When Priests Were Literally Defrocked

When a clergyman is kicked out of the priesthood against his will, we say he has been “defrocked.” That term came about in a very literal way. In Medieval Europe, the Roman Catholic Church was extremely powerful and priests were the local authority, although still subject to the church hierarchy. When one was rejected from the clergy by the higher-ups, he underwent the “rite of degradation,” which sounds bad enough, but the ceremony entailed having him take his clothes off. When a man became a priest, he was dressed in layers of holy vestments, and the reverse was stripping him of his frock. He would also have his hair cut and his hands scraped.  

The procedure was first chronicled in the 14th century, but may have borrowed the process from an earlier similar ritual to degrade a knight by publicly removing his armor. The rite of degradation could backfire, however. If the priest was popular, lay people could see the ceremony as analogous to the treatment of Christ before his crucifixion, and transform him into a martyr if he was deemed to be treated unfairly. Read about the rite of degradation at The Public Domain Review.  -via Strange Company

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Source: neatorama

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