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INQUISITION , special permanent tribunal of the medieval Catholic Church, established to investigate and combat heresy.

The Early Institution

Although the Inquisition was established by Pope *Gregory ix, it owed its name to the procedure instituted by Pope *Innocent iii (1198–1216) for searching out persons accused of heresy. Gregory himself created permanent judges delegate (inquisitores dati ab ecclesia) in 1233, entrusting the mission of judging heretics to the *Dominicans, who divided their duties with the *Franciscans on a geographical basis. Life imprisonment was prescribed for the repentant and capital punishment for the obdurate, after they were handed over to the secular authorities. The practice of burning heretics at the stake (see *Auto-da-fé) was introduced in the last years of the 12th century. By 1255 the Inquisition was fully active in Central and Western Europe, but was never established in England and Scandinavia. Portugal was not included in the system until 1532. The use of torture for the detection of heresy was authorized in 1252 by Innocent iv (1243–54), and confirmed by Urban iv (1261–64). Property of those sentenced to life imprisonment or to death was handed over to the secular arm, but often the Church sought to derive some profit from the confiscated valuables.

Initially, the Inquisition dealt with Christian heretics, like the *Albigenses, against whom a full-scale Crusade was organized in 1209. According to Canon Law, the Inquisition was not authorized to interfere in the internal affairs of the Jews, but this rule was abolished on the ground that the presence of Jews caused heresy to develop in the Christian milieu. The dispute which raged around Maimonides' books (1232) provided the Inquisition with a convenient opportunity to interfere in Jewish affairs (see *Maimonidean controversy). In June 1242, following the Paris Disputation of 1240, an inquisitorial committee condemned the Talmud in Paris, principally for blasphemy against Jesus and Christianity and for immoral and anthropomorphic passages contained in it, and thousands of volumes of it were subsequently burned in public (see Burning of *Talmud). The first mass burning of Jews on the stake took place in France in 1288, following a *blood libel at *Troyes. Nevertheless, persecution of the Jews by the Inquisition in France and Provence remained confined to a few cases, never reaching the proportions it later assumed in the Iberian Peninsula, with the National Inquisition.

The papal Inquisition turned its attention to the Jews after the elimination of the Cathars or Albigensis. It prosecuted and persecuted converts from Judaism who were suspected of Judaizing. It operated intensively in Provence and pursued many of the Provençal Jews who had been baptized and decided to move to Catalonia, to be away from its close supervision.

The Spanish Inquisition until 1492

The Inquisition in the Crowns of Castile and Aragon was established to combat heresy among the New Christians, a group comprising Jews who converted under duress during the 1391 Massacres and others who did so during the Tortosa Disputation in 1412–13 and during the subsequent eras of mounting pressure on the Jews in both Crowns. The initiative for the establishment of the Inquisition in both Castile and Aragon was that of their two monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, who ruled both Crowns jointly. It was in September 1480 that orders were issued for the creation of special tribunals. Soon afterwards, these tribunals began to function. The National Inquisition by far surpassed the papal Inquisition of the Middle Ages both in the scale and intensity of its activities. Its impact on Jewish history was incomparably greater, for its principal objective was the persecution of those inclined toward Judaism. Of the many scholars who have studied the nature of the Spanish Inquisition, some have emphasized its ecclesiastical character, while others have been inclined to regard it as a distinctly political institution. This Inquisition was in fact established as a Church institution deriving its authority from the pope, but it was destined to solve a specifically Spanish religious-social problem and thus evolved into a political institution, although retaining its purely religious aspect. The persecutions of 1391 and of 1412–14 created a new religious and social problem in the Crowns of Castile and Aragon, that of the *anusim or Conversos. Having abandoned the Jewish faith under duress, these *New Christians continued to maintain close relations with their former brethren and occasionally seized the opportunity to emigrate in order to return to Judaism. All attempts made by the authorities to separate the Conversos from Judaism – by legislation, by the separation of their dwellings from the Jewish quarters, or through education – were fruitless. From the second half of the 15th century, a public discussion took place on the question of the Conversos and various methods and projects were advanced for the solution of the problem. There were in fact some distinguished personalities who defended the Conversos and their right to become integrated within Spanish society as Christians with equal rights: the most outstanding of these was Alfonso de Cartagena (1384–1456), son of the apostate *Pablo de Santa María, in his work Defensorium unitatis Christianae (ed. by M. Alonso, 1943). Prominent among those who adopted a firm attitude against the Conversos was the Franciscan monk *Alfonso de Espina (second half of the 15th century). In his work Fortalitium Fidei (Nuremberg, 1485–98), he proposed a detailed plan for heresy-hunting among the Conversos, a scheme which might well be regarded as the harbinger of the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition. This debate was accompanied by violent outbursts against Conversos, the most important being the attempt by Pedro *Sarmiento in Toledo in 1449 to institute Inquisition court-proceedings against Conversos who had risen to important functions within Christian society.

The ascent of *Ferdinand and Isabella to the throne of Castile in 1474 provided a favorable opportunity for those Church extremists who advocated a radical solution. The Catholic monarchs required some faithful supporters for the consolidation of their rule, and these emerged from among the churchmen and the townspeople. In exchange for their support, Ferdinand and Isabella introduced a series of restrictive measures against both Conversos and Jews. However, there is no reason to doubt that the appeal of Ferdinand and Isabella to Pope Sixtus iv in 1477, requesting him to authorize them to establish the Inquisition, was motivated by the religious fervor which was characteristic of their policy from the start. They were equally interested in solving a serious social problem and ensure the full integration of the Conversos within Christian society. In his reply given on Nov. 1, 1478, the pope authorized them to appoint inquisitors in every part of Castile.

Two Dominican monks, Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San Martín, were appointed to head the Inquisition on Sept. 27, 1480, and on Jan. 1, 1481, they began their activities, choosing to start in *Seville because the region of Andalusia was considered an important center of Judaizers. The inquisitors demanded that the noblemen deliver into their hands all Judaizers who had fled and been taken under their protection. A large number of Conversos were arrested, including many wealthy and notable personalities of Seville. The records of the tribunal have not been preserved in this case, but from the evidence of the chronicler Andrés Bernáldez it appears that during the years 1481–88 over 700 Conversos were burned at the stake and more than 5,000 were brought back to the Church by means of various penalties. In Aragon, the papal Inquisition which had been founded in 1237/8 under the influence of *Raymond de Peñaforte operated against the Conversos of Valencia during the 1460s. The results of its activities appeared unsatisfactory to the king, however, and as early as 1484 he appointed new investigators to take up their duties there.

Moved by the complaints of many Conversos against the methods of the Seville Inquisition, Pope Sixtus iv at first (January 1482) opposed the extension of the tribunal to the Crown of Aragon, but was unable to hold out against Ferdinand's displeasure and, in October 1483, agreed to extend the rights of the Inquisition in Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia. During that year, the Jews were expelled from Andalusia and Tomás de *Torquemada, head of the Dominican monastery of Santa Cruz in Segovia, was appointed inquisitor-general of the Spanish kingdom. The measures he introduced determined the character of the institution from the start and left their imprint on its activities during the whole of its existence. It was he who decided on the composition of every Inquisition tribunal and abolished all the orders which had previously been issued by the pope in favor of the Conversos.

In 1483, an Inquisition tribunal, which continued until 1485, was set up in *Ciudad Real. Torquemada intended this tribunal as an experiment in anticipation of the establishment of a tribunal in *Toledo, to prepare the public and test their reactions. During this period at least 100 Conversos were condemned, 52 to the stake, about 15 in effigy, and the remains of others were exhumed and burned. An Inquisition tribunal was also established in *Guadalupe in 1485, and during one year 52 Conversos were burned at the stake and the bodies of 48 condemned after death were exhumed and burned, as were the effigies of 25 Conversos who had fled.

In 1485, the tribunal of Ciudad Real was transferred to Toledo, where, according to tradition, the Conversos had intended to assassinate the Inquisition officers during the Corpus Christi procession, but the plot was discovered and its initiators hanged. The "period of grace" of 40 days, during which the Conversos were called upon to confess their sins, was extended by a further 90 days. The authorities compelled the communal leaders of the Jews to proclaim in the synagogues that any Jew knowing of Conversos who adhered to Judaism, who did not bring this to the cognizance of the Inquisition, would be laid under the *ḥerem. The tribunal of Toledo, which had jurisdiction over 88 towns and villages, brought many Conversos to trial during its early years, but by 1492 the number of trials gradually decreased, the Inquisition then being busy with preparations for the expulsion. In 1486, 20 autos-de-fé were held in Toledo and 3,327 persons sentenced; in 1488, there were three autos-de-fé in which 40 Conversos were burned at the stake and over 100 bodies exhumed and burned; in 1490, there were two autos-de-fé in which 422 Conversos were burned at the stake and 11 sentenced to life imprisonment; and in 1492, five Conversos were burned at the stake and a few others sentenced to imprisonment.

Torquemada's appointment of two inquisitors in *Saragossa in 1484 aroused the anger of the notables of Aragon, who regarded this as an attack on the freedom of their kingdom whose laws prohibited the appointment of officials of foreign origin. After the Inquisition had begun to function there at full strength, a special delegation representing the various estates of Aragon appealed to the king to repeal the decree, but to no avail. In spite of this, the opposition did not subside. When Juan de Çolivera, the newly appointed inquisitor of Aragon, attempted to establish his tribunal in *Teruel, its leaders closed the gates of the town to him and he was compelled to settle in the village of Cella. During his stay there, he conducted the interrogations of the tribunal with unprecedented cruelty, and between 1484 and 1486 over 30 people were condemned to death, while only seven Conversos were accepted as penitents – all without a "period of grace" being proclaimed before the interrogations.

In Saragossa, the Conversos endeavored to obstruct the progress of the Inquisition; their diplomatic efforts failing, they organized a plot which resulted in the assassination of the inquisitor Pedro de *Arbués in 1485. The resultant investigation revealed that among the leading instigators of the plot were several of the most prominent New Christians who were also favorites at court, including members of the *Sánchez, *Santangel, and *Cavallería families. In Saragossa, the number of Conversos who were accepted as penitents was also small in comparison with those who were burned at the stake. Until 1492, about 600 Conversos were sentenced there.

The establishment of the Inquisition tribunal in *Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, also met with the opposition of the city's leaders. Becoming aware of Torquemada's projected tribunal, large numbers of Conversos fled, severely affecting the economy of the town in consequence. Once more the complaints were of no avail and in February 1486, Pope Innocent viii appointed Torquemada as inquisitor of Barcelona and canceled the appointments of the medieval inquisitors who had functioned until then. In 1487, Torquemada appointed Juan Franco and Miguel Cassells as inquisitors in Barcelona and they began their activities in the town in July of the same year. Additional tribunals were also established prior to the expulsion in *Lérida and *Huesca. In the latter town, many Conversos, including *Juan de Ciudad, who had taken refuge there during the middle of the 15th century, undergone circumcision, and returned to Judaism, were brought to trial. A number of Jews were also executed; these included Isaac *Bivach (Bibago), who was accused of having circumcised Conversos. Among the prominent trials held by the Inquisition prior to the expulsion was that of the Holy Child of La *Guardia in 1490, in which Jews were also involved.

The trials of the Conversos during the first 12 years of the Spanish Inquisition demonstrated that the extremist churchmen had been true judges of the nature of the New Christians, as trial after trial revealed the loyalty of the Conversos to Judaism and their close ties with the Jewish communities of Spain. There is no doubt that the results of the investigations of the Inquisition, which brought to light some 13,000 Conversos who had remained faithful to Judaism, were factors prompting the Catholic monarchs, who sought to create a national unity in Spain based on religious and ethnic foundations, to order the expulsion of the Jews from the kingdom in 1492. By expelling the Jews, they hoped to eliminate that element which was responsible for the Judaizing inclinations of the Conversos and thus weaken their attachment to Judaism and bring them back to the Christian faith.

Scholars' Approaches to the Inquisition

Scholars differ on several issues related to the Inquisition. Some scholars maintain that the Inquisition was the product of decades of efforts and campaigns that were supported by a large part of the Old Christian population in the Crowns of Castile and Aragon and designed to destroy the position enjoyed by the New Christians. These scholars, headed by Benzion Netanyahu, claim that it was not the religious behavior of the New Christians that caused the creation of the Inquisition but the intention of the political and religious elite of the Old Christians to eliminate the Conversos from any position of political, economic, and social power. The Inquisition camouflaged its real intention behind religious motives. The Conversos, according to these scholars, were mostly Christians who were determined to integrate within Christian society. The Inquisition prevented them from doing so. The Inquisition was also responsible for the reevaluation of many New Christians' attitude to Christianity and Judaism. The flight of some of the New Christians mainly to Muslim lands to returnto Judaism and join existing communities or establish communities of their own was the result of the anti-Converso policy pursued by the Inquisition. Those who returned to Judaism, were accepted as proselytes. According to these scholars, the Inquisition leveled false accusations against the New Christians, accusing them of Jewish practices.

Other scholars, led by Beinart, claim that the bulk of the Conversos were forcible converts who wanted to retain their Jewish identity. They had no choice but to practice Judaism in secret and transmit whatever they could of their own Jewish practices and beliefs to their descendants. They were crypto-Jews. The Inquisition was established to eradicate any trace of Judaism in the Converso-society and was generally right in its suspicions and accusations. The numerous files of the Inquisition are trustworthy, and despite its cruel torture and terrorizing methods, the Inquisition was fundamentally right in its policy of prosecution against many of the Conversos. It was prosecuting Christians accused of heretical behavior.

Whatever the true reasons for the establishment of the Inquisition were, it cannot be denied that social, economic, racial, and political reasons nourished the trials of the Inquisition and the anti-Converso attitude that existed in Christian society. According to many Old and New Christian sources the hatred of the Conversos was due to the envy their economic and social achievements aroused in society in general. Many of them were able to translate their economic and social strength into political power which added to the antagonism they aroused among many Old Christians.

The racial antagonism that existed in Old Christian circles and among Inquisitors puzzled some scholars. A sentence by Menéndez Pelayo in one of his letters that the Old Christians might have adopted their racial hatred from the Jews found fertile grounds among certain Spanish historians and thinkers. Américo Castro, who noted the very strong racial prejudice among Spanish people which appeared following the mass conversions of Jews suggested that the Jews were the real source of this hatred. The Jews were responsible, according to Castro, for the appearance of the theory of the Limpieza de sangre (Purity of Blood). Castro and Sánches Albornoz have claimed that the Inquisition tribunal and its terrible and horrible methods were of Jewish origin. The latter claimed that "The Inquisition was without any doubt a Hispano-Jewish satanical invention." Baer has shown how mistaken their understanding of the Jewish judicial system was (Baer, A History of the Jews in Christian Spain (1966) vol. 2, 444–56).

From 1492


The history of the Inquisition in the Iberian Peninsula entered into a new phase with the events which took place in Portugal in 1497. When King Manuel i was required to expel the Jews from his kingdom before he could marry the Catholic monarchs' daughter, he issued an edict of Expulsion in 1496. The so-called expulsion of the Jews from that country is in most respects a misnomer. King Manuel i, desiring to secure the extirpation of Judaism without the loss of the industry and resources of his Jewish subjects, had them all seized and baptized by force, without allowing them the alternative of leaving the realm. Almost immediately afterward, however, in order to give them time to adjust themselves to their new faith, it was ordered (May 30, 1497) that for 20 years they should be exempt from all persecution on account of religious delinquencies, this period being subsequently extended to 1534. Thus crypto-Judaism in Portugal had the opportunity of accommodating itself to the new conditions and acquiring a far greater tenacity than was the case in Spain.

At the same time, Manuel had given an undertaking that all proceedings against the recent converts should be within the exclusive cognizance of the ordinary secular tribunals. This promise, however, was speedily neglected. As early as 1512, an application was made to Pope Leo x to extend the Inquisition to Portugal. For the moment, the matter was allowed to lapse without any further steps being taken. Manuel's successor, John iii, however, was weak and amenable to ecclesiastical influence. Accordingly, in 1531, Dr. Bras Neto, ambassador at Rome, was instructed to take secret steps to procure from Clement vii the necessary authorization for introducing into his country the Inquisition on the Spanish model. After many delays, the Franciscan Diogo da Silva was asked to accept the appointment of first inquisitor general (Jan. 13, 1532). All these negotiations had been carried on in the strictest confidence, but the news leaked out; before the new inquisitor could assume office, the Portuguese New Christians took energetic steps, backed by all of their vast influence and wealth. They dispatched to Rome as their emissary a certain Converso, Duarte da Paz, who was authorized not to stint in his expenditure. They won over to their side Marco della Rovere, bishop of Sinigaglia, who had been dispatched to Lisbon as papal nuncio, and the conduct of the new inquisitor himself gave rise to suspicions that he too had been bought over by them. Meanwhile, at Rome, Da Paz had succeeded in procuring from Pope Clement, whose good feeling toward the Jews was well-known, a brief suspending the action of the previous December and prohibiting all inquisitional action against the New Christians. On April 5, 1533, he followed this up by a bull which became famous as the Bulla de perdão, being virtually a pardon for all past offenses. To this was added an authorization whereby all persons accused of heresy might justify themselves before the inquisitor general, who reaped a handsome harvest. This mitigatory measure was finally re-enforced by the pope on his deathbed, on July 26, 1534. The struggle was renewed under Paul iii who referred the matter to a commission. When Emperor Charles v arrived in Rome, fresh from his triumph at Tunis, he threw his weight on the prosecutory side. The result was seen in the papal bull of May 23, 1536, which formally constituted in Portugal an Inquisition on the Spanish model, though for three years the forms of secular law were to be observed, and confiscations were to be forbidden for ten. Diogo da Silva was confirmed in his position as first inquisitor general.

This drastic measure caused the New Christians to redouble their efforts. The new nuncio to Portugal, Girolamo Recanati Capodiferro, was given the authority (which he used with highly remunerative results) to hear appeals, and was even authorized to suspend the action of the Inquisition itself. On the other hand, the king endeavored to strengthen the authority of the new tribunal by appointing his brother, Dom Henrique, as inquisitor general in Da Silva's place. Intrigues were in process at Rome, however, and the pope was persuaded to issue a bull Pastoris aeterni on Oct. 12, 1539, which limited the power of the Inquisition still further, guaranteeing the right of appeal to Rome, where (for a consideration) justice, or absolution, could always be obtained. Owing to a quarrel between Capodiferro and the New Christians, who refused to satisfy his exorbitant demands, this was never published. Passions in Portugal were still further enraged by a foolish anti-Catholic placard which had been found affixed to the door of one of the principal churches in Lisbon, presumably by one of the recent converts. When, therefore, the three years' delay came to an end, there was nothing to prevent the bull of 1536 establishing the Inquisition from coming into operation. On Sept. 20, 1540, accordingly, the first auto-da-fé was held at *Lisbon.

Even then, the contest was not at an end. The New Christians forced to acquiesce in the establishment of the tribunal worked untiringly for the appointment at Lisbon of a papal nuncio with full appellate powers, and Luigi Lippomano, bishop of Bergamo, was appointed to this post in 1542, in consequence of their intrigues. However, a violent quarrel had sprung up in the meantime between the king of Portugal and the papal Curia, and Lippomano was excluded from the country. The pope replied to this slight in a brief dated Sept. 22, 1544, suspending the activities of the Inquisition until an enquiry had been made into its action. During the next few years negotiations continued without interruption and at enormous expense on both sides. Ultimately, however, the king gained the day, offering the pope the administration of the revenues of the enormously wealthy see of Viseu in return for compliance to his wishes. The pope at last surrendered to this magnificent bribe and, on July 16, 1547, by the bull Meditatio cordis, the Inquisition was at last fully established in Portugal. The New Christians tried hard, but in vain, to obtain the slight concession that the names of witnesses against them should be made known, while the appointment of the grand inquisitor, Dom Henrique, as papal legate cut off all possibility of appeal to Rome. The prohibition of confiscations remained for some time a subject of negotiation, but in 1579 they were at last definitely established.

Tribunals were originally set up in Portugal at Lisbon, *Coimbra, *Évora, Lamego, Tomar, and *Oporto. The three last were subsequently discontinued as superfluous, partly in consequence of the grave abuses and irregularities which were discovered in their administration. The remaining three, however, continued their work with the utmost ferocity; considering the great difference in the size of the two countries, it may be said that their zeal exceeded even that of the tribunals of Spain. However, the greater influence and cohesion of the New Christians in the smaller country brought about temporary remissions, always in return for huge bribes. Thus, in 1605, a donation of 1,700,000 cruzados secured a general pardon for all past offenses, though of course it provided no safeguard against the future. In 1662, the wealthy Duarte da Silva offered an enormous subvention in money and ships in return for certain concessions, but there is little chance that they would have been granted even if the matter had not reached the ears of the pope, who immediately made stern representations at Lisbon. In fact, the period of the greatest inquisitional activity in Portugal followed. The number of autos-da-fé and of penitents increased year by year. The abuses of the system became so great that the eloquence of the learned Jesuit, Antonio da Vieira, procured from Pope Clement x a bull suspending the operation of the Portuguese inquisitors (Oct. 3, 1674). Since the inquisitors refused to comply this was followed four years later by an interdict pronounced upon them by Innocent xi (Dec. 24, 1678). Ecclesiastical prejudices were too strong, however, to acquiesce in this state of affairs. By a bull of Aug. 22, 1681 the Portuguese Inquisition was reinstated in all of its former authority with no more than one or two minor reforms and the event was celebrated in a fresh burst of activity. On Jan. 18, 1682, the first auto-da-fé since the interdict was held at Coimbra, but it was surpassed by the one which took place at Lisbon on May 10 of the same year – one of the most notorious in the whole of Portuguese history. The revived power of the Inquisition was further manifested in a new regulation that the children of condemned heretics might be taken away from their parents to be brought up in all the traditions of the Catholic faith (1683). For half a century to come the Inquisition in Portugal continued its bloody career without any great intermission.


Meanwhile the activities of the Inquisition in Spain had continued unabated under Diego Deza (1499–1507), the successor of Torquemada as grand inquisitor, himself of Jewish blood. During his period of office, the excesses committed under his auspices – in particular by Diego Rodríguez Lucero, the inquisitor of *Córdoba – were notorious: accusations were made wholesale on the flimsiest grounds; incredible cruelties were perpetrated; and no accused person had any chance to escape. The culmination was reached when no less than 107 persons were burned alive on an accusation of having listened to the preaching of one Membreque, a bachelor of divinity. Complaints against these atrocities became so widespread that on Sept. 30, 1505 Philip and Juana suspended the action of the Inquisition in Castile until they returned from Flanders. However, the death of Philip put an end to this plan, and Lucero was emboldened to issue another wholesale batch of accusations, including one against the saintly Hernando de Talavera – archbishop of Granada and formerly confessor to Isabella the Catholic herself – who died in consequence of the humiliation imposed upon him. The popular outcry now led Ferdinand to dismiss Deza and to appoint Cardinal *Ximénes de Cisneros in his place as grand inquisitor (1507). Proceedings were instituted against Lucero, but were allowed to drop.

On the accession of Charles v, the Spanish New Christians sent him promises of enormous sums if he would restrict the power of the Inquisition in his dominions and abolish secret accusations. Similar steps were taken at Rome, where Pope Leo x prepared a bull in the sense desired. Charles, however, after temporary vacillation, displayed the narrow obscurantism which was to characterize him through life, and effectively prevented the publication of the bull. Thereafter, there was no serious challenge to the authority of the Inquisition in Spain and it could count throughout upon royal support. Charles' son, Philip ii, carried on and enhanced his father's obscurantist tradition, maintaining the tribunal in all of its terrible power in spite of the protests of the Cortes. Under Philip iii, the conde-duque de Olivares endeavored to restrict its might; but on his fall it continued with its influence if anything increased. It was under this king and his successor, Philip iv, that the tribunal attained its greatest power and pomp.

The number of the Spanish tribunals ultimately totaled 15: Barcelona, Córdoba, Cuenca, Granada, Logroño, Llerena, Madrid (called also Corte), Murcia, Santiago, Seville, Toledo, Valencia, Valladolid, and Saragossa, and Palma (Majorca). All acted under the authority of the central tribunal (the "supreme"). Activity, as far as Judaizers were concerned, was greatest in Old Castile and least in Catalonia. As time advanced, however, the exclusive preoccupation of the Inquisition with the New Christians came to be qualified. From 1525, Moors faithful to the religion of their fathers also fell within its scope, and as the century advanced, there was an increasing number of Protestants and Alumbrados, or visionaries. By the middle of the 16th century, indeed, the native tradition of crypto-Judaism had to a large extent become extirpated, owing to the incredible severity of the Inquisition in the first years of its existence. However, the place of the Spanish Judaizers was taken, especially during the period of the union of the two countries, by immigrants from Portugal, or else their immediate descendants.

At the beginning of the 18th century, with the less obscurantist era which dawned with the house of Bourbon, there was some slight mitigation, particularly as far as the Judaizers were concerned, but in 1720 the discovery of a secret synagogue in Madrid led to a considerable recrudescence of activity throughout the country. During the reign of Philip v (1700–46), 1,564 heretics were burned and 11,730 reconciled to the Church, a good proportion for Judaizing. After this outburst, the activity of the Inquisition gradually diminished, though more through lack of material than through any diminution of zeal.

in the balearic islands

The activity of the Inquisition in the Balearic Islands reached its climax at the close of the 17th century. The Jewish community had officially ceased to exist in 1435, but the Inquisition had nevertheless been active for the first half century after its introduction (see *Majorca). But the discovery of a secret synagogue in 1678 led to a renewal of activity. In four autos-de-fé in 1679, no less than 219 reconciliations took place, accompanied by wholesale confiscations, though there were no capital sentences. However, the insincerity of the enforced repentance soon became manifest, and in 1688–91 the result was seen in a fresh persecution, accompanied by 45 burnings. By this awful lesson, crypto-Judaism in the island was finally blotted out, though the prejudice against those of Jewish blood remained into the mid-20th century.

End of the Inquisition in the Peninsula

In the second half of the 18th century, the activity of the Inquisition rapidly diminished, partly through the spread of more enlightened ideas, partly through the lack of human material. Judaism especially had been almost entirely extirpated in the larger country and in the more civilized parts of the smaller, largely through the severity of the Inquisition, but in no small part through the wholesale emigration to places of greater liberty abroad. In Portugal, the last public auto-da-fé, and the last in which a Judaizer appeared, took place on Oct. 27, 1765. The Marquês de Pombal was determined to sweep away this with other similar abuses and steadily undermined its authority. The Inquisition revived to some extent after his fall; but early in the next century, after a prolonged period of comparatively harmless inactivity, it was formally abolished (March 31, 1821). In Spain the institution was more persistent. Though with diminished activity, it survived with unimpaired authority until the period of the French Revolution. It was abolished by Joseph Bonaparte during his brief reign in 1808, and this action was confirmed after his fall by the liberal Cortes of 1813. The reactionary Ferdinand vii, however, reinstituted it on July 21, 1814 with all of its previous power and authority. Its activity during the succeeding period was not great and it was abolished again by a royal decree during the constitutional revolution on March 9, 1820. With the counter-revolutionary movement of 1823, however, its powers revived to some extent. As late as July 26, 1826, a Deist schoolmaster (not a Jew, as is commonly stated) was hanged and burned in effigy by an episcopal Inquisition, the last victim of the Holy Tribunal in the Peninsula; for, on July 15, 1834, the queen mother, Maria Christina, finally and definitely abolished the Inquisition and all of its powers, after a career of blood which had lasted for three and a half centuries.


for spain

It is estimated that in Spain, from the establishment of the Inquisition down to 1808, the number of heretics burned in person was 31,912; those burned in effigy, 17,659; and those reconciled de vehementi (see Procedure, below), 291,450 – a total of 341,021 in all. Even these immense figures are apparently exceeded by the usually careful Amador de los Rios, who estimates that up to 1525, when the Moriscos first began to suffer, the number of those burned in person came to 28,540; those burned in effigy to 16,520; and those penanced to 303,847 – making a total of 348,907 condemnations for Judaism in less than half a century. On the other hand, Rodrigo, the apologist of the Inquisition, puts forward the impossible assertion that less than 400 persons were burned in the whole course of the existence of the Inquisition in Spain. H.C. *Lea, the modern historian of the Spanish Inquisition, hesitates to give any definite opinion. It was in the earlier and most ferocious period of inquisitional activity that the secret Jews suffered above all, and they furnished therefore a disproportionate number of the victims. In the later period, the number greatly diminished. Thus, from 1780 to 1820, out of 5,000 cases, only 16 were of Judaizing; but the majority of the charges at this period were light, and the sentences imposed in most cases comparatively negligible.

for portugal

As far as Portugal and its dependencies are concerned, the figures can be given with a much greater approach to precision. There are extant the records of approximately 40,000 cases tried before the Inquisition in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries in Portugal, the archives in this respect being virtually complete. The sentences were carried out at autos-da-fé numbering something like 750 in all. In these, as far as can be ascertained, upward of 30,000 persons were condemned, 1,808 of them being burned at the stake (633 in effigy and 1,175 in person) and 29,590 being penanced. In the two decades from 1701 to 1720, 37 persons were burned in person and 26 in effigy, while 2,126 were penanced. From 1732 to 1742, 66 persons were burned. From 1721 to 1771, 139 persons were burned in person, and 20 in effigy, while 3,488 were penanced.

Elkan *Adler has compiled lists of a little less than 2,000 autos-da-fé which took place in the peninsula and its dependencies from 1480 to 1826. This number should, however, be further increased.


The records of the Inquisition in Spain and its colonies generally fell victim to the popular fury at the time of the abolition of the Inquisition. Scattered documents were rescued, however, and are to be found in all the great public libraries of Europe and America, having been largely drawn upon by H.C. Lea in his History of the Inquisition of Spain (4 vols. 1906). The only sets of archives which have remained substantially complete are those of the tribunals of Valencia, Ciudad Real, Toledo, and Cuenca, which (together with scattered documents of other tribunals) are mainly to be found in the national archives at Madrid. The latter have been catalogued by M. Gómez del Campillo: they comprise something like 1,500 cases of Judaizers or approximately one-quarter of the whole. Of the records of the tribunals of Córdoba, Granada, Seville, etc., the only part which is left in a state of virtual completeness is the genealogical section, regarding the *limpieza de sangre, or purity of blood, of persons who applied for office. The records of the three Portuguese tribunals – Lisbon, Coimbra, and Évora – have been brought together in the national archives of the Torre de Tombo, at Lisbon. They comprise about 40,000 cases, sometimes filling whole volumes of more than 1,000 pages each. The majority of these relate to Judaizers. An approximate catalog, listed by the first names, is extant in manuscript.

The Inquisition in the Portuguese Possessions


It had not been long before Conversos, attracted by the greater security as well as the economic opportunities offered by the Spanish and Portuguese possessions overseas, in the discovery and development of which they had taken a notable part, began to flock there in some numbers. The Inquisition followed close at their heels. Thus there was a branch of the Portuguese Inquisition at Goa, in India, where as early as 1543, a certain Dr. Jeronimo Dias had been burned for maintaining heretical opinions, although the Inquisition proper was not formally introduced until some years later. In 1546, the formal establishment of the Inquisition was petitioned by St. Francis Xavier, but his wishes were complied with only in 1560. The first auto-da-fé took place on Sept. 27, 1563, two Judaizers figuring among the four victims. The subsequent activities became greater and greater. Autos-da-fé of particular violence took place under the zealous inquisitor Bartholomew da Fonseca in 1575 and 1578. In each of these 17 Judaizers lost their lives, a couple of Lutherans also suffering in the first. With the return of Fonseca to Portugal, the fury abated, so that from 1590 to 1597 no death sentences were pronounced. Simultaneously, the number of Judaizers, terrified by the former outburst of activity, diminished, only two figuring among the 20 victims from 1597 to 1623. In 1618, however, the brothers Isaac and Abraham *Almosnino, members of a famous Jewish family of Fez, were tried on a charge of having uttered blasphemies against the Christian faith in the house of the Persian ambassador at Cochin. Isaac, a physician, was released only in 1621. Up to the end of the first quarter of the 17th century, no less than 3,800 cases had been tried by the Goa tribunal and 37 autos-da-fé held, a number which by 1773 had risen to 82. As in Portugal, the tribunal was abolished on Feb. 10, 1774, witnessed an innocuous revival after the fall of Pombal in 1777, and was finally suppressed in 1812.


A more common haven of refuge for the Portuguese Conversos was Brazil, where the bishop of Salvador was given inquisitorial powers in 1579, although all prisoners had to be sent to Europe for trial. Great visitations were held between 1591 and 1618. Between July 1591 and February 1592 scores of people came to confess or to testify before the board of inquisitors against foreigners, friends, and relatives. The testimonies and confessions indicate the presence of a considerable community of Conversos in Bahia (Salvador). In 1593/5 the inquisitors visited Pernambuco, where grave accusations had been preferred against a number of people. Thus, Diego Fernandes and his wife Branca Dias had been accused of establishing a synagogue in the house of Bento Dias Santiago, a central figure among the Judaizers at Pernambuco. The Conversos in Brazil played an important part in exporting sugar from Brazil, thanks to their connections with Conversos in Portugal and those who escaped to Amsterdam and there returned to Judaism. Many of them escaped from Brazil to Buenos Aires and from there to Peru, Paraguay, and Chile, following an investigation opened against 90 Conversos in Bahia.

Inquisitorial activity in Brazil was especially great in the middle of the 17th century after the Portuguese reconquered the country from the Dutch, under whose rule many New Christians had seized the opportunity to return to open Judaism. Many of them figured in the great auto-da-fé at Lisbon of Dec. 15, 1647, when six – including Isaac de Castro Tartas – were "relaxed" (see Procedure, below). In 1713, 38 New Christians sent from *Rio de Janeiro appeared in the Lisbon auto-da-fé, others (including Father Manoel Lopes de Carvalho, who was burned alive as impenitent) suffering in the following year. One of them, Abrabao alias Diogo Rois Rodriguez, called Dioquintio Hebreo, was condemned to be flogged and to five years in the galleys. The last Judaizer condemned by the Inquisition in Brazil was Manuel Abreu de Campo; he died before the sentence was carried out, and was burned in effigy in Lisbon in 1731. Toward the end of the 18th century persecution of Judaizers tended to decrease in Brazil, and was generally aimed at new targets: Freemasons and followers of the Enlightenment. With the independence of Brazil (1822) the persecutions ended altogether, and Jews gradually began to immigrate to that country. Conditions in the Portuguese colonies in Africa were much the same, an inquisitorial visitation taking place in Angola in 1626.

The Inquisition in the Spanish Colonies


Greater still was the importance of the Conversos in the Spanish possessions in America. From 1502 to 1802 the Spanish crown and the pope issued numerous briefs aimed at prohibiting the entry of Jews and Moors to the New World. Anybody who arrived in the colonies had to prove that he was a Christian, with four generations of Christians behind him. Nevertheless numerous Conversos succeeded in settling in the New World. Thus in 1519, apostolic inquisitors were appointed for the American colonies by the "Suprema" in Spain, and in 1528 an auto-de-fé took place in Mexico City in which three Judaizers – among them a Converso "conquistador" or companion of Cortes, Hernando Alonso by name – lost their lives. Thereafter, activity was slight and only sporadic, though a New Christian named Francisco Millan was reconciled in 1539 and a couple of non-Judaizing heretics in the subsequent years. In 1571, however, the zeal of Philip ii secured the establishment in *Mexico of an independent tribunal for the purpose of "freeing the land, which has become contaminated by Jews and heretics, especially of the Portuguese nation." On Feb. 28, 1574, an auto-de-fé was conducted with great pomp. At this, only one New Christian appeared, but thereafter the number grew rapidly.

Activities, at first lukewarm, greatly increased with the appointment of Alonso de Peralta as inquisitor. On Dec. 8, 1596, there was a great auto-de-fé at which 66 penitents appeared. Of these, 41 were accused of Judaizing, 22 being reconciled, 10 burned in effigy, and nine in person. Of the latter, one was the illustrious Luis de *Carvajal, governor of the province of Nuevo León, who was burned alive as a relapsed heretic, together with his mother and five sisters. On March 26, 1601, another great auto-de-fé took place, at which 124 penitents appeared and four were burned. In the preceding 25 years no less than 879 trials had taken place in all. After this date, however, there was a period of comparative quiescence for nearly half a century. Up to 1642, only about 20 more Judaizers were reconciled, one being relaxed in person as against six relaxed in effigy. When in 1605 the general pardon for Judaizers of Portuguese extraction reached Mexico, there was only one to be liberated. However, the subsequent attempt to exterminate the Portuguese crypto-Judaizers in Spain led to the discovery of widespread connections in the New World.

From 1642 there was a period of relentless activity. A mere child, Gabriel de *Granada, arrested in that year was made to give evidence against over 80 persons, including the whole of his own family (the record of his trial, published in ajhsp, 7 (1899), is among the most complete inquisitional records available in print in any language). In 1646, partly in consequence of these disclosures, 38 Judaizers were reconciled, bringing a very considerable profit to the coffers of the Inquisition, and 21 in the next year. In 1648, there were two autos-de-fé, in one of which eight Judaizers were penanced, eight reconciled, 21 burned in effigy and one in person: in the other 21 Judaizers figured, though no burnings took place. The climax of the Mexican Inquisition was reached, however, in the great auto general of April 11, 1649 – the greatest known outside the Peninsula – when out of 109 convicts all but one were Judaizers. Of these 57 were burned in effigy and 13 in person, including Tomás *Trevino of Sobremonte. This terrible lesson went a long way toward checking Marranism in the country, Judaizing occupying a less and less prominent position in the following period. Thus in the auto-de-fé of 1659, only four Judaizers figured among the 32 victims, and in later years the proportion was even lower. In 1712, however, a Judaizer was reconciled; and as late as 1788, the trial of Rafael Gil Rodriguez, a cleric, took place. The Inquisition continued to protract its inglorious existence for a few more years, being finally abolished in 1820, after having held upward of 60 autos-de-fé in all. In the Mexican state archive 1,553 files of the Inquisition, belonging to the period 1521–1823, together with many others found in different places, show that the Conversos were present everywhere in the country and were represented in every section of society.

philippine islands

The conquest of the *Philippine Islands by Spain in the late 1560s was soon followed by the establishment of an episcopal Inquisition, an auto-de-fé in which a few heretics appeared being held in 1572. Subsequently, however, the authority of the Mexican tribunal was recognized over the islands. The work, never considerable, was at the beginning confined to Judaizers, who were dispatched to Mexico for trial. Thus, in the auto-de-fé held there on March 28, 1593, two Conversos from Manila (Jorge and Domingo Rodriguez) were reconciled, while proceedings had been begun at the same time against one Diego Hernandez, who, however, died in prison. Manuel Gil de la Guardia, an attorney from Manila, was reconciled at Mexico on March 25, 1601, and three Judaizers from the Philippines were burned in effigy at the great auto-de-fé in the same city on April 11, 1649. From this period down to the abolition of the Inquisition at the beginning of the 19th century, the Inquisition was inactive in the Philippines, and there is no further mention of Judaizers in connection with it.


Judaizers accused in *Guatemala were tried in Mexico. Of particular interest is the trial of Rafael Gil Rodriguez, a monk from Guatemala accused of Judaizing after he had brought two of his friends over to Judaism. He was sentenced to death for this crime: he professed repentance, however, at the last moment, and so was reconciled.


In *Peru, a tribunal was opened in 1570, though an active episcopal Inquisition had been in existence since 1539. From that date down to 1805, 34 autos-de-fé were held at Lima, Judaizers always forming a considerable proportion of the victims. The earliest denunciations included the whole of the family of Juan Alvarez, a Converso physician, though they escaped punishment. In the second auto-de-fé series, however (April 1, 1578), two Judaizers figured, one in the third (Oct. 29, 1581), and two in the fifth (April 5, 1592). Thereafter, the number steadily increased, their ranks being greatly reinforced by immigrants from Portugal. At the great auto-defé of Dec. 17, 1595, ten figured, four of them being relaxed to the secular arm, and one, Francisco Rodriguez, being burned alive. On Dec. 10, 1600, 14 Portuguese Judaizers figure, two being relaxed in persons and one in effigy. The auto-de-fé of March 13, 1605 exhibited 16 Judaizers reconciled, six burned in effigy, and three in person. Thereafter, there was a considerable falling off, due in all probability to the general pardon issued to the Portuguese New Christians in 1604. There was a slight recrudescence in 1608, when one Judaizer was burned, and in 1612 when, at the auto-de-fé of June 17, there were five reconciliations for Judaizing.

The outburst of inquisitorial activity in Brazil in 1618 led to a general flight to Spanish territory, despite the opposition of the government, and to an increase in the local vigilance. The results were seen in the great auto-de-fé of Dec. 21, 1625 at which ten Judaizers were reconciled, two relaxed in person, and two in effigy. It was ten years later, however, in 1635, that there took place in Peru the greatest outburst of inquisitorial activity known outside the Peninsula. Owing to a chance arrest, a widespread crypto-Jewish connection was discovered among the Portuguese merchants at Lima – the "Complicidad Grande" as it was called. Within a few months, 81 suspected persons had been arrested, many others being left at large owing to lack of accommodation. Simultaneously, property was sequestered in such vast amounts as to precipitate a commercial crisis. The fruits were reaped at the triumphant auto-de-fé of Jan. 23, 1639, in which a very large number of Judaizers figured. Seven abjured de vehementi, 44 were reconciled, while one was relaxed in effigy and 11 in person. Of these, seven were burned alive, true martyrs to their faith. Among them was one Manuel Batista Perez, known as the capitan grande, the wealthiest merchant in the country; and Francisco *Maldonado de Silva (Eli Nazareno), the most notable martyr of the Inquisition in South America. On the following day, several more condemned persons were scourged publicly through the streets. In the autos-de-fé of the following years, last remnants of the Complicidad Grande were dealt with, Manuel Henriquez, one of those implicated, being burned as late as 1664. As in Mexico, this display of severity in the second quarter of the 17th century seems to have broken down Judaizing in the province for many years to come, the next case – a light one – occurring only in 1720. However, the last victim burned at the stake by the Peruvian Inquisition was a reported Judaizer, the notorious Ana de Castro, who suffered in Dec. 23, 1736. In the following year, at an auto particular, Juan Antonio Pereira was punished for the same crime. Though the Inquisition in Peru continued to be sporadically active until 1806, and even had many false accusations of Judaizing brought before it on trivial grounds, no further prosecutions of this nature figure in its records.

new granada

The enormous province of New Granada at first fell under the sway of the Lima tribunal, which appointed various commissioners to represent it. These however, were incompetent and inactive. In 1610, therefore, a new tribunal of the Inquisition was set up, with its seat at Cartagena and with authority extending not only over the continental portions of New Granada but also over the adjacent Caribbean Islands. The first auto-de-fé took place on Feb. 2, 1614, the last on Feb. 5, 1782, and the Inquisition was abolished by Simón Bolivar in 1819. During the two centuries of its existence, at least 54 autos-de-fé took place, 767 persons being punished; only five, however, were burned. Judaizers figured, as always, in fairly considerable proportion, one appearing at the first auto-de-fé and something like 50 in all. Thus, at the auto-de-fé of June 17, 1626, seven Judaizers suffered among the 22 penitents, one of them, Juan Vicente, being relaxed. The Complicidad Grande at Lima brought about repercussions in Cartagena, where eight persons were reconciled and nine absolved. There were no relaxations, but the confiscations put the tribunal in possession of ample funds. On June 11, 1715, there figured the renegade friar, Jose Diaz Pimienta, who was subsequently burned. Thereafter, except for one or two minor cases, the tribunal was inactive: so much so that a certain David de la Motta, a professed Judaizer summoned to appear in 1783, was left unmolested, and a born Jew named Jose Abudiente was suffered to go about undisturbed in San Domingo, with other coreligionists, in 1783/84.

the canary islands

In the Spanish possessions nearer Europe the presence of the Conversos was no less marked. In the Canary Islands, an episcopal Inquisition was set up to deal with them as early as 1499. As a result of its enquiries, there were discovered to be on the islands a number of secret Jews, and even a secret synagogue. A branch of the Inquisition of Andalusia was accordingly set up at Las Palmas in 1504. Autos-de-fé, at which a few individuals were penanced or reconciled, were held in 1507 and 1510. In 1526, however, the tribunal was very active, eight individuals being relaxed in person, two reconciled, and two penanced. Of these over one half, including six of the eight relajados, were accused of Judaizing. Further autos-de-fé, at which however no persons were relaxed, were held in 1530 and 1534. This outburst of activity seems to have temporarily eradicated crypto-Judaism in the islands, only four New Christians figuring in the sporadic prosecutions which continued till 1581 and none at all thereafter until 1597, when all activity temporarily came to an end. The immigration of Conversos from the Peninsula, however, at the opening of the 17th century, stirred it to some fresh activity. In 1625 an edict of faith against Judaism was issued, and the information received in consequence revealed the presence of a whole colony of secret Jews. A considerable proportion of them, however, had already fled, and, owing partly to this and partly to political considerations, no prosecutions ensued. Numerous denunciations of the Converso refugees in London and Amsterdam continued to be made down to the middle of the century, but no further proceedings were taken against them. The tribunal, which for a prolonged period had not occupied itself with Judaizers, was abolished with that of Spain in 1813, but reinstated in spite of popular hostility from 1814 to 1820, when it was finally suppressed.

Elsewhere in Europe


The medieval Dominican Inquisition had existed in *Sicily as elsewhere, and was revived in 1451, partly at the expense of the Jews, on the strength of an apocryphal decree of the emperor Frederick ii. It was, however, inadequate to cope with the problem of the Conversos from the Peninsula, particularly Aragon, whose subject the island then was. Accordingly, in 1487, after some negotiation, Torquemada appointed Fra Antonio de la Peña as the local inquisitor.

The expulsion of the Jews from the island in 1492 added to the number of insincere converts to be found there; but the affairs of the local tribunal fell into a hopeless state of confusion, heightened by the dispute between the contending claims of the Spanish and the papal Inquisitions. At last, in 1500, a reorganization was begun under Montoro, bishop of Ceflú. Regular activities began in 1511, when, in an auto-defé of June 6, eight persons were burned. In 1513, there were three autos-de-fé, 39 persons (mostly relapsed penitents) being burned in all. This activity brought great unpopularity on the head of the Inquisition. On March 7, 1516, on the death of Ferdinand, the mob sacked its headquarters at Palermo, destroyed the records, and drove the inquisitor Cervera to take a ship back to Spain. Three years later, he was sent back with full powers, and, though popular antagonism was not allayed, the tribunal was restored. It was in vain that the parliament petitioned for an amelioration in its procedure. Its activities continued unremittingly: on May 30, 1541 there took place a great auto-de-fé at which 21 persons appeared, 19 of them New Christians. From this period, however, charges of Judaizing gradually diminished, an increasing proportion of Protestants and other heretics figuring in the list. During the long period of Spanish domination, however, the island still continued to receive occasional Converso refugees from the Peninsula. One of the heads of the Sicilian Inquisition, Giovanni *di Giovanni (1699–1753), was the author of the standard account of the Jews in the island, L'Ebraismo della Sicilia (1748). By 1744, it was alleged that the Inquisition of Sicily had handed over for burning 201 living heretics and 279 effigies of the dead or of fugitives. The tribunal was abolished by Ferdinand iv on March 16, 1782, amid great popular rejoicing.


Up to the surrender of the island of Malta to the Knights of St. John in 1530, the Sicilian Inquisition maintained a commissioner there; however, few details are known of his activities. At a later period the Jewish slaves in Malta looked to the inquisitor there for a certain measure of protection in the observance of their religion.


From the 14th century, Sardinia had formed part of the dominions of the crown of Aragon and it therefore, like Sicily, formed a natural haven of refuge for the Conversos of the Peninsula. A branch of the Inquisition was introduced in the year of the expulsion of the Jews (1492), when Micer Sancho Mardia was appointed inquisitor. The popular aversion was extreme, and in 1500 the receiver of the Inquisition was assassinated in Cagliari by some person who had been reduced to poverty by his means. Early in the 16th century, its work was done, and it relapsed into comparative quiescence. Its existence was not ended, however, until the termination of the Spanish rule in 1708. The episcopal Inquisition which succeeded it had little to occupy itself with, all traces of the Conversos having long since disappeared.


The medieval Inquisition in Milan, directed especially against the Cathari, had been stimulated by the popes into fresh activity at the time of the Reformation. An attempt made by Philip ii to introduce the Spanish model was foiled by popular opposition. The papal tribunal was reorganized, however, and put on a firm footing by Carlo *Borromeo. Its principal occupation was dealing with heretics from the neighboring cantons of Switzerland, Conversos not being common in the Milanese territories after the general arrest throughout the Spanish dominions in 1540.


The Dominican Inquisition had been introduced into Naples by Charles of Anjou after the battle of Benevento (1266). Although the Neofiti of the kingdom, forced converts from Judaism at the close of the 13th century, who, like the Conversos of Spain, remained faithful at heart to their ancestral religion for many generations, afforded it an ample field of activity, the Neopolitan Inquisition was generally kept by the government in a state of subjection. In 1449, however, Pope Nicholas V dispatched Fra Matteo da Reggio to Naples as inquisitor to proceed against the numerous Judaizing apostates. After the introduction of the Inquisition into the Peninsula, and particularly on the addition of Naples to the Spanish dominions at the beginning of the 16th century, a large number of Spanish Conversos also sought refuge there, as well as others escaping from the rigors of the new tribunal in Sicily. A further difficulty was offered by the presence of a sizable colony of Christian heretics, the Waldenses from Savoy. At Benevento, which was subject to the popes, an Inquisition under Dominican supervision was established by Julius ii to deal with the problem. To counteract this, Ferdinand the Catholic endeavored to procure the extension of the authority of the new Sicilian tribunal over his possessions on the mainland. The popular opposition was so great, however, that the proposal was abandoned; the same conclusion met other similar attempts in 1510, 1516, and 1547, when a popular rising was provoked by the suggestions. However, the papal Inquisition was extended in scope in 1553 and carried on its work ruthlessly. In 1561, there was a pitiless persecution of the Waldenses in Calabria. Ten years later, there was lively persecution of Judaizers, seven of whom, comprising both Converso refugees and native Neofiti, were sent to Rome and burned at the stake in February 1572. In 1585, Sixtus v established a regular commissioner of the papal Inquisition in Naples, but popular prejudice remained unchanged, and as late as 1747 brought about the removal of certain abuses. By the middle of the 17th century, however, heresy in Naples had been largely stamped out, and little more is heard of Conversos or of Neofiti.

papal states

In Rome the Inquisition maintained a certain authority over the Jews after the issue of the bull Turbato corde of Clement iv in 1267, subsequently repeatedly confirmed, enjoining the Inquisition to proceed not only against renegades but also against those who seduced them from their faith. This was no doubt responsible for the persecution of 1298, in which Elijah de' *Pomi(s) lost his life. Its effects were mitigated in the following year by Boniface viii, who declared that, in spite of their wealth, the Jews were not to be included among the "powerful persons" against whom the Inquisition might proceed without disclosing the names of those who had denounced them. Under the Renaissance popes, the Roman Inquisition was so little vigilant that the Conversos were able to return to Judaism in the Papal States without interference. This period, however, came to an end with the beginning of the Counter-Reformation. In 1542, Paul iii instituted the "Congregation of the Holy Office" (Congregatio Sancti Officii), consisting of six cardinals, with the intention of stimulating it into greater activity. In 1555, Paul iv ordered proceedings to be taken against the Portuguese Converso colony settled, with the sanction of his predecessors, in *Ancona. This resulted in a terrible persecution in which 25 persons were burned alive, 60 sent to slavery in Malta, and many more subjected to other punishments. In 1557, the proselyte to Judaism, Fra Cornelio da Montalcino, was burned at the stake at Rome. Subsequently, several Conversos who ventured to Rome suffered, while others were dispatched there for punishment. Thus at the beginning of 1571, seven Judaizers sent from Naples were burned; in 1583, Diego Lopez and Gabriel Henriques ("Joseph Saraval"), Converso immigrants from Portugal who had settled at Ferrara, suffered martyrdom; in 1640, Ferdinando Alvarez, alias Abraham da Porto, an old man of 76, was burned at the stake. However, in this period the Inquisition in the Papal States was largely occupied with securing the obedience of the Jews to the discriminatory legislation in force against them and in the supervision of the Hebrew literature. Indeed, its reputation among the Jews was not bad: in 1784 the community of Rome petitioned that the supervision of cases where a Jewish child was claimed for baptism should be placed under its control. Similarly in 1711, the Inquisition investigated a charge of ritual murder which had been made against the Jews of Ancona, who were fully absolved.


Elsewhere in Italy, conditions were much the same. Thus at Mantua Solomon *Molcho was burned in 1532 as an apostate Judaizer. In the same place, an old woman named Judith Franchetti was burned alive for sorcery in 1600 at the age of 77: the main charge against her was that she had persuaded a certain nun to embrace Judaism.


The Inquisition at Venice, one of the principal centers of refuge for the Conversos from the Peninsula, similarly dealt with many Jewish cases. Between 1557 and 1711 the records of no less than 80 are preserved. Of these, approximately one-third are concerned with immigrants from Spain and Portugal; the rest deal with insincere local converts and with technical offenses committed by conforming Jews. Notable amongst the latter is a case against Leone *Modena, who for the sake of security voluntarily denounced the uncensored Paris edition of his Historia de' Riti ebraici (1637). The persecution of the Conversos in Venice by the Inquisition reached its height in the decade 1558–68, when Fra Felice Peretti da Montalto (later Pope Sixtus v) was inquisitor. In comparison with the Roman tribunal, however, it was humane, and never seems to have proceeded to any sentence of death.


In Florence, the Inquisition seems to have restricted itself to a considerable degree to the supervision and encouragement of apostates to Christianity. However, it also prosecuted a number of Conversos from Spain and Portugal resident in the city, especially in the first decade of the 17th century. In Pisa and Leghorn, the operation of the Inquisition against the Conversos was expressly limited by the concessions of 1593, which were confirmed in the case of Jacob Gutiérrez Penha in 1730.


In the course of time, the Spanish Inquisition evolved an elaborate procedure of its own. When a tribunal was opened at any place, an edict of grace would be published, inviting those conscious of heresy to come forward and make confession within a "period of grace," generally of 30 or 40 days. After the lapse of this period they could be proceeded against by Inquisition officers. At later stages, an edict of faith would periodically be issued, summoning all persons, under pain of excommunication, to denounce to the authorities all offenses enumerated in it of which he might have cognizance. These invariably comprised all those popularly associated with Judaism: lighting candles on Friday evening, changing the linen on the Sabbath, abstaining from pork and scaleless fishes, observing the Jewish holidays and especially the Day of Atonement and the fast of Esther, laying out the dead according to the Jewish custom, etc. By this means, the whole population became accomplices of the Inquisition in its task of eradicating heresy; and the denunciation of one of the customs mentioned above, performed absentmindedly or by mere force of habit, was frequently sufficient to bring a man to the stake.

arrest and evidence

Everything took place under the greatest secrecy, which became one of the main terrors of the Inquisition. Any breach of this was liable to be punished with the utmost severity, like heresy itself. From the moment of arrest, therefore, the utmost segregation obtained. The accused persons were confined in the dungeons of the Inquisition, such as may still be seen in Évora and elsewhere. As was inevitable, there were sometimes terrible abuses, women suffering especially; and it happened more than once that female prisoners were dragged pregnant to the stake.

The rules governing evidence were so devised as to exclude all witnesses who were likely to be of any use to the prisoner, on the ground that their evidence would be untrust-worthy. No such scruples, however, prevailed with regard to witnesses for the prosecution, who were frequently inspired merely by venom. Moreover, the names of the accusers were suppressed, though originally this was supposed to be permissible only in the case of "powerful persons" who might intimidate the witnesses. The accusers and accused were thus never confronted. The evidence admitted was flimsy in the extreme: mere regard for personal cleanliness might be sufficient to convict a man of Judaism or Islam, and so cost him his life. Once the accusation was made, the subsequent procedure was based upon a desire to make the accused person confess his crime and thus be admitted to penitence. If this was not forthcoming spontaneously, in accordance with the spirit of the age, torture might be applied: though as a matter of fact in this particular instance the Spanish Inquisition, notorious though its cruelties were, compared favorably with the Roman, where torture might be continued even after confession in order to extort the names of accomplices. Death under torture was by no means uncommon. In most cases, however, the physician who was present enforced sufficient moderation to avoid this conclusion. Generally, the torture was abundantly sufficient to elicit a confession, if one had been withheld up to that point. It was imposed in most cases only to procure the confession of what the inquisitors already knew or suspected. The cases in which a condemnation was avoided were therefore few in the extreme. Thus, in the Toledo tribunal between the years 1484 to 1531 they totaled on an average less than two yearly. In the Portuguese Inquisition, the number of condemnations came to well over three-quarters of the total number of cases tried.


Often, in the case of any convicted person who professed repentance, "reconciliation" followed and the defendant was restored to the bosom of the Church. In such a reconciliation the defendant had to abjure either de levi or de vehementi. A transgressor of a de levi reconciliation may perhaps be punished to abjure de vehementi. This, paradoxically enough, being itself considered a punishment since the convicted person had to participate in the procession of the auto-da-fé, and had to do many penances, pilgrimages to holy shrines etc. There were two forms of reconciliation de vehementi, and a slight transgression from Christianity would be considered a relapse into the old sins. Harsher penalties in force included scourging, very common in the early period but remitted more and more frequently as time went on. This was executed publicly under every humiliating circumstance. Similar, with the omission of the lashes, was the verguenza, which consisted of the offender parading in the town stripped to the waist and bearing the insignia of the offense, the towncrier meanwhile proclaiming the sentence. The mordaza or gag was sometimes applied, this being regarded as increasing the humiliation of the punishment. In abjurations de levi, he added that in case of failing in his promise to comply with punishment he should be held as impenitent: in abjurations de vehementi, that in such a case he should be considered and treated as a relapsed heretic. A reconciliation of this sort could be performed only once and any subsequent conviction was taken as an obvious proof that the original penitence had been insincere and the culprit was condemned to the stake.

The reconciliation was invariably accompanied by a punishment of varying intensity. More severe was the penalty of the galleys, an economical device of Ferdinand the Catholic whereby the punishment of heresy was turned to the benefit of the state and which was adopted by the Roman Inquisition. In 1573, and again in 1591, the Suprema ordered that all Conversos, even when confessing their crime freely, should be sent to the galleys, and it remained a penalty very frequently inflicted upon secret Jews. In the course of the 18th century, other types of penal servitude were substituted. For women, forced service in hospitals or houses of correction was the alternative.

Perpetual incarceration was another common form of punishment; though the prison was known by the euphemistic title of casa de la penitencia or de la misericordia. At a later period, the duration of the imprisonment was generally decreased, persons being released after eight years or even less, though the title of the punishment officially remained the same. Among the other punishments may be mentioned that of exile or exclusion from certain places, and the custom of razing to the ground the house of any particularly heinous offender or one in which heretical – especially Jewish – services had been held.

It was not only in his own person that any person convicted of a serious offense by the Inquisition was punished. A number of disabilities followed which fell not only on those penanced but also on their children and their male descendants for two generations to come: they were not allowed to enter Holy Orders; they were excluded from any public dignity; they were not permitted to become physicians, apothecaries, tutors of the young, advocates, scriveners, or farmers of revenue; they were subjected to certain sumptuary laws, not being permitted to wear cloth of gold or silver or precious stones, to bear arms, or to ride on horseback. Neglect of these provisions, sometimes even after the lapse of several generations, brought the offender once more into the clutches of the Inquisition. However, infractions were generally punished only by a fine, and the sale of rehabilitation ultimately became very common.

One of the strongest weapons of the Inquisition was the power it had of confiscating the property of those convicted of heresy. At the beginning, the proceeds were devoted to the use of the crown, but they gradually devolved more and more upon the Inquisition itself. In the early period, general arrangements on the part of the New Christians to save themselves from arbitrary confiscation were not uncommon, but this practice speedily died out. It was through this power that the Inquisition was raised into a corporation of such vast influence and wealth. Above all, it made it overwhelmingly to its interest to procure the conviction of all who were brought before it, especially when they were persons of great means. Nothing else, perhaps, was more instrumental in draining the Peninsula of its accumulated wealth during the course of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. It was a weapon which struck at the whole of a man's family, and might reduce it in a moment from affluence to beggary, while through its means the economic life of the whole country was liable to be disorganized.

the death penalty

The final sanction of the Inquisition was that of death. As an ecclesiastical body, however, it was not permitted itself to be a party to this. It therefore "relaxed" the convicted person to the secular arm, with a formal recommendation for mercy, adding that if it were found necessary to proceed to the extreme penalty, it should be done "without effusion of blood" – that is, by burning. This was an old legal fiction of the Catholic Church dating back to the 11th or 12th century; and the mode of punishment was justified by a text in John 15:6: "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."

Generally speaking, the extreme penalty was reserved for those who refused the opportunity for repentance: either the contumacios, who gloried in their crime and died true martyrs; or the "relapsed," who had been reconciled on some previous occasion and whose backsliding proved their insincerity; or the diminutos, whose confession was incomplete and who shielded their accomplices; or the negativos, who refused to confess to the charges made against them in the hope of escaping conviction. In this last category there must necessarily have been included on occasion some who were absolutely innocent of the crimes imputed to them and would not confess to falsehood even to escape death. The fact that such persons were condemned to the flames shows clearly on what sure ground the Inquisition generally felt itself. "Dogmatizers," or those who, whether baptized or not, propagated heretical views were also regarded as inevitable victims, and in the earlier period of the Inquisition many fervent professing Jews suffered under this head. However, by no means all of those executed capitally were burned alive. A profession of repentance, even after condemnation, was almost always effective in securing preliminary garroting, only the corpse then being burned at the stake. The effigies of fugitives, with the bones of those who had escaped justice by death (sometimes in prison or under torture) would similarly be committed to the flames. Those burned in effigy on certain occasions sometimes totaled something like half as many as those burned in person. This was far from an empty formality, as the condemnation secured the confiscation of their property, while reconciliation was in such cases obviously outside the bounds of possibility.

the autos-da-fé

The sentences of the Inquisition were announced at the so-called Act of Faith: *auto-de-fé as it was termed in Spain and auto-da-fé in Portugal. For lighter offenses, the ceremonial might be private (auto particular or autillo), in which case it would be held in a church; but this was rarely resorted to for so grave a crime as Judaizing, particularly as it was considered wrong to pronounce a sentence of death in the sacred precincts. In most cases, the ceremony was public (auto publico general). This ultimately became the subject of elaborate organization. The ceremony would take place on some feast day in the principal square of the city. Ample notice was given so as to attract as large a group of spectators as possible, spiritual benefits being promised to all who were present. Two stagings were erected at vast expense – one for those convicted and their spiritual attendants, and the other for the inquisitors and the rest of the authorities, while a temporary altar, draped in black, was set up in the middle.

The proceedings would be opened by a procession in which all the clergy of the city took part. Behind them followed those condemned to appear. All those abjuring de vehementi had to carry lighted tapers in their hands and to wear the sanbenito or saco bendito (the abito as it was called in the official sentence). This, which was an innovation of the Spanish Inquisition, consisted of a long yellow robe, transversed by a black cross (in the case of those convicted of formal heresy alone, only one of the arms was necessary). In case the heretic had escaped the stake by confession, flames were painted on the garment, which was sometimes of black. Those condemned to be burned bore in addition pictures of demons thrusting the heretical into hell, while they wore tall miters similarly adorned for additional prominence (the use of these, which were worn in different forms also by bigamists and perjurers, was forbidden by the Roman Inquisition in 1596). In certain cases, as an additional punishment, the sanbenito had to be worn in public even after the release of the prisoner, exposing him to universal scorn and derision. After it was removed, it was generally hung up in the parish church of the delinquent accompanied by a fitting inscription, thus marking out the wearer and his family for lasting humiliation. These memorials of shame were destroyed only with the abolition of the Inquisition in the early years of the 19th century.

When the procession had arrived in the square where the auto-da-fé was to be celebrated, amid general scorn the penitents would take their place on the scaffolding reserved for them. A sermon would then be preached by some distinguished cleric, directed especially against the penitents, upon whose heads a torrent of the most unsparing insults would be poured. They would then appear one by one before the pulpit to hear their sentences, which would hitherto have been kept a profound secret. This took some time, the proceedings often being protracted into night and sometimes being spread over two or even three days. The sentences of those "relaxed" to the secular arm were left to the last. They were then formally condemned to death by the civil magistrate and escorted to the quemadero (or brasero), the place of burning, by a detachment of soldiers, whose presence was sometimes necessary to save them from a violent but more humane death at the hands of the infuriated mob. To light the brand with which the pyre was kindled was considered a religious duty and honor of the highest degree and frequently fell to the lot of visiting royalty. The ashes of the victims were supposed to be scattered to the winds. A repentant heretic would sometimes be strangled before being burned.

During the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, the auto-de-fé came to be regarded as a great public spectacle in the Peninsula and its dependencies, vying in popular appeal with bullfights. Especially splendid celebrations would sometimes be arranged in honor of royalty: thus on Feb. 24/5, 1560, an auto-de-fé was held at Toledo to celebrate the visit of Philip II and his bride, Isabella of Valois; the tribunal of Madrid was inaugurated on July 4, 1632 by an auto-de-fé in celebration of the safe delivery of the queen; but the climax was reached on June 30, 1680 on the Plaza Mayor of the same city, in the presence of Charles ii and his bride, Marie Louise d'Orléans, in honor of their marriage. At this, which began at six o'clock in the morning and lasted 14 hours, no less than 51 persons were burned either in person or in effigy, the king himself setting light to the brand which kindled the quemadero. This, as a great court spectacle, formed the subject of a painting by Rizi. It was the last great solemnity of its kind, as Philip v, the first of the Bourbon line, refused (in 1701) to grace with his presence one arranged in honor of his accession, and the usage was henceforth abandoned.

Accounts of the auto-da-fé, giving full details of the names of the victims and the nature of their punishment, with particulars of who was burned alive, who after garroting, or who in effigy, were subsequently printed and hawked about the streets: they form one of the main sources of information for the proceedings. Similarly, the sermons preached at the auto-da-fé were often subsequently published: in Portuguese alone, about 75 are extant in print. They speak of the penitents often as Jews, and in terms of the most outrageous vituperation. Most noteworthy is the sermon delivered on Sept. 6, 1705, at the great auto-da-fé held at Lisbon by the archbishop of Cranganore which was notable for the violence of its language: it was answered by David *Nieto, haham in London, in a crushing pamphlet which is a masterpiece of polemic and was not without influence in weakening the prestige and destroying the influence of the Inquisition in Portugal. On the other hand, counterparts of these pamphlets were sometimes issued at Amsterdam and elsewhere, where the local rabbis and poets would mourn the death of their martyrs in sermons and elegies. A noteworthy example is the volume of collected pieces published on the occasion of the martyrdom of Abraham Nuñes *Bernal at Córdoba in 1655. In the prayer books printed for the use of the Converso communities abroad at this period there is included a special *Ashkavah beginning "God of Vengeance" to be recited in the synagogue in memory of "those burned for the Sanctification of the Name."

It was in Portugal that the New Christians formed the most important element in the population, and there accordingly that the victims of the Inquisition were the most illustrious. Among the most noteworthy of the martyrs, a few names may be mentioned: Luis *Dias of *Setúal, a poor tailor of Setúbal who claimed to be the Messiah (1540); Gonçalo Bandarra, the prophet of Sebastianism (1540); perhaps the famous David *Reuveni, probably burned c. 1538; Antonio *Homem, professor of Canon Law at the University of Coimbra, who officiated as rabbi at a secret synagogue in that city (1624); Fra Diogo da *Assumpção, a promising theologian, who remained revered by the Conversos as a martyr many years after his death (1603); Lope de *Vera y Alarcon, a young noble who circumcised himself and went by the name of Judah the Believer (1644); Isaac de *Castro Tartas, whose fortitude made a deep impression on all who came into touch with him (1647); Manuel Fernandes *Villareal, poet and diplomat (1652); and Antonio José da *Silva, the dramatist (1739). Many other persons (such as Tome Vaz, the jurist, or Andre d'Avelar and Pedro Nuñes, the mathematicians) suffered lesser penalties. In Spain, among the illustrious victims may be mentioned Felipe *Godínez, the poet, who was reconciled at Seville in 1624, and Antonio *Gómez*Enríquez (Henriquez), the playwright, who was burned in effigy at Madrid in 1680.


general, spain and castile: E. van der Vekené, Bibliographie der Inquisition (1963); H.C. Lea, History of the Inquisition of Spain, 4 vols. (1906); E.N. Adler, Auto de Fe and Jew (1908); Baer, Urkunden, index; Baer, Spain, index; C. Roth, History of the Marranos (1932); idem, The Spanish Inquisition (1938); B. Ilorca, La Inquisición en España (1946); Ḥ. Beinart, Anusim be-Din ha-Inkeviziẓyah (1965; English trans. Conversos on Trial (1981)). add. bibliography: H. Beinart, Records of the Trial of the Spanish Inquisition in Ciudad Real (1974–5), 4 vols.; idem, in: Mediaeval Studies, 43 (1981), 445–71; J.P. Villanueva, ed., La Inquisición española; nueva visión, nuevos horizantes (1980); J.M. García Fuentes, La Inquisición en Granada en el siglo xvi (1981); J. Contreras, in: Estudios de historia social 20/21 (1982), 429–45; idem, El Santo oficio de la Inquisición en Galicia, 15601700 (1982); E. van der Vekené, Bibliotheca bibliographica historiae sanctae inquisitioni (1982–83), 2 vols.; J.M. Monsalvo Antón, in: Studia historica, 2:2 (1984), 109–39; A. Alcalá, ed., Inquisición española y mentalidad inquisitorial (1984); Y. Kaplan (ed.), Jews and Conversos; Studies in Society and the Inquisition (1985); J. Blázquez Miguel, La Inquisición en Albacete (1985); idem, La Inquisición en Castilla-La Mancha (1986); idem, El tribunal de la Inquisición en Murcia (1986); idem, Inquisición y criptojudaísmo (1988); idem, in Hispaniasacra, 40 (1988), 133–64; idem, Judíos, herejes y brujas (1990); H. Kamen, Inquisition and Society in Spain in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1985); idem, in: Bulletin hispanique 88 (1986), 321–56; C. Carrete Parrondo, El Tribunal de la Inquisición en el Obispado de Soria (14861502) (1985); idem, Proceso inquisitorial contra los Arias Dávila segovianos: un enfrentamiento social entre judíos y conversos (1986); R. Levine-Melammed, in: paajr, 53 (1986), 91–109; J.I. Gutiérrez Nieto, in: El siglo del Quijote (15801680). vol. 1, Religión, filosofía, ciencia (1986), 645–792; A. Cascales Ramos, La Inquisición en Andalucía (1986); B.R. Gampel, in: J. Stampfer (ed.), The Sephardim: A Cultural Journey from Spain to the Pacific Coast (1987), 36–57; A. Alcalá (ed.), The Spanish Inquisition and the Inquisitorial Mind (1987); S. Haliczer (ed.), Inquisition and Society in Early Modern Europe (1987); M.A. Bel Bravo, El auto-de-fe de 1593. Los conversos granadinos de origen judío (1988); R. de Lera García, in: Sefarad, 47 (1987), 87–137; idem, in: Inquisição (1989–90), vol. 3, 1087–1108; L. Coronas Tejada, Conversos and Inquisition in Jaén (1988); J. Belmonte Díaz, Judíos e Inquisición en Ávila (1989); J-P. Dedieu, L'administration de la foi: L'Inquisition de Tolède, xvie–xviiesiècle (1989); J. Martínez Millán, in: Sefarad, 49 (1989), 307–63; J.A. Ollero Pina, in: Hispania sacra, 40 (1988), 45–105; W. Monter, Frontiers of Heresy: The Spanish Inquisition from the Basque Lands to Sicily (1990); J.M. de Bujanda, in: M.E. Perry and A.J. Cruz (eds.), Cultural Encounters: The Impact of the Inquisition in Spain and the New World (1991), 221–47; F. García Ivars, La represión en el tribunal inquisitorial de Granada, 15501819 (1991); B. Netanyahu, The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain (1992); C. Carrete Parrondo and Ma. F. García Casar, El Tribunal de la Inquisición de Sigüenza, 14921505 (1997). crown of aragon (Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia and Majorca): B. Braunstein, The Chuetas of Majorca (1936); M. Ardit, L'inquisición al País Valenciá (1970); E. Fort I Cogul, Catalunua I la Inquisición (1973); J. Ventura Subirats, in: Cuadernos de historia económica de Cataluña, 14 (1976), 79–131; R. Garcia Cárcel, Orígenes de la Inquisición española: el Tribunal de Valencia, 14781530 (1976); J. Ventura Subirats, Inquisición espanyola I cultura renaixentista al País Valenciá (1978; J. Perarnau, in: Revista catalana de teología, 4 (1979), 309–53; A. Alcalá, Los orígenes de la Inquisición en Aragón (1984); A. Blasco Martínez, in: Aragón en la Edad Media, 7 (1988), 81–96; J.L. Palos, in: L'Avenc, 47 (marc 1982), 21–31; J. Edwards, in: rej, 143 (1984), 333–50; A.S. Selke, The Conversos of Majorca (1986); Y. Assis, in: Mediaeval Studies, 49 (1987), 391–410; J. Riera I Sans, in: Aplec de treballs, 8 (1987), 59–73; J. Blázquez Miguel, La Inquisición en Cataluña (1990); S. Haliczer, Inquisition and Society in the Kingdom of Valencia, 14781834 (1990); navarre and the basque country: I. Reguera, La Inqisición española en el País Vasco (1984); canary islands: H. Beinart, in: Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 25 (1977), 48–86; idem, in: Helmantica, 28 (1977), 23–32; L.A. Anaya Hernández, in: Inquisição, vol. 1(1989–90), 161–76; portugal: A. Herculano de Carvalho, History of the Origin and Establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal (1926); A. Baião, A Inquisição em Portugal e no Brasil (1921); J.L. D'Azevedo, Historia dos Christãos Novos Portugueses (1922); A.J. Teixeira, Antonio Homem e a Inquisção (1902); N. Slouschz, Ha-Anusim be-Portugal (1932). add. bibliography: R. Carrasco, in: Hispania 166 (1987), 503–59; america: J.T. Medina, Historia del Santo Oficio en Cartagena de las Indias (1889); idem, Historia del Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición de Lima (19562); idem, La Inquisición en el Rio de la Plata (1945); idem, La Imprenta de Bogotá y la Inquisición en Cartagena de las Indias (1952); idem, Historia del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición en Chile (1952); idem, Historia del Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición de México (1905); H.C. Lea, The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies (1908); A. Toro, Los Judíos en la Nueva España (1932); Mariel de Ibáñez, La Inquisición en México durante el siglo xvi (1946); E. Chinchilla Aguilar, La Inquisición en Guatemala (1953); A. Wiznitzer, Jews in Colonial Brazil (1960); S.B. Liebman, A Guide to Jewish References in the Mexican Colonial Era, 15211821 (1964); idem, The Enlightened: The Writings of Luis de Carvajal, el Mozo (1967); L. García de Proodián, Los Judíos en américa (1966); B. Lewin, La Inquisición en Hispanoamérica (1962); idem, Los Judíos bajo la Inquisición en Hispanoamérica (1960).

[Cecil Roth /

Yom Tov Assis (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 21 2018


A form of legal procedure best known for its adoption by papally appointed inquisitors "of heretical depravity" in the thirteenth century and institutionalized in Spain and elsewhere in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Much caricatured and misrepresented between the sixteenth and the twenty-first centuries.

The Origins: The Problem of Clerical Discipline. Originally inquisitio was a form of legal procedure in classical Roman law in which a single magistrate supervised an entire case, from investigation to judgment. The procedure increased in use during the later Roman empire, when the law, both civil and criminal, became largely administrative, although it fell into disuse in the early folk-kingdoms and the Carolingian empire between the fourth and ninth centuries, when other legal procedures, notably those of accusation, denunciation, and ordeal, were more commonly used, except for some matters that touched directly the ruler's person and property.

In a decretal letter, Licet Heli, of Dec. 10, 1199, however, innocent iii (11981216) addressed the problems of both clerical misbehavior and prelatal negligence in imposing discipline on criminous clerks, "against whom, so that notorious excesses shall cease, there are three kinds of procedure possible: accusation, denunciation, and inquisition about them." Accusation was the older procedure, also grounded in Roman law and therefore ancient, but it required that an accuser willing to lay a formal charge, pay the court expenses, and risk a penalty if the accusation failed. Denunciation was justified by the exegesis of Mt 18:1517, which required first, fraternal admonition and was aimed primarily at the rehabilitation of the offender rather than punishment. Inquisition, initially only into the reputation of the suspect and the degree of notoriety of the offense, proved to be more efficient and controllable than either of these procedures and was now added to denunciation when the offense was so notorious that it created a scandal in the Christian community.

Notoriety of the offense and the reputation of the accused were widely discussed by twelfth-century jurists, and several argued that under such circumstances ecclesiastical judges might dispense with formal procedural rules of written charges and taking evidence, although jurists also tended to restrict the number of offenses that could be classed as notorious. In identifying inquisition as a legitimate procedure in cases of notoriety, Innocent III cited God's response to the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah in Gn 18:21: "I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know, " and Lk 16:17, the case of the rich man who heard that his steward had squandered his property and demanded an accounting. Any prelate, Innocent says, who hears a public outcry or repeated complaints about a clerical offender, "ought to go and see, that is, send and inquire, whether the outcry indicates the truth. " That is, all prelates have the right and responsibility to conduct an inquiry into charges of clerical misconduct within their jurisdictions that come to their attention.

Innocent III was acutely sensitive to the responsibilities of prelates, and in a slightly earlier letter to the archbishop of Naples and the papal legate Cinthio he had also cited the biblical case of the priest Eli (1 Sm 1, 34, 18) who refused to restrain his sons from wrongdoing and suffered the wrath of God because of it. Episcopal responsibilities included formal visitations of institutions within their dioceses, and Innocent reminded them that they could use inquisition ex officio. In canon 8, Qualiter et quando, of the Fourth lateran council of 1215, Innocent went further. He identified inquisitio as the standard procedure for use in ecclesiastical courts. He supported canon 8 with two further canons. In canon 18, Innocent prohibited clergy from participating in ordeals, and in canon 38 he required ecclesiastical judges to keep a scribe whose written record of every trial could be accurately reviewed upon appeal. In effect, by introducing, then standardizing inquisitorial procedure in criminal cases involving clergy, Innocent III had begun a revolution in criminal legal procedure that later went far beyond the disciplining of criminous clergy.

The problem of clerical misconduct was one of the main themes of the vast movement for ecclesiastical reform associated with the name of gregory vii in the late eleventh century. In an attempt to distinguish clerical from lay status and prevent the pollution of clerical status, the reformers prohibited clergy from marrying or engaging in sexual activity (Nicolaitism) and from accepting any ecclesiastical office from a layman (Simony). Through the twelfth century, clerical discipline for these and other offenses remained prominent on the agenda of popes, reform-minded prelates, and church councils. Innocent's rulings between 1199 and 1215 offered an efficient and authoritative legal procedure that could be controlled by appellate review and thus reflect juridically the ecclesiological hierarchy in the Church.

Inquisitorial Procedure in Canon Law. Innocent's rulings in these matters extended far beyond the immediate recipients of his letters and judicial decisions. In 1210 Innocent instructed petrus beneventanus to make a selection of the decretal letters of the first 12 years of his pontificate, the Compilatio Tertia, which was to be sent to the masters and students of the law school at bologna and taught as canon law for all of Christendom.

The classical age of canon law had begun (as is now known) with the two successive versions of the Concordance of discordant canons, or Decretum, attributed to Master gratian and taught and commented on at Bologna, then in Paris, the Rhineland, and England since shortly after the middle of the twelfth century. The Decretum was supplemented by two informal collections of papal letters subsequent to Gratian, the Brevarium extravagantium, or Compilatio prima, by bernard of pavia, topically divided into five books and each book subdivided into titles and chaptersthe standard form for subsequent collections of canon lawand a later collection called the Compilatio secunda.

After the Compilatio tertia two later informal collections circulated until the authoritative Liber Extra issued by gregory ix (12271241) in 1234 made obsolete all five collections subsequent to Gratian. Book V of the Liber Extra was devoted to crimes and procedures against their perpetrators, and it is from there that Innocent III's reforms were taught, commented upon, and learned by canon lawyers.

The Problem of Heterodoxy. By the early twelfth century the Latin Christian Church had constructed a firm basis for the definition of orthodox belief, based on an increasingly standardized interpretation of scripture, the concept of authoritative apostolic tradition handed down through bishops, councils, and popes, and a standardized creed. The laws of the Christian Roman emperors included sanctions against heterodox beliefs and those who held them. Writings by the Church Fathers, particularly St. Augustine and Isidore of Seville, described and catalogued early heretical movements, and these were read for centuries and recapitulated in the popular Sermons on the Song of Songs by St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the early twelfth century. Until the eleventh century, however, debates concerning heretical beliefs were usually conducted among the learned.

Ecclesiastical reformers in the later eleventh century defined simony as a heresy, and twelfth-century churchmen used the term to designate other dissenting movements as well, followers of popular teachers whose doctrines were perceived to deviate from the more and more sharply defined content of orthodoxy. By the early thirteenth century the definition attributed to robert grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, may serve as a working definition: "Heresy is an opinion chosen by human faculties, contrary to Holy Scripture, openly taught, and pertinaciously defended." That is, heresy was heteodox religious doctrine discovered by purely human error, contrary to orthodox authoritative teaching, but also openly taught (not secretly held) and persisted in after authoritative correction (and therefore pertinacious, a willful and public denial of the teaching authority of the Church). In the thirteenth century heresy was also described by churchmen as contumaciousopenly contemptuous of ecclesiastical authority.

Responses to Heresy: Persuasio and Coercitio. Some eleventh and twelfth-century churchmen advocated patient, instructive toleration of heterodox belief. Others urged extensive magisterial preaching to teach people true doctrine. This pastoral effort continued during the pontificate of Innocent III and led to Innocent's approval of a number of formerly dissenting evangelical groups, notably the humiliati, and his approval of the new mendicant orders, the dominicans and franciscans. Individual twelfth-century bishops, lacking a reliable, authoritiative guide in law, usually resorted to the excommunication and exile of convicted heretics. In some eleventh-and twelfth-century instances local mob rule, possibly influenced by local authorities, took justice into its own hands. Gratian included a number of authoritative earlier texts on heresy in the second part of his Decretum, but it took several decades for a consistent corpus of teaching doctrine to be assembled and deployed throughout Europe.

Several twelfth-century church councils also issued legislation concerning heresy. The Second lateran council of 1139 required secular rulers to prosecute heresy. Pope alexander iii (11591181) was also vigorous in his attempts to impose suitable penalties for heresy. The Third Lateran Council of 1179 identified several heretical groups by name and urged the use of excommunication and denial of Christian burial to those found to be heretics. At the same time, bishops were also urged to use synodal witnesses, men of good local reputation who could issue a denunciatio of suspected heretics without incurring the liabilities of formal accusers. In 1184 Pope lucius iii (11811185) issued the decretal letter Ad abolendam, which condemned the "insolence" of heretics and "their attempts to promote falsehood." Here are the grounds for the second part of Grosseteste's definitionpublic teaching and contumacious refusal to be taught and corrected. Lucius also insisted upon two annual episcopal visitations to any part of a diocese where heresy has been reported and that lay authorities are required to cooperate with ecclesiastical authorities.

In 1199 Innocent III issued the decretal Vergentis in senium, which incorporated much of Ad abolendam, but also identified heresy with the doctrine of treason in Roman law. If treason against the Roman emperor were such a great crime, argued Innocent, how much greater a crime was treason to God? In the decretal Cum ex officii nostri of 1207, Innocent stated that convicted heretics should be turned over to secular authority for punishment, that their property should be confiscated and sold, their houses should be levelled to the ground, and that even sympathizers of heretics should be fined one-fourth of their property.

In 1208, following the murder of the papal legate peter of castelnau, Innocent launched his next response to the dangers of heresy in a local population, when he invoked the recently-formulated doctrine of crusade privileges and commissioned an army to extirpate heresy in southern Francethe so-called Albigensian Crusade (12081229).

The Council of Toulouse in 1229 and the rulers of France and Sicily in the next few years urged the active seeking out and punishing of heretics by royal officials. Roffredus Beneventanus, a jurist in the service of Frederick II of Sicily, argued that inquisitorial procedure had been invented in classical Roman law and therefore could be employed by secular, especially imperial, courts. The Constitutions of Melfi, issued by Frederick II in 1231, also vigorously attacked the treason of heretics and established inquisition as an extraordinary procedure to be used in the detection of serious crimes, although for heresy the judges must be churchmen. From here, such doctrines also were adopted by the increasingly independent city-republics of northern Italy and in other territories and eventually established as part of the Romano-Canonical procedures of ius commune throughout continental Europe.

In inquisitorial procedure, jurists stated that the bad reputation of the accused acted in place of the formal accuser, that the accused could be legally summoned and questioned under oath, and the testimony of sworn witnesses as to both reputation and fact was acceptable against him. Normally the accused had the right to know the names of witnesses against him, but as early as 1229 the fear of local reprisals led a judge to conceal the names of witnesses, a procedure that survived in many inquisitorial courts that tried heresy.

The system of acceptable proofs in the ius commune procedure required either the identical testimony of two eyewitnesses or confession in order to convict. Without either of these, the judge had only partial evidence, no amount of which was sufficient to convict. Such evidence, however, could be weighed as indicia of different degrees of value, and when the judge was convinced that the indicia indicated guilt, he could order that the accused be tortured, but only to secure a confession. With the adoption of inquisitorial procedure in secular courts, torture also was adopted, along with rules of evidence and due process. In 1252 Pope innocent iv (12431254) issued the decretal Ad extirpanda, which classified heretics as thieves of spiritual things and murderers of the soul, and he authorized secular courts in Italy to employ judicial torture in order to secure confessions in heresy trials, just as they already could in other criminal cases.

Inquisitors of Heretical Depravity. One of the most important institutional products of the late eleventh-century movement of ecclesiastical reform was the increasing office of the papal judge-delegate, a clerical official who was given papal authority to decide a particular case, work for a particular period of time, or in a specific area. Papal judges-delegate might also in some cases commission judges sub-delegate. The institution took some of the burdens of litigation off the shoulders of the Pope, while making it clear that the judge-delegate's jurisdiction was papally authorized. Between 1227 and 1233 gregory ix (12271241) appointed judges-delegate the Rhineland and in Burgundy whose irregular and uncontrolled activities brought heavy criticism. In 1231 Gregory reissued much earlier legislation against heretics and laid down the rule that repentant heretics were to be imprisoned for life, while unrepentant heretics were to be turned over to the secular arm for capital punishment. Gregory also charged specific judges-delegate to preach in areas where heresy was known to exist, inquire and discover heretics, their helpers, and defenders, and either reconcile them with the Church or turn them over to the secular arm for secular punishment. Gregory also indicated that other members of the mendicant orders were not to participate in these activities, since they were specialized and required particular skills.

In 1233 Gregory took a further step. He established papal judges-delegate in southern France in the wake of the recent crusade, pointing out to local bishops that the Dominicans appointed were to supplement the bishops' own inquiries. Eventually, inquisitors in particular places assumed more and more of this formerly episcopal function. By 1235 the procedures in inquisitions of heretical depravity in southern France began to be regularized: inquisitors delivered a public sermon and call for confessions, established a "period of grace" in which voluntary confessions would receive lighter penalties, and the names of suspected heretics would be gathered. Testimony, confessions, and sentences were recorded in special registers. Although local resistance to these procedures delayed the development of the process, the growing papal concerns and increasing cooperation of secular authorities continued to develop what has been called a unique "technology of power."

The most extensive inquisitorial investigation of heretical depravity occurred in the area around Toulouse during two hundred and one days between May 1245 and August 1246, when two inquisitors interrogated 5471 men and women and issued two hundred and seven sentences against convicted heretics, of which 23 consisted of perpetual imprisonment and 184 required the convicted to wear distinctive yellow crosses on their clothing. The sentences included no confiscation of property, nor was anyone sentenced to death. The inquisitors at Toulouse also produced a specialized manual of instruction for other inquisitors in 1248 or 1249, the first example of what became an important genre of legal literature. The manual gave sample forms of the citation of witnesses, the period of grace, formulas for interrogation, forms of summons, and instructions for reconciliation and punishment. By 1250 the office of inquisitor of heretical depravity was becoming a specialized function, especially among trained members of the mendicant Orders whose work distinguished them from other members of the Orders. The development of punitive and penitential imprisonment was an innovation of the inquisitors, the ancestor of the modern prison system, since it was taken up at the end of the thirteenth century by a number of Italian city-republics and later spread to northern Europe.

During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, both the inquisitorial judicial procedure and the appointment of inquisitors of heretical depravity spread rapidly, as learned Romano-canon law, the ius commune, spread northward in Europe, and popes (and occasionally bishops) undertook inquisitions against heresy in different parts of Christendom. One of the best-known instances was the episcopal inquisition carried out by Jacques Fournier, bishop of Pamiers (13181325). Inquisitorial archives provided a record and a history of heresy in particular places; manuals for inquisitors grew more specialized and longer, from the manual by Bernard Gui in 1324 to the immense manual, the Directorium Inquisitorum of Nicholau Eymeric in 1376, the first manual to be printed and the most influential inquisitor's manual in history. Popes and other authorities insisted that inquisitors of heretical depravity observe due process, allow all legal defenses, withhold the names of witnesses only when revealing them would place the witnesses in real danger, and permit legal counsel except in the cases of convicted heretics. Appeals were allowed. But testimony was also accepted from witnesses who would be otherwise disqualified, a practice that was also followed in secular courts for so-called excepted crimes, particularly treason. And a number of inquisitorial tribunals dealing with heresy tended increasingly to require that the defendant know something about the law, because the judge recognized no obligation to inform defendants of their rights. The trial of Joan of Arc in 1431 is the best known example of a (in this case highly irregular and politically dominated) court violating generally recognized inquisitorial procedures. In Joan's second inquisitorial trial, that of 1456, which followed proper inquisitorial procedures, the earlier verdict was reversed.

The Inquisitions of Spain and Portugal. Inquisitors of heretical depravity technically had little jurisdiction over Jews and Muslims, except in cases where members of these groups had converted to Christianity and then returned to their original faiths and in a few other instances, mostly concerning their relations with Christians. In the Iberian Peninsula, however, a series of pogroms beginning in 1391 had led to an extraordinary number of Jewish conversions to Christianity and to the creation of a group of converted Jews known as conversos or New Christians, nuevos cristianos. The prominence of conversos in fifteenth-century Iberian society, with increasing anti-semitism, led Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon to request from the Pope the establishment of an inquisitorial tribunal in Spain. The bull of Sixtus IV (14711484), issued in November 1478, permitted the Crown to appoint two inquisitors, primarily to deal with the problem of relapsed conversos. In 1482 another bull permitted the appointment of a further seven inquisitors, among whom was Tomás de torquemada, a diligent, but hardly fanatic inquisitor. Ferdinand and Isabella had already established four Councils of State as institutional branches of royal government, and in 1483 they established a fifth: Consejo de la Suprema y General Inquisición, "The Council of the Supreme and General Inquisition," the first institutional inquisition, with Torquemada as President, and later with the title Inquisitor-General.

From 1478 to 1530, and again from 1650 to 1720, the Spanish Inquisition concentrated on the problem of Judaizing. Between 1530 to 1650, however, it focused more on other problems: some aspects of Erasmian humanism in religious matters, deviations in piety among the alumbrados, and protestantism, which it and others characterized as a form of heresy, in this case, Luteranismo. It also dealt with other issues of disciplining the clergy, particularly that of sexual solicitation in the confessional.

The Council of the Supreme and General Inquisition developed its institutional form and its procedures early and maintained them until its abolition in 1834. It consisted of an Inquisitor-General and an unspecified number of other members. By the mid-sixteenth century it assumed operational and jurisdictional authority over all inquisitorial tribunals, requiring regular reports from them and periodically inspecting and supervising their activities. By the early seventeenth century there were nearly 20 regional tribunals directed by the Suprema as well as a group of tribunals in the Spanish Americas. Each of these operated according to the written instructions, Instrucciones, issued by the Suprema, the first of which was issued by Torquemada in 1484 and later supplemented by his successors. Each tribunal was to consist of two inquisitors, a legal adviser, a constable, and a fiscal, or prosecutor. Tribunals also had a network of familiars, privileged lay assistants who provided general staff support.

The bureaucratic features of the system governed by the Suprema were the systematic recruitment, appointment, and replacement of officials, the powerful and regular structure of command and supervision, the issuing of operational instructions enhanced by periodic visitations and reports from below, the preservation, use, and continuous supplementation of archives, the establishment of clearly defined rank and status, and internal financial management.

The procedures followed by the tribunals were essentially continuations of those developed from the late thirteenth century on. The general sermon, the period of grace, the collection of names and evidence during the period of grace, and the recording and summarizing of information. Such evidence was then assessed by one or more theological consultants. When an indictment was forthcoming, the prosecutor drew up charges, issued an arrest warrant, and took the accused into custody. At that moment, the accused's goods were sequestered, inventoried, and from that point until conviction or acquittal maintained by officers of the Inquisition. The accused was imprisoned until the hearing was completed. Inquisition officials were permitted to use most of the criminal procedures of the ius commune, including torture, although records indicate that torture was used far less than in comparable secular jurisdictions. Meticulous records were kept of all procedures, and these vast archives constitute a remarkable body of sources for both inquisitorial and social history.

At the end of all hearings, the local tribunal, with theological advisers and a representative of the bishop, decided upon guilt or innocence in a group of cases. During the seventeenth century the Suprema itself took over this task. The sentences were read publicly at a ceremony known as the auto-de-fé, "the Act of Faith," which consisted of processions of penitents, including the names of those posthumously condemned, public prayers, and sermons. These elaborate ceremonies were intended to serve as a means of reinforcing the faith of the public as much as a means of celebrating the repentance of those who had confessed and the condemnation of those who had not. The auto-de-fé is comparable to other manifestations of public ritual in early modern Europe. In the case of those convicted of capital offenses, the Suprema was obliged to turn them over to the secular arm for execution.

Antisemitic sentiments increased in Portugal during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, particularly following the large influx of Spanish conversos who left Spain after 1478 to 1483 and after the expulsion of all unbaptized Jews from Spain in 1492. In 1496 King João II ordered the expulsion of all Jews from Portugal and a year later commanded the forced conversion of all who remained. Thus, the absence of an unconverted Jewish community living side by side with cristãos novos made the Portuguese situation different from that of Spain between 1391 and 1492. But the rulers of Portugal eventually did request a local inquisition, and between 1534 and 1540 an Inquisition similar to that of Spain was established, although the Portuguese Inquisition continued to concern itself more with Judaizing than did the Spanish. In 1561 the Portuguese Inquisition established a tribunal at Goa, in India, parallel to the Spanish tribunals in Mexico, Lima, Cartagena, and Manila.

The Inquisitions of Spain and Portugal survived, but in much weakened form, until the nineteenth century. The Spanish Inquisition was finally abolished by the regent Maria Cristina, acting in the name of the Infanta Isabella II in July 1834. The Portuguese Inquisition was abolished in 1821.

The Inquisitions in Italy and Northern Europe. In 1542 Pope Paul III (15341549) established an institutional Inquisition in Rome with six inquisitors general for the Papal States and other parts of Italy, but claiming powers over all of Europe. When Sixtus V (15851590) restructured papal government into 15 secretariats, or congregations, in 1588, the Roman Inquisition was erected into one of these, the Congregation of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition, or Holy Office. The Roman Inquisition also established bodies of instructions for subordinate tribunals and extensive archives, most of which have been scattered or lost. The chief focus for the Roman Inquisition was originally Protestantism, although by the seventeenth century most trials were held for problems of clerical discipline and superstitious magic. Both the Spanish and Roman Inquisitions were the first institutional tribunals to express great scepticism about the problem of diabolical witchcraft, which troubled many other tribunals, ecclesiastical and lay, during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The occasions for sentencing in the procedure of the Roman Inquisition were secretthere were no Roman equivalents of the Spanish auto-de-fé. The powers of the Roman Inquisition were also limited by local control and resistance. The city of Lucca never admitted its officials, and in other territories, notably Genoa, Savoy, and Tuscany, city and territorial governments insisted on some degree of lay intervention. In 1908, Pius X changed the name of the institution to the Congregation of the Holy Office, merging its function with that of the Congregation of the Index, which had been established in 1571. In 1965 Paul VI changed the name once again to The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, its present name, and in 1966 abolished the Index entirely.

In 1547 the government of Venice, which had included very stringent laws against heresy in its municipal legal code, instituted a tribunal, initially composed entirely of laymen, the Tre Savii sopra eresia, "The Three Wise Magistrates Concerned with Heresy," although by 1551 these lay officials were reduced to the role of consulting officials and witnesses, while the real work was done under a clerical Inquisitor-General. By the mid-sixteenth century the once-independent Venetian Inquisition was consulting regularly and cooperatively with the Roman Inquisition, as the trial records of Giordano bruno in 1600 and Galileo galilei in 1633 indicate. The Inquisition of Venice was abolished when Napoleon conquered the city in 1797. As governments became increasingly secularized and nonconfessionally based in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the various surviving inquisitorial tribunals lost public power and legitimacy and functioned only internally in Roman Catholic affairs.

Myths of the Inquisition. The secrecy and power of inquisitorial tribunals had always generated criticism and opposition since the thirteenth century, most spectacularly in the case of the fourteenth-century Franciscan, Bernard Délicieux. But the great confessional divisions of the sixteenth century and later generated for the first time a mythology of the Inquisition, initially in Protestant histories of the Church and Protestant martyrologies, and then in the Low Countries, in the sixteenth century ruled by Spain, which resisted the importing of the Spanish Inquisition into their region. As Low Country political resistance to Spain was drawn during the Dutch Revolt after 1566 to the general conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism, anti-Spanish propaganda promulgated what was later called "The Black Legend," a polemical demonization of Spain that identified the Inquisition with the most hated features of Roman Catholicism and Spanish autocracy.

During the debates on religious toleration of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the inquisitions became popular targets as examples of religious fanaticism, most impressively in the great History of the Inquisition by the Dutch theologian Philip van Limborch (16331712), the original recipient of John Locke's Letter on Toleration. In the eighteenth century, enlightenment critics, most conspicuously Voltaire, satirized the inquisitions, and the Italian penal reformer Cesare Beccaria denounced them in his widely circulating treatise On Crimes and Punishments. The Gothic novel in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries often used on imaginary inquisitorial settings and characters like the fantastic institution described in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum," and by other writers of imaginative and polemical fiction. With the proliferation of illustrated books, both official and imaginary pictorial representations of scenes of inquisitorial torture, imprisonment, and executions appeared more and more frequently, sometimes in great art like that of Goya, but more often in crude or satirical book-illustrations. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the topic attracted great a number of great musical and literary artistsSchiller, Verdi, Dostoievsky, and Stefan Andres. Only in the late nineteenth century, with the imposition of modern standards of scholarship, did a reliable and document-based history of the Inquisition become possible. It has attracted historians ever since.

The modern historian John Lukacs once observed that "The purpose of history is the reduction of untruth." The problem of dismantling the long and often firmly-held mythology of the Inquisition is a case in point.

Bibliography: e. peters, Inquisition (New York 1988). e. van der vekenÉ, Bibliotheca Bibliographica Historiae Sanctae Inquisitionis 2 v. (Vaduz, 198283). w. trusen, "Der Inquisitionsprozess. Seine historischen Grundlagen und frühen Formen," Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte. Kanonististische Abteilung 105 (1988) 168230; "Das Verbot der Gottesurteile und der Inquisitionsprozess. Zum Wandel des Strafverfahrens unter dem Einfluss des gelehrten Rechts im Spätmittelalter," Sozialer Wandel im Mittelalter. Wahrnehmungsformen, Erklärungsmuster, Regelungsmechanismen, ed. j. miethke and k. schreiner (Sigmagingen: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 1994) 235247. m. bellomo, The Common Legal Past of Europe 10001800 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995). r. kieckhefer, "The Office of Inquisition and Medieval Heresy: The Transition from Personal to Institutional Jurisdiction," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 46 (1995) 3661. r. fraher, "IV Lateran's Revolution in Criminal Procedure: The Birth of Inquisitio, the End of Ordeals, and Innocent III's Vision of Ecclesiastical Politics," Studia in Honorem Eminentissimi Cardinalis, a. m. stickler, ed. r. i. card, Castillo Lara (Rome: Las 1992) 97111. w. l. wakefield, Heresy, Crusade, and Inquisition in Southern France, 11001250 (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1974). h. maisonneuve, Études sur les origines de l'inquisition (Paris 1960). e. peters, Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe (Philadelphia 1980). m. zerner, ed., Inventer l'hérésie? Discours polémiques e pouvoirs avant l'Inquisition (Nice 1998). m. g. pegg, The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 12461246 (Princeton 2001). j. b. given, Inquisition and Medieval Society: Power, Discipline, and Resistance in Languedoc (Ithaca and London 1997). r. kieckhefer, Repression of Heresy in Medieval Germany (Philadelphia 1979). a. patschovsky, Die Anfänge einer ständigen Inquisition in Böhmen (Berlin-New York: De Gruyter 1975). a. dondaine, Les hérésies et l'Inquisition, XIIe-XIIIe siècles, ed. y. dossat (Aldershot 1990), especially "Le manuel de l'inquisiteur (12301330)," II. a. friedlander, The Hammer of Inquisitors: Brother Bernard Délicieux and the Struggle Against the Inquisition in Fourteenth-Century France (Leiden-Boston-Cologne 2000). Bernard Gui et son monde, Cahiers de Fanjeaux 16 (Toulouse 1981). h. anskar kelly, Inquisitions and Other Trial Procedures in the Medieval West (Aldershot-Brookfield 2001). h. c. lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, 3 v. (New York 1888). r. i. moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 9501250 (Oxford 1987). Historia de la Inquisición en España y América, ed. j. pÉrez villanueva and b. escandell bonet, 3 v. (Madrid 19842000). j. edwards, The Spanish Inquisition (Charleston 1999). m. escamilla-colin, Crimes et chatiments dans l'Espagne inquisitoriale, 2 v. (Paris 1992). s. haliczer, Inquisition and Society in the Kingdom of Valencia 14781834 (Berkeley-Los Angeles-Oxford 1990). h. c. lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain, 4 v. (New York 19061907). h. kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (New Haven and London 1998). a. alcalÁ, ed., The Spanish Inquisition and the Inquisitorial Mind (New York 1987). m. e. perry and a. j. cruz, ed., Cultural Encounters: The Impact of the Inquisition in Spain and the New World (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1991). g. henningsen, The Witches' Advocate: Basque Witchcraft and the Spanish Inquisition (Reno 1980). L'Inquisition de Goa, ed. c. amiel and a. lima (Paris 1997). a. j. saraiva, The Marrano Factory: The Portuguese Inquisition and Its New Christians, 15361765, trans. h. p. salomon and i. s. d. sassoon (Boston-Leiden-Cologne 2001). h. c. lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain, v. 3: 239290. f. m. gilabert, La abolición de la Inquisición en España (Pamplona 1975). The Inquisition in Early Modern Europe: Studies on Sources and Methods, ed. g. henningsen and j. tedsechi, with c. amiel (Dekalb, Illinois 1986). f. bethencourt, L'Inquisition à l'époque moderne: Espagne, Portugal, Italie XveXIX siècle (Paris 1995). j. tedeschi, The Prosecution of Heresy: Collected Studies on the Inquisition in Early Modern Italy (Binghamton 1991). b. pullan, The Jews of Europe and the Inquisition of Venice, 15501670 (Oxford 1983). g. dall'olio, Eretici e Inquisitori nella Bologna del Cinquecento (Bologna 1999).

[e. peters]


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INQUISITION. Scholars distinguish between the medieval, or papal, Inquisition, which evolved in the thirteenth century to combat the Cathar heresy in southern France, and the modern Inquisition, reestablished in parts of Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.


The first two modern Inquisitions were established in Spain (1478) and Portugal (1536) to deal with a heresy peculiar to the Iberian Peninsula, Cryptojudaism, or a reversion to Judaism among converts to Christianity (conversos). To punish this form of apostasy, the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella obtained authorization in 1478 from Pope Sixtus IV to establish a new Inquisition in Castile, and later, in 1483, to revive Aragón's medieval tribunals. Nonetheless, cases of Judaizing continued to occur, so the Catholic monarchs took the extreme decision in 1492 of ordering all Jews to either convert to Christianity or leave Castile. Many Jews crossed the border to Portugal to join the large numbers of conversos who had already fled there from Spain. In 1496, the king of Portugal, John II, ordered the expulsion of Jews from his territory, and in 1497, the conversion of any who remained, who joined ranks with the Spanish refugees. The presence of this group of New Christians eventually forced John III to bring the Inquisition to Portugal in 1536.

Pope Paul III, who had authorized the foundation of the Portuguese Inquisition, six years later (1542) revived the Holy Office of the Inquisition in the Italian Papal States. Here, however, the Roman Inquisition's concern was not Judaizing, but the threat to Italy from Protestantism. Soon, other states in the Italian peninsula reinstated local tribunals of the Inquisition: Naples and Venice in 1547, and Milan in 1562.


The modern Inquisitions generally followed the body of jurisprudence developed by the medieval Inquisition, compiled in 1376 by Nicolau Eimeric into the Directorium inquisitorum, revised in the late sixteenth century by Francisco Peña. Unlike their medieval predecessor, however, the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions were controlled by the crown, and in Italy, there was considerable secular oversight as well, except in the Papal States. In Spain, Ferdinand created a government board, the Council of the Supreme and General Inquisition, which established policies and procedures, oversaw the appointment of officials and functioning of tribunals throughout the Spanish realms, and served as the court of appeals. Until 1560, the number and territories of the Spanish districts fluctuated considerably; thereafter they remained stable at fourteen peninsular tribunals and four island tribunals (Mallorca, Sardinia, Sicily, and the Canaries). Additional tribunals were added as the empire expanded: Mexico, Lima, Cartagena de Indias, Manila, and finally, the royal court at Madrid.

Portugal's Inquisition was also placed under the direction of a royal board, known as the General Council. Ultimately, there were tribunals in Lisbon, Coimbra, and Evora, plus another in Goa, the Portuguese colony in India.

In Italy, the papacy attempted to exert some control over the Inquisitions outside the Papal States; this process culminated in the establishment of the Congregazione del Sant' Ufficio in 1588. As was the case in Portugal and Spain, the Congregation functioned as the supreme appellate court for the tribunals in Italy. In each of the states with Inquisitions, the network of local tribunals followed the preexisting structure of bishoprics. For example, in the Republic of Venice, aside from the head tribunal in Venice itself, there were tribunals at Brescia, Padua, Udine, Treviso, Cyprus, Rovigo, Picenza, Bergamo, Vicenza, Verona, and Capo d'Istria.

Thanks to a shared legal tradition, the operation of the Inquisition in each area was similar. In Spain each tribunal consisted of one or two inquisitors, a fiscal prosecutor, defense attorney, various employees who were charged with record keeping and care of the prisoners, unpaid theological and legal consultants, and a network of local legal representatives (comisarios) and messengers/jailors (familiars), also unpaid, who created an inquisitorial presence in the hinterland. Strict guidelines established the qualifications for various members of the tribunal. Inquisitors had to be at least forty years old, licentiates or doctors in theology or canon law. After the fifteenth century, few Spanish inquisitors were drawn from the religious orders such as the Dominicans, who had once dominated the medieval institution. Comisarios were drawn from the local secular clergy, and familiars were laymen of uncontested Christian ancestry. Portugal's tribunals were structured along the same lines, while in Italy, often only one inquisitor led the court (in Iberia there were two), while the local legal representatives, known as vicarii, held more power than their Iberian counterparts. Unlike their Iberian counterparts, both the inquisitors and the vicars came from the ranks of the regular religious orders, primarily the Dominicans and Franciscans.

A tribunal generated its cases in a variety of ways. The standard method was for the inquisitor to go on a visitation of his district. First, the inquisitor would issue the Edict of Grace, a sermon that defined the heresies sought after and promised leniency for those who confessed within thirty days. The follow-up sermon, the Edict of Faith, offered no leniency but continued the exhortations to confess. Voting members of the tribunal would examine the resulting confessions and issue a warrant for arrest. Once detained, the prisoner disappeared to the outside world: in order to inspire fear and prevent reprisals, the courts attempted to conduct their business in the strictest secrecy. Similar secrecy within the proceedings kept the prisoner at a disadvantage. Not until well into the trial did the prisoner learn the charges against him, and never was the accused allowed to know who had given evidence against himor, once freed, to speak about his experiences. With the inquisitor acting as both judge and investigator, the prosecution presented its case first, and the defendant, with the aid of a court-appointed lawyer, could respond. At this point, if the defendant's confession was not seen as sufficient, the tribunal would vote on the question of torture: what kind and how much. In reality, torture was employed rarely (in less than 3 percent of cases) and frequently was overcome. The large majority of cases ended in guilty verdicts. In Spain and Portugal, the final act in the trial was the public auto-da-fé, where prisoners were sentenced amid great ceremony; actual punishments were carried out separately. An important tool of the Iberian Inquisition was public humiliation: those convicted of serious offenses were required to wear the sanbenito, a distinctive outer tunic that was also displayed in the convict's parish church.

Abolition came slowly, with the advance of the Enlightenment and then French troops to southern Europe. Generally, the Italian tribunals were disbanded between 1774 and 1800, and the Iberian ones disappeared between 1812 and 1834, although the Spanish and American tribunals effectively ended operation in 1820. The fate of each tribunal's archives is capricious: some survive virtually intact, while others disappeared during the Napoleonic Wars. Major repositories exist in the Archivo General de la Nación (Mexico), Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (Lisbon), Archivo Histórico Nacional (Madrid), and in the Archivi dell'Inquisizione Romana (The Vatican, opened in 1998), but substantial numbers of trials and other papers remain outside these repositories.

Considerable controversy exists over how many individuals were tried and executed by the courts, but the loss of so many records makes precise accounting impossible. A survey of nineteen Spanish tribunals from 1540 to 1700 yielded 49,092 cases. The Portuguese Inquisition tried 44,817 cases between 1536 and 1767, the most active court being Goa. Naples between 1564 and 1740 tried 3,038 cases, and Venice between 1547 and 1794 tried 3,592 cases. The death sentence was invoked in less than 5 percent of all trials. In Spain and Portugal the first victims were conversos, many of whom were sentenced to death (often in absentia), while the Italian courts pursued Protestants. With time, the tribunals changed their focus and moderated their severity: in Spain, converted Muslims (Moriscos), homosexuals, Protestants, witches, and ordinary Spaniards guilty of making crude theological statements all at some point became the focus of the tribunals' attention. Indeed, relatively minor crimes such as blasphemy accounted for much of the Spanish Inquisition's caseload. In addition to punishing religious crimes, all of the Inquisitions were responsible for enforcing censorship of printed materials and searching for contraband.


Because of the Inquisition's role in censorship, many have accused the institution of curbing scientific inquiry, dampening literary creativity, and even hindering economic growth. Historians now reject these charges. A few cases achieved notoriety in their day and continue to define the image of the Inquisition in the public's mind. Most infamous is the case of Galileo Galilei (15641642), who was summoned before the Roman Inquisition in 1632 to account for his public defense of the Copernican system, earlier deemed heretical by the church. He was condemned to perpetual house arrest and silence on the issue. For many, this trial epitomizes the conflict between scientific reason and free speech on the one hand, and religious fanaticism on the other. The philosopher Giordano Bruno (15481600) was not so lucky as Galileo; he was burned at the stake for his radical ideas about revealed religion and the possibility of an infinite universe with multiple worlds. In Spain, fear of religious experimentation led the inquisitors to target some of the leading mystics of the sixteenth centurySt. Theresa of Jesus, St. John of the Cross, and Luis de Leónalthough none was executed. Such cases, added to the Inquisition's role in censorship, the stream of Protestant propaganda directed against the papacy, and the Enlightenment's championship of basic freedoms, combined to create a lasting image of an arbitrarily cruel and inhumane institution. In the last twenty-five years, however, new scholarship has done much to mitigate the fearsome image of the Inquisition and to place the institution in its proper historical context.

See also Censorship ; Conversos ; Ferdinand of Aragón ; Galileo Galilei ; Index of Prohibited Books ; Isabella of Castile ; Moriscos ; Papacy and Papal States ; Persecution .


Primary Sources

Del Col, Andrea, ed. Domenico Scandella Known as Menocchio: His Trials before the Inquisition (15831599). Translated by John Tedeschi and Anne C. Tedeschi. Binghamton, N.Y., 1996.

Eimeric, Nicolau, and Francisco Peña. Le manuel des inquisiteurs. Translated and with introduction by Louis Sala-Molins. Paris, 1973.

Firpo, Massimo, and Dario Marcatto, eds. Il processo inquisitoriale del Cardinal Giovanni Morone: Edizione critica. 6 vols. Rome, 19811995.

Simancas, Diego de. Institutiones catholicae quibus ordine ac brevitate discritur quicquid ad praecavendas et extirpandas haereses necessariium est. Valladolid, 1552.

Secondary Sources

Bethencourt, Francisco. La Inquisición en la época moderna: España, Portugal, e Italia, siglos XVXIX. Madrid, 1997.

Grendler, Paul F. The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian Press, 15401605. Princeton, 1977.

Henningsen, Gustav, and John Tedeschi in association with Charles Amiel, eds. The Inquisition in Early Modern Europe: Studies on Sources and Methods. De Kalb, Ill., 1986.

Kamen, Henry. The Spanish Inquisition: An Historical Revision. London, 1997.

Lea, Henry Charles. A History of the Inquisition of Spain. 4 vols. New York, 19061908.

. The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies. New York, 1908.

Netanyahu, Benzion. The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth-Century Spain. New York, 1995.

Perry, Mary Elizabeth, and Anne J. Cruz, eds. Cultural Encounters: The Impact of the Inquisition in Spain and the New World. Berkeley, 1991.

Peters, Edward. Inquisition. New York and London, 1988.

Vekene, Emil van der. Bibliotheca bibliographica historiae sanctae Inquisitionis. Bibliographisches Verzeichnis des gedruckten Schrifftums zur Geschichte und Literatur der Inquisition. 3 vols. Vaduz, Liechtenstein, 19821992.

Sara Tilghman Nalle


views updated May 29 2018


During the Middle Ages inquisition meant an enquiry, undertaken ad hoc by papally appointed inquisitors. While at the time the Latin term inquisitio could be applied to enquiries of any kind, historians have come reserve the term to describe the task of detecting, prosecuting, and punishing heretics and their sympathizers by papally appointed judges. This procedure flourished mostly in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; in the fifteenth century many aspects of inquisitorial procedure were adopted by bishops to deal with heresy in their dioceses, especially in England and Bohemia.

During the early modern period this office became the basis for the creation of several national institutions, generally dedicated to the prosecution of religious dissent but whose main interests and concerns varied according to local demands. While the medieval and early modern inquisitions share many characteristics, notably of procedure, they should not be confused and shall be discussed here separately.

Inquisition in the Middle Ages

The Christian Church was marked by religious dissent from its very beginning. In the patristic period St. Paul and St. Augustine repeatedly warned about the dangers of heresy. Between the sixth and eleventh centuries the Western Church's concern for heresy waned as it devoted itself to the conversion of Europe. In the eleventh century, however, a spirit of religious reform led to the articulation of a concept of Christian society in which the prospect of salvation was believed to be greatly improved if all Christians reformed their ways. Sometimes called the second wave of conversion, this reform led to a greater concern with individual Christians' beliefs and behavior.

While the origins of medieval heresies remain a complex issue, this climate of religious reform contributed to the creation of heretical movements by those who thought the Church had not gone far enough in its reforms. The spread of popular heresies in Europe during the eleventh and twelfth centuries spurred church officials and lay authorities to action. During the twelfth century, ecclesiastical and lay authorities took steps toward prosecution, the former by making it the duty of bishops to locate and prosecute heresy in their dioceses, and the latter through legislation applying the death penalty or exile to those convicted of heresy. These attempts proved largely ineffective and by the thirteenth century heresy had spread through many parts of southern France, northern Italy, and the Rhineland.

Pope Gregory IX (1227–1241) found a solution to the bishops' ineffectiveness with the appointment, in 1231, of full-time investigators empowered to locate and prosecute heretics. The new inquisitors of heretical depravity followed a Roman law procedure in which the judge was allowed to initiate proceedings ex officio, that is, by virtue of his office, without waiting for an accuser to bring formal charges against a suspect. The judge was also made responsible for every step of the process, from investigation to trial and sentencing. This procedure proved highly effective in dealing with crimes of a public nature and it was not unique to heresy prosecution. In fact, it was adopted by criminal courts through much of Europe at the time.

Inquisitorial tribunals were set up in many areas of present-day France, Germany, Italy, Sicily, and northern Spain. The area most visited by medieval inquisitors was southern France, where they focused especially on the prosecution of Cathars and Waldensians. Different from what is widely assumed, however, there was no single Inquisition coordinated from Rome during the Middle Ages. What is commonly referred to as the medieval Inquisition was in fact not an institution but rather a series of tribunals, following inquisitorial procedure, scattered across Europe and staffed by clergymen and advised by legal experts. Local bishops often had some influence in the workings of a tribunal. Cooperation between the different tribunals depended largely on the initiative of individual inquisitors; there was no official effort in ensuring this cooperation took place.

An inquisition started with the appointment of the inquisitor by the pope to investigate the existence of heresy in a certain locality. The inquisitor was usually drafted from the Dominican or Franciscan order and the area under his jurisdiction varied. Often, as was the case of the tribunals of Carcassone and Toulouse, jurisdiction could extend over the area of several dioceses. Inquisitors' jurisdiction was a priori limited to Christians, but Jews were sometimes prosecuted for returning to Judaism after having converted to Christianity or for protecting those hiding from the inquisitors.

After the area of jurisdiction was determined, the inquisitor then chose a centrally located seat from which to summon suspects from all areas under his purview. At the outset of the investigation, the inquisitor gave a public speech in which he affirmed his authority and established a period of grace (tempus gratiae), usually lasting between two weeks and one month, during which anybody who volunteered a full and truthful confession would be spared the harsher punishments allowed by law. From the evidence gathered from confessions, the inquisitor then summoned suspects for interrogation. The many manuals written for inquisitors during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries warned about the need to distinguish between truthful and false abjuration, and inquisitors seem to have paid great attention to accusations based on personal enmity. While the names of witnesses testifying against a suspect were kept secret to avoid retaliation, the accused was allowed to list all of his or her enemies and if any of these were among those who testified against him or her, the name was removed from the roll of witnesses.

If the accused admitted guilt and showed themselves willing to repent, they were usually given a light penance, warning, and absolution. If there was no admission of guilt and sufficient evidence against the accused accumulated, inquisitors were allowed to use torture. The use of torture to exact confessions was not unique to the inquisition—indeed, it was common practice in all ecclesiastical and lay courts of Europe, with the exception of England. Evidence from inquisitorial registers and inquisitors' manuals suggests that the most widely used technique for eliciting confessions was incarceration rather than torture. Separation from family and friends, the mounting cost of imprisonment (for which the accused was held responsible), and the general dreariness of prison life proved more effective than torture in bringing about confessions.

As the aim of the inquisition was to reconcile the accused to the Catholic Church, punishments for heretical crimes were both spiritual and corporal. In theory, a first offender was not supposed to be burned and punishments were calculated to bring about repentance. The harshest penalty for first time offenders was life imprisonment and loss of property. This imprisonment could be either under normal or strict regime; while normal regime was not considered very harsh, strict could mean solitary confinement, little food, and shackles.

Inquisitors were the first judges to use imprisonment as a punishment for crimes. Something akin a parole system was also devised and those who showed contrition and good behavior had their sentences commuted. Life imprisonment, therefore, could mean only a few years of incarceration and the rest of the sentence could be served in freedom pending good behavior or it could be commuted to a lighter punishment. Other forms of punishment included pilgrimages, fasting, wearing penitential garments bearing yellow crosses, and lighter spiritual penances. Burnings were supposed to be a last resort and only unrepentant and relapsed heretics faced relaxation, that is, being handed over to secular authorities for execution.

The ad hoc nature of the process and the lack of centralized control, however, meant that considerable variation existed both regionally and from inquisitor to inquisitor. Conrad of Marburg, a papally appointed inquisitor, created a reign of terror in Germany during his two-year career in the early 1230s. Most inquisitors, however, proved to be conscientious judges and, contrary to popular belief, relatively few heretics were executed. Estimates from thirteenth-century southern France indicate that 1 percent of those convicted by the inquisition received the death penalty and approximately 10 percent were imprisoned. The vast majority received lighter penances.

By the mid-fourteenth century the great heretical movements that constituted the inquisitors' main target, Catharism and Waldensianism, had mostly disappeared. Consequently, the appointment of inquisitors by the papacy waned until the creation of the early modern institutions in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The Spanish Inquisition

In 1391 a series of pogroms against Jewish communities swept across Castile and the Crown of Aragon, leading to the forced conversion of thousands of Jews. These violent actions created a new group in the Iberian Peninsula, new Christians known as conversos. While some truthfully converted, many conversos remained practicing Jews. Ferdinand and Isabella, in an effort to ensure their kingdoms were truly Catholic, applied for a license to confront what became known as the converso problem.

The creation of the Spanish Inquisition to deal with the converso problem took place in stages, beginning with a bull issued by Pope Sixtus IV on November 1, 1478. This bull granted the Spanish monarchs the right to appoint two inquisitors to oversee the eradication of the Judaizing heresy. Four years later, seven more inquisitors were appointed. Initially established only in Castile, the Spanish Inquisition was extended into the Crown of Aragon in 1483 to 1484. For Castile, the imposition of an inquisitorial court was entirely new, as the medieval inquisition had previously existed only in the Crown of Aragon. One crucial difference distinguished the Spanish Inquisition from its predecessor: the former was entirely under the control of the Crown. In 1488, with the creation of the Consejo de la Suprema y General Inquisicion (or the Suprema), the Inquisition became an organ of the Spanish government.

During the course of its three-hundred year history, the Spanish Inquisition prosecuted many different groups for crimes against Catholic orthodoxy. These included Protestants, alumbrados (illuminist mystics), and unruly clergy, as well as the general population for sexual offenses (such as adultery and homosexuality), blasphemy, and anticlericalism. Their greatest targets, however, were the conversos (1478–1530; 1650–1720) and converted Muslims, the moriscos (1520–1609, especially in Granada, Valencia, and Aragon). By the end of the seventeenth century, the Spanish Inquisition was largely concerned with enforcing Counter-Reformation ideals of Catholic orthodoxy. The reach of the Inquisition extended throughout the Spanish colonies where indigenous populations also came under its purview.

The Spanish Inquisition was at first itinerant and then established in sixteen urban centers. Structurally, the tribunals consisted of legally and theologically trained inquisitors, prosecutors, and familiars (lay officials who acted within local communities as investigators). All were under the control of the Suprema to prevent the abuse of authority by local inquisitors. Centralizing efforts had all sentences submitted to the Suprema for review by the mid-seventeenth century, and all prosecutions were initiated by this council in the eighteenth century.

Procedurally, the Spanish Inquisition did not differ from its medieval predecessor. Denunciations by neighbors and voluntary confessions, made after the reading of the Edict of Faith in a community, were thoroughly investigated. Once arrested, suspects had their property confiscated and inventoried. They were then imprisoned until their hearings. Trials consisted of interrogating suspects and witnesses in a series of audiences. One vital difference from the medieval inquisition was the granting of defense counsel to the accused. Judicial torture was licit and, contrary to popular belief, was used by inquisitorial authorities less frequently than in secular courts. Cases were judged by a council of inquisitors and representatives of the local bishop.

In addition to the punishments borrowed from the medieval inquisition, the Spanish inquisitors also imposed flogging and service on the galleys to punish those convicted of heresy. After its initial harsh prosecution of conversos, the Spanish Inquisition dealt with those who came before its court with much greater leniency and few of those convicted faced the stake. All sentences were handed out at an auto de fé, the public "Act of Faith" designed to act as a deterrent to bad behavior by the rest of the community. By the eighteenth century few prosecutions were initiated, and on July 15, 1834, the Spanish Inquisition was abolished by the acting regent, Queen Maria Cristina.

The Portuguese and Roman Inquisitions

Elsewhere in Catholic Europe, Inquisitions were established on the foundations laid by medieval inquisitors. In Italy, Pope Paul III created the Roman Inquisition in 1542, which centralized the existing office under the authority of Rome. The Italian city-states, however, retained a great degree of influence over its activities. The Roman Inquisition aimed at eradicating Protestantism throughout Italy, although by the end of the sixteenth century, it primarily dealt with crimes of witchcraft, magic, clerical discipline and Judaizing.

Between 1534–1540, King João II of Portugal worked with Rome to bring the Inquisition to his realm. Modeled on the Spanish institution, the Portuguese Inquisition aimed its prosecutions at conversos, many of whom had been forcibly converted with the expulsion of the Jews in 1496, but also investigated cases of witchcraft, blasphemy, bigamy, and sodomy. The Portuguese Inquisition had tribunals in Lisbon, Évora, Coimbra, Lamego, and Tomar in Portugal, and in Goa in Portuguese India. It was abolished in 1821.

The Inquisition as Myth

From their creation, the Early Modern Inquisitions were seen as perpetrators of great crimes against humanity, a view that has persisted into the twenty-first century. Associated with indiscriminate arrests, overzealous use of torture, and reliance on false witnesses, all surrounded in a veil of secrecy and leading to certain death, the Inquisition was seen as a great miscarriage of justice. This view is particularly linked with the Spanish Inquisition, which popular legend described as an institution built on fear, terror and violence.

In fact, historical evidence demonstrates that after the initial harsh prosecutions of conversos in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the Spanish Inquisition was much less vicious than imagined. This is particularly true if it is examined in comparison to other courts of its time. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, when secular courts in areas such as the Holy Roman Empire were burning thousands of suspected witches, the Spanish Inquisition rarely produced a sentence of death and instead handed out relatively mild punishments. Much of the myth surrounding the Spanish Inquisition was created in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by European Protestants who used it as an example to demonstrate the evils of Catholicism. Although often accused of horrific crimes, the centralized nature of the early modern Inquisitions worked rather to keep abuses in check, something severely lacking in localized secular courts.

SEE ALSO Cathars


Arnold, J. H. (2001). Inquisition and Power: Catharism and the Confessing Subject in Medieval Languedoc. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Beinart, H. (1981). Conversos on Trial: The Inquisition in Ciudad Real. Jerusalem: Magnes Press.

Bethencourt, F. (1995). L'Inquisition à l'Époque Moderne: Espagne, Italie, Portugal, Xve–XIXe siècle. Paris: Fayard.

Edwards, J. (1999). The Spanish Inquisition. Charleston, S.C.: Tempus.

Given, J. B. (1997). Inquisition and Medieval Society: Power, Discipline, and Resistance in Languedoc. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Haliczer, S., ed. (1987). Inquisition and Society in Early Modern Europe. London: Croom Helm.

Hamilton, B. (1981). The Medieval Inquisition. London: E. Arnold.

Herculano, A. (1972). History of the Origin and Establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal. New York: Ktav Publishing House.

Kamen, H. A. F. (1998). The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

Kelly, H. A. (1989). "Inquisition and the Prosecution of Heresy: Misconceptions and Abuses." Church History 58:439–451.

Kieckhefer, R. (1995). "The Office of Inquisitor and Medieval Heresy: The Transition from Personal to Institutional Jurisdiction." Journal of Ecclesiastical History 46:36–61.

Lambert, M. (2002). Medieval Heresy: Popular Movements from the Gregorian Reform to the Reformation, 3rd edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Moore, R. I. (1987). The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950–1250. Oxford: Blackwell.

Netanyahu, B. (2001). The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth-Century Spain, 2nd edition. New York: New York: Review Books.

Pegg, M. G. (2001). The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245–1246. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Peters, E. (1988). Inquisition. New York: Free Press.

Pullen, B. (1983). The Jews of Europe and the Inquisition of Venice, 1550–1670. Oxford: Blackwell.

Tedeschi, J. A. (1993). "Inquisitorial Law and the Witch." In Early Modern European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries, ed. B. Ankarloo and G. Henningsen. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wakefield, W. L. (1974). Heresy, Crusade, and Inquisition in Southern France, 1100–1250. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Alexandra Guerson de Oliveira
Dana Wessell


views updated Jun 08 2018


When Christianity became the state religion of Rome in the fourth century, those who held dissenting or differing views from the established church were condemned as heretics and excommunicated from church membership. Most of the early church fathers, such as St. Augustine (d. 604), were displeased by any action taken by the state toward heretics, but the clergy generally gave their reluctant approval, stressing that the church abhorred any kind of physical mistreatment of dissenters.

In 906, the Canon Episcopi by Abbot Regino of Prum (d. c. 915) condemned as heretical any belief in witchcraft or in the power of sorcerers to transform people into animals. The consensus of the Christian clergy was that those individuals who believed that they could fly through the air or work evil magic on another person were allowing Satan to deceive them. The clergy was more concerned with stamping out all allegiance to the goddess Diana and any other regional deities, and they regarded as primitive superstition any suggestion that witches possessed any kind of magical powers. In 1000, Deacon Burchard (d. 1025), later archbishop of Worms, published Corrector, which updated Regino's Canon Episcopi and stressed that God alone had the kind of power that the untutored masses were attributing to witches. In 1022 there occurred the first fully attested burning of a heretic, in the city of Orleans.

By the twelfth century, the Cathar sect had become so popular among the people that Pope Innocent III (1160 or 11611216) considered it a greater menace to Christianity than the Islamic warriors who pummeled the crusaders and who threatened all of Europe. To satisfy his outrage, he ordered the only Crusade ever launched by Christians against fellow Christians, declaring as heretics the Albigensians, as the Cathars of southern France were known.

The Inquisition came into existence in 1231 with the Excommunicamus of Pope Gregory IX (c. 11701241), who at first urged local bishops to become more vigorous in ridding Europe of heretics, then lessened their responsibility for determining orthodoxy by establishing inquisitors under the special jurisdiction of the papacy. The office of inquisitor was entrusted primarily to the Franciscans and the Dominicans, because of their reputation for superior knowledge of theology and their declared freedom from worldly ambition. Each tribunal was ordered to include two inquisitors of equal authority, who would be assisted by notaries, police, and counselors. Because they had the power to excommunicate even members of royal houses, the inquisitors were formidable figures with whom to reckon.

In 1246 Montsegur, the center of Albigensian resistance, fell, and hundreds of Cathars were burned at the stake. The headquarters of the Inquisition was established in Toulouse, and in 1252, Pope Innocent IV (d. 1254) issued a papal bull that placed inquisitors above the law. Another decree within the bull demanded that all civil rulers and all commoners must assist the work of the Inquisition or face excommunication. In 1257, the church officially sanctioned torture as a means of forcing witches, sorcerers, shapeshifters, and other heretics to confess their alliance with Satan.

The inquisitors would stay in a particular location for weeks or months, from which they would bring suit against any person suspected of heresy. Lesser penalties were levied against those who came forward of their own volition and confessed their heresy than against those who ignored the summons and had to be placed on trial. The tribunal allowed a grace period of about a month for the accused to come to them and confess before the heretic would be arrested and brought to trial. The penances and sentences for those who confessed or were found guilty during the trial were pronounced by the inquisitors at a public ceremony known as the sermo generalis or auto-da-fe and might consist of a public whipping, a pilgrimage to a holy shrine, a monetary fine, or the wearing of a cross. The most severe penalty that the inquisitors could pronounce was life imprisonment; therefore, when they turned over a confessed heretic to the civil authorities, it was quite likely that person would be put to death at the stake.

The wealthy and powerful Knights Templar were accused of heretical acts, such as invoking Satan and worshipping demons that appeared as large black cats. In spite of a lengthy trial and 573 witnesses for their defense, the arrested Templars were tortured en masse, burned at the stake, and their order was disbanded by Pope Clement V (c. 12601314). In 1313 as he was being burned to death on a scaffold built for the occasion in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, Jacques de Molay (12431314), the Knights Templar grand master, recanted the confession produced by torture and proclaimed his innocence to the pope and the kingand he invited them to meet him at heaven's gate. When both dignitaries died soon after de Molay's execution, it seemed to the public at large to be a sign that the grand master had been innocent of the charges of heresy.

With the Albigensian heresy destroyed, the Inquisition began to direct more of its attention toward witches. In 1320 Bernard Gui (c. 12611331) published Practica, an influential instructional manual for inquisitors, in which he urged them to pay particular heed to arresting those women who cavorted with the goddess Diana. Four years later, in 1324, Ireland's first witchcraft trial convened when Alice Kyteler was found guilty of consorting with a demon.

Separate from the Inquisition that extended its jurisdiction over all the rest of Europe, in 1478, at the request of King Ferdinand II (14521516) and Queen Isabella I (14511504), papal permission was granted to establish the Spanish Inquisition. More a political, than a religious, weapon, this Inquisition persecuted the Marranos or conversos, those Jews suspected of insincerely converting to Christianity; converts from Islam, similarly thought to be insincere in practicing the Christian faith; and, in the 1520s, those individuals who were believed to have converted to Protestantism. The support of Spain's royal house enabled Tomas de Torquemada (14201498) to become the single grand inquisitor whose name has become synonymous with the Inquisition's most cruel acts and excesses. Torquemada is known to have ordered the deaths by torture and burning of thousands of heretics and witches.

In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII (14321492) became so angered by the apparent spread of witchcraft in Germany that he issued the papal bull Summis Desiderantes Affectibus and authorized two trusted Dominican inquisitors, Heinrich Institoris (Henry Kramer) (14301505) and Jakob Sprenger (c. 14351495), to stamp out demonology in the Rhineland. In 1486, Kramer and Sprenger published Malleus Maleficarum, the "Hammer for Witches," which quickly became the "bible" of heretic and witch hunters. The book earnestly refuted all those who would claim that the works of demons existed only in troubled human minds. Certain angels fell from heaven, and to believe otherwise was to believe contrary to the true faith. And now these fallen angels, these demons, were intent upon destroying the human race. Any persons who consorted with demons and became witches must recant their evil ways or be put to death.

By the late sixteenth century, the power of the Inquisition was beginning to wane. In 1563, Johann Weyer (Weir) (15151588), a critic of the Inquisition, managed to publish De praestigus daemonum, in which he argued that while Satan does seek to ensnare and destroy human beings, the charge that accused witches, werewolves, and vampires possessed supernatural powers was false. Such abilities existed only in their minds and imaginations. As if to provide an antidote to Weyer's call for a rational approach to dealing with accusations of witchcraft, in 1580 the respected intellectual Jean Bodin (15301596), often referred to as the Aristotle of the sixteenth century, wrote De La demonomanie des sorciers, a book that caused the flames once again to burn high around thousands of heretics' stakes.

With the spread of Protestantism throughout Europe, in 1542 Pope Paul III (14681549) established the Congregation of the Inquisition (also known as the Roman Inquisition and the Holy Office), which consisted of six cardinals, including the reformer Gian Pietro Cardinal Carafa (14761559). Although their powers extended to the whole church, the Holy Office was less concerned about heresies and false beliefs of church members than they were with misstatements of orthodoxy in the academic writings of its theologians. When Carafa became Pope Paul IV in 1555, he approved the first Index of Forbidden Books (1559) and vigorously sought out any academics who were prompted any thought that offended church doctrine or favored Protestantism.

Although organized witchcraft trials continued to be held throughout Europe, and even the American colonies, until the late seventeenth century, they were most often civil affairs and the Inquisition had little part in such ordeals. However, the Holy Office continued to serve as the instrument by which the papal government regulated church order and doctrine, and it did try and condemn Galileo (15641642) in 1633. In 1965, Pope Paul VI (18971978) reorganized the Holy Office and renamed it the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Delving Deeper

Netanyahu, B. The Origins of the Inquisition. New York: Random House, 1995.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972.

Seligmann, Kurt. The History of Magic. New York: Pantheon Books, 1948.

Trevor-Roper, H. R. The European Witch-Craze. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.


views updated Jun 11 2018


In the late 1400s and 1500s, the Roman Catholic Church and secular* governments set up several courts, or inquisitions, to investigate charges of heresy*. The popular image of these inquisitions consists of religious fanatics holding staged trials and burning thousands of innocent people at the stake. The reality, although unpleasant, was far different from these bloody legends.


During the Middle Ages individual members of the clergy had investigated cases of heresy in Rome. In 1542 Pope Paul III set up a formal inquisition in Rome to deal with charges of heresy. This court, established in response to the rising challenge of Protestantism, fell directly under the authority of the pope.

Structure. The governing board of the Roman Inquisition, known as the Holy Office, consisted of a group of cardinals appointed by the pope. This group oversaw local tribunals (courts) located throughout Italy. Each tribunal had a chief official called an inquisitor and several minor figures who assisted him. Most of these inquisitors held degrees in theology*, but not in law. Leading lawyers and theologians from each region aided the court in reaching decisions. The Holy Office in Rome usually reviewed each trial before the final sentence was passed.

The Roman Inquisition took precedence over all other secular and religious courts in Italy that heard heresy charges. It had authority over most parts of the Italian peninsula, but it was not allowed to operate openly in the region ruled by Naples. Other areas of Italy, such as Venice, also placed limits on the activities of the Roman Inquisition.

Procedures. The church understood that some accusations of heresy might arise from personal spite. Therefore, it introduced several measures to help protect the accused, such as asking them to name all their enemies before the trial. Prisoners also received a written record of their hearings and had anywhere from several days to a few weeks to prepare a defense and call friendly witnesses. In addition, tribunals appointed defense lawyers for the accused, a legal protection not available in many secular courts at the time. Finally, those convicted by the inquisition could appeal the decision to the highest court in Rome.

Most punishments were fairly mild. For example, the court might humiliate the offenders by requiring them to confess their crimes in public. Fines, community service, and prayers were other common punishments. Even sentences such as imprisonment were not as bad as they might seem. A life sentence might end in parole after a few years, and some prisoners could serve their time under house arrest. The most severe sentence—death by burning at the stake—was very rare. Only those who repeatedly committed heresy, those who showed no regret, and—after the late 1550s—those who denied certain basic Catholic doctrines suffered this penalty. A religious group that comforted the accused during their last hours recorded only about 100 executions between 1542 and 1761.

Many people associate the inquisitions of this period with the use of torture. However, the inquisition did not use torture as a form of punishment, but as a means of persuading people to confess their crimes. In any case, torture was an extreme measure for cases where the evidence of heresy was extremely strong. Local courts could not perform torture without the approval of the local bishop or his vicar.


The rulers of Spain and Portugal established their own inquisitions to try cases of heresy in their kingdoms. These tribunals were bloodier and more ruthless than the one in Rome, executing far more suspects. However, even in Spain and Portugal most cases did not end with the death penalty.

The Spanish Inquisition. In 1478 Pope Sixtus IV gave the Spanish rulers Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile approval to establish an inquisition in Spain. The kingdom included many conversos, Jews who had converted to Christianity—often because they were forced to do so. Accusations that the conversos were practicing Judaism in secret led the Spanish tribunal to investigate their loyalty. By targeting converted Jews, the inquisition reinforced anti-Semitic* attitudes in Spain.

Although this inquisition took its authority from the pope, the Spanish crown controlled it through a central council called the Suprema. Inquisitors did not have to be clergy members, but they did need a law degree. The Spanish Inquisition had power only over baptized Christians, not over Muslims or Jews.

A Dominican* monk named Tomás de Torquemada became the first inquisitor general of the Spanish Inquisition. Local tribunals were set up throughout Spain and in Spanish territories in Sicily, Sardinia, and the New World. Tribunals in the Americas focused mainly on making sure all Spanish colonists shared the same Catholic beliefs. Their targets included foreigners (especially the French, English, and Portuguese) as well as conversos.

The Spanish Inquisition was most active between 1480 and 1530, when it focused on conversos. Inquisitors made periodic trips through towns to receive information about possible heretics, and then theologians examined the evidence. If they believed the charges of heresy were true, the court arrested the accused person and seized his or her property to pay for the cost of the trial. In rare cases, the tribunals used torture to extract information in cases of heresy.

The most famous procedure of the inquisition was the auto-da-fé, a public ceremony to sentence those accused of heresy. Many defendants escaped the death penalty through "edicts of grace," which gave them a month to confess and be pardoned. The majority of death sentences issued were against defendants who had been tried and convicted in their absence, and were therefore never carried out. Nonetheless, the court executed around 2,000 conversos between 1480 and 1530. Local authorities carried out the death sentence since clergy members were not allowed to shed blood.

In the late 1500s the Spanish Inquisition began to investigate the activities of Muslim converts, known as Moriscos. It also acted against suspected Protestants. In addition, it began to try other offenses besides heresy. Over time it focused more on such social offenses as swearing and immoral sexual practices. By 1730 the court had became largely inactive, and in 1834 the Spanish closed it down.

The Portuguese Inquisition. In 1536 the Portuguese king John III received papal* approval to set up an inquisition. Its main purpose was to ensure that converted Jews did not go back to practicing Judaism. It also tried cases of witchcraft, sacrilege*, and bigamy (having more than one spouse). Its procedures were similar to those of the Spanish Inquisition, including the use of torture to gain information. The Portuguese exported their inquisition to their colonies in Asia, Africa, and Brazil.

The Portuguese Inquisition tried only a small percentage of those accused. Death sentences were rare. Out of more than 32,000 people tried between 1536 and 1674, only around 1,600 were condemned to death. This figure included some people who had fled and, therefore, were beyond reach, and some who had already died. Those found guilty might also suffer beating, imprisonment, or exile. In addition, the state could seize their property. The inquisition also played a role in book censorship. Its agents searched foreign ships for works on the Index of Prohibited Books, a list of texts banned by the pope.

(See alsoAnti-Semitism; Censorship; Jews. )

* secular

nonreligious; connected with everyday life

* heresy

belief that is contrary to the doctrine of an established church

* theology

study of the nature of God and of religion

* anti-Semitic

referring to prejudice against Jews

* Dominican

religious order of brothers and priests founded by St. Dominic

* papal

referring to the office and authority of the pope

* sacrilege

disrespect of sacred things


views updated May 23 2018


Although there were many violent controversies over Christian doctrine, until the Middle Ages, the church had no organized courts to try religious crimes, such as impiety, blasphemy, and heresy. In the thirteenth century, however, the rise of the new sect of Cathars seemed to pose a mortal danger to the organized church. The Cathars defied the authority of the pope and the entire Catholic church hierarchy, and were gaining followers throughout southern France. The church responded by establishing its first courts of Inquisition to try and then punish its opponents and those who strayed by preaching false doctrine. Most of these medieval Inquisitions were operated by members of the religious orders, particularly the Dominicans.

The first Inquisition of Renaissance times was established by Ferdinand and Isabella, the king and queen of Spain, in 1478 on the authorization of Pope Sixtus IV. These courts were created to find and punish conversos, or Jews that had falsely professed to have converted to Christianity. In the years that followed, many Jews fled Spain to the neighboring kingdom of Portugal; the Spanish monarchs then ordered all Jews to convert sincerely or leave Spain. The Spanish Inquisition would eventually found new courts in Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines. In 1536, King John III would establish the Inquisition in Portugal. Six years later, Pope Paul III decreed the founding of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in lands controlled by the Papacy in Italy. The papal Inquisition was established to seek out and eradicate Protestantism, the new branch of Christianity that was spreading across northern Europe and dividing the Christian church. A supreme court of appeals, known as the Congregation of the Holy Office, was organized by the Papacy in 1588.

The Inquisitions had a strict hierarchy and rules of procedure. The inquisitors were experts in canon law, or the law of the church, and presided over large staffs of theological experts, bailiffs, clerks, lawyers for the defendants, and jailers. Inquisitors made regular visits to the cities in their districts. They issued an Edict of Grace that listed the heresies they were seeking out, and invited those with any information to come forward. They offered a short grace period, in which those accused could repent of their crimes and be rewarded with light sentences. The Edict of Faith, that followed, threatened more severe punishment for those who would not confess. The tribunal then made arrests, jailing their prisoners and offering them no chance to defend themselves or face their accusers. Secret trials then examined the confessions and any evidence, decreed torture if necessary to gain more information, and then passed sentence in public in an elaborate ceremony known as the auto-da-fé (act of faith). Those found guilty had to publicly repent and humiliate themselves by wearing a distinctive garment that marked them as penitents. The most serious offenses were punished by execution; the Inquisition would hand over the prisoners to the public authorities, who would ceremoniously burn them at the stake. All property of condemned prisoners was forfeited to the church.

The Inquisition arrested and tried a great range of people, from commoners to nobles to church leaders with suspect opinions, including Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Theresa of Avila. Its most famous defendant was the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei, who was condemned to renounce his ideas on astronomy and cease publishing his writings.

The institution gradually died out in the eighteenth century, an age of rising skepticism toward religious doctrine and greater tolerance of competing religious ideologies. The Spanish Inquisition was officially abolished in 1834. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, however, survives to this day as one of the largest departments of the Vatican, with its mission the rooting out of incorrect doctrine and religious heresy among members of the church.

See Also: Index; Reformation, Catholic; Reformation, Protestant; Torquemada, Tomás de


views updated Jun 08 2018

in·qui·si·tion / ˌinkwiˈzishən; ˌing-/ • n. 1. a period of prolonged and intensive questioning or investigation: she relented in her determined inquisition and offered help. ∎  hist. a judicial or official inquiry. ∎  the verdict or finding of an official inquiry.2. (the Inquisition) an ecclesiastical tribunal established by Pope Gregory IX c.1232 for the suppression of heresy. It was active chiefly in northern Italy and southern France, becoming notorious for the use of torture. In 1542 the papal Inquisition was reinstituted to combat Protestantism, eventually becoming an organ of papal government. See also Spanish Inquisition.DERIVATIVES: in·qui·si·tion·al / -shənl/ adj.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Inquisition. A Roman Catholic tribunal for the suppression of heresy and punishment of heretics. Strictly speaking, one should speak of ‘inquisitions’, since there was no single institution. The Inquisition came into being under Pope Gregory IX in 1232, with papal inquisitors selected chiefly from among Dominicans and Franciscans because of their (theoretical) detachment from the world. In 1542 the Congregation of the Holy Office was established, being reorganized in 1587 into the Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition to supervise faith and morals in the entire church. After a further reorganization in 1908, in 1965 it became the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and its role in censuring wrong belief has again become prominent.

The ‘Spanish Inquisition’ was a separate national institution, set up in 1478 (endorsed by Sixtus IV in 1483) against the Marranos and Moriscos but later directed against Protestants. The number of persons burnt under the first Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada, was c.2,000. It was finally abolished in Portugal in 1821 and in Spain in 1834.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Inquisition Court set up by the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages to seek out and punish heresy. The accused were sometimes interrogated under torture. Punishments for the guilty ranged from penances to banishment and death. Kings and nobles supported the organized persecution of Jews, Protestants, and others considered enemies of church and state. The medieval Inquisition was active in Europe from the 12th to the 15th centuries. A later tribunal, the Spanish Inquisition, was instituted in 1483 at the request of the rulers of Spain and was not formally abolished until 1834. In 1542, a Roman Inquisition was set up to check the growth of Protestantism.