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The burning of Michael Servetus

 Had one visited the town of Geneva on the 27th of October 1553, one would have been witness of that tragic scene which William Osler describes so poignantly and dramatically:

“…Shortly after twelve o’clock, a procession started from the town-hall of Geneva-the chief magistrates of the city, the clergy in their robes, the Lieutenant Criminel and other officers on horseback, a guard of mounted archers, the citizens, with a motley crowd of followers, and in their midst, with arms bound, in shabby, dirty clothes, walked a man of middle age, whose intellectual face bore the marks of long suffering.  Passing along the rue St. Antoine through the gate of the same name, the cortege took its way towards the Golgotha of the city.  Once outside the walls a superb sight broke on their view: in the distance the blue waters and enchanting shores of Lake Geneva, to the west and north the immense amphitheater of the Jura, with its snow-capped mountains, and to the south and west the lovely valley of the Rhone; but we may well think that few eyes were turned away from the central figure of that sad procession.  By his side, in earnest entreaty, walked the aged pastor, Farel, who had devoted a long and useful life to the service of his fellow citizens.  Mounting the hill, the field of Champel was reached, and here on sight eminence was the fateful stake, with dangling chains and heaping bundles of faggots.  At this sight the poor victim prostrated himself on the ground in prayer.  In reply to the exhortation of the clergyman for a specific confession of faith, there was the cry, ‘Misericordia, misericordia!  Jesu, thou Son of the eternal God, have compassion upon me!’  Bound to the stake by the iron chains, with a chaplet of straw and green twigs covered with sulphur on his head, with long dark face, it is said that he looked like the Christ in whose name he was bound.  Around his waist were tied a large bundle of manuscript and a thick octavo printed book.  The torch was applied, and as the flames spread to the straw and sulphur and flashed in his eyes, there was a piercing cry that struck terror into the hearts of the bystanders.  The faggots were green, the burning was slow, and it was long before in a last agony he cried again, ‘Jesu, thou Son of the eternal God, have mercy on me!’  Thus died in his forty-fourth year, Michael Servetus Villanovanus, physician, physiologist, and heretic.  Strange, is it not, that could he have cried, ‘Jesu, thou Eternal Son of God!’ even at this last moment, the chains would have been unwound, the chaplet removed, and the faggots scattered; but he remained faithful unto death to what he believed was the Truth as revealed in the Bible.”

Osler, Wm. Michael Servetus. London, Oxford University Press, 1909.  Page 35.  
This is also found in several other publications.  Fulton, John.  Michael Servetus Humanist and Martyr.  New York: Herbert Reichner, 1953.  page 25.  This book by Fulton is included in: O'Malley, Charles Donald. Christianismi Restitutio and Other Writings. Birmingham, Ala:  The Classics of Medicine Library, 1989. 

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