6 February 1481 A.D. Spain’s 1st “Auto da Fe” (=Act of Faith): Spanish Inquisitions
Spain's name is forever linked with the
Inquisition. But the inquisition did not begin there. Pope Innocent III and
Pope Gregory IX established the dreaded institution in the thirteenth century
to combat heretical groups. What made the inquisition so terrible was the
severity of both the questioning and the punishment and the lack of rights
granted to the accused. Those who "snitched" on them could do so secretly.
A victim was not permitted to challenge the witnesses against him or her.
When Isabella and Ferdinand
united Spain in 1479, they were almost paranoid with fear of revolt. This made
them highly susceptible to the whispers of the queen's confessor, Tomas de
Torquemada. Of Jewish origin himself, he told her that Christianized Jews were
secretly practicing their Hebrew faith and corrupting good Christians. Isabella was horrified and frightened. She asked the pope for permission
to establish the inquisition in Spain. This was granted.
Under sadistic torture, suspects
incriminated other people. These in turn accused almost anyone they could think
of just to please their captors and win a reprieve from their torment. Every confession
added to the alarm of the Catholic king and queen, suggesting widespread
corruption of the Christian faith. Soon Spain
began burning "heretics."
"Auto da fe" means
"Act of Faith." The first Spanish auto-da-fe was held on this day February 6, 1481, when six men and six
women, who refused to repent of alleged backsliding, were burned at the stake.
They were but the first. 13,000 "heretics" were tried in the first
twelve years of the Spanish Inquisition. Hundreds perished at the stake.
Dressed in a penitent's gown, they were marched in processionals to the stake
and urged to repent even as they were bound for the ordeal. Those who confessed
were strangled before the fire was lit. Those who refused to admit wrongdoing,
or who defiantly clung to their "heresies" were burned alive.
As hard as it is to believe, the
Spanish Inquisition ran for 327 years. It was not abolished until 1808, during
the brief reign of Joseph Bonaparte. In those three centuries, close to 32,000
people perished in the flames. About 300,000 others were forced to make some
kind of reconciliation with the church. Even the 1808 "end" to the
Spanish Inquisition wasn't really the end. Incredible as it may seem, King
Ferdinand VII reestablished the dreadful apparatus in 1814! But six years
later, revolution swept it away, hopefully forever. However, this is by no
means assured; some defenders of the Roman Church were still excusing and
justifying the practice in the twentieth century although it is impossible to
see Christ winning followers by such means. Jesus turned away those who were
not serious about following him.
The apparatus of the inquisition
was not restricted to Europe. Spain exported it to the new world, where Mexican
and Peruvian authorities burned men and women to death, starting in the
sixteenth century. Portuguese priests also operated an inquisition in Goa,
Blotzer, Joseph. "Inquisition." The Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
Haskins, Charles Homer. Studies in Mediaeval Culture. New
York: Frederick Ungar, 1960.
Kamen, Henry Arthur Francis. The Spanish
Inquisition : an historical revision. London : Weidenfeld &
Sabatini, Rafael. Torquemada. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1924.
Various encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated May,
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