TRIAL BY ORDEAL.
In the Domesday Book of the County of Norfolk a list is given of the Churches belonging to each Hundred. The Grimshoe Hundred which now contains 16 parishes, had one Church only-Feltwell, or as Domesday calls it, Fatwella Church. It was St. Nicholas; for St. Mary's had not then been built.
From what is said in Domesday, there appears to have been a dispute about Feltwell Church. At the time of the Conquest this Church, so far as I can gather, belonged to the manor of Ely, but when the Domesday Survey was made it was claimed as forming part of Earl Ralph's estate which had been seized by the Crown. The claim was made by a certain Godric who acted as Steward or manager of Crown Lands and an offer was made "to undertake proof by ordeal." In those days there were two ways by which disputes of any importance could be settled. There was trial by Combat, before competent judges, which still exists on the Continent under the form of duelling. Trial by Combat was not an English custom but was introduced into this country by the Normans. There was also Trial by Ordeal of either red-hot iron or boiling water, which was an old-established custom long before the Norman Invasion. The root-idea of trial by ordeal was that an appeal was being made for Divine Assistance in settling difficult questions of innocence and guilt. For the ordeal of red-hot iron, heated plough-shares, generally nine in number, were laid on the ground at unequal distances for the accused person to walk over, blindfolded and barefoot; and if unhurt, he or she was declared innocent. Before undergoing trial by ordeal the accused would fast for 3 days and then attend Church where there was a form of Service, proper for the occasion. There was yet another kind of ordeal called the Corsned or Morsel of Execration. In the Bible, in the Book of Numbers, we read about the Water of Jealousy which a woman, suspected of infidelity to her husband, was made to drink as a test of her innocence. The Corsned was somewhat similar, and was given to a person on trial with the following imprecation-"May this morsel which is given him in order to bring the truth to light, stick in his throat and find no passage; may his face turn pale and his limbs be convulsed; and an horrible alteration appear in his whole body; if he is guilty. But if innocent of the crime laid to his charge, may he easily swallow it, consecrated in Thy Name, to the end that all may know." etc. What happened eventually about Feltwell Church; whether a trial by ordeal took place; or how the dispute was settled; history does not relate.
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