Cornelius Adriaensen

Cornelius Adriaensen with a birch rod, illustration from 1607.
Monastic/religious M/F birching scene, possibly depicting Cornelius Adriaensen.
Cornelius Adriaensen whipping women penitents with birch rods. Popular engraving, 17th century.

Cornelius Adriaensen was a 16th-century Dutch Franciscan priest and monk. He was born at Dordrecht (South Holland) in 1521 and joined the order of "Frères Mineurs" (Franciscans), becoming a friar. He died in 1581.

Adriaensen's secret order in BrugesEdit

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.

Historia flagellantiumEdit

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".

The 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.


The compositional similarities of the following images suggests they were based on one another. Some of the artworks may have been (caricaturistic) depictions of Cornelius Adriaensen, while others simply used the motif of a monk flogging a bare-bottomed woman for penance in other illustrative contexts. The common implement in all images is the somewhat unusual horsehair whip. It is also interesting to watch how the spanking position "morphs" from the over-the-knee position to a waist-between-legs/reverse riding position.

See alsoEdit