On Dildos and Penance

Last week on twitter I had a little chat about the presence of dildos in the penitential of Burchard of Worms, which raised some questions.

For those who have managed to escape the morass that is the twitter hellscape, a brief recap before we get on to making a historical point™. Burchard of Worms was the Bishop of Worms, which was an extremely influential Holy Roman Imperial city, and which we generally think of now in relation to the Diet of Worms, where Martin Luther (who is just a second-rate Jan Hus, but whatever), was tried. Burchard, however, was working five blissful centuries before Luther came on the scene, i.e. at the end of the tenth and beginning of the eleventh centuries, and he was massively influential in making canon, or Church, law. He is also very well known for making his own penitential.

For those who were not raised Catholic, a penitential is – more or less – a book that gives guidance to priests who are giving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which was known as the Sacrament of Penance in the medieval period. This is where Catholics (aka any non-Orthodox Christians in the medieval period) go into a little booth and tell a priest what sins they have committed. The priest then tells them what penance they have to do in order to be forgiven of the sins and reconciled with God.

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