Bertrand le Blas

The 16th century Inquisition in the Netherlands was both ferocious and absurd. At one point, the Inquisitors condemned to death as heretics all the inhabitants of the Netherlands, with few exceptions. Philip II, who ruled the territory, was determined to maintain the Catholic Church's stranglehold and stamp out heresy. Philip's second wife Mary I of England, daughter of Henry III and Catherine of Aragon, was also a staunch Catholic who unleashed religious persecution in England, earning herself the nickname "Bloody Mary." Philip confirmed the sentence of the Inquisition, which of course could not be carried out. The Inquisitors' methods of persecution and torture yielded various forms of resistance agaisnt Spanish rule, from politial to suicidal.

In Tournay, a velvet manufacturer named Bertrand le Blas struck back on Christmas Day. After asking his wife and children to pray for a blessing for what he was about to do, he went to the Cathedral of Tournay. He waited by the altar until the priest held up the consecrated host. He then sprung into action, making his way to the priest and snatching the wafer from his hands. Breaking it to pieces, he called out, "Misguided men, do ye take this thing to be Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior?" He then threw the pieces on the ground and stomped on them with his feet, to the astonishment of the ground.

Le Blas was dragged to the market place on a hurdle with an iron gag in his mouth. His tongue was torn out, which was customary to stop non-recanting Protestants from addressing the crowd that watched their painful execution. His hand and foot were twisted off with red-hot tongs, a hook was run through his body, and then he was literally roasted to death over fire.

A few months later, on May 30th, a young tapestry weaver named Hans Tiskaen would act similarly, throwing the consecrated wafer on the ground. He then quietly went home, where he was tracked down and arrested. The next Saturday, he was taken to the market-place of Oudenarde where his right hand, which he had used to commit the offence, was chopped off. He was then fastened to the stake and burned alive. Tiskaen was killed within fifteen minutes and never recanted.

Some sources report that Dutch insurgents would in response cut out the heart of any captured Catholic priest.

"Bloody Mary" will also go down in history as having had one of the most famous cases of pseudocyesis or imagined pregnancy stemming from an usually strong desire to have a child. Her desperate need for a Catholic heir started a train of neuroendocrine processes that resulted in all the biological signs of pregnancy. Here is an excerpt from Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by Walter L. Pyle:

"Finally her menses stopped; the breasts began to enlarge and became discolored around the nipples. She had morning-sickness of a violent nature and her abdomen enlarged. On consultation with the ladies of her court, her opinion of pregnancy was strongly confirmed. Her favorite amusement then was to make baby-clothes and count on her fingers the months of pregnancy. When the end of the ninth month approached, the people were awakened one night by the joyous peals of the bells of London announcing the new heir. An ambassador had been sent to tell the Pope that Mary could feel the new life within her, and the people rushed to St. Paul's Cathedral to listen to the venerable Archbishop of Canterbury describe the baby-prince and give thanks for his deliverance. The spurious labor pains passed away, and after being assured that no real pregnancy existed in her case, Mary went into violent hysterics, and Philip, disgusted with the whole affair, deserted her; then commenced the persecution of the Protestants, which blighted the reign."

Sadly? this kind of phantom pregnancy is said to have been quite common before the advent of modern prenatal care, occurring about once in 25 pregnancies.

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