1985.52.69

Policeman's amulet, made from a hangman's rope, a piece of human skin, and a perforated metal coin attached by a red ribbon. [ACA 16/02/2012]

Place details: EUROPE. France. Paris. Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Human Skin / Rope / Copper Alloy Metal / Ribbon Textile / ?. Processes: Perforated / Stamped / Strung / Tied / ?. Dimensions: Max L = 128 mm Max W = 37 mm When Collected: 1889 Acquired: Transferred 1985 Other Numbers: 127

KEYWORD: Amulet / Human Body Part / Coin / CLASS: Religion / Physical Anthropology / Currency / ?.

Object description: Policeman's amulet, made from a hangman's rope, a piece of human skin, and a perforated metal coin attached by a red ribbon. The perforated coin is a sou which was a French coin of low value. The human skin was a piece of Campi's skin who was a sadistic murderer. [ACA 16/02/2012]

Publications history, trails & websites: This amulet was selected for the Small Blessings project website [http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/amulets], online text as follows:

Acquired in Paris in 1889, this amulet is made from a coin, a section of hangmanʼs rope and a small piece of skin from a sadistic murderer named Campi. Campi reportedly murdered one Monsieur Ducros de Sixt in the Rue du Regard on 10th August 1883 and was sentenced to death by the Paris law courts.

In the 19th century the bodies of executed criminals were often used for medical teaching and research. Campiʼs severed head was delivered to Dr Jean-Baptiste Vincent Laborde, one of the first physicians to experiment with isolated brain research. Laborde attempted to revive the head by pumping blood into it. The experiment failed, but subsequent experiments by Laborde and other scientists were successful in temporarily reactivating severed heads. Campiʼs skin, meanwhile, was removed from his body and used to bind the copies of his postmortem examination. A small piece must have been taken to make this amulet.

Belief in the curative powers of criminals who had died at the hands of justice was common at this time. Public executions attracted large crowds, and people would congregate around the gallows in order to be cured by a ʻdeath strokeʼ from the dead manʼs hand. The rope from which the criminal had been hanged was also believed to cure disease and bring good luck. The French expression avoir de la corde de pendu (ʻto have the hangmanʼs rope in oneʼs pocketʼ) dates from the 19th century and echoes this belief.

Belief that executed criminals could intercede on behalf of the living was evident elsewhere in 19th century Europe. In Sicily, for example, murderers and other criminals who had been executed by state authorities attained saint-like status and were called on to protect people from being robbed or murdered. The local priests permitted this popular belief and La Chiesa delle Anime dei Corpi Decollati (ʻthe Church of the Souls of the Beheaded Bodiesʼ) in Palermo contains many pictures of the miracles performed by these criminals. [CB 29/08/2012]