As a historian, I have a certain interest in religion as a cultural phenomenon, and I also find it exciting that we have a German pope for the first time in about 500 years. Benedict XVI. is from Bavaria - he was once the Archbishop of Munich. I must admit that I have some admiration for the man. I disagree with him on many social issues such as birth control or the role of women in the church. But there is no denying that he is a brilliant intellect and writer who sticks to his principles and actually makes some interesting arguments for them. I respect that, because with all our politicians who flip-flop from one election to the next, consistency is all too rare these days.
As well as that, even critics must concede that the Catholic Church has come a long way since the days of the inquisition. Of course, that is where things get really interesting for kinky types like us. "Confessions" obtained by the infliction of severe pain. Monks using the whip for discipline and religious purification. Corporal punishment in strict Catholic schools. Atoning for your sins the good old-fashioned way. Passion plays ripe with scourgings and crucifictions. And don't forget all those sublimely erotic depictions of Christian martyrs, either.
I've always had a special fascination with flagellantism, the practice amongst the more fervently religious to whip themselves (and each other). It can be traced back to ancient times, such as the Dionysian cults in Greece. But it wasn't until the 13th and 14th century that the past-time became really popular. Unlike the monastic orders, the flagellants were laymen who didn't do their penitence in private, but in the city streets and other public places - as a demonstration of piety. And we all know how much fun corporal punishment in front of an audience can be, right? Apparently, their processions and public rituals generated quite a bit of interest all over Europe.
(William-Adolphe Bouguereau, "The Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ", 1880)
The whip was considered a particularly noble instrument because Christ himself was scourged before the crucifiction. It must be said that the ancient Roman idea of a proper whipping, with flayed skin and bones layed open, is a bit too severe even for my taste. Reportedly, many victims died from it. Watch Mel Gibson's Jesus Chainsaw Massacre for the most accurate depiction yet. The only wrong detail is that someone who really had the misfortune of going through the grinder of the Roman justice system would have been fully nude during the flogging. But you can't show that in a Hollywood film, can you?
The flagellants didn't quite kill themselves with the whip, but they applied it with considerable vigour. There must have been some genuinly kinky people among them. And among the ordained monks, too. For example, there was one Italian guy named Dominicus Loricatus, a very zealous Benedictine who was later declared a saint. Legend has it that, during the fasting season, he repeated the entire Psalter twenty times a week and accompanied each psalm with one hundred lashes to his back. The Book of Psalms contains 150 chants, so if my math is correct, that would be 300,000 lashes - in a week! I don't care how saintly you are, you just don't do that unless it turns you on.
I suspect that the public curiosity about flagellant displays had more than purely religious motives as well. For many spectators and members, it may have been closer to the kind of fascination which we in the BDSM scene know quite intimately. After tolerating the movement initially, the church became alarmed by its rapid growth and sometimes manic character. Eventually, flagellantism was outlawed as a form of heresy. Various groups found themselves persecuted by the holy inquisition - from self-torture to real torture, so to speak! Nonetheless, whipping continued to be an accepted form of penance within the church for centuries. Even today, you can see the occasional procession of hooded flagellants in Catholic countries like Spain, Italy or the Philippines.
So, my brothers and sisters, let us embrace religion. Especially the kind where the pious prove their faith in some rather interesting unorthodox ways. Until the church authorities come along and torment them some more. Let us be devoutly grateful for so much historical inspiration. Thank you father, for I have sinned.
On that note, I'd like to wish you all happy (and hopefully kinky) holidays.