The Torture of Jean Calas


Jean Calas, a Protestant merchant living in a predominantly Roman Catholic France, was accused of murdering his son in order to prevent him from converting to Roman Catholicism. Despite the fact that Calas maintained his innocence and claimed that his son, in fact, had committed suicide, Calas was sentenced to torture and had his arms and legs broken. On March 10, 1762, he died while undergoing the "breaking wheel" torture. After the French philosopher Voltaire had learned about the case, he tried getting Calas' sentence overturned. Voltaire argued that Calas's son, Marc-Antonie, had committed suicide because he had incurred gambling debts, and these debts made him unable to finish his university classes. Voltaire was ultimately sucessful, and in 1765, Jean Calas was posthumously exonerated of all charges. Voltaire used this unfortunate incident to strongly criticize the Roman Church for its intolerant and fanatical views in his 1763 work, "Treatise on Tolerance." Today, Jean Calas has become a symbolic victim of religious intolerance and fanaticism.