I n s t r u m e n t s   G a l l e r y

The inquisitional chairs

This instrument of torture comes in different versions. We are first going to examine their common features and, then, their differences. All of them have common features, in that they are covered with spikes on the back, on the arm-rests, on the seat, on the leg-rests and on the foot-rests. The chair exhibited at the museum of San Gimignano has 1300 spikes, a real "carpet" of spikes . One version has a bar screwed on the lower portion of the chair, by the victim's feet, which by a screw mechanism forced the back of the legs against the spikes, thus penetrating the flesh of the victim. Another version had two bars immobilising the victim's wrists forcing his forearms against the arm-rests resulting in the flesh being penetrated by the spikes.
Another version had a bar at chest height, to immobilize the victim's bust, while the spiked seat had holes to allow the victim's bottom to be 'heated" by hot coals placed under the seat, causing painful burns, but still keeping the victim conscious.
The strength of this instrument lies mainly in the psychological terror it causes and the threat that the torture will get increasingly worse, conforming to a model where the pain starts off easy and then gets progressively worse. The idea is that the Inquisitors can interrupt it at any stage, upon visual inspection of the damages that have been inflicted.
This instrument was used in Germany up to the 1800s, in Italy and in Spain up to the end of the 1700s, in France, in Great Britain and in the other central European countries, according to certain sources, up until the end of 1800s.

The maiden of Nuremberg

The name of this instrument seems to have originated from a prototype that was built in the town of Nuremberg. It is also said that this sort of sarcophagus had the face of a maiden carved on its front door, probably with the aim of making this horrible container look more refined.
This instrument has four main features, whose wickedness, I think, deserve to be analyzed. The inside of the sarcophagus was fitted with spikes designed to pierce different parts of the body, but miss the vital organs, so that the victim was kept alive, in an upright position.
Its second feature is that the victims were kept in an extremely confined space to increase their suffering.
Its third feature was that the device could be opened and closed without letting the victim, who had been pierced from the front and the back, get away.
Its fourth feature was that the container was so thick that no shrieks and moaning could be heard from outside unless the doors were opened. When the sarcophagus doors were shut again, the spikes pierced exactly the same parts of the body as before, and thus no relief was ever possible. This instrument can be defined both a torture and a death instrument.

The Garrotte

This instrument bears a Spanish name because it was "improved" in Spain, where it became the official instrument of capital punishment. It remained in use until 1975, when the last person to be executed was a young student who was later found to be innocent. This incident was one of the arguments used for the abolition of death penalty in that country.
This instrument has very ancient origins. Simply put, a pole was driven into the ground and a rope was tied around the victim's neck. But if the pole was not very thick and the rope was tightened behind the pole, the neck of the victim could be tightened more gradually and easily released.
This sort of torture was used all over the world as testified by etchings.
The string tying the victim's neck to the pole could be made of a material that would shrink once wetted, so that the victim would slowly suffocate as it dried.
The "improved" Spanish version of this instrument was used for executions. It had a steel collar, larger in size than the victim's neck to prevent strangulation, but, at the same time, tight enough to immobilize the head and the neck.
Preventing neck and head movement was necessary because it allowed the victim's cervical vertebrae to be penetrated by a steel tip, moved by a screw mechanism positioned in the rear of the pole. In theory, such penetration was to be quick and precise, thus, able to administer a rapid and certain death.
Actually, though, the possibility of error and failure is so high that I leave it to the imagination of the reader to consider the suffering it actually inflicted.


These devices had two main features: They exposed the victims to ridicule by forcing them to wear a ridiculous likeness, and, at the same time, they inflicted mortification and physical torture by occluding the victims' mouth or nose and covering their eyes. As we can see in the picture number 3, the victim's mouth was stopped up with a ball to prevent her from screaming and moaning.
The long ears represented the ears of an ass. In Europe, many negative characteristics were attributed to this animal. Even today, donkeys are considered to be the stupid version of horses and the epithet "ass" is still used, in Italy, France and Spain, to define a stupid person.
The version with a pig nose or even a pig head, symbolizes someone dirty. The word pig, when referred to a person, is considered offensive in all European languages.

The heretics fork

This instrument consisted of two little forks one set against the other, with the four prongs rammed into the flesh, under the chin and above the chest. A small collar supported the instrument in such a manner that the victims were forced to hold their head erect, thus preventing any movement.
The forks did not penetrate any vital points, and thus suffering was prolonged and death avoided. Obviously the victims' hands were tied behind their back.

"Torture is a sure means to absolve robust villains and condemn weak innocent men"
"The law makes you suffer because you are guilty, you could be guilty, it wants you to be guilty"
Cesare Beccaria

"He who surrenders in the course of interrogation, not only was forced to talk, but has forever been compelled to accept a status: that of being sub-human"
J.P. Sartre

"The king who punishes criminals by death resembles the man who pulls out weeds from a wheat field when it is still green"
Tirukkural, First century A.D.

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