The Inquisition


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    The principle of the Inquisition was murderous ... The popes were not only murderers in the great style, but they also made murder a legal basis of the Christian Church and a condition for salvation.
    Lord Acton (1834-1902)


    The term Inquisition is somewhat misleading in that over the centuries there have been a number of inquisitions. They have been directed against all of the groups we have looked at — Pagans and supposed Witches, dissenting sects, Cathars, Jews, Heretics, Philosophers, Freethinkers, Blasphemers, Apostates, Humanists, Pantheists, Unitarians, Deists and Atheists as well as Muslims, Hindus and members of other religions.

    In 1184 Pope Lucius III and the Emperor Frederick formulated a programme for the repression of heretics. This document, Ad abolendum, is sometimes known as the charter of the Inquisition, because it set the tone for future developments. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 ordered all bishops to hold an annual inquisition, if there was a suspicion of heresy in their See. But these Episcopal inquisitions were found to be inadequate for the task.


    The Medieval Inquisition

    A roving papal Inquisition was set up in 1231 by Pope Gregory IX. He extended existing legislation against heretics and introduced the death penalty for them — indeed for anyone who dissented from his views. Initially intended to be temporary, this Inquisition was used to extirpate surviving Cathars in the Languedoc. Anyone accused or "defamed" was treated as guilty, and no one once defamed got off without some punishment. After 1227 inquisitorial commissions were granted only to the friars, usually to the Dominicans. The Inquisition was now the "Dominican Inquisition". Dominic Guzmán's threats of slavery and death for the citizens of the Languedoc were fulfilled for a second time. First the massacres, now the Inquisition. The Bishop of Toulouse marked the canonisation of St Dominic on his first Saint's Day (4 th August 1234) by burning a woman for her Cathar beliefs. She had confessed to him as she lay sick in bed with a fever. She was carried to a field, still on her sickbed, and consigned to the flames, without any trial. The churchmen then repaired for their celebratory mbanquet, at which they thanked Saint Dominic for his miraculous assistance.1.

    A hand crusher, fitted with a Christian cross
    to emphasise that the torture is being carried out on behalf of the Christian God.


    All of the legal apparatus of the Inquisition was developed during this period. Elsewhere, courts followed at least the basic rules of justice: the accused knew their accusers, they were allowed legal representation, in some places judgement was delivered by a jury composed of peers of the accused. The old bishops" inquisitions had been public hearings, but these papal inquisitions were different: now secret hearings took place before clerical judges and prosecutors. Guilt was assumed from the start. There were no juries, and no legal representation for the accused. There was no habeas corpus; no disclosure of any evidence against the accused, and no appeal. Inquisitors were allowed to excuse each other for breaches of the rules — which meant that in effect there were no rules*. There were secret depositions and anonymous accusations, torture and unlimited detention in appalling conditions for those who failed to confess. Dead people were tried along with the living. When found guilty their children were disinherited. At least half the estate generally went to the Church — so that the Church had a direct material interest in a guilty verdict. Children and grandchildren of those found guilty were all debarred from any secular office.

    Gregory IX's immediate successor died before assuming the reins of office, but the next pope, Innocent IV, made the Inquisition into a permanent institution. In 1252 he issued a bull Ad extirpanda, which explicitly authorised the use of torture, seizure of goods and execution, all on minimal evidence. Torture was to be administered by the secular authority, but when this proved impractical the inquisitors were allowed to administer it themselves (and to absolve each other for doing so). Thereafter it was an exceptional man, woman or child who could not quickly be convinced of his or her heresy.


    Saint Dominic Presiding over an Auto de fe
    detail, (1475) by Pedro Berruguete
    For centuries Saint Dominic was hailed by Dominicans as the Father of the Inquisition.
    They commissioned this painting in his honour, showing him presiding over an Auto de fe.
    The painting reflects practices of the fifteenth century (not the thirteenth century when Dominic lived).
    Dominicans have recently made efforts to distance Dominic from the Inquisition.


    A "Spanish Gaiter" - for crushing victims' legs. Here a piece of wood is standing in for a leg.


    In theory torture could be applied only once, and could not be such as to draw blood, to cause permanent mutilation or to kill. Boys under the age of 14 and girls under 12 were excused. In practice there was no one to enforce any of these safeguards, and they were all ignored. The accused were imprisoned, often for many months, before being examined. They were often kept in solitary confinement, in unsanitary conditions, in a dark dungeon, and without adequate heating, food or water. This was deliberate, and designed to ensure that most of the accused would already have broken by the time of the first examination. Only the strongest characters were able to face a tribunal of hooded figures who claimed to have heard witnesses and seen incriminating evidence. Most were prepared to admit anything, even though they did not know what the accusations were. Those who failed to admit their crimes were taken to the torture chamber and shown the instruments of torture. This too was designed to terrify and break them — the dark chamber, the horrifying instruments, the torturer-executioner dressed and hooded in black. If they still failed to admit their guilt they were then subjected to torture: men, women and children alike. Some people were tortured for years before confessing. Only the most exceptional could resist. Every day they risked being tortured to death*.

    Tortures varied from time to time and place to place, but the following represent the more popular options. Victims were stripped and bound. The cords were tied around the body and limbs in such a way that they could be tightened, by a windlass if necessary, until they acted like multiple tourniquets. By attaching the cords to a pulley the victim could be hoisted off the ground for hours, then dropped. Whether the victim was pulled up short before the weight touched the floor, or allowed to fall to the floor, the pain was acute. This was the torture of the pulley, also known as squassation }. It was also called the strappado, (by which name we have already encountered it being used at Bamberg). John Howard, the prison reformer, found this still in use in Rome in the second half of the eighteenth century*.

    The rack was a favourite for dislocating limbs. Again, the victim could be flogged, bathed in scalding water with lime, and have their eyes removed with purpose designed eye-gougers. Fingernails were pulled out. Grésillons (thumbscrews) were applied to thumbs and big toes until the bones were crushed. The victim was forced to sit on a spiked iron chair that could be heated by a fire underneath until it glowed red-hot. Branding irons and red-hot pincers were also used. The victim's feet could be placed in a wooden frame called a boot. Wedges were then hammered in until the bones shattered, and the "blood and marrow spouted forth in great abundance". Alternatively the feet could be held over an open fire, and literally roasted until the bones fell out; or they could be placed in huge leather boots into which boiling water was poured, or in metal boots into which molten lead was poured. Since the holy proceedings were conducted for the greater glory of God the instruments of torture were sprinkled with holy water.

    Whole families were accused. Family members would often be induced to incriminate each other in order to minimise the suffering of their loved ones. Minor heretics who confessed might escape with light sentences, whereas denial invited trouble. The inquisitor Conrad of Marburg (or Konrad von Marburg) burned every victim who claimed to be innocent.

    Hearings of the Inquisition denied every aspect of natural justice, and became ever more prejudiced as time went on. They were held in secret, generally conducted by men whose identities were concealed. In the Papal States and elsewhere, Dominicans acted as both judges and prosecutors. By papal command they were forbidden to show mercy. There was no appeal. The evidence of embittered husbands and wives, children, servants and persons heretical, excommunicated, perjured and criminal could be used, secretly and without their having to face the accused, their charges being communicated to the victim only in summary form.

    No genuine defence could be sustained. For example, if a husband provided an alibi, saying that his wife had been asleep in his arms when she was alleged to have been attending a witches" sabbat, it would be explained to him that a demon had adopted the form of his wife while she was away. The husband had been duped. There was no way for him to prove otherwise. Spies were employed with the incentive of payment by results. Perjury was pardoned if it was the outcome of "zeal for the faith" — i.e. supporting the prosecution. Loyalties were over-ridden so that obedience to a superior was forbidden if it hindered the inquiry, and those who helped the inquisitors were granted the same indulgences as pilgrims to the Holy Land. Any advocates acting for and any witnesses giving evidence on behalf of a suspect laid themselves open to charges of abetting heresy. No one was ever acquitted, a released person always being liable to re-arrest and a condemned person liable to a revised sentence with no retrial, at the discretion of the inquisitor. In theory torture could be inflicted only once, but in practice it was repeated as often as necessary on the pretext that it was a single occurrence, with intervals between the sessions. Confessions were virtually guaranteed unless the victim died under torture. Then came the sentence, and execution of the sentence:

    ...The obdurate and relapsed were taken outside the church and handed to the magistrates with a recommendation to mercy and instruction that no blood be shed. The supreme hypocrisy of this was that if the magistrate did not burn the victims on the following day, he was himself liable to be charged with abetting heresy*.

    Almost everyone fell within their jurisdiction. People were executed for failing to fast during Lent, for homosexuality, fornication, explaining scientific discoveries, and even for professional acting.

    In order that no blood be shed, the favoured methods of execution did not involve the cutting of flesh. So it was that burning and roasting were popular, the stake having been inherited from Roman law. Estates of those found guilty were forfeit, after the deduction of expenses. Expenses included the costs of the investigation, torture, trial, imprisonment and execution. The accused bore it all, including wine for the guards, meals for the judges, and travel expenses for the torturer. Victims were even charged for the ropes to bind them and the tar and wood to burn them. Generally, after paying these expenses, half of the balance of the estate went to the inquisitors and half to the Pope, or a temporal lord. This proved such an efficient way of raising money that it became popular to try the dead as well as the living. Bones were dug up and burned, even after many years in the grave. As in trials of the living, there were no acquittals, and the heretic's property was forfeit. In practice this meant that the heirs of the deceased were dispossessed of their inheritances.



    The Knights Templar


    Knights Templars being burned alive
    Illustration, anonymous Chronicle, From the Creation of the World until 1384.
    Bibliothèque Municipale, Besançon, France.


    The trial of the Knights Templar demonstrates how unjust the Inquisition could be. The charges of heresy against them were almost certainly fabricated. No real evidence was ever produced to support the accusations. The best that could be managed was hearsay evidence such as that of a priest (William de la Forde) who had heard from another priest (Patrick de Ripon) that a Templar had once told him, under the inviolable seal of confession, about some rather improbable goings on*. Inquisitors obtained the most damning evidence through the use of torture. In countries where torture was not permitted, the Templars denied the charges, however badly they were otherwise treated and however long they were imprisoned. As soon as torture was applied the required confessions materialised*. Inquisitors refused to attach their seals to depositions unless they included confessions*, so that only one side of the case appeared in official records. In France, where torture was applied freely, there were many confessions, and also many deaths under torture. Accused templars who retracted their confessions faced death at the stake as relapsed heretics.

    Wherever the charges were investigated without applying torture, no confessions were made and no other evidence found. When no English Templars could be induced to confess, the Pope insisted that torture be applied When the Archbishop of Mainz delivered a verdict favourable to the Templars at a provincial council, the Pope simply annulled it*. When it looked as though the Templars in Cyprus might be acquitted, the Pope ordered a new trial backed by torture*. When the fate of the Templars was considered at the Council of Vienne late in 1311 the cardinals had "a long dispute" as to whether a defence should be heard at all*. In the event no defence was heard and the Pope enforced the King of France's demand that the Order be suppressed.

    In 1310, 54 templars were burned outside Paris.
    Manuscript Image from J. Riley-Smith (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of The Crusades
    (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2001), p.244


    Under torture, the Templar Grand Master himself, Jacques de Molay, confessed — though it is likely that his confession was fabricated or at least added to, since he was dumbfounded when it was read out to him. When he tried to mount a defence on behalf of the Templar Order, he was told that "in cases of heresy and the faith it was necessary to proceed simply, summarily, and without the noise of advocates and the form of judges"*. Since all of the Order's assets had been seized there was in any case no way for him to mount an effective defence. By asking to do so he invited death at the stake, as a number of churchmen pointed out at the time.

    After years in prison and unknown amounts of torture he confessed in exchange for the promise of a sentence of perpetual imprisonment. The sentence was to be delivered in public, but did not go as planned. As an expert on the Inquisition, put it:

    "The cardinals dallied with their duty until 18 March 1314, when, on a scaffold in front of Notre Dame, Jacques de Molay, Templar Grand Master, Geoffroi de Charney, Master of Normandy, Hugues de Peraud, Visitor of France, and Godefroi de Gonneville, Master of Aquitaine, were brought forth from the jail in which for nearly seven years they had lain, to receive the sentence agreed upon by the cardinals, in conjunction with the Archbishop of Sens and some other prelates whom they had called in. Considering the offences which the culprits had confessed and confirmed, the penance imposed was in accordance with rule—that of perpetual imprisonment. The affair was supposed to be concluded when, to the dismay of the prelates and wonderment of the assembled crowd, de Molay and Geoffroi de Charney arose. They had been guilty, they said, not of the crimes imputed to them, but of basely betraying their Order to save their own lives. It was pure and holy; the charges were fictitious and the confessions false. Hastily the cardinals delivered them to the Prevot of Paris, and retired to deliberate on this unexpected contingency, but they were saved all trouble. When the news was carried to Philippe he was furious. A short consultation with his council only was required. The canons pronounced that a relapsed heretic was to be burned without a hearing; the facts were notorious and no formal judgment by the papal commission need be waited for. That same day, by sunset, a pile was erected on a small island in the Seine, the Isle des Juifs, near the palace garden. There de Molay and de Charney were slowly burned to death, refusing all offers of pardon for retraction, and bearing their torment with a composure which won for them the reputation of martyrs among the people, who reverently collected their ashes as relics."
    (Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages Vol. III, NY: Hamper & Bros, Franklin Sq. 1888, p. 325)

    Jacques de Molay and Geoffroi de Charney were roasted alive, slowly, over a smokeless fire. (A document known as the Chinon Parchment, discovered in September 2001 by Barbara Frale in the Vatican Secret Archives, confirms that Pope Clement V knew Jacques de Molay and other leaders of the Order to be innocent as early as 1208).

    Templar assets were divided up between Church and State, and interest in the fates of individual Templars immediately subsided.

    Detail of a miniature of the burning
    of Jacques de Molay (the Grand Master of the Templars) and Geoffroi de Charney.
    From the Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, BL Royal MS 20 C vii f. 48r
    (In fact they were roasted slowly, rather than burned like this)


    The activities of the Medieval Inquisition were so terrible that the memory of them has survived throughout Europe to the present day. Some Christians acknowledge that the Inquisition was one of the most sinister that the world has ever known, and now attribute its work to satanic forces. On the other hand there are many others prepared to defend its record.


    The Spanish Inquisition

    The Medieval Inquisition was established in Barcelona in 1233. Five years later its authority was extended to Castile, Leon and Navarre. This was essentially an extension of the Inquisition established to extirpate the remnants of Catharism. Over 200 years later another inquisition was to appear : the Spanish Inquisition. Their Roman Catholic Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella, established it in 1479, with the explicit sanction of Pope Sixtus IV, who in 1483 also confirmed the Dominican friar Thomas de Torquemada as Grand Inquisitor for Aragon and Castile. The Inquisition was initially directed against Jewish and Muslim converts who were suspected of returning to their own religion, and thus being guilty of apostasy. (Many had converted to Christianity only under threat of death.)

    The first European who regularly smoked tobacco, Rodrigo de Jerez, a crewman on the Santa Maria was imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition for his "sinful and infernal" habits, because "only Devil could give a man the power to exhale smoke from his mouth." He was released seven years later, after smoking tobacco had become popular.

    The process was much the same as that of the Medieval Inquisition, and indeed was deliberately modelled on it. It too was manned mainly by Dominicans. They copied the methods of arrest, trial, punishment, staffing, and procedure, even down to the blessing of the instruments of torture. Llorente, vicar-general to the bishop of Calahorra and historian of the Inquisition, computed that Torquemada and his collaborators, in the course of eighteen years, burnt at the stake 10,220 persons, 6,860 in effigy, and otherwise punished 97,321.

    There were a few differences from the Medieval Inquisition, for example there were cases where people were able to mount a defence and were acquitted. Better records were kept. Some inquisitors seem to have been relatively enlightened and were suspicious of accusations motivated by the self-interest of accusers. Prisons seem to have been better than most ecclesiastical prisons — there are cases of people committing minor heresies in order to get themselves transferred from ecclesiastical prisons to those of the Inquisition. On the other hand, this may say more about ecclesiastical prisons than Inquisition prisons, for even in the latter many died before their cases were heard. In the early days the accused were able to appoint their own defence counsel, but by the mid-sixteenth century this had changed. If advocates were permitted they had to be abogados de los presos, officials of the Inquisition, dependent upon the inquisitors for their jobs. It is fair to assume, as their clients did, that these court officials were aware of their employers" expectations and of the dangers of doing their jobs too well.

    It was widely accepted that the Inquisition existed only to rob people, as people openly affirmed*. Both rich and poor knew that it was the rich who were most at risk. The fact that the Inquisition funded itself from the property it confiscated meant that in effect it burned people on commission. Individual inquisitors also funded themselves, acquiring great wealth during their careers. Some inquisitors were known to have fabricated evidence in order to extort money from their victims, but even when discovered they received no punishment*. Similarly their staff of helpers, called familiars, were free to commit crimes without fear of punishment by the secular courts*. After 1518 this was formalised. Familiars enjoyed immunity from prosecution similar to benefit of clergy or modern diplomatic immunity. This provided another cause of popular scandal, along with their exemption from taxation.

    Inquisition victims wearing their distinctive hats and carrying penitential candles

    The activities of the inquisitors were resented by all sections of society, and the papacy was obliged to interfere from time to time, although the inquisitors were powerful enough to ignore it on many occasions. Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull on 18 th April 1482 protesting that

    in Aragon, Valencia, Mallorca and Catalonia the Inquisition has for some time been moved not by zeal for the faith and the salvation of souls, but by lust for wealth, and that many true and faithful Christians, on the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves and other lower and even less proper persons, have without any legitimate proof been thrust into secular prisons, tortured and condemned as relapsed heretics, deprived of their goods and property and handed over to the secular arm to be executed, to the peril of souls, setting a pernicious example, and causing disgust to many*

    When someone was arrested all of his or her property was seized. This was then sold off as required to pay for the upkeep of the person arrested. This might go on for years until the property was all sold off. The families of the accused were not supported, so they also suffered hardships. In some cases the children of rich parents starved in the streets*. Others survived by begging. The King, Ferdinand, intervened from time to time, and later, in 1561, provision was made to support dependents — although the effect was to use up the sequestered assets that much faster.

    The accused were invited to confess their crimes but not told what these crimes were. Sometimes it was difficult to guess, as any of the following were considered serious crimes: changing bedding on a Friday, not eating pork, dressing in certain ways, wearing earrings, speaking in foreign languages, owning foreign books, casual swearing, criticising a priest, or failing to show due reverence to the Inquisition. Three methods of torture were popular, the garrucha, the toca and the potro. The garrucha was the strappado (see page 378) under another name. The toca was a water torture. A linen strip was forced down the throat of the accused and water poured down it until the stomach was distended. The potro was a form of rack combined with tourniquets.

    Detail from The Inquisition Tribunal (Auto de fe de la Inquisición)
    by Francisco Goya, painted between 1812 and 1819.
    It shows an Auto de fe, or accusation of heretics,
    by the tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition, inside a church.


    Surviving records of these torture sessions make harrowing reading*. As the torture progressed the victims were soon ready to admit to anything. They would admit to having done whatever they were accused of. But since they did not know the specifics of the accusation they could not admit to them item by item. More torture was applied. They admitted to whatever their accusers had said, but again they could not be specific because they did not know what their accusers had said. More torture was applied. They begged for clues. They begged for mercy. They were told to confess. They confessed to crimes, real or invented, apparently whatever they could think of. They asked what it was the inquisitors wanted and offered to confess to it whatever it was — still not good enough. More torture was applied. And so it went on, sometimes until they went mad. Sometimes they died under tortured. Many died in prison. Others committed suicide. Of the survivors some were disabled for life.

    The lucky ones got off with penance, whipping or banishment. Others were condemned to slow deaths in prison or in the galleys. As the writer George Ryley Scott noted in his book A History of Torture:

    Of all the punishments which the Inquisition inflicted in the name of God, for sheer long-continued cruelty, nothing ever rivalled the treatment of the galley-slaves, who were flogged very nearly every day during the period they laboured at the oars…It was a fate worse than death. For, as everyone knew, it meant a life of the most terrible hardship man could possibly endure and yet continue to live; it almost inevitably entailed death long before the sentence was completed. It meant, in the majority of instances, that the victim was gradually whipped to death*.

    Others were condemned to public execution, but this was rarely a simple matter of dispatching the victim. Even those who confessed immediately were tortured. Execution was not the sentence — it was an additional sentence. At the end of the trial a public ceremony was held called an Auto-da-fé (Portuguese for Act of Faith). The victim was dressed in a penitential tunic ( san benito) painted with a design. Impenitents wore tunics painted with pictures of their wearers burning in Hell with devils fanning the flames. On their heads they wore 3-foot-long pointed pasteboard caps (corozas), also painted. Around their necks they wore nooses, and in their hands they carried candles. Anyone judged likely to speak out against the Inquisition was gagged. After a procession came a Mass and sermon, in which the Inquisition was praised and heresy condemned. The sentences were read aloud and then carried out. As usual the secular authorities were obliged to burn victims on the Church's behalf on the grounds that ecclesia non novit sanguinem — the Church does not shed blood. Burning generally took place on Sundays or festivals in order to attract the largest possible audience. Participation was a meritorious act — so for example any persons who helped collect firewood would earn a remission of their sins.

    Auto de Fe (1683) by Francisco Ricci Auto de Fe. The scence is the Plaza Mayor, Madrid, 30 June, 1680, during the Spanish Inquisition. Inquisition victims are shown at different stages of the process. Although it is difficult to see what is happening, the painting gives a good idea of the scale and theatricality of the event.

    A slow roasting was considered preferable to quick incineration. Victims were tied high up on their stakes, partly to give the crowds of faithful a good view, partly to prolong the agony. Sometimes there was further torture before the fire was lit. For example Protestants who refused to recant might have burning sprigs of gorse thrust into their faces until they were burned black.

    The whole event was a popular festival for the devout, who enjoyed the spectacle and ridiculed the victims in their death agonies. The events were closely linked to royal spectacles. The king was obliged by his coronation oath to attend these mass burnings. Such burnings were even held to help celebrate royal marriages.

    Children and grandchildren of the condemned were prohibited from becoming priests, judges or magistrates, lawyers, notaries, accountants, physicians, surgeons, or even shopkeepers. They could not become mayors or hold other public offices. Some penalties passed from generation to generation without limit. Under statutes of limpieza de sangre, the descendants of heretics, like those of Jews and Moors, suffered civil disabilities because of their "tainted blood". San benitos worn by heretics were hung up in local churches as an eternal badge of shame so that no one should forget their heretical ancestors.

    The Spanish Inquisition continued its work for centuries, and exported its practices to the New World. The Portuguese exported similar practices to their colonies, not only to the New World but also east to countries like Goa. The fact that few of the indigenous people of the New World could be induced to convert should have meant that there was little recidivism, and therefore little heresy. In fact many hundreds of heresy trials were conducted in South America.


    Execution of Mariana de Carabajal at Mexico. Illustration from El Libro Rojo, 1870.
    Ten members of Mariana de Carabajal's family were tried for practicing Judaism, and burned at the stake. Mariana (who lost her reason) was tried and put to death at an auto-da-fé held in Mexico City on March 25, 1601


    Palace of the Inquisition - Cartagena, Colombia

    The Spanish Inquisition continued to execute its victims into the nineteenth century. When the French army invaded Spain in 1808 the Dominicans in Madrid denied that they had torture chambers in their building. The soldiers searched and found that they did. The chambers were full of naked prisoners, many of them insane. Similar discoveries were made throughout the country.

    detail, Auto de fe at San Bartolome, Otzolotepec, Mexico, by an unknown artist,
    Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico


    The Inquisition kept some records, but we cannot know how many trials went unrecorded. Where records were kept they were often destroyed later. Few records survive from the victims for a number of reasons. Some were killed. Some died in custody. Some died under torture. Some were driven mad. Some were deprived of their tongues. Those who survived and were still able to communicate were sworn to secrecy. So it is that often the only evidence we have is circumstantial. According to European folk memory the "Pear of anguish" or "Pope's Pear" was was a favorite instrument of the Inquisition. It was a pear shaped metal object that could be inserted into a bodily orifice. By turning an external screw it expanded until it tore the surrounding tissue. Pointed ends of the 'leaves' were specifically designed to rip the throat, intestines or cervix. It was allegedly used used on women, judged to have 'had sex with the Devil or his familiars.' Inserted into the vagina of the victim.

    A Pear of Anguish, or "Pope's Pear" - Closed

    A Pear of Anguish, or "Pope's Pear" - open


    While it existed, the Spanish Inquisition was regarded with horror, even by Roman Catholics from other countries who witnessed its activities. It was abolished by Joseph Bonaparte in 1808, but it was reintroduced by Ferdinand VII in 1814, and finally ended by government decree on 15 th July 1834.

    The Inquisition Tribunal or The Inquisition Auto de fe (Auto de fe de la Inquisición) by Francisco Goya painted between 1812 and 1819. It shows the accusation of heretics, by the tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition, inside a church. The accused sit in chains wearing sanbenitos and pointed hats.. The work is now in the collection of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid.



    The Portuguese and Goan Inquisitions

    The Spanish Inquisition was exported not only to the Spanish colonies, but also to Portugal and its colonies. In 1497, King Manuel I of Portugal married, Isabella of Aragon and when she died he married her younger sister Maria. The Spanish monarchs insisted that a clause be included in the marriage contract requiring the introduction of the Inquisition to Portugal, and the expulsion or conversion of all Jews.

    A large Jewish community had been well-integrated into Portuguese society until the massacre of several hundred 'Conversos' or 'Marranos' in Lisbon in 1506, instigated by two Spanish Dominicans, but no formal Inquisition was installed in Portugal until the reign of the next king.

    The Portuguese Inquisition (Inquisição Portuguesa) was established in 1536 by the King of Portugal, John (João) III. The main target of the Portuguese Inquisition were Marranos or New Christians, those who had converted to Catholicism, both Jews (Conversos), and Moslems (Moriscos). They had been pressured into converting to Christianity, and were suspected of secretly practising their old religion. Many of the New Christians had come to Portugal to escape persecution by the Spanish Inquisition.

    As in Spain, the Inquisition was subject to the King. It was headed by a Grand Inquisitor, selected by the king, but appointed by the Pope. In practice the Grand Inquisitor was always a member of the royal family. He would nominate other inquisitors. The Portuguese Inquisition held its first auto-da-fé ("Act of Faith") in Portugal in 1540. Courts of the Inquisition were established in Lisbon, Coimbra, and Évora, and for a short time in Porto, Tomar and Lamego. In Portugal's colonial possessions, courts were established in Brazil, Cape Verde, and Goa. The activity of the courts extended beyond New Christians suspected of backsliding, to any form of religious non-compliance, including cases of divination, witchcraft and even to bigamy. The Portuguese Inquisition also censored books. Like other Inquisitions it was renowned for its injustice, rapaciousness and cruelty.

    An auto-da-fé was the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Portuguese Inquisition had decided their punishment, followed by execution of the sentence by the civil authorities. Auto da fé in Portuguese mean "act of faith". The most extreme punishment imposed was execution by burning. As the execution was more spectacular than the penance, the term auto-da-fé came to mean the punishment rather than the penance.

    The auto-da-fé was a the final step in the Inquisition process. It involved a Catholic Mass, prayer, a public procession of those found guilty, and a public reading of their sentences. Preparations began a month in advance and occurred only when the inquisition authorities had enough prisoners to put on a good show. The ritual took place in public squares or esplanades and lasted several hours with ecclesiastical and civil authorities in attendance. An all-night vigil would be held with prayers, ending in Mass at daybreak and a breakfast feast. The ceremony of public penitence then began with a procession of prisoners, who bore elaborate symbols on their clothes. They wore a kind of tabard called a sanbenito, made of yellow sackcloth. Designs painted on the san benito identified the supposed crimes of the accused. Figures of monks, dragons and demons in the act fanning flames signified that the heretic was impenitent and had been condemned to burn at the stake. If a victim repented before the procession, then the sanbenito was painted with the flames downward (fuego repolto), signifying that the victim was not to be burnt alive, but would be strangled before being burned. On their head victims were made to wear a tall conical hat, also decorated to indicate the nature of their supposed crimes. Around their neck they wore a noose. They carried a large yellow wax candle. Prisoners' identities were kept secret until the very last moment. They usually had no idea what their sentence was to be, or even what the outcome of their trial had been. Prisoners were generally taken outside the city walls to a place called the quemadero or burning place. There the sentences were read. Punishments included whipping and torture, as well as burning at the stake.

    sanbenitos worn by auto-da-fe penitents. The man on the left wears a sanbenito that announces that he has confessed his crime and has been given a penance less than death. The one in the middle has confessed too late, so will be garroted before being burned. The one on the right will burn alive.


    Afterwards, sanbenitos were hung up in the churches as mementos of disgrace to their wearers and their families, and as the trophies of the Inquisition. Sanbenitos often remained on display for centuries, a constant embarrassment to families of those convicted by the Inquisition.

    In the second half of the seventeenth century, António Vieira exposed the abuses of the Portuguese Inquisition in Brazil. His writings were condemned as rash, scandalous, erroneous, savoring of heresy and designed to pervert the ignorant. He was himself brought before the Inquisition. After three years imprisonment, he was penanced in Coimbra, in 1667. Now he had personal experience of the routine abuses and cruelty. Back in Rome, he was free to expose the abuses. He characterized the Holy Office of Portugal as a tribunal that served to deprive men of their fortunes, their honor and their lives, while failing to discriminate between guilt and innocence. He said it was known to be holy only in name, while its works were cruelty and injustice, unworthy of rational men, though it was always proclaiming its superior piety. He drew up a report of two hundred pages on the Inquisition in Portugal, with the result that after a judicial inquiry Pope Innocent XI suspended it in Portugal and its Empire. Autos-da-fé were stopped. Inquisitors were instructed not to inflict sentences of relaxation (ie execution), confiscation, or perpetual slavery in the galleys. But the Inquisition had friends in high places. It started up again in1681, and was soon perpetrating the same abuses as before. After the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 Inquisitors proposed increasing the number of executions of heretics by way of propitiating God, an idea which amounted to human sacrifice, as Voltaire noted at the time.

    In 1773 and 1774 autos-da-fé were ended along with discrimination on the grounds of purity of blood (Limpeza de Sangue). The Portuguese inquisition was finally abolished in 1821 by the "General Extraordinary and Constituent assembly of the Portuguese Nation".


    Goan Inquisition

    In the 15th century, the Portuguese had explored the sea route to India and Pope Nicholas V enacted the Papal bull Romanus pontifex. This granted the patronage of the propagation of the Christian faith in Asia to the Portuguese and rewarded them with a trade monopoly in newly discovered areas. Missionaries of the Society of Jesus were sent to Portuguese colonies, where the government provided incentives for baptised Christians. They offered rice donations for the poor, good positions in the Portuguese colonies for the middle class and military support for local rulers. We know from St. Francis Xavier's own letters that even before the Inquisition, missionaries were encouraging the destruction of Hindu temples and religious artefacts.

    In a letter dated 1545 the Catholic missionary, St. Francis Xavier asked King John III of Portugal for an Catholic Inquisition to be established in Goa, in Portuguese India. The Goa Inquisition was established in 1560 with jurisdiction over Goa and the rest of the Portuguese empire in Asia.

    Some, perhaps most, Hindus and Moslems who had converted to Christianity had done so for non-religious reasons. The starving might accept conversion in exchange for food. Others were attracted by social standing in Portuguese society, others by "protection" offered by the Church. Those attracted by food were known as "rice Christians". Orphans were indoctrinated. Others were discriminated against if they failed to convert. The Catholic Church was disturbed by the fact that many converts decided on reflection to continue practising their original faith, just as many Jewish and Moslem converts did in Spain and Portugal. The Church considered such people apostates, Christians guilty of the serious crime of abandoning their faith. The Inquisition was established to punish exactly such apostate Christians. Naturally the Goa Inquisition followed the same practices as its parent organisation.

    The inquisition was headed by a judge from Portugal. He was answerable to (and only to) the General Counsel of the Lisbon Inquisition. He handed downunishments in line with the Rules that governed that Inquisition. As in the Iberian peninsula, the Inquisition was used an instrument of social control, a vehicle for appropriating property and a mechanism for enriching Inquisitors. Inquisition proceedings were conducted in secret.

    The Inquisition proceeded against not only apostate converts, but apostate descendants of converts, and indeed Christians who retained non-Christian practices, who broke prohibitions against the observance of Hindu or Muslim rites, or who interfered with Portuguese attempts to convert non-Christians. Sephardic Jews living in Goa, who had fled the Iberian Peninsula to escape the Spanish Inquisition, were also persecuted.

    The first inquisitors in Goa, Aleixo Dias Falcão and Francisco Marques, established themselves in the palace previously occupied by Goa's Sultan, obliging the Portuguese viceroy to relocate to a more humble residence. The inquisitor's first act was to forbid the open practice of the Hindu faith on pain of death. The narrative of Da Fonseca describes the violence and brutality of the inquisition. He records the need for hundreds of prison cells to accommodate the accused.

    Autos De fé started almost immediately, for second and steadfast apostates and heretics. Again, as in Spain and Portugal, the Inquisition burnt living people at the stake where it could, and in effigy if it could not. We do not know how many people were burned alive, because (as elsewhere) Inquisition records have been lost. Those convicted of lesser crimes were forced to work in galleys and gunpowder factories.

    The Portuguese colonial administration enacted anti-Hindu laws designed to encourage conversions to Christianity. The public worship of Hindu gods was made unlawful. Hindus were forced to assemble in churches to listen to Christian preaching and supposed refutations of their satanic religion. Laws banned Christians from keeping Hindus in their employ.

    Christian agricultural labourers were forbidden from working on land owned by Hindus and Hindus forbidden to employ Christian labourers. Christian palanquin-bearers were forbidden from carrying Hindus as passengers. Hindus were not allowed to enter the capital city on horseback or palanquins. Successive violations resulted in imprisonment.

    Portuguese regulation had been oppressive from the beginning, but they got progressively worse. Fr. Diogo De Borba and his advisor Vicar General, Miguel Vaz had planned the conversion of Hindus. Under this plan, in 1566, Viceroy António de Noronha issued an order which applied to the entire area under Portuguese rule:

    I hereby order that in any area owned by my master, the king, nobody should construct a Hindu temple and such temples already constructed should not be repaired without my permission. If this order is transgressed, such temples shall be, destroyed and the goods in them shall be used to meet expenses of holy deeds, as punishment of such transgression.

    In 1567, a campaign of destroying temples in Bardez resulted in some 300 Hindu temples being destroyed. From 1567 on Hindu rituals were banned including marriages and cremation. Everyone above 15 years of age was compelled to listen to Christian preaching, on pain of punishment. In 1583 the army was co-opted to destroy Hindu temples. Non-Christian holy books were destroyed. Filippo Sassetti, who visited India from 1578 to 1588 wrote

    The fathers of the Church forbade the Hindus under terrible penalties the use of their own sacred books, and prevented them from all exercise of their religion. They destroyed their temples, and so harassed and interfered with the people that they abandoned the city in large numbers, refusing to remain any longer in a place where they had no liberty, and were liable to imprisonment, torture and death if they worshipped after their own fashion the gods of their fathers.

    In 1620, further legislation was passed to prohibit the Hindus from performing weddings. At the urging of Franciscans, the Portuguese viceroy forbade the use of Konkani in 1684. He decreed that within three years, the local people should speak the Portuguese tongue and use it in all their dealings in Portuguese territories. The penalties for violation was be imprisonment. . The same decree provided that all the non-Christian symbols along with books written in local languages should be destroyed. This decree was confirmed by the King of Portugal three years later.

    A procession by the inquisition in Goa - Dominicans in the lead, victims in sanbenitos behind. From Picart's 'The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Idolatrous Nations' (English version, London, 1733-38)


    In the laws and prohibitions of the inquisition in 1736, over 42 Hindu practices were prohibited, including the wearing of ponytails, greeting people with Namaste, wearing sandals, and even removing one's slippers on entering a church. Many restrictions were purely cultural, not religious. Traditional musical instruments and singing were prohibited, and were replaced by Western music. Hindus were renamed when they converted and were not permitted to use their original names. Converts were expected to adopt western diets including pork and beef, and to drink alcohol. These measures were intended partially to prove the converts' commitment, and partly to help isolate converts from non-Christian friends and family members. Those who persistently refused to give up their ancient Hindu practices were declared apostates or heretics and condemned to death. Restrictions on the local language were also tightened. In 1812, the Archbishop of Goa decreed that Konkani should be restricted in schools. In 1847, this prohibition was extended to seminaries. In 1869, Konkani was completely banned in schools. Konkani became the lingua de criados ("language of servants").

    The Inquisition also persecuted local Jews and Syrian Christians in Kerala, representatives of an early Christian tradition older than Roman Catholicism, that survives today as the Jacobite Christianity. In 1599 the Synod of Diamper authorised the forceable conversion of the "Syriac Saint Thomas Christians" on the grounds that they were Nestorian heretics. Assassination attempts were made against Syriac Church leaders. Every known item of Syriac literature was burnt. Syriac altars were pulled down to make way for Catholic altars. Syriac Christians later swore the Coonan Cross Oath, severing relations with the Catholic Church.

    Voltaire said of the Goa Inquisition, that "The Portuguese monks made us believe that the people worshiped the devil, and it is they who have served him".*.Historian Alfredo de Mello describes the Christian orders of Goan inquisition as nefarious, fiendish, lustful, and corrupt, a view in line with the views of a number of European visitors to Goa between 1560 and 1812 who recorded their experience in books and letters.

    Most of the Goa Inquisition's records were destroyed after its abolition in 1812, so it is impossible to establish the number of Hindus, Moslems, Jews, non-Catholic Christians and others put on trial, nor the numbers burned alive or otherwise punished. A legacy of bitterness about Catholic attrocities continues to the present day, witnessed by a number of books on the topic published in India.

    The Konkani language received official recognition in 1987 when the Indian government recognised it as the official language of Goa.


    The Roman Inquisition

    The Roman Inquisition, more correctly the Congregation of the Inquisition, was set up in 1542 by Pope Paul III to help eradicate Protestantism from Italy. It was composed of cardinals, one of whom had proposed its establishment in the first place. He later became Pope himself, taking the name Paul IV. A keen opponent of the free exchange of ideas, he enjoys the distinction of having put even his own writings on the Index.

    Procedures of the Roman Inquisition were no more just than those of earlier inquisitions, and executions became more common than in Spain. Freethinkers and scientists were added to the existing categories of victim for torture and execution. It was this inquisition that was responsible for burning the foremost philosopher of the Italian Renaissance, Giordano Bruno, in 1600; and for inducing the foremost scientist, Galileo, to recant under the threat of torture.

    Book burning was as popular as elsewhere, but political repression added a new dimension. This persecution too continued for centuries, until the papacy became too far out of step with the rest of Western Christendom. Eventually the Church decided to change its ways, or at least give the appearance of changing them. Pope Pius VII purported to forbid the use of torture in 1816, although in practice it continued to be used for decades to come. Public burnings became something of an embarrassment too. The answer was not to abandon executions but to carry them out more discreetly. Pius IX, in an edict of 1856, sanctioned "secret execution". In the Papal States things had changed little since the Middle Ages — it was for example still a crime to eat meat on a feast day. Political trials were conducted by priests, whose power was absolute. Again, the accused were not permitted legal representation, nor were they allowed to face their accusers. All this came to an end only in 1870, when the Papal States were seized. The last prisoners of the Inquisition were released , and the Pope became a self-confined prisoner in his own palace.

    In 1908 the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Inquisition changed its name to the Holy Office. In 1967 it changed it again, this time to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It still functions from a large building near the sacristy of St Peter's in Rome. Since 1870 its dungeons have been converted into offices. Despite the name change, there is no apparent embarrassment about its history. On the contrary it still conducts heresy trials according to rules that breach what are elsewhere regarded as elementary rules of natural justice.

    Despite the methodical destruction of Church torture chambers in modern times there is still evidence of their existence — not only medieval records but the testimony of early penal reformers like John Howard (1726—1790 ). Other reliable witnesses also recorded the horrors they encountered. The Victorian architect who saved the Cité of Carcassonne found not only chains in the bishop's prison, but human bones still attached to them*. Museums throughout Europe display instruments of torture carefully designed to inflict the maximum of pain over prolonged periods without shedding blood (a Papal requirement).

    Because so many records have been lost, no one knows how many men, women and children were tortured or burned to death over the centuries by the various inquisitions. Similarly undetermined is the number of families dispossessed, children orphaned, communities destroyed. All we can say with certainty is that the pain and suffering that was caused is incalculable. Even sources sympathetic to the Roman Church accept estimates in excess of nine million. One irony is that the Medieval, Spanish and Roman Inquisitions would all have burned Jesus as a persistent heretic if he had appeared before them. They might each have done so on different grounds: for example for advocating absolute poverty, for practising Judaism, and for criticising St Peter.



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    § Inquisitors could allow the accused the benefit of defence counsel, but the accused were not able to select their own. Most lawyers were in any case unwilling to act for the defence, because if they did they could be charged with heresy themselves. Properly defended cases were thus exceptional — an interesting example is that of Castel Fabre, a dead man whom the Dominicans wanted to condemn posthumously. He had left property to the Franciscans, which would be forfeit if Fabre were found guilty, so the Franciscans defended him in their own self-interest. See Roquebert, Les Cathares, Vol. 5, Ch 17.

    §. W. L. Wakefield, The Chronicle of William Pelhisson (1974), pp 207-35. This is a translation of a work (including an eyewitness account of the event described in the text above) by Guilhem Pélhisson, a Dominican inquisitor.

    §. Pope Alexander IV allowed the inquisitors of Toulouse to excuse each other on 7 th July 1256. The same privilege was extended to the inquisitors at Carcassonne, on 27 th April 1260, and it mushroomed from there. See Roquebert, Les Cathares, vol. 5, p 383.

    §. Many French Templars, for example, were tortured to death during the investigation of what were clearly fabricated charges in the early fourteenth century: dozens in Paris alone, and "many" in the castle of Kerynia in Cyprus. Barber, The Trial of the Templars, pp 126 and 220.

    §. John Howard, The State of the Prisons, 1780, Appendix {AHoT p 250}.

    §. Christie-Murray, A History of Heresy, p 109.

    §. For a full account of this affair see Barber, The Trial of the Templars, especially p 199 for the admissibility of hearsay evidence.

    §. Torture was initially prohibited for example in England and in Aragon. It was authorised by the Pope in 1311 in Lombardy and Tuscany.

    §. The inquisitor Raoul de Lineyo for example refused to attach his seals to the depositions given by two German Templars (Corrand de Mangoncia and a serving brother called Henry), because they had not confessed. Barber, The Trial of the Templars, p 55.

    §. J. Michelet (ed.), Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Latinae, 221 vols. (Paris, 1844-64), vol. 1, pp 31-32; translated by Barber, The Trial of the Templars, p 124.

    §. Barber, The Trial of the Templars, pp 215-6.

    §. Pope Clement V. Regestum Clementis Papae V, nunc primum editum cura et studio Monachorum Ordinis S. Benedicti, (Rome, 1885-92) year 6, nos. 7595, 7596, 7599, pp 457-8, 7603-5, p 463 cited by Barber, The Trial of the Templars, p 220.

    §. Barber, The Trial of the Templars, p 226.

    §. Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, p 150.

    §. A good example is the inquisitor Diego Rodriguez Lucero, who fabricated evidence, extorted a fortune and killed hundreds to conceal his crimes. He might well have continued his career indefinitely had he not overstepped the mark by arresting the Archbishop of Granada and torturing his relatives to obtain evidence against him. See Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, pp 75-7.

    §. Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, pp 145-7.

    §. Cited by Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain, vol.1, p 587.

    §. Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, p 180.

    §. For examples see Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, pp 187-8.

    §. Scott, A History of Torture, p 190.

    §."Goa est malheureusement célèbre par son inquisition , également contraire à l'humanité et au commerce. Les moines portugais firent accroire que le peuple adorait le diable , et ce sont eux qui l'ont servi". (Goa is sadly famous for its inquisition, equally contrary to humanity and commerce. The Portuguese monks made us believe that the people worshiped the devil, and it is they who have served him.)

    §. Viollet-le-Duc, Encylopédie Médiévale, Vol 1, “Prison”


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