A medieval movement characterized by public penance, extreme asceticism, and self-flagellation to atone for sins.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Catholicism
Founder: Arguably Peter Damian in the 11th century
Founded: First documented in 1260 in Italy
Location: Most commonly practiced today in Colombia, the Philippines, Mexico, and Spain
Size: Not an organized movement, but groups were as large as 15,000 members

Flagellants were religious zealots who, throughout various periods in medieval history, practiced self-flagellation as a form of penance and devotion. This movement emerged in the 13th century, particularly in northern Italy, and became widely popular by around 1260. Groups of flagellants would march through European towns, whipping themselves to atone for their sins, urging the public to repent, and seeking to appease divine wrath, believing that such physical suffering could purify the soul and atone for sins.

The flagellant movement gained significant momentum during the mid-14th century as the Black Death ravaged Europe. In this period of crisis, the spectacle of flagellants processing through towns, chastising themselves in a public display of penance, drew many new adherents. They believed their actions could intercede with God, mitigating the plague’s devastation and earning mercy for the people. The flagellants’ practices included wearing specific garbs, like a white habit marked with a red cross, and adhering to strict disciplines that governed their actions during the period of their vow, which often lasted for a set number of days.

Despite the popularity of the movement, flagellants were periodically suppressed by both religious and secular authorities. The Catholic Church, in particular, viewed the extreme practices of flagellants with increasing concern, leading to official condemnations. in 1349, Pope Clement VI condemned the movement, marking the beginning of its decline. Despite this, flagellant sects continued to see sporadic resurgences well into the 16th century.

The flagellant movement highlights a period in medieval history where fear, suffering, and religious fervor intertwined, leading to extreme manifestations of faith. The practice of self-flagellation as a form of religious expression has diminished over time but remains a poignant symbol of medieval piety and the lengths to which people will go in seeking redemption and divine favor​​​​.

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