I admit that when it comes to museums, I am normally not one of the most enthusiastic persons. It is not in my travel habits to visit museums, but when I heard that there was a torture museum in Bruges, I just could not avoid paying a visit. As an avid fan of horror movies, I really enjoyed my visit.
The torture museum in Bruges, the De Oude Steen (The Old Stone), is located in the heart of Bruges’ historic center, in what once was a former prison (and one of the oldest in Europe). The museum showcases over 100 instruments of torture, displayed in chronological order of when they were used, from the beginning of the 13th century until the end of the 18th century.
In addition to the instruments, wax statues are displayed throughout the museum showing the “use” of the instruments and the different methods of inflicting pain.
Although small, the museum does a great job at explaining in detail the history of torture through time, as well as the different methods used. More importantly, the museum asks the question: “what is the real instrument of torture? the instruments built to inflict pain? or the humans who operate the instruments?”
Below is a glimpse of what is displayed in the Bruges torture museum.
The Origins Of Torture
Up until the 13th century, judgments were decided by what was called “the will of God”. In these situations, a presumed guilty party would be confronted to an ordeal (such as a duel) through which “the judgment of God” would determine their innocence or guilt.
In the year 1215, humans replaced God’s will in determining someone’s innocence or guilt in the judicial system. There would no longer be any room for interpretation, and a presumed party’s guilt needed to rest on objective proof.
This system worked for crimes where the suspect’s guilt was obvious, but problems arose for crimes committed “in the dark” and where a confession was necessary.
From there, questioning suspects under torture became possible to extract the confession.
Once a suspect confessed, they still had to repeat their confession within 24 hours in front of a judge. If they refused, the torture could be repeated to extract yet another confession.
Once the party was found guilty, execution followed.
The method used to extract a confession through torture could vary, and the type of crime of which the suspect was accused would often have little to no relevance.
Below are only but a few of the of the most horrific devices used to torture which can be found in the torture museum in Bruges.
The Chair of Torture
A chair covered in spikes where a victim would be forced to sit and be tied to the chair until death. In some versions, there were holes under the chair where the executioner would burn coal, causing severe burns on the victim. The time a victim took to die would vary from a few hours to a day or two, as none of the spikes were long enough to penetrate any vital organ and the blood loss was delayed by the spike inserted in the victim’s wound.
The Wooden Horse
Used during the Spanish inquisition, the victim would be forced to sit on the wooden horse, which was shaped in the form of an inverted V. The executioner would then attach weights to the victim’s feet, pulling him or her down until they would be cut in half.
A variation of pliers, these “tongs” were used to cut a victim’s nails, tongue, nostrils or nipples.
Examples of Torture
The following are some of the wax statues displayed in the torture museum of Bruges, depicting some of the most painful forms of inflicting pain.
A press used to hold a victim’s head while a metal bar is lowered crushing the victim’s head inflicting unbelievable pain. Even after a confession was rendered, the victim would often suffer irreversible damage to the head, brain, and eyes.
The Caretaker’s Daughter
Although it doesn’t look like much, this was one of the most sadistic methods of torture thought of.
The victim’s head, neck, hands and legs were squeezed together with a metal iron in an unnatural position which before long resulted in the victim suffering extremely painful muscular spasms. The pain would start in the victim’s stomach as a result of it getting crushed by the rest of the body, then the pain would move to the extremities until blood would end up coming out of the victim’s mouth.
The Rat Torture
In this slow-death method, a victim is restrained to the ground without a possibility of moving. A rat would then be placed on the victim’s stomach enclosed in an iron cage. The cage would then be heated, causing the rat to panic and to dig a hole through the victim’s stomach. The rat would take hours to find its way out, resulting in hours of torture to the victim.
When Was Torture Forbidden
Depending on the crime and on certain circumstances, torture was forbidden as a method of punishment.
A person could only be tortured after committing a “blood crime” such as murder. Those committing petty crime (e.g. theft) were not punishable by torture.
Torture was also forbidden in the event where there were 2 eyewitnesses to the crime, or if a the accused confessed to the crime.
Also, certain individuals were exempt from torture such as pregnant women, children under the age of 12, old infirms, and highly placed individuals (e.g. public officials, doctors, etc.).
The museum does a good job at asking which is the real instrument of torture, the device or the man controlling it?
If history has shown us something, it is that man is capable of some horrific actions. It is by visiting places such as this and being face-to-face with it that we can acknnowledge these acts and work towards making sure they do not happen again.
Have you visited any of the torture museums located in Europe? What were your thoughts on it?