In a recess in the subterranean vault, next to the private hall where the interrogations were conducted, stood a wooden figure, carved by the monks, and representing the Virgin Mary. A gilded halo encompassed her head, and in her right hand she held a banner extolling the glory of her Faith.
It appeared to us at first sight that, despite the silken robe adorning her, she wore some kind of breastplate which, on closer examination, was seen to be stuck full of extremely sharp, narrow knife-blades, the points being directed towards the spectator. The arms and hands were jointed, controlled by machinery concealed behind a curtain.
One of the Inquisition staff was commanded to set it in motion, and when the figure extended its arms, as though to press someone most lovingly to its heart, a Polish grenadier was ordered to substitute his well-filled knapsack for an imaginary victim. The effigy hugged it closer and closer, and when finally it was made to unclasp its arms, the knapsack had been perforated to a depth of two or three inches, and remained hanging on the points of the projecting daggers.
Persons accused of heresy, or of blaspheming God or the Saints, and obstinately refusing to confess their guilt, were conducted into this cellar, at the furthest end of which, numerous lamps placed around a recess, threw a variegated illumination of the gilded halo, and on the figure with a banner in her right hand. At a little altar standing opposite to her, and hung with black, the prisoner received the sacrament, and two ecclesiastics earnestly besought him, in the presence of the Mother of God, to make a confession. "See," they said, "how lovingly the blessed Virgin opens her arms to thee! On her bosom thy hardened heart will be melted; there thou wilt confess."
All at once the figure began to extend its arms; the prisoner was led to her embrace; she drew him nearer and nearer, pressed him almost imperceptibly closer and closer, until the spikes and knives just pierced his chest.