An obsolete common law practice, discouraged by the Church, which submitted the accused, or the accuser, or both, to the Judgement of God, usually with fire or water. Whoever died, or whose wounds festered, was considered guilty.
An ancient superstitious mode of trial. When in a criminal case the accused was arraigned, be might select the mode of trial either by God and his country, that is, by jury; or by God only, that is by ordeal.The trial by ordeal was either by fire or by water. Those who were tried by the former passed barefooted and blindfolded over nine hot glowing ploughshares; or were to carry burning irons in their hands; and accordingly as they escaped or not, they were acquitted or condemned. The water ordeal was performed either in hot or cold water. In cold water, the parties suspected were adjudged innocent if their bodies were not borne up by the water contrary to the course of nature; and if, after putting their bare arms or legs into scalding water they came out unhurt they were taken to be innocent of the crime.It was impiously supposed that God would, by the mere contrivance of man, exercise his power in favor of the innocent.