Sinterklaas – the most famous member of the Inquisition?

The Dutch Sinterklaasfeest is celebrated on December 5th. But who is Sinterklaas? He is definitely not Santa Claus, because his origins are different. Sinterklaas is a mixture of our pagan god Wodan, a saint from Turkey and something much more evil: an inquisitor!

Sinterklaas book
“Sanctity” by elora.daphne

The Catholic Church ruled in the early Middle Ages in Europe on religious as well as on mundane matters. The Church was incredibly rich and had a big army to protect and expand their influence. The nobility collaborated, while the serfs were taxed to keep the system going. The Catholic Church was an invincible superpower – until a group of enlightened people started to question the dogma of the Church and thus the rule of the pope.

The Kathars were a group of mystic Christians in France. They considered concepts like the Resurrection and the Kingdom of Christ as metaphors that could apply to everyone’s spiritual quest. They didn’t believe anymore that excommunication by the bishop would mean eternal doom. The Church had lost its grip on this group.

“St Nicholas – St Peter’s Church Newlyn” by Ross Tucknott

To prevent this heresy to spread, Pope Innocentius III cast an official curse on the Kathars in 1208 A.D.  This initiated a movement where the Kathars actively were prosecuted and burned at the stake. This was the very first Inquisition, that later expanded to other territories and groups in Europe.

Every diocese had its own inquisition with the bishop in charge, some officials and a lot of spies who had their own reasons to collaberate. The bishop kept a big book with the names of suspects and all they had done or said wrong. The Kathars were for instance pescatarians that occasionally ate fish, but never meat. When you saw someone at a party avoiding to eat meat, you should immediately report this to an official, because this could be a strong indication of a wrong believe system. The bishop would write this all in his big book and when there would be enough ‘evidence’, he would call a tribunal to hear the suspect. Not seldom this would send the suspect to the pyre.

Sinterklaas book
“Sinterklaas” by Henk Kosters

Sinterklaas does exactly the same, until the day of today. He is a bishop and he carries a big book that he checks to see if the children have been good. He knows everything, because he has his spies everywhere. In earlier years you could be punished and beaten by Zwarte Piet or taken on the boat to Spain. Instead of presents, you would get a little bag of salt. Of course nowadays children almost always get presents, otherwise the commerce would suffer too much.

Personally I don’t like this aspect of Sinterklaas at all – beware of this Inquisitor. Let’s go for the New Sint instead!

Roelien, writer & coach





Leave a Reply