The inquisition

The rocky path to Christian dominance in Europe

Mutilated, strangled, suffocated or beaten to death: these are just some of the methods used to get rid of popes in the early medieval period. An incredible 33 per cent of all anointed popes between 872 and 1012 died in suspicious circumstances. It’s safe to say that the path to Christian dominance in Europe was rocky at times. Peter Heather’s revisionist history of the rise of medieval Christendom directs attention to these moments. Though the subtitle is ‘The Triumph of a Religion’, his account is anything but triumphalist. In fact his argument gains momentum through the challenge it poses to simplistic accounts of Christian ascendency. Pope Gregory the Great forced

The Index of Prohibited Books makes a fine reading list

In a classic paradox of bureaucracy, the Index of Forbidden Books only really hit its stride when its original task became impossible. By the 17th century, Robin Vose relates in his new history of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum – established 1559, venerated and cursed for four centuries as ‘the Index’ – it was broadly accepted that censoring literature, senso stricto, was no longer possible. The ubiquity of printers, the ease of transportation and concealment and the sheer number of new books all made most texts available, most of the time, to those with time and cash to spare. The Index of Forbidden Books couldn’t, practically speaking, forbid. In other words,