Mark Of Cain cropped

Many people scoff at self-mutilators, saying they are only seeking attention. I’ve even heard this from physicians. The truth is, physical pain can dissuade feelings of guilt. This is not a new idea. The Catholic church has been condoning the practice of self-flagellation for over 1,000 years. Pope John Paul II was even known to practice it in order to absolve his sins. So if the Pope can do it and be praised for his devotion, why can a teenage girl not be pitied for doing the same for guilt that shouldn’t exist? Even if it is a call for attention, that person needs attention, and your attention could end up saving a life. [NOTE: The practice of self-flagellation seems to have been unknown in Europe until it was adopted by the hermits in the monastic communities of Camoaldoli and Fonte Avellana early in the 11th century. Once invented, the new form of penance spread rapidly until it had become not only a normal feature of monastic life throughout Latin Christendom but the commonest of all penitential techniques. In the 20th century, Elder Joseph the Hesychast incorporated it as a necessary part of daily monastic life in his synodia and claimed, “The cane is the remedy for every passion.” Flagellation was incorporated as a disciplinary measure in the earliest monastic communities, but later fell out of use. Both flagellation and self-flagellation are quite popular in the BDSM community–sadists love to hit and masochists love to be hit]

Young boy being taught by monk to venerate Elder Joseph’s icon on Mount Athos.

If you or someone you know is suffering from self-punishment due to extreme or unnecessary guilt, this is a serious sign of depression, and you should get help. Now is the time to make changes and begin to free yourself from the nagging in your head. [NOTE: In Orthodox Monasticism–also called voluntary imprisonment and slavery by the Church Fathers–the only help offered to a disciple, is frequent frank confession (which in many of the busier monasteries does not happen too often. Confession is supplemented with writing sins/thoughts down on paper, then slipping it under the superior’s door, or placing it in a common box. This box is accessible to other monastics, some who have the private pleasure of reading other peoples’–i.e. lay people or monastics‘–confessions). Confession to a priest, battling one’s thoughts, and the frequent, rapid yelling of the Jesus Prayer in an attempt not to allow any thoughts or images to form in one’s mind, are considered the only true psychotherapy. The belief is that “Orthodox Psychotherapy” is the only practice capable of healing one from guilt, depression and any other mental illness in existence. In some severe cases of mental illness, exorcism prayers will be read over the individual]. 


The Dobby effect

The authors suggest that people subconsciously seek out pain to relieve their guilt. Rob Nelissen at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who wasn’t involved in the study, has previously described a guilt-induced tendency to seek punishment as the “Dobby effect” – named after Harry Potter’s self-punishing house-elf.

He says that self-punishment might relieve guilt by functioning as “a signal by which a transgressor shows remorse to his or her victim when there are no other less painful means available, such as giving a bunch of flowers”.

“In line with this view, excessive forms of self-punishment could be perceived as a consequence of unresolved guilt,” Nelissen adds.

Journal reference: Psychological Science, DOI: 10.1177/0956797610397058


Also see:



Self-Flagellation (George Ryley Scott, 1968)

NOTE: This article is taken from The History of Corporal Punishment, pp. 98-108:


One of the most remarkable features of the life in the ancient monasteries and convents was the widespread practice of self-flagellation, and many people living today find it difficult to believe that there ever existed persons who would inflict pain upon themselves; just as they greet with scornful unbelief any statement that, either now, or in any other age, there are, or ever were, individuals who will or would willingly allow others to use the whip upon their bodies. In both cases, however, they are wrong. There were in the past both men and women by the thousands who flogged themselves; just as today there are men and women who not only allow themselves to be flogged, but who pay someone to wield the whip.

Reproduction of the crops used in the Middle Ages
Reproduction of the crops used in the Middle Ages

Now, in the case of religious self-flagellation there were many factors which had a share in promulgating the practice. In the first place it was, in many religious orders, a custom which new recruits seeking atonement were advised to observe; and, for the most part, they would no more have thought of rebelling against the practice than they would no more have thought of rebelling against any other of the numerous disciplinary measures they were expected to undertake, or the self-abasing observances to which they promised, all in humility, to submit. Also, there were stern days, when men and women, as I have already observed, were made of harder stuff than they are today, and rebellion against the rules of the order would have led to flogging anyway, and would most certainly have involved far more severe chastisement than anything they would administer to themselves. And although I am not going quite so far as to say, in regard to this self-flagellation, that it was exactly a case of force majeure, I do think, in many cases, the hint that most inmates would wish to expiate their sins and transgressions by self-flagellation may have been interpreted as something smelling suspiciously like a command.

There are, however, the strongest grounds for thinking that this explanation by no means suffices in all cases. It certainly does not, for instance, explain the self-flagellation, or the voluntary submission to whipping at other hands, in the so numerous cases of members of the royal houses, and of other exalted personages. It just as certainly does not explain the self-flagellation of the leaders of the various religious bodies, to wit, the saints, the bishops, and so on. For any convincing explanation, in all such instances, we must probe deeper.

In some cases, without doubt, we need look no further than the universal belief in the reputed medicinal and other virtues of flagellation. But here we have to grant the existence of some form of suffering, of some distemper, and a pretty severe attack of it at that—an explanation, therefore which is obviously restricted considerably in its application, and which in any case would not account, except in relatively few cases, for the continuance of the practice over long periods of time.

Finally, and most importantly, we are compelled to fall back upon the need which so often occurs in the case of religious fanatics—and it must be conceded that all who become monks and nuns are inclined to religious fanaticism, if not actually afflicted with religious mania—of finding some means of repressing the worldy cravings which arise irresistibly in their minds; hence the popularity of self-torturing in many and devious ways, of which, in ancient times, flagellation was one of the most widespread. The belief in the efficacy of the voluntary submission to pain or suffering or humiliation, as a means of expiation for a sin or transgression committed against God or the Church, was firmly established; and, indeed, to this day, is an integral part of many varieties of religion. Penance looms largely in the Catholic faith; it ranks as the fourth of the seven sacraments. It was this firm belief which let the leaders of the Churches, in those ancient days, go so far as to whip themselves, or to suffer whipping at the hands of their disciples, to wear sackcloth next to their skin, to martyrise their own flesh, to fast for long periods, to parade about in rags and filth, to humiliate themselves in a hundred different ways. It was, too, this self-same firm belief which caused them, whenever they happened to be beset with temptations, which was a frequent occurrence, to try to dispel such longings by self-punishment and self-humiliation.


One must not overlook the fact that in many cases the priests genuinely believed that self-punishment, being a form of sacrifice, would propitiate the god they worshipped. This provides one of the explanations of all forms of asceticism—from the chastity of Roman Catholic priests to the extreme self-tortures practiced by the yogis of Tibet and the fakirs of India. Also, and often coincident with this propitiation of their god, the arousing of the sympathy or compassion of the public, which, inevitably, is connected with any form of martyrdom, was no doubt in the minds of those indulging in self-flagellation.

It was undoubtedly by these and other (true or apocryphal) analogous practices that the saints of old established and retained their reputations. There are for the finding many revealing instances. Thus in Lives of the Saints Canonized in 1839, in a reference to Saint Liguori, it is stated that he flagellated himself so severely that “one day his secretary had to burst open the door, and snatch the discipline out of his hands, fearing lest the violence with which he scourged himself might cause his death.” And, according to the same authority Saint Pacificus was accustomed to scourge himself to such an extent “as to fill all those with horror who heard the whistlings of the lash, or saw the abundance of blood which he had shed during the flagellation.” Then, too, there was the example set by the Biblical heroes. Saint Paul, revered of all associated with the Christian religion, was staunchly held up as a believer in and a practitioner of self-flagellation. “I keep under my body and bring it into subjection” (I Cor. 9:27). Here, if ever man did, he stands self-confessed. And we read in Psalms: “For all day long have I been plagued and chastened every morning.”

With all these ideas firmly embedded in the minds of the leaders of the sects, it is a matter for no wonder at all that, in the sincerely professed belief that they were upholding sound apostolic tradition, they prescribed these self-same forms of penance for their followers. Those who failed to mortify themselves, and to practice the discipline necessary to please the Church and placate their God would be denied entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. In these modern days of widespread agnosticism and atheism it is difficult, almost to the extent of bordering on the impossible, for the mind to realize just how powerful were these arguments of the Church, backed up, as they so effectually were, by the practises of the priests, the bishops, and the saints themselves. To be denied the benefits of the Church, and the expectation of a future existence in Heaven, would be far worse than a denial of a long life on this earth. It was mainly for these reasons that kings and nobles performed their humiliating and painful penances with all the ardor of their subjects.

The cunning priests, too, preying upon the ignorance, the superstition, and the credulity of the day, were not slow to call to their aid apocryphal accounts of benefits resulting to those who flagellated themselves, and of the ill-effects following upon failure to do so. In their own way, and allowing for the limitations of the age in which they lived, these early propagandists of religion could bring to their aid species of ballyhoo which were every whit as effective as the modern methods of publicity agents. There were the stories told of the power of severe and regular whipping to change the soul’s destination from Hell to Heaven; there was at least one account given currency respecting the self-flagellation indulged in by a gathering of priests around a dead monk’s bed causing him to come back to life; there was the tale, whispered into credulous ears, that those who refused to whip themselves, or to be whipped while upon this earthly sphere, were scourged good and plenty by every spirit inhabiting Purgatory.

Self-flagellation 1

Sex entered largely into the matter, fornication being one of the major sins against the dictates of the Churches. Self-punishment of various kinds were favorite methods adopted by the early saints to subdue sexual thoughts and cravings. There is a story that Peter the Hermit was compelled to lock himself up in his room and take the whip to his own flesh, in order to prevent himself seducing a pretty girl whom he had rescued from the clutches of a satyr. And although this particular story may be dubious of authenticity, there can be no manner of doubt that such-like self-punishments were very often thought to be necessary to subdue licentious thoughts and libidinous cravings. [In his excellent book, The Cruel and the Meek, Dr. Walter Braun brings out well the complete inability of the ancients to recognize that this so-called “mortification of the flesh” was likely to have precisely the opposite effects to those intended]. It was because of the urgency of these repressive measures that the saints, judging every other individual by their own standards, prescribed similar fustigations, tortures and humiliations in every case and circumstance. It is in just the same way that the modern theologian, moralist, or Puritan, finding certain measures essential for the subduing of his own libido, endeavors to make similar taboos or repressive measures universal in their application.

There are indications that self- or voluntary flagellation existed long before the establishment of monasteries and convents, though in most of the recorded cases there are grounds for surmising that they were of a sexual rather than a religious origin. Thus Herodotus, in referring to the custom among the Egyptians, at certain festivals, after feasting, and the offering of sacrifices to their god, of men and women, to the tune of some thousands, whipping each other to their hearts’ content, said he was “not allowed to mention the reason why these beatings were performed.” Apuleius speaks of priests who whipped themselves with scourges which they carried about with them for that express purpose.

Although the rules of the early monastic orders preserve discreet silence respecting any self-flagellating practices, this, says the author of The History of the Flagellants,

“has been amply compensated in  subsequent rules. Thus, the Carmes are to discipline themselves twice a week; the Monks of Monte Cassino, once a week; the Ursuline Nuns, every Friday; the Nuns of the Visitation, when they please; the English Benedictines, a greater or less number of times in the week, according to the season of the year; the Celestines, on the eve of every great festival; the Capuchin Friars, every day in the week, etc.” (p. 113).


But if in the rules of the orders this reticence was observable, biographers and historians were governed by no such principles.

Chroniclers of the lives of the early Christian theologians refer to various devotees of the cult of self-flagellation. There was Saint Pardulph, who removed every atom of clothes during Lent, and was thrashed daily, in accordance with his own orders, by a disciple. Others wielded the whip themselves. There was Saint William; there was an abbot of Pontaoise, by name Gualbertus; there was Abbot Guy of Pomposa; there was Saint Romnald; and there was various personages of lesser importance. The usual practice was to flagellate daily, continuing the process as long as it took to sing or recite selected psalms or other Biblical passages.

All this flagellation among the saints and the monks, however, appears to have been sporadic up to, at any rate, the end of the first thousand years of the Christian era. Propaganda for flagellation, such as it was, remained restricted more or less to the somewhat crude accounts of benefits received by flagellants, conveyed by word of mouth from one worshipper to another. It was not until the year 1056 that a certain newly created Cardinal, by name Peter Damian de Honestis, initiated a campaign to popularize flagellation. The result of this campaign was to set the whole of Christendom using the whip. Kings and commoners theologians and criminals, nobles and peasants vied with each other in the avidity with which they whipped themselves and one another.


It is mainly to the writings of this same Damian that we are indebted for much of the information available respecting the practice of self-flagellation among the theological leaders of his time. As an instance, Saint Dominic Loricatus was accustomed to divest himself of every stitch of clothing, and, wielding a birch in each hand, flog every part of his body within his reach, continuing the fustigation as long as it took him to recite the psalter—not once—but three separate times from beginning to end. On special occasions, it appears this same saint whipped himself while singing through the entire psalter “twelve times over,” a procedure which filled even the grim, sadistic and fanatical Cardinal “with terror when he heard of it.” Another notable self-flagellating monk was Saint Rodolph, who shut himself up in his cell, and sang through the whole psalter to the accompaniment of vigorous whipping.

Now, all modern scepticism notwithstanding, and allowing for the exaggeration which is one of the major sins with which propagandists are so often afflicted, it may be set down as a solid fact that many of these accounts of the self-flagellatory practices of the saints and their disciples are perfectly true accounts. Anyone who has dug deeply into religious origins and practices, pagan and civilized, and who is thoroughly acquainted with the genesis of the various faiths which at one time or another have swept the world, is well aware of the lengths to which, in their fanaticism, men and women will go. And these accounts of self-flagellation of the ancients in a considerable number of instances, are supported by evidence of a nature sufficient to establish, beyond any reasonable doubt, the existence of the phenomenon. At the same time, one must not close one’s eyes to the fact that many of the stories which have been made much of by credulous writers, have gathered, in travelling down the ages, a good deal of fictitious trimming; and that, apart from the carefully suppressed motives which no doubt prompted many religious leaders to stage their exhibitions, there were undoubtedly many instances in which hallucinations entered into the matter. It is highly probable that, in numerous cases, vivid imaginations transformed a soft whip into a terrible knout; a few slight weals on the buttocks into a blood-striped body.

The use of other and more agreeable disciplinary methods is mentioned by the author of The History of the Flagellants in a notable passage which reads:

“Indeed, an infinite variety of instruments have been used for that purpose, whether they were contrived at leisure by the ingenious persons who were to use them, or were suddenly found out, from the spur of some urgent occasion. Thus, incensed Pedants, who could not quickly enough find their usual instrument of discipline, have frequently used their hat, their towel, or, in general, the first things that fell under their hands. A certain gentleman, as I have been credibly informed, once flagellated a saucy young fish-woman with all the flounders in her basket. Among saints, some, like Dominic the Cuirassed, have used besoms; others, like St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order, have used iron chains; others, have employed knotted leather thongs; others have used nettles, and others, thistles. A certain saint, as I have read in the Golden Legend, had no discipline of his own, but constantly took, to discipline himself with, the very first thing that came under his hand, such as the tongs for the fire, or the like. St. Bridget, as I have read in the same book, disciplined herself with a bunch of keys; a certain lady, as hath been mentioned in a former place, used a bunch of feathers for the same purpose; and lastly, Sancho did things with much more simplicity, and flagellated himself with the palms of his hands.”


It is highly probable, too, that many flagellations of which sanguinary accounts were given, never actually took place at all. We see indications of this in numerous stories of the saints being flogged by the devil—stories which are either due to hallucinations, or are plain fabrications. Saint Anthony describes one such incident. Saint Hilarion was repeatedly belabored by Satan, who, says Saint Jerome, “bestrides him, beating his sides with his heels, and his head with a scourge.” And there is the remarkable account given by the famous Saint Francis of Assisi concerning his struggle with and terrible flagellation at the hands of the devil, which rendered essential his hurried departure from Rome, a tale which is bound to arouse suspicion in any logical mind when it is coupled with the fact that the inhabitants of that city gave the saint plainly to understand that he was not wanted, and that his stay might involve danger to himself.

The necessity for absolution caused many a royal personage to submit to the discipline of the whip, and there can be small enough doubt that the knowledge that flagellation, voluntary or otherwise, would atone for sins of pretty nearly every description had a good deal to do with the popularity of the practice among the rich and the powerful. I have an idea that there are today men by the hundred who would gleefully submit to the pain and humiliation of birching if this represented the utmost penalty they would be called upon to pay as punishment for the commission of a major crime.

In English history, we have the well authenticated case of King Henry II. His resentment against Thomas  Becket, his Archbishop of Canterbury, had led him, in a fit of passion, to say “what sluggard wretches, what cowards, have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their master: not one will deliver me from this low-born priest.” It was a most unfortunate speech, even for the King, in view of the subsequent assassination of the Archbishop, and there were those who were not slow to accuse Henry of complicity in the murder. As an act of atonement he allowed himself to be flogged in Canterbury Cathedral. Nor was this an isolated example. Prince Raymond VI was whipped in Valencia, at the Church of Saint Giles; the Emperor Henry submitted regularly to flagellation; Foulques, Count of Anjou; William, Duke of Aquitaine; Raymond, Count of Toulouse, all allowed themselves to be whipped. And, in the 11th century, one of Italy’s leading aristocrats, the Marquis of Tuscany, was flogged by an abbot in the church.

Early 14th-century representation of Henry and Thomas Becket
Early 14th-century representation of Henry and Thomas Becket

Henry IV of France was more wily. When, after excommunication, he was ordered to submit to flagellation for the securance of absolution, he instituted the system of vicarious punishment, whereby the guilty and atoning party could hire someone to take his place. Two of his ambassadors, by name Du Perron and D’Ossat, at his request, submitted their bodies to the strokes of the rod in his stead. Shortly afterwards they blossomed into cardinals, which fact seems to indicate the nature of the reward promised them for their services. This was in 1595, and the practice thereafter seems to have been expanded even to the lengths of self-flagellation, men being willing to flog themselves as a measure of atonement for the sins of anyone prepared to pay their fees.

The fair sex, too, adopted flagellation as a means of securing absolution. Maria Magdalena, a Carmelite nun, flogged herself nearly every day, as well as submitting to flagellation by others. So, too, did Catherina of Cordona, another nun belonging to the Carmelite order: she ended her career as a raving lunatic. Saint Hardwigge, Saint Hildegarde and Saint Maria, are all examples of women who attained notoriety through self-flagellation. Queen Anne of Austria allowed the discipline to be administered to her by one of the Benedictine confessors.

But, if we are to accept the testimony of Damian, the earliest authority on flagellation, there was one woman, known as the widow Cechald, who easily capped the lot. A lady of gentle birth and of no little dignity, she lashed herself no fewer than 300 times. It certainly seems a tall story, and we may be excused for doubting the reverend historian’s accuracy, or, alternatively, marvelling at his credulity.

Church Councils frequently ordered penitents to submit to the discipline. They had no recourse but to obey, and the punishments they submitted their bodies to, cheerfully or otherwise, were terrible, and to modern ears, incredible. Apropos of this, Lea says:

“Stripped as much as decency and the inclemency of the weather would permit, the penitent [resented himself every Sunday, between the Epistle and the Gospel, with a rod in his hand, to the priest engaged in celebrating mass, who soundly scourged him in the presence of the congregation, as a fitting interlude in the mysteries of the divine service. On the first Sunday in every month, after mass, he was to visit, similarly equipped, every home in which he had seen heretics, and receive the same infliction; and on the occasion of every solemn procession, he was to accompany it in the same guise, to be beaten at every station and at the end. Even when the town happened to be placed under interdict, or himself to be excommunicated, there was to be no cessation of the penance, and apparently it lasted as long as the wretched life of the penitent, or at least until it pleased the inquisitor to remember him and liberate him” [Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, 1906, pp. 464-5 ].

1904 illustration of a medieval Spanish flagellant.
1904 illustration of a medieval Spanish flagellant.

Also see:


The Sect of the Flagallents (George Ryley Scott, 1968)

NOTE: This article is taken from The History of Corporal Punishment, pp. 109-115

The History of Corporal Punishment

Every student of sociology is well aware of the inherent gregariousness of man. It goes far beyond the gregariousness of animals or birds, which is purely physical. In mankind it is physical, spiritual and mental. It is just as dominant a force, this gregariousness, in man’s make-up today as it was in the earliest stages of civilization, and in the Middle Ages. This gregariousness, which was at the root of those manifestations which, in past ages, have shown themselves as various communal manias, such as mass dancing, demonology, witchcraft, religious crusades, and in many other ways, is similarly at the root of many present-day mass phenomena such, for instance, as national advertising campaigns, the radio, television, the cinema, the Popular Press.

The response of masses of men and women to suggestion has always been the basis of every religious, political or social movement. The actions or responses of an individual member of society to given stimuli can never be foreshadowed with any degree of certainty; the actions or responses of mankind in the mass can be predicted with mathematical exactitude. It is to this more than to any other fact that charlatans, quacks, political mountebacks, dictators, revivalists, and other merchants of much, owe their success.

Now, of all movements which owed their inspiration to waves of emotion, none has ever transcended in spectacularness, fanaticism and (to observers in other ages) incredulity, the successive waves of voluntary flagellation which punctuated the annals of the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.


There seems to be some doubt as to where precisely the first public flagellating movement broke out, or who exactly was the individual responsible for the actual genesis of the idea; but certainly St. Anthony seems to have had a good deal to do with it. Unless the chroniclers of the age lie, he went about the country preaching to sinners about the wrath of God, on the need for repentance and atonement, much in the manner of a modern drum-banging revivalist; and, in the early twelve hundreds, he appears to have set in motion the first serious organised procession of men and women beating each other with the express object of establishing themselves in the good books of their God and earning a pass to Heaven.

Around the year 1260, fresh impetus was given to the movement through the efforts of an Italian hermit and fanatic by name Ramier, a Dominican. Italy at the time was passing under a black cloud. Her list of misfortunes, through one cause and another, was apparently endless. Ramier, in the true religious spirit of the age, argued that penance was the only way to avert disaster, and, at that, penance of such a widespread nature as would surely suffice to atone for all that was inducing the anger of Jehovah.

Men, women and children in their birthday suits, and carrying nothing but thongs of hide, walked in solemn procession, praying to God for forgiveness, weeping, groaning, and, every few moments, lashing the persons nearest them with the scourges they carried. These processions of penitents were everywhere. The priests, carrying banners and wearing crosses, made up the van of the procession. To the tune of ten thousand eager souls, they marched, these fanatics, through Italy; they crossed the Alps; they ‘invaded’ Bavaria, Alsace, Bohemia, Poland, and at every step and in each country, they gathered recruits, swelling their ranks enormously and rapidly. “Those who were at enmity with one another became friends. Usurers and robbers hastened to restore their ill-gotten riches to the rightful owners. Criminals confessed. The doors of the gaols were opened and the prisoners released, those who had been banished from the country were allowed to return. In short, Christian charity, humility and good will prevailed.”

Procession of flagellants during the Middle Ages.
Procession of flagellants during the Middle Ages.

But despite its remarkable popularity with the masses, the movement met with a good deal of opposition from the leaders of other and rival faiths. It met with a good deal of ridicule too. All this is not to be wondered at, being the common lot of most new religious cults. It has been the lot of the Mormons, of the Perfectionists, of the Spiritualists, of the Theosophists, of the Christian Scientists, of the Dukhobors, of the Shakers, et al. Two thousand years ago, it was the lot of Christianity itself.

In 1349 the movement swept through Germany like a whirlwind, however. At that particular time the country was being ravaged by a plague known as the Black Death. The German movement was apparently initiated in the town of Spira, where the Flagellants went through their ritual in full view of the onlookers who gathered to watch them. Divesting themselves of all their clothes except their shirts, they lay on the ground in various postures, and were whipped, either by the priest in charge or by one another, to the accompaniment of psalm-singing, prayers to God against the plague, and other appeals. When the flagellating performance was concluded, says Albert of Strasbourg, a contemporary historian:

“One of the brotherhood rose, and with a loud voice read a letter, which he pretended had been brought by an angel to St. Peter’s Church, in Jerusalem; the angel declared in it that Jesus Christ was offended at the wickedness of the age, several instances of which were mentioned, such as the violation of the Lord’s Day, blasphemy, usury, adultery, and neglect with respect to fasting on Fridays. To this the man who read the letter added, that Jesus Christ’s forgiveness having been implored by the Holy Virgin and the angels, he had made answer that in order to obtain mercy, sinners ought to live exiled from their country for thirty-four days, disciplining themselves during that time.”

The flagellants at Doornik in 1349
The flagellants at Doornik in 1349

From Spira they moved to Strasbourg, recruits joining, solidly and enthusiastically, on the way, so that by the time the procession left the latter town, it numbered all of a thousand strong.

After this, however, the sect met with constantly increasing opposition from influential quarters. The Pope opposed the movement; the Inquisition tortured and executed its leaders.

And so, for a time, the Flagellants were compelled to pursue their cult in secret and as best they could, until, towards the close of the 16th century, the movement again burst into activity. In France, in particular, the cult spread throughout the whole country, infecting Paris itself and attracting the attention of many influential personages. Then, with the conversion, first of the Queen-Mother to their tenets, and later of King Henry III himself, the supremacy of the Flagellants was complete and their standing assured for the time being. There were soon many different bands or branches operating in various parts of France. The King, in 1585, formed a new band known as the Brotherhood of the Annunciation Day, with the Cardinal of Lorraine, the Duke of Mayenne, the Cardinal of Guise, the leading courtiers and ministers, and other members of the aristocracy, as principal officials. The Cardinal of Lorraine, after one of the public demonstrations, took to his bed and died within a few days, and the tale is told that his fatal illness was due to severe whipping and exposure.

Medieval flagellants engaged in violent self-mortification
Medieval flagellants engaged in violent self-mortification

Following the example of their lords and masters, the women took up public flagellation, joining the processions. At first, the more bashful among them, it is true, waited until darkness provided a protective screen for their performances; others, with official approval, wore masks; others again contented themselves with the mere carrying of whips; but as the number of females, and especially of aristocratic ladies, taking part in these processions increased, they shed all decorum and bashfulness, in the end entering into the performance with all the zest and vigor of men. “After the death of the Guises,” says Cooper, “the fanatical mania for fleshly mortification revived, and this time women and maidens, naked to the shift, ran about with whips. Noble ladies showed themselves to the populace in a semi-nude state, and gave themselves the discipline, in order to encourage others by their example” [William M. Cooper, A History of the Rod, 1868, p. 111].

But although the cult was blessed with royal support, as it happened, this did not suffice to render it impregnable. King Henry III of France, his royal blood notwithstanding, was no Czar able to flaunt hostile criticism with impunity, or possessing the power to consign to prison, or to exile, those who failed to genuflect to him in word and deed. There was, at the time, an opposition element of some power, and the members of this opposing party did not fail both to criticize and to heap scorn upon the antics of the King and his associates. Also, as was natural, there was once again a good deal of opposition from the leaders of the orthodox religion. One opponent, John Gerson, no less a personage than Chancellor of the University of Paris, published a treatise pointing out the evils of flagellation, which he alleged was a cruel and an evil practice, contending that it should be held by the authorities to be as unlawful as castration or mayhem.

Flagellants detail from Sant'Eleuterio by the Master of Staffolo
Flagellants detail from Sant’Eleuterio by the Master of Staffolo

Others hymned the same tune until, in response to the gathering trend of public opinion, in the early sixteen hundreds, Parliament took action, prohibiting public flagellation and proclaiming all members of the sect to be heretics.

This, so far as France was concerned, was the beginning of the end. There were, true enough, for the finding, scattered remnants of the once powerful bands. These practiced their cult surreptitiously and behind closed doors, but no public demonstrations or processions flourished or were even attempted. In other parts of Europe there were sporadic efforts to revivify the movement, but they met with little success. Cooper mentions that Father Mabillion claimed to have seen “a scourging procession of the Flagellants at Turin on Good Friday 1689;” that in 1710 there were processions still to be seen in Italy; that Colmenar “mentions a procession taking place in Madrid;” that as late as 1820 Flagellants appeared in public in Lisbon [ibid.]. Long after this, too, private ‘whipping clubs’ flourished secretly, but it is highly probable that these were then, as certain somewhat similar ‘societies’ of today are now, using the cloak of religion to cover purely erotic purposes.

And so passed into oblivion as strange a manner of stimulating religious ecstasy and fervor as the world has ever seen.

In marvelling, in these supposedly enlightened days, over the survival for centuries of such a remarkable religious phenomenon, one must never overlook the fact that all religions owe much of their success to their spectacularness. The dramatic has always been an essential feature of any religious cult, and the more effective the show presented, the greater the success of the cult. All through the ages we see examples of this in the flourishing of half a hundred different faiths, all presenting the same fundamental quackeries, decked out in half a hundred different gaudy wrappings, and presented on half a hundred different dramatic stages. The Protestant faith always depended much on its ceremonial, its rubric, its empiricism, its ritual; the Roman Catholic faith outdid it, and thus scored a wider and a more lasting success. In the early days of Christianity, there was nothing else in the way of appeals to the dramatic that could, so far as the masses were concerned, move them to admiration and acceptance as did the shows staged by the Churches. Even today, when religion in Europe and America seems to be moribund or even gangrenous, any temporary flare-up that it is able to stage is connected with the putting on of a new and a free show. The showmanship of the Revivalists, of the Aimee MacPhersons, Billy Sundays, Woodbine Willies, Faith Healers, Billy Grahams, and so on, succeed in filling the temples, stadiums and arenas, spasmodically at least, simply because the old, old act is being staged in a new dress.


It will surely be evident that with the rivalry of the cinema, television, and a score of other appeals to the dramatic, the shows that the Churches can stage are, in the main, old-fashioned and crude. Moreover, the increased prosperity of the masses has largely negated the appeal of free entertainment. They prefer to pay to go to the theater or a night-club rather than accept anything which the Churches have to offer for nothing (except what is put in the collection plate).

The influence of suggestion still exists. It is still powerful. But it works in different ways; it calls for different modes of presentation. Newspaper and television campaigns, with their strong emotional appeals, today have largely taken the place once held almost exclusively by religion.

Looking back through the centuries, as history depicts them, it is easy for the student of sociology to understand which exhibitions of self-flagellation had upon the masses. Its dramatic element, and its suggestive powers, were considerable. Its reputed painful nature merely served to increase its dramatic effects. And much of the anguish associated with it was apocryphal. The ancient pedlars of religion staged their shows with all the skill of the moderns. There is a deliciously ironical suggestion about the account given by an eye-witness of one of the flagellating services held during Lent in the Church of the Cravita in Rome. The service lasted a quarter of an hour, during which time the church was in total darkness, and judging from the sounds, some worshippers were using whips and others their hands. “Hundreds,” says this writer, “were certainly flogging something, but whether their own bare backs, or the pavement of the church, we could not tell” [James Gardner, The Faiths of the World, p. 901].


Also see:


Flagellation in Monasteries and Nunneries (George Ryley Scott, 1968)

NOTE: This article is taken from The History of Corporal Punishment, pp. 91-97:


The story of flagellation is inextricably mixed up with the story of religion. The heads of every religious order existent in ancient days punished severely any breaking of the rules prescribed by their order, whether by the priests, the monks or the nuns associated with it; and the favorite form which this punishment took was that of whipping. The only difference between the judiciary whipping of the vagrants and criminals of the world, and that administered to religious disciples by their superiors, was that while in the one instance it was something to be eluded if at all possible, in the other it was a punishment to be welcomed as a just discipline. So true was this that, as we shall see later, many officials connected with the religious orders inflicted this punishment upon themselves in the form of self-flagellation, as a penance for real or imaginary sins. Especially was this true of the saints and martyrs, with the doings of which the annals of religion are so plentifully besprinkled.

The early historians are in agreement respecting the custom in many lands of whipping worshippers on certain feast days, and all bear out the fact that these worshippers accepted the punishment resignedly, and that in some cases they even appeared to welcome it—a statement well in accord with the fanaticism on the one hand and the submission on the other hand, which were such marked features of the religious zeal with which followers of all early religious cults were plentifully endowed. Plutarch, referring to the customs of the Lacedaemonians, mentions that as the Feast of Flagellations, held once a year, before the altar of Diana, boys were whipped for hours at a stretch. He says “they suffer it with cheerfulness, and even with joy: nay, they strive with each other for victory; and he who bears up the longest time, and has been able to endure the greatest number of stripes, carries the day.” Other writers, notably Mozonius and Cicero, bear out all this, the latter asserting that “I several times heard it said that boys had been whipped to death.”


According to Herodotus, at the festival Isis, held each year at Busiris, thousands of people of both sexes “beat one another,” apparently with an industry which well matched their enthusiasm.

There can be little doubt that in all monasteries and nunneries, from the days of their foundation, flagellation was common, so common indeed as to call for little comment in the writings of the earliest of the chroniclers; but, as early as the year 508 there appears to have been a ruling by Saint Cesarius d’Arles definitely prescribing whipping as the form of punishment for nuns failing to observe the regulations of their order. By the eighth century, however, most of the religious orders issued specific rules respecting offences and their punishment.

There was the rule which the Bishop of Usez, Saint Ferreol, made for the prevention and punishment of theft: “let him be chastised with the whip, and with great rigour too. The same punishment ought to be inflicted upon him as upon a fornicator, since it may be justly suspected that his lewdness has induced him to commit theft.” Somewhat similar was the rule of the Bishop of Braga, Saint Fructuosus, for dealing with a liar or a thief: “That if, after being warned by the elder monks he neglects to mend his manners, he shall, on the third time, be exhorted in the presence of all the brethren, to leave off his bad practices. If he still neglects to reform, let him be flagellated with the utmost severity.” Anything in the way of sexual indulgence was looked upon as an even greater crime than theft and the like, as this same Bishop of Braga’s ruling shows: “If a monk is used to tease boys and young men, or is caught in attempting to give them kisses, or in any other indecent action, and the fact be proved by competent witnesses, let him be publicly whipped.” Even to so much as look at a woman was a dangerous practice for a monk in those early days; to speak to one was enough to earn him a mild whipping at any rate; to be alone with one was punished by two hundred lashes or living “on bread and water for two days.”


Saint Colombanus, Saint Macarius, Saint Benedict, Saint Benoit, Saint Pacome, Saint Aurelian and others, all drew up rules and regulations respecting the punishments to be inflicted for various offences, in some cases stipulating a prescribed number of lashes for the offence in question, in others leaving the severity of the whipping to the discretion of the abbot or superior in charge of the monastery. In addition to the offences already noted, attempts to escape from the monastery, swearing gambling, any indecorous behavior, exhibitions of anger, failure to observe the rules of silence, lewd conversations, immoderate drinking, indulging in noisy conversation or laughter, revealing to outsiders any secrets of the order, and many other piccadilloes, were sufficient to ensure a sound whipping; and any attempts to escape such punishment by the parading of extenuating circumstances or excuses, often merely served to ensure a double dose. In fact here the vindictiveness of the religious leaders showed itself plainly—thus: “If the brothers who have been excommunicated for their faults, persevere so far in their pride as to continue, on the ninth hour of the next day, to refuse to make proper satisfaction to the abbot, let them be confined, even till their death, and lashed with rods.” So literally, indeed, were these orders taken, and so rigorously were they carried out, that it was no uncommon thing for a monk to be whipped to death where he stood, or to die later from the injuries sustained during the chastisement.

In fact, the abuses connected with the administration of the ‘discipline’ caused Cesarius, Bishop of Arles, to remind the abbots and priors that “if the flagellations they inflicted were continued too long upon offenders, so that they died in consequence thereof, they were guilty of homicide.”

St. Caesarius of Arles
St. Caesarius of Arles

Although the Bishop of Arles himself, and certain of his brethren, restricted the number of lashes to that prescribed in the laws of Moses, such restriction was by no means general. According to the author of The History of the Flagellants, not only was “the punishment of flagellation extended to almost every possible offence Monks could commit,” but “the duration of the flagellations was left pretty much to the discretion of the Abbot, either in consequence of the generality of the terms used in the Statutes, or in consequence of some express provision made for that purpose. In the ancient constitutions of the Monastery of Cluny, for instance, which Saint Udalric has collected in one volume, different kinds of offence are mentioned, for the punishment of which it is expressly said, “that the offender shall be lashed as long as the Abbot shall think meet.”

There were two forms of flagellation in use in the monasteries and nunneries, known respectively as the ‘superior discipline’ and the ‘inferior discipline.’ The first named was restricted in its area of application to the upper half of the back and shoulders; the ‘inferior discipline’ was confined to the buttocks and belly. It is worthy of note that the ‘inferior’ form was by far the less dangerous, especially if it was restricted to the fleshy parts of the posterior, well removed from the interior and more vulnerable organs.

The flogging itself was often carried out by the abbot or superior personally, though he had the power of entrusting the work to other hands. The universality of the practice and the anticipation that every monk would be whipped for some offence or other, real or imaginary, are indicated by the custom, in many monasteries, of wearing a special shirt which opened at the back to as to facilitate the uncovering of the lower part of the body in preparation for flagellation. In certain cases the monk to be whipped was compelled to divest himself of all his clothing in preparation for flagellation, which was performed in full view of all the inmates of the monastery. Thus, by order of Pope John XII, a monk named Godescal was publicly whipped, among those present being Bishop Otger and Charles the Bald.

In those days women received little respect, and were looked upon as the property of the men to whom they were given in marriage. It is not to be wondered at therefore that in the convents they were considered to be deserving of no more consideration or respect than were the monks in the monasteries. Flagellation was common in the nunneries, and for the most trivial of offences, such as the conversing about worldy matters, carelessness on the carrying out of their duties, entering the speaking-room without obtaining permission, and the like.

One of the oldest ecclesiastical writers to prescribe the whipping of nuns was Cesarius: “It is just that such as have violated the institutions contained in the rule should receive an adequate discipline; it is fit that in them should be accomplished what the Holy Ghost has in former times prescribed through Solomon.” Saint Benedict similarly says: “If a sister that has been several times admonished, will not mend her conduct, let her be excommunicated for awhile in proportion; if this kind of correction proves useless, let her be chastened by stripes.”


It was the custom in many nunneries for the abbess or superior to undertake the necessary castigation herself, often in a private room, but sometimes in public. In some convents, however, specially selected members of the order were trained in the art of whipping, and in all such cases the punishment was of a more severe character than where an untrained hand administered the discipline. In some cases the sadistic nature of the flogger led to the devising of special whips for adding to the severity of the punishment, in addition to increased skill in the wielding of the scourge. It is said that one such, Jeanne de France, daughter of Louis XI, with fiendish ingenuity, devised a five-spiked silver cross for attaching to the whip, resulting in each stroke inflicting five terrible wounds.

Sometimes the flagellation, as in the case of the monks, was not looked upon as a punishment at all, but as a pleasure, giving rise to hallucinations, sexual ecstasy and masochistic love of God. Thus the Carmelite nun, Maria Magdalena of Pazzi, who lived in Florence towards the close of the 16th century, found pleasure in being publicly whipped on her naked buttocks. On one occasion she cried: “Enough! Fan no longer the flame that consumes me: this is not the death I long for; it comes with all too much pleasure and delight.” Another similar case was that of Elizabeth of Genton, who, during the flagellation for which she craved, would cry: “O Love, O eternal Love, O Love, O you creatures! Cry out with me: Love, Love!” [See Kraft-Ebing, Psychopathia, Sexualis, English adaptation of the 12th German edition, p. 36 ]. In these, and similar instances, much of the pleasure experienced was undoubtedly due to stimulation of the gluteal glands in individuals whose sexual repressions were of such a nature as to induce pathological conditions. The part which flagellation plays in sex will, however, be made clear in a subsequent chapter.

Not always was the whipping of the nuns carried out by their own sex. It was no unusual thing for the priests of the order to handle the thong themselves, and it was in such instances that so very often there entered into it the sexual element to which I have referred.

Nuns used the whip on the buttocks of the monks; and in turn the monks flagellated the nuns. It was indeed a merry and a libidinous game.

The Jesuits in particular were addicted to whipping. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the order, used the whip himself, and, if historical records are anything to go by, he used it to some tune too. Peter Gerson, not content with flagellating those who came to receive the discipline in the ordinary way, according to Cooper, “fell upon the country girls at work in the fields and flagellated them” [See William M. Cooper, A History of the Rod, 1868, p. 97 ].


A peculiar form of flagellation, known as grave-whipping, is referred to by a correspondent in Notes and Queries (March 13, 1852):

“Excommunicated persons were formerly restored to the Church, according to the old Rituale Romanum, by the ceremony of whipping their graves. When it was resolved the dead party should be restored to the communion of saints, it was ordered that the body should not be disentombed, but that the ‘graves shall be whipped, and while the priest whip the grave, he shall say, “By the authority which I have received I free thee from the bond of excommunication, and restore thee to the communion of the faithful.”’”

1904 illustration of a medieval Spanish flagellant.
1904 illustration of a medieval Spanish flagellant.

Also see:

Corrections of a flagellatory kind, inflicted by force, by Bishops and the heads of Monasteries.

NOTE: The following article is taken from the 4th Chapter of History of Flagellation Among Different Nations. New York: Medical Publishing Co., 1930: pp. 47-53. Though the Abbots and Abbesses don’t inflict flagellation in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, each one has their own form of punishment to humble and correct insubordinates. Geronda Ephraim has stated that Elder Joseph the Hesychast use to hit him and his other monastics; both with his cane as well as with slaps across the face and head, as a form of disciplinary action..


It must be confessed, however, that though self-flagellation made no part of the rules or statutes in those early stages of Christianity, the same cannot be said of that method of correction, when imposed by force upon such monks as had been guilty of offences, either against the discipline of the order, or against piety: an extensive power of inflicting such salutary corrections, having, from the earliest times, been lodged in the hands of abbots and the superiors of convents.

Nay more, we find that bishops during the very first times of Christianity, assumed the paternal power we mention, even with regard to persons who were bound to them by no vow whatever, when they happened to have been guilty either of breaches of piety or of heresy. Of this, a remarkable proof may be deduced from the 59th Epistle of St. Augustin, which he wrote to the Tribune Marcellinus, concerning the Donatists. St. Augustin expresses himself in the following words: “Do not recede from that parental diligence you have manifested in your researches after offenders; in which you have succeeded to procure confessions of such great crimes, not by using racks, red-hot blades of iron, or flames, but only by the application of rods. This is a method of coercion which is frequently practiced by teachers of the fine arts upon their pupils, by parents upon their children, and often also by bishops upon those whom they find to have been guilty of offences.”

"The application of rods is a method of coercion which is frequently practiced by bishops upon those whom they find to have been guilty of offences."
“The application of rods is a method of coercion which is frequently practiced by bishops upon those whom they find to have been guilty of offences.”

Another proof of this power of flagellation, assumed by bishops in very early times, may be derived from the account which Cyprianus has given of Cesarius, Bishop of Arles; who says, that that bishop endeavoured as much as possible, in the exercise of his power, to keep within the bounds of moderation prescribed by the Law of Moses. The following are Cyprianus’s words: “This holy man took constant care that those who were subjected to his authority, whether they were of a free or servile condition, when they were to be flagellated for some offence they had committed, should not receive more than thirty-nine stripes. If any of them, however, had been guilty of a previous fault, then indeed he permitted them to be again lashed a few days afterwards, though with a smaller number of stripes.”

"When they were to be flagellated for some offence they had committed, they did not receive more than 39 stripes."
“When they were to be flagellated for some offence they had committed, they did not receive more than 39 stripes.”

From the two passages above, we are informed that the power of whipping, possessed by bishops, extended to persons of every vocation, indiscriminately; and with much more reason may we think that those persons who made profession of the ecclesiastical life, were subjected to it. In fact we see that even the different dignities which they might possess in the church, did not exempt them from having a flagellation inflicted upon them by their bishops, when they had been guilty of offences of rather a serious kind; and Pope St. Gregory the Great, moreover, recommended to the bishops of his time, to make a proper use of their authority. In his sixty-sixth Epistle, he himself prescribes to Bishop Paschasius, the manner in which he ought to chastise Deacon Hilary who had calumniated Deacon John. “Whereas,” he says, “guilt ought not to pass without adequate satisfaction, we recommend to Bishop Paschasius to deprive the same Deacon Hilary of his office, and after having caused him to be publicly lashed, to confine him to some distant place; that the punishment inflicted upon one, may thus serve to the correction of many.”

"We recommend that after having caused him to be publicly lashed, to confine him to some distant place; that the punishment inflicted upon one, may thus serve to the correction of many.”
“We recommend that after having caused him to be publicly lashed, to confine him to some distant place; that the punishment inflicted upon one, may thus serve to the correction of many.”

This power of inflicting the brotherly correction of whipping was also possessed by the abbots and priors in all the ancient monasteries; though, at the same time, it was expressly provided by the rules of the different orders, that the same should be assumed by no other persons. “Let no man, except the abbot or him to whom he has intrusted his authority, presume to excommunicate, or flog a brother.”

When the faults committed by monks were of a grievous kind, the abbot was not only charged to correct them by means of his discretionary power of flagellation, but he was moreover expressly directed to exert that power with rigour. In the rule framed by St. Fructuosus, Bishop of Braga, it is ordained with respect to a monk who is convicted of being a liar, a thief, or a striker, “That if, after being warned by the older monks he neglects to mend his manners, he shall, on the third time, be exhorted in the presence of all the brethren, to leave off his bad practices. If he still neglects to reform, let him be flagellated with the utmost severity.” The above rule of St. Fructosus is mentioned by Ecbert, in his Collection of Canons, which together with his Councils of England, has been published by Spelman.

“That if, after being warned by the older monks he neglects to mend his manners, he shall, on the third time, be exhorted in the presence of all the brethren, to leave off his bad practices. If he still neglects to reform, let him be flagellated with the utmost severity.”
“That if, after being warned by the older monks he neglects to mend his manners, he shall, on the third time, be exhorted in the presence of all the brethren, to leave off his bad practices. If he still neglects to reform, let him be flagellated with the utmost severity.”

St. Ferreol, Bishop of Usez, framed a rule for monks, which like that above, makes severe provisions against such monks as are addicted to the practice of thieving. “With regard to the monk who stands convicted of theft, if we may still call him a monk, he shall be treated like him who is guilty of adultery for the second time; let him therefore be chastised with the whip, and with great rigour too. The same punishment ought to be inflicted upon him as upon a fornicator, since it may be justly suspected that his lewdness has induced him to commit theft.”

Committing indecencies with other monks, or with boys, were offences which the Statutes of Convents likewise directed to be punished by severe flagellations; and the above St. Fructuosus, Bishop of Braga, ordered that the punishment should, in the above case, be inflicted publicly. “If a monk,” it is said in his rule, “is used to tease boys and young men, or is caught in attempting to give them kisses, or in any other indecent action, and the fact be proved by competent witnesses, let him be publicly whipped.”

“If the brothers who have been excommunicated for their faults, persevere so far in their pride, as to continue, on the ninth hour of the next day, to refuse to make proper satisfaction to the abbot, let them be confined, even till their death, and lashed with rods.”
“If the brothers who have been excommunicated for their faults, persevere so far in their pride, as to continue, on the ninth hour of the next day, to refuse to make proper satisfaction to the abbot, let them be confined, even till their death, and lashed with rods.”

Refusing to make proper satisfaction to the abbot for offences committed, or in general persevering in denying them, were also grievous faults in the eye of the first founders, or reformers, of monastic orders. In the rule framed fifty years after that of St. Benedict, in order to improve it, the following direction was contained: “If the brothers who have been excommunicated for their faults, persevere so far in their pride, as to continue, on the ninth hour of the next day, to refuse to make proper satisfaction to the abbot, let them be confined, even till their death, and lashed with rods.” Nor is the rule of the above-mentioned Bishop of Braga less severe against those monks whose pride prevents them from making a proper confession of the offences they may have committed. “To him,” it is said in that rule, “who, through pride and inclination to argue, continues to deny his fault, let an additional and severer flagellation be imparted.”

The habit of holding wanton discourses, or soliciting the brethren to wickedness, was also deemed by the founders of religious orders to deserve severe flagellations; and St. Pacom ordered in his rule, which it was said had been dictated to him by an angel, that such as had been guilty of the above faults, and had been thrice admonished, should be publicly lashed before the gate of the convent.

The habit of holding wanton discourses, or soliciting the brethren to wickedness, was also deemed by the founders of religious orders to deserve severe public flagellations
The habit of holding wanton discourses, or soliciting the brethren to wickedness, was also deemed by the founders of religious orders to deserve severe public flagellations

Attempts to escape from monasteries, were, even in very early times, punished by flagellation. We read in Sozomenius, that St. Macarius of Alexandria, Abbot of Nitri in Thebaid, who had five thousand monks under his direction, ordered that chastisement to be inflicted upon those who should attempt to climb over the walls of the monasteries. “If anyone continues in his wickedness, and says, I can no longer bear to stay here, but I will pack up my things and go where God will direct me; let any one of the brothers inform the prior, and the prior the abbot, of the fact; let then the abbot assemble the brothers, and order the offender to be brought before them and chastised with rods.”

"Let then the abbot assemble the brothers, and order the offender to be brought before them and chastised with rods.”
“Let then the abbot assemble the brothers, and order the offender to be brought before them and chastised with rods.”

The holy founders of religious orders have also been very severe in their provisions against such monks as seek for familiarities with the other sex. In the rule of the Monastery of Agaunus, it was ordained, that, “If any monk had contracted the bad habit of looking on women with concupiscence, the abbot ought to be informed of the fact, and bestow upon the monk a corrective discipline; and that, if he did not mend his manners in consequence thereof, he ought to be expelled from the society as a scabby sheep, lest he should ruin others by his example.” The above monastery had been built by Sigismond, King of Burgundy, to the honour of one hundred and twenty Martyrs of the Theban Legion, of which St. Maurice was the commander, under the reign of the Emperor Maximinus.

St. Maurice's Abbey is built on the ruins of a Roman shrine of the 1st century B.C. dedicated to the god Mercury in the Roman staging-post of Agaunum
St. Maurice’s Abbey is built on the ruins of a Roman shrine of the 1st century B.C. dedicated to the god Mercury in the Roman staging-post of Agaunum

The above-quoted rule of St. Fructuosus, is no less severe against those monks who seek for the company of women. In the fifteenth chapter, which treats of the lewd and quarrelsome, it is ordered, that, “If after having received proper reprehensions they persist in their wicked courses, they shall be corrected by repeated lashings.” And St. Columbanus, who is the first who instituted the monastic life in France, and has written a rule as a supplement to that of St. Benedict, also expresses himself with great severity against such monks as are convicted of having barely conversed with a woman in the absence of witnesses; for though there are faults for which he orders only six lashes to be given, yet, in the case here mentioned he prescribes two hundred. “Let the man who has been alone with a woman, and talked familiarly to her, either be kept on bread and water for two days, or receive two hundred lashes.”

1904 illustration of a medieval Spanish flagellant
1904 illustration of a medieval Spanish flagellant