The legends of brutality of the Inquisition in regard to the numbers of persons sentenced to prison and of those abandoned to the secular power and, consequently burned at the stake, have been embellished through the years. These stories yield but grudgingly to the facts…

Working very carefully from extant registers and other available documents, Professor Yves Dossat estimates that for the years 1245-1246 in the diocese of Toulouse the following figures would seem to be justified. It is estimated that over 5,000 people were interviewed during this period. Out of a total of 945 people who were adjudged guilty in some degree of heretical movements, some 105 persons were sentenced to prison, while 840 received lesser penances, e.g. wearing of the crosses, pilgrimages, etc. There is no way of knowing how many, if any, were abandoned to the secular authority. The above is an extrapolated figure and could very well be close to the truth…As noted above, a person could not be sentenced unless he agreed to submit to the penalty and this promise was so recorded in the registers. However, it appears that twenty-five percent of those recorded as sentenced to prison for one reason or another did not show up. Of course they would then be declared contumacious, but it does point up the very large discrepancy between recorded sentences and the actual numbers, for instance, who performed their sentences…

After a painstaking analysis of all available data Professor Dossat concludes that for the middle of the thirteenth century only one out of every hundred heretics sentenced by the Inquisition was abandoned to the secular power, while between ten and twelve percent received prison sentences. Further, the Inquisitors reduced sentences to lesser penances and commuted others. Indeed on occasion they reduced the sentences of even the relapsed heretics to the wearing of crosses. It becomes quite obvious, then, that the number thought to have been sent to the stake must be considerably reduced. And many of those burned had been condemned posthumously.

Albert Shannon, The Medieval Inquisition (1991)


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