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This article examines the significance of hell and hellfire in the sources for the first recorded burning of humans for the crime of heresy in the medieval West at Orleans in 1022. It suggests that the main sources for this event describe the execution of the heretics by fire as an enactment of their eschatological destinies. The division of humanity into two overarching communities, namely the saved and the damned, shapes both the accounts near-contemporaries offered of this event and also the context in which they placed it. The exposure and destruction of the heretics at Orleans reinforces the shared identity of Christian society. The fires of execution literally handed the heretics at Orleans off to the fires of hell, enacting in miniature the fate that awaited all those who failed to take their place within a united Christian society, be they heretics, Muslims or Jews.


Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry

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Journal Article

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