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The term Inquisitions refers to the campaigns against what the Catholic Church saw as heretics. These campaigns were authorized by numerous institutions within the Roman Catholic justice system during the 13th through the 19th century. They include the Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition, the Portuguese Inquisition, and the Roman Inquisition.



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The Spanish Inquisition

spanish inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition was one of numerous Inquisitions which took place between the 12th and 19th centuries.

The Inquisitions were a series of tribunals by the Catholic Church and monarchs of the Catholic countries of the time. The goal of these tribunals was to find and punish those they declared heretics in order to keep the Church in power.

The tribunals were based on ancient Roman law and the court itself participated in the trial process. The judges tried the accused and passed judgment on the accused without even the pretense of objectivity.

Heresy, for the purposes of those involved in the Inquisitions, was defined as someone who was baptized a Catholic but publicly declared beliefs which were counter to the tenets of the Church and who refused to denounce those beliefs after being "corrected" by the authority, who tried to get others to believe his tenets, and was doing these things not under the influence of Satan, but of his own free will.

In 1478, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, got permission from the Pope to "purify" the people of Spain, and thus began the Spanish Inquisition. Although the Spanish Inquisition was extremely active between 1480 to 1530, there were still tribunals being held until 1834.

Jews were banished from the kingdom in 1492, when they were ordered to leave the country. Many of them converted to Catholicism rather than leave, and some of them secretly practiced Judaism anyway. Evidence which was used against Jews suspected of still practicing their faith included the absence of chimney smoke on Saturdays, a sign that the accused was honoring the Sabbath, or buying meat from a "converted" butcher. So the Jews were the first targets of the Spanish Inquisition.

Next, the Muslim Moors from the conquered Granada were targeted. The inquisitors, led by Tomas de Torquemada, hunted for converts from Islam who were false or relapsed converts. By all accounts, the Moors were given far more lenient tortures, and by far fewer of them were burned at the stake. In 1609, King Philip III expelled the Moors from Spain. The were ordered, by edict of the King, to leave the country without trial, and failure to do so would be reason enough for a death sentence. They were to take no money, jewelry, gems, or bullion with them aside from what they could carry, and their belongings were confiscated by the Royal family.

In the mid-16th century, Lutherans and "mystics" became targets. There were not nearly as many cases which involved them in Spain. Charges to this group included "disrespect to church images, and eating meat on forbidden days." Other offenses included witchcraft, sodomy, bigamy, blasphemy, and freemasonry.

In the Spanish Inquisition trials, it was mandatory for the accused to testify in his own defense, and he was allowed no lawyer. If he refused to testify, that refusal was counted as proof that he was guilty. Anyone could testify against the accused, and the accused was not told who would be accusing him. It could have been neighbors, family, slaves, other heretics, or even criminals; and it was rare that anyone would testify on his behalf for fear of being accused of being a heretic himself.

The inquisition would start with a Catholic mass, and was followed by the inquisitors defining heresy and urging those present to confess their sins. Those who confessed would not suffer the punishment and torture if they publicly denounced other heretics.

The mission of the inquisitors was to extract a confession and to make the alleged heretic denounce that heresy. In order to accomplish that mission, they were adept in tricky, confusing, or leading interrogation methods. The accused could be jailed indefinitely if he failed to confess.

In the 16th century, the Spanish inquisitors began torturing people to get their confessions once all other methods of extracting a confession had failed.

The inquisitors in Spain had a plethora of tortures which were supposed to get the confession and denunciation, including:

  • starvation;
  • the rack, which was a contraption upon which the accused would lie horizontally with his hands and feet attached to the contraption which stretched the limbs until they dislocated or worse;
  • heaping hot coals on various parts of the accused's body;
  • the "strappado," which involved tying the accused in an uncomfortable position, attaching him to a pulley, and lifting, dropping, or jerking the rope in order to cause pain or pull joints out of the sockets;
  • holding flames near or on the feet; and sometimes
  • burning at the stake.

The last person to have been executed by the Inquisition was Cayetano Ripoll, who was a school master. A former soldier in the Spanish Army, he was taken prisoner by the French Army, and while a captive in France, he learned the basics of deism. In short order, he became a devoted deist.

When he returned to Spain, he used his position as school master to teach others about deism. The Spanish Inquisition accused him and he was held in jail for almost two years. Although the clergy on the tribunal called for him to be burned at the stake, he was sentenced to be hanged. His last words were, "I die reconciled to God and to man."

It is estimated that approximately 87,000 trials were held between 1540 and 1700, and that at least 1,303 people were executed during that time.

The Alhambra Decree, which was the document which expelled Jews from Spain, was formally rescinded in 1968.

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