The Portuguese term (Spanish, auto de fé Latin, actus fidei ) for the public ceremonies surrounding the proclamation of sentences that terminated inquisition trials, especially in Spain. Autos never included burning at the stake. The first was at Seville (1481); the last, in Mexico (1850). The Spanish solemnities, derived from the medieval Inquisition's sermo generalis, acquired a harsh, show-trial atmosphere, to impress and instruct the populace. Increasingly elaborate and expensive, autos were staged in the city plaza; a concourse of people surrounded two platforms, one of prisoners and the other of inquisitors with dignitaries. These cautionary exercises usually included a lengthy procession (prisoners wore penitential sambenito gowns with miter), a sermon, oaths, interminable reading of sentences, abjurations, reconciliations, and "relaxation" of the obdurate to the secular authorities.
An early auto (Toledo 1486) lasted six hours for 750 prisoners; later autos could take all day. The presence of Charles V at Valencia (1528) set the precedent for the attendance of rulers at these spectacles. After 1515, autos could be held only where an inquisitorial court functioned. Victims were usually apostate former Jews and former Muslims, then alumbrados and some Protestants, and occasionally bigamists, sorcerers, etc. Barcelona had 30 autos between 1488 and 1498; Saragossa had 61 between 1484 and 1502. The major Protestant autos were in 1559 at Valladolid (14 "relaxed") and Seville (55). Of all the Spanish possessions, the Netherlands suffered the most, 2,000 dying within 50 years. After 1600, autos became ever less frequent and gradually assumed the tone of popular fetes. Autos often included no death penalties and never involved executions. If a death sentence was given, it was executed later, usually outside the town.
Bibliography: j. guiraud, Histoire de l'inquisition au moyen âge, 2 v. (Paris 1935–38). b. llorca, La Inquisición en España (3d ed. Barcelona 1954). e. canetti, Auto-da-fé, c. v. wedgwood, tr. (New York 1969). h. kamen, Inquisition and Society in the Sixteenth Centuries (London 1985). e. w. monter, Frontiers of Heresy (Cambridge 1990).
[r. i. burns]
au·to-da-fé / ˈôtō də ˈfā/ • n. (pl. au·tos-da-fé) the burning of a heretic by the Spanish Inquisition. ∎ a sentence of such a kind.