[awr-deel, -dee-uhl, awr-deel]
any extremely severe or trying test, experience, or trial.
a primitive form of trial to determine guilt or innocence by subjecting the accused person to fire, poison, or other serious danger, the result being regarded as a divine or preternatural judgment.

before 950; Middle English ordal, Old English ordāl; cognate with Dutch oordeel, German Urteil. See a-3, dole1

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World English Dictionary
ordeal (ɔːˈdiːl)
1.  a severe or trying experience
2.  history a method of trial in which the guilt or innocence of an accused person was determined by subjecting him to physical danger, esp by fire or water. The outcome was regarded as an indication of divine judgment
[Old English ordāl, ordēl; related to Old Frisian ordēl, Old High German urteili (German Urteil) verdict. See deal1, dole1]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Word Origin & History

O.E. ordel, lit. "judgment, verdict," from P.Gmc. noun *uzdailjam (cf. O.Fris. urdel, Du. oordeel, Ger. urteil "judgment"), lit. "that which is dealt out" (by the gods), from *uzdailijan "share out," related to O.E. adælan "to deal out" (see deal). The notion is of the
kind of arduous physical test (such as walking blindfolded and barefoot between red-hot plowshares) that was believed to determine a person's guilt or innocence by immediate judgment of the deity, an ancient Teutonic mode of trial. Eng. retains a more exact sense of the word; its cognates in Ger., etc., have been generalized. Curiously absent in M.E., and perhaps reborrowed 16c. from M.L. or M.Fr., which got it from Gmc. Metaphoric extension to "anything which tests character or endurance" is attested from 1658. The prefix or- survives in Eng. only in this word, but was common in O.E. and other Gmc. languages (Goth. ur-, O.N. or-, etc.) and was originally an adv. and prep. meaning "out."
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
Of course, one form of ordeal reigned above all others: football.
In the early days of their ordeal, they bicker and mourn, but solitude and need
  draw them together.
Even expressways have collapsed, turning a drive that once took several hours
  into a terrifying ordeal that can last days.
His final ordeal might have inspired great self-pity, though he displayed no
  hint of it.
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