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Cruel Conrad of Marburg Murdered

May 03, 2010
Cruel Conrad of Marburg Murdered

Conrad is dead. The inquisitor is dead!"

Word raced across the German countryside. Nobleman and commoner, priest and layman crowded forward to drink in details on this day, July 30, 1233. The man most hated and feared in all of Germany was dead. But how?

"He was murdered on the highway as he rode home from Mainz. Gerhard, his Franciscan assistant, was killed, too."

It was hard not to avoid the connection between Mainz and Marburg. Just five days earlier, the Archbishop of Mainz had called a synod (local church council). Conrad of Marburg, first inquisitor of Germany, had accused the Count of Sayn of heresy. The Count strongly denied the charge and appealed to the Archbishop. The Archbishop agreed to examine the case.

Little wonder the count was worried. Conrad, who tortured himself as part of his religious system, was even more savage with "heretics." Anyone who was indicted for heresy in his court had just two choices: to confess themselves guilty or to deny it. If they confessed, their hair was shaved off and penalties assessed. If they denied that they were guilty, they went to the stake. It seems never to have occurred to Conrad that someone might deny their guilt because they actually were innocent. It should have, for his indictments were obtained by threatening accused people with torture unless they gave him names of others who were "guilty" of heresy.

When the clergy assembled at Mainz, Conrad was there. The synod found no evidence of heresy in the Count of Sayn. Frustrated, Conrad called for a crusade against heretical nobles.

It had to be with relief that the targets of Conrad's wrath learned of his death. As brutal as the thirteenth century was, even Conrad's contemporaries could not stomach his harsh methods. When the bishops of Germany took over their nation's inquisition, they applied standards of inquiry that were more realistic and fair.

It seems not many people mourned Conrad's death. One who did was Pope Gregory IX. Gregory was an instigator of the inquisition. He called for harsh penalties on Conrad's murderers and extended his protection over Conrad's memory.

Conrad had also been confessor to Elizabeth of Hungary, the gentle queen who opened Europe's first leprosarium. His treatment of her shows his temperament. He made her send her children away and ordered her to expel the women who had been her close companions and suffered exile with her. He surrounded Elizabeth with his own, unsympathetic appointees. He imposed harsh penances on her. According to some accounts, he even personally beat her.


  1. "Conrad of Marburg." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  2. Jameson. Legends of the Monastic Orders. London: Longman, Green and co., 1872, source of the portrait.
  3. Kirsch, J.P. "Conrad of Marburg." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  4. Various articles on Conrad of Marburg and on Elizabeth of Hungary.

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