Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic policies on castratism:
castrated choir boys, ~1500 to 1903 CE
An emasculator," a medical castration tool 12
||"Isn't it incredibly sad and pathetic that the society Alessandro [Moreschi]
was born into (and all the castintos) was soooooo male dominated (and female
phobic) that it would castrate their own male children rather than allow a
naturally occurring female voice breech 'their' domain? Who's to say that
his own mature (intact) male voice, with all the training he had, wouldn't
have been magnificent. Once the child (and they were children) was
castrated, what choice did he have? The society settled for a poor imitation
of a woman's voice, when their was no need." Denise D., reviewer on Archive.org referring to a recording by Alessandro Moreschi, a singer at the
Sistine Chapel, made in 1904. 1,2
||"It makes your flesh creep to think that this
could have happened in the name of art. Put in context though, with eunuchs,
tail docking for dogs and genital mutilation, it
shows that we humans have a fairly unique knack for extreme cruelty based
simply on tradition. Steve Brereton. 3
A castrato is a male singer with a soprano, mezzo-soprano, or alto
From about 1550 CE to the late 19th century, most were
created by castrating boys before they reaching puberty. This prevented their
vocal cords from lengthening and their voice from
deepening. With the lung capacity and muscular strength of an adult male and the
vocal range of a prepubescent boy:
"... his voice develops a range, power and flexibility quite different
from the singing voice of the adult female, but also markedly different from
the higher vocal ranges of the uncastrated adult male. Some castratos were
males who were born with an endoctrinological condition that prevented them
from sexually maturing."
"The term castrato was often used to indicate the high register
created by the young men who sang the castrato style. The typical register
of a castrato was above that of a 'normal' soprano or alto voice, resulting
in the creation of a temporary range in Italian music." 4
In Italy, where most of the castrations occurred,
boys were generally drugged with opium. They were soaked in a hot tub until
barely conscious before the operation. 5 One source estimates
that the fatality rate due to the amputation procedure was about 80%. 6 Another
estimates a death rate of 10 to 80% depending upon the skill of the
practitioner. 7 Among the survivors, the vast majority did not become
professional singers because their voice was not of sufficiently high quality.
J.S. Jenkins writes:
"Boys were castrated between the ages of 7 and
9 years, and underwent a long period of voice training. A small number
became international opera stars, of whom the most famous was Farinelli,
whose voice ranged over three octaves. By the end of the 18th century,
fashions in opera had changed so that the castrati declined [in numbers] except in the
Vatican, where the Sistine Chapel continued to employ castrati until 1903.
The last of the castrati, ... Alessandro Moreschi ... died in 1924 and made
gramophone recordings that provide the only direct evidence of a castrato's
singing voice." 8
Obviously, all of the boys who were castrated were not sufficiently mature
to give their informed consent.
The European practice of employing castrated boys in the Catholic church's
choirs started in the mid 16th century. Castrati were first used during:
||Late 1550s in the chapel choir of the Duke of Ferrara.
||1574 in the court chapel at Munich, Germany.
||1599 in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.
||1610 in Württemberg, Germany.
||1637 in Vienna, Austria.
||1640's in Dresden, Germany. 4
Pope Sixtus V issued a papal Bull in 1589 which
approved the recruitment of castrati for the choir of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Castrati were later widely employed by opera companies.
According to Wikipedia:
"The practice reached its peak in 17th and 18th
century opera. In Naples it is said that several barbershops had a sign that castration was
performed there. However, this cannot be confirmed. The male heroic lead would often be written for a castrato
singer (in the operas of Handel for example). When such operas are performed
today, a woman (possibly cross-dressing as a man in a so-called trouser
role) or a countertenor takes these roles. However, some Baroque operas with
parts for castrati are so complex and difficult that they cannot be
"Castration was by no means a guarantee of a
promising career. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, only
approximately 1% of fully or partially castrated boys developed into
"Probably the most famous castrato was the 18th century singer Carlo Broschi,
known as Farinelli. In 1994, a film was made about him, Farinelli Il
Castrato. In the 17th century, Queen Christina of Sweden was so enamored of
the voices of the castrati that she temporarily halted a war between her
country and Poland so that she could borrow the castrato Ferri from the
Polish king for a two-week command performance." 4
The Catholic Church's position on castrati:
According to Rotten.com, in the late 16th century:
"Pope Clement VIII became smitten with the
sweetness and flexibility of their voices. ... While some Church officials
suggested it would be preferable to lift the ban on women singers than to
continue endorsing the castration of little boys, the Pope disagreed,
quoting Saint Paul, 'Let women be silent in the assemblies, for it is not
permitted to them to speak.' ... Since it was illegal to perform
castrations, ... all castrati presenting themselves for the choir claimed to
have lost their genitals through tragic 'accident'."
"After the Pope’s official acknowledgement and acceptance of castrati, the
number of these "accidents" increased dramatically. Parents seeking upward
mobility towed their little lads down to a barber or butcher who separated
them from their testicles for a fee. 5
One source estimates that, during the 17th and 18th
centuries, three to five thousand
boys per year in Italy were castrated .
Castration was forbidden under canon law. The church condemned the practice and
occasionally excommunicated the person responsible for the surgery. 6 But the church simultaneously created a market for castrati by hiring
them for its church
choirs. By about 1789, there were more than 200 castrati in Rome's chapel choirs
The number of castrati declined during the 19th
century. In 1870, castrations were banned in the Papal States -- the last
political jurisdiction to do so. In 1878, Pope
Leo XIII prohibited the hiring of new castrati by the church. 10 By 1900
there were only 16 castrati singing in the Sistine Chapel and other Catholic
choirs in Europe. In 1902, Pope Leo XIII ruled that new castrati would not be admitted to
the Sistine Chapel. 7 In 1903, Pope Pius X formally banned adult male sopranos from the
Vatican. 9 The Church's last castrati, Alessandro Moreschi,
died in 1922. 9
The castrati and 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy in the Bible:
Part of the market for castrati was due to the apostle Paul's famous
taceat in ecclesia" (women are to be silent in church). This instruction is found in two
passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament):
||I Corinthians 14:34-35: "Let your women keep silence in the churches:
for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be
under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing,
let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in
the church. 11
||I Timothy 2:11-12: "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but
to be in silence."
Until the 17th century, the Catholic church interpreted these passages literally.
Women were prohibited from speaking or singing in church. 10 Castrati, were the obvious replacement.
However, most Christians theologians who are not evangelicals, have concluded that 1 Timothy was not written by Paul. Also,
||1 Corinthians 11:5 states that: "... every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven." 11
This would seem to imply that women could pray or prophecise as long as her head was covered.
These passages are largely rejected by religious liberals today. One
theologian suggests that verses 34b to 36 in 1 Corinthians 14 are a
crude forgery. If they are simply deleted, the chapter flows smoothly from verse
34a to 37. More info. Many liberal Christians believe
that 1 Timothy is a forgery and is written circa 100 to 150 CE, up to 85 years after
Paul's execution. This text refers shows how the second century church
oppression of women --- in opposition to the teachings of Paul. More info.
The castrati and Matthew 19 in the Bible:
The author of the Gospel of Matthew describes a
conversation by Jesus to his disciples in which he bans divorce, except in
those instances where the wife commits a sexual indiscretion. The disciples respond:
||Matthew 19:10: "His disciples say unto him, If
the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry."
||Matthew 19:11-12: "But he said unto them, All
men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are
some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are
some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which
have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is
able to receive it, let him receive it." 11
Origen (c. 185 - c 254 CE), an early church father from the
Alexandrian school, interpreted this passage literally and allegedly castrated himself "for the kingdom of heaven's
sake." Some Catholic church leaders, centuries ago, interpreted the same passage as
providing justification for the use of castrati so that they could
contribute their powerful singing ability at high pitches to church choirs.
The following information sources were used to prepare the above report in
the year 2000, and update it since. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Denise D., review of "Alessandro Moreschi: Ave Maria," Internet Archive,
2006-JUL-12, at: http://www.archive.org/
"Alessandro Moreschi: Ave Maria," 1904 recording, Internet Archive,
downloadable from: Internet Archive
Steve Brereton, review of Sean Coughlan, "Singing in the pain," BBC News
Magazine, 2006-MAR-29, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/ This article contains photographs of "castratori" --
instruments for castrating males. Only for the strong of stomach.
"Castrato," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
"Eunuchs," rotten dot com, at: http://www.rotten.com/
"When castration was normal: If it's not Baroque, don't fix it," RadixNet,
"When castration was accepted," Intactivism Pages, at: http://www.circumstitions.com/
J.S. Jenkins, "The lost voice: a history of the castrato," Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology & Metabolism,
2000;13 Suppl 6:1503-8. Abstract at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
"History - Castrati," Radoxnet, at: http://www.radix.net/
Alexia O'Neil, "Sex Trivia," ErosZine, at: http://www.eros-lasvegas.com/
- Quoted from the King James version of the Bible.
Castration tool. Image downloaded from Flickr at: https://www.flickr.com/
- Original source: page 22 of "Animal castration, a book for the use of students and practitioners;" (1914)
No known copyright restrictions.
Books on the castrati:
book "The world of the castrati:
The History of an Extraordinary Operatic Phenomenon" is rated of 4.5 out of
5 stars by Amazon.com buyers. Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
A search at Amazon.com for books about Castrati:
Copyright © 2007 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-FEB-07
Latest update: 2017-SEP-26
Author: B.A. Robinson
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