Cornelius Adriaensen (1521 – 1581) was a 16th-century Dutch Franciscan priest. He was born at Dordrecht and joined the order of “Frères Mineurs”.
Adriaensen moved to Bruges (West Flanders, today in Belgium) where he founded a secret order among the women of Bruges, who were persuaded to meet him in secret, undress, and be chastised for their sins. The order was eventually betrayed to the local authorities by two unwilling novices, Betteken Maes and Celleken Pieters. Adriaensen fled Bruges in 1563 and died in Ypres (West Flanders) in 1581.
he story of Adriaensen was mostly drawn to the attention of the public through the book Historia flagellantium (History of flagellation) by Abbé Jacques Boileau, which was published in 1700. The book described in detail how Cornelius Adriaensen would take pleasure in whipping young female acolytes for penance, and tenderly touch their naked buttocks and thighs with his rods of willow and birch. This was cited as one of many examples, and Boileau even claimed that flagellation was, by its nature, erotically ambivalent and deliberately so.
This book, which was put on the Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books by 1703, signals a turn of tides: From 1700 forward, the whip would be identified less with piety or penance than with sexual arousal.
But earlier another book was published ‘The Historie of B. CORNELIS ADRIAENSEN’. It was published anonymous but it is believed that the publisher Hubertus Goltzius (also a painter) was responsible for most of the writings in the book. The book was published by Anthonis de Solempne in Norwich.
The book counts 550 pages and is divided in 3 chapters, the second chapter describes the discipine Adriaensen performed. When he started preaching in Brugge he spoke about the importance of virginity for young females, according to him young woman needed to stay virgin and married woman were not allowed to enjoy sex with their husbands. A lot of woman got unpleasant thoughts about these restrictions which they shared with Adriaensen, as good devoted married woman would have done in that era. He knew what to do with thim, the youngest and most attractive woman were invited to his secret order the others he referred to a different priest.
His chosen ones needed to confess to him (and him only!) where he showed a particular interest for their sexual fantasies. He would ask some woman to undress after which they would need to humbly request to be disciplined with a birch they would have brought with them themselves. Adriaensen would then whip them in a sensual way ‘Slowly with a certain number of hits that would not hurt’. Ofcourse the woman were forbidden to speak about this secret order to others since (as Adriaensen told them) they would not understand the benefits of it. He was betrayed by Calleken P and Betteken Maes, Betteken asked him for a proof in the Bible of his theory that woman who stayed virgin, or the married ones who did not enjoy sex, would for sure go to heaven, should they not be this devoted they would get little chance of going t heaven. It all went down when Betteken Maes found a better priest in the blind Monk Michiel, it seemed Adriaensen got jalous, he threathens Betteken with inquisition and spreads rumors of her having Erasmianian thoughts and he tries to convince te wealthy powerful habitants of Brugge of the bad person Betteken is. Unfortunetely for Adriaensen they as well had Erasmanian thoughts. Betteken had no other choice then to tell her rich friends about the secret order and investigation of Adriaensen was what followed. Alongside some fantastic rumors and artworks about the penance Adriaensen brought upon his devoted followers. I tried to collect those artworks, most of them the artist remains unknown and otherwise is mentioned in the image.
There is a nice detail to know with the illustration where Adriaensen is shown with three woman in what seems like a bedroom (third image): Betteken Maes had to learn to undress in the presence of Adriaensen, the first time she fainted so Adriaensen invited two of her friends to show her how to got undressed.
Adriaensen’s exploits were still making the rounds as late as 1688, when he appeared as the anti-hero of the ballad “The Lusty Fryar of Flanders”