Before their gradual disappearance in the middle ages, ordeals were used as a form of adjudication of guilt and innocence in criminal proceedings. Based on the supposition that divine knowledge and intervention would steer the results in such a way as to punish the guilty and protect the innocence, ordeals fell into disrepute after the Catholic Church banned clerical participation in 1215 A.D. This article discusses various forms of ordeals, such as the ordeal of hot iron, and analyzes whether, and to what extent, these ordeals could have served as “rational” forms of adjudication during the period.
Between A Rock And A Hot Place: The Role Of Subjectivity In The Medieval Ordeal By Hot Iron
25 Anglo-American Law Review 87 (1996)