Policeman's Amulet, France

Transferred from the Wellcome Institute in 1985; 1985.52.69 
Acquired in Paris in 1889, this amulet is made from a perforated sou (low-value coin), a section of hangman’s 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. Campi’s 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.  Campi’s 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 ‘death stroke’ from the dead man’s 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 (‘to have the hangman’s rope in one’s pocket’) 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 (‘the Church of the Souls of the Beheaded Bodies’) in Palermo contains many pictures of the miracles performed by these criminals.
Connected Objects: Hangman Locket

Artisans of Memory

Behind the scenes of an amulets project

This series of short films follows the progress and practices of those connected with the Small Blessings project as they unravel the stories surrounding these curious objects.

The full series of films may be viewed here.


Amulets Competition

The competition is now closed and a winner has been announced. Find out more here.

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