1553. Last work and final days

When Servetus published the Restitutio in early 1553 he sent an advance copy to Geneva. The printed text included thirty of his letters to Calvin. Soon afterward, at Calvin's behest, the identity of "Villeneuve" was betrayed to the Catholic Inquisition in Vienne. After his arrest and interrogation Servetus managed to escape from the prison. [To know more]

On his way, perhaps, to northern Italy where, he believed, there were people receptive to his writings, he made his way across the border to Geneva.

Recognized at a Geneva church service, he was arrested and tried for heresy by Protestant authorities. [photo: St. Peter's Cathedral at Geneva]

The secular officials were unable to establish that Servetus was an immoral disturber of the public peace. Nevertheless, he made damaging theological statements in the course of a written debate with Calvin [Complaint of Nicolas de la Fontaine against Servetus]. The Council of Geneva, after receiving the advice of churches in four other Swiss cities, convicted Servetus of antitrinitarianism and opposition to child baptism [Letters from prison]. Calvin asked that Servetus be mercifully beheaded. The Council insisted he should be burned at the stake.

Spectators were impressed by the tenacity of Servetus' faith. Perishing in the flames, he is said to have cried out, "O Jesus, Son of the Eternal God, have pity on me!" Farel, who witnessed the execution, observed that Servetus, defiant to the last, might have been saved had he but called upon "Jesus, the Eternal Son." A few months later Servetus was again executed, this time in effigy, by the Catholic Inquisition in France. [The execution scene as described by Sir William Osler]