Devil’s Advocate

Forensic Architecture

During medieval times, forensics practices were kept alive by people known as “devil’s advocates.” These were legal experts appointed by the Church who argued against a candidate for canonization by searching for faults or instances of fraud in the miraculous accounts presented as evidence—whereas in other juridical processes it was the voice of the witness that mattered almost exclusively, hence the Church’s emphasis on the practices of torture and confession. Miracles were understood as divine interventions into the earthly realm and consisted mainly of healings, sometimes visions, and only occasionally levitations. The process of their ascertainment involved the examination of bodies both living and dead, sometimes drops of blood, and even the nails and other carpentry details of objects presented as evidence. Experts competent in different areas of knowledge—physicians, artists, and artisans—were brought in where relevant and asked whether a natural explanation could be provided for a given material phenomenon. If so, the occurrence in question was determined not to be a miracle. This material forensics, central to the canonization process, was based upon a mode of quasi-scientific refutation that historian Fernando Vidal claims became the model for evidentiary and investigative legal practices.

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