Auto da Fé

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AUTO DA FÉ ("Act of Faith"), name given in Portugal to the ceremony of the pronouncing of judicial sentence by the Inquisition and the "reconciliation" of penitents: the corresponding Spanish form is "Auto de Fé," the Italian "Atto di Fede," etc. While the torture, the trial, and the testimony of the Inquisition were conducted in complete secrecy, the auto de fé ceremony was generally held with great pomp in a principal church or central square, in the presence of the chief dignitaries and great crowds (for further details see *Inquisition). Such an auto de fé was called Auto público general. At the Auto particular only the inquisitors were present. Other types of autos de fé were Auto singular, involving one individual, and the Autillo, which was held on the site of the Inquisition, in the presence of the Inquisitors and some special guests. The Inquisition imposed a variety of punishments, ranging from imprisonment, confiscation of property, and death. The burning of heretics did not strictly form part of the auto da fé, since the church did not desire to be formally associated with the shedding of blood. Those adjudged guilty were instead "relaxed" (i.e., handed over) to the secular authorities who were responsible for their execution at the place of burning (quemadero), sometimes outside the town. The condemned persons were dressed in special garb, the sanbenito. A procession was formed which moved to the location of the auto de fé. A feature of the autos was the delivery of vituperative sermons by some eminent cleric; these were frequently published and 70 are extant that were delivered in Portugal alone between 1612 and 1749. In Portugal the programs of the autos with names of those who appeared in them (listas) were published in uniform quarto form: in Spain, less regularly, and mainly in octavo. The earliest auto of the Spanish Inquisition took place in Seville in 1481, the latest recorded in Valencia in 1826. All told, some 2,000 autos took place in the Peninsula and its dependencies between these two dates. The total number of those who appeared runs into hundreds of thousands, many of whom were however charged with offenses carrying less stringent penalties, such as bigamy. Those who suffered the death penalty have been reckoned at upward of 30,000. These however, include not only *Marranos and Crypto-Jews, but also Protestants, Crypto-Muslims, and others.


H.C. Lea, History of the Inquisition of Spain, 4 vols. (1906–08); E.N. Adler, Auto de fé and Jew (1908); Glaser, in: huca, 27 (1956), 327–85; Shunami, Bibl, nos. 1392, 2435–36, 2478; Roth, Marranos, passim.

[Cecil Roth /

Yom Tov Assis (2nd ed.)]