Studying the Medieval Inquisition can be a sobering, disturbing experience. The extent to which men will go to consolidate and preserve their power over others appears to be nearly limitless. Estimates vary as to the numbers of the Inquisition's victims, but one thing is clear: the Papal Inquisition has touched every life on earth since its inception in 1234.
It's interesting to note that one of the two primary tortures institutionalized by the Inquisition - the methods of which were described in painstaking detail by the authors of the inquisitors' manuals - was waterboarding. The Ordeal by Water was carried out precisely as it still is today. It was defined as acceptable, sanctioned torture by the Inquisition. It's also interesting to note the inquisitors' eventual acceptance that the Ordeal by Water and the Ordeal by Fire produced no valuable information or legitimate confessions, but rather were effective for one solitary purpose: terrorizing their victims.
Another interesting note is that the Inquisition executed its last victim in 1826 - almost thirty-seven years after the new American government declared the separation of church and state. The Inquisition was contemporary to the lives of the Founding Fathers; it raged as they sought to prevent its influence from extending to the United States. The Inquisiton officially ended in 1834, just prior to our nation's descent into civil war. We would do well to recognize that the ideas and the passions that can inspire such things as inquisition and genocide are not distant, archaic history, but contemporary dangers worthy of our active vigilance. Their rise requires the demonization and isolation of distinct groups; their avoidance requires that we reject such things in the progress of our daily lives, and that we maintain with due resolve the separation of the powers that can - and will - conspire to bring them into being.
My second novel, which takes place in 13th century France and the Holy Land, will be available in the summer of this year.
Resources: The Grand Inquisitor's Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God, by Jonathan Kirsch; The Cathars: The Most Successful Heresy of the Middle Ages, by Sean Martin; The Yellow Cross: the Story of the Last Cathars' Rebellion Against the Inquisition, by René Weis.