The sounds of someone cracking their knuckles in a quiet space can be very annoying. The popping and cracking sounds can send shivers up someone’s spine. This simple act of self-soothing comfort in the modern world used to be an essential component to the most famous of Inquisition torture methods: the Rack.
The use of the rack dated back to ancient times and its purpose was to stretch out a human being. A person would be secured to a board at the wrists and the ankles with some type of cuff, then chains would be attached to the cuffs. The chains would be attached to a wheel and a crank would turn the wheel. As the chains were tightened, the body would stretch and joints, ligaments, and tendons would snap, crack, and pop.
Sounds produced by a body stretching may be one reason why this torture method had such a long life in human history. During the Inquisition, those accused of heresy were often required to witness torture. When the tendons and ligaments of a person on the rack began making noise, bystanders routinely offered up confessions. For the accused stretched out too much, their muscles would lose the ability to contract. Without elasticity of muscles, a person could no longer move on their own. For a person that survived long sessions of forced stretching, they could lose control of their bowels and other bodily functions and be permanently unable to move on their own.
Sometimes included with the rack were ancillary torture methods. For example, part of a person may be on a bed of nails or some other sharp objects. When the rack began to stretch them, the nails would slowly pierce the skin. The accused would feel the pain of being stretched as well as objects scraping against their skin.
In Spanish viceroyalties in the New World, sometimes the rack would take the form similar to that of the strappado, where a person would be stretched while hanging by their wrists from a tall tree or pole. As a person hung from their wrists their ankles would be stretched to the ground. The snap, crackle, and pop of joints and ligaments could be deafening and the pain indescribable. There was at least one account of a person who survived the rack who proclaimed he required longer pants for they had been stretched out so much.