The Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition

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The Spanish Inquisition
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The Spanish Inquisition is known for the terror it caused the
inhabitants of the Iberian peninsula. Although the Inquisition
originally began to purify the nation from heretics, it came to have
more materialistic, racial, and political motives, instead of just
purification. The beginning of the Inquisition is generally credited
to the reign of Ferdinand V and Isabella. In truth, it began before
that time, and carried on long after Ferdinand and Isabella passed
away. In order to better understand the Inquisition and the reasons
behind it, it is necessary to first examine the events that led up to
it.

The Jewish people are often associated with wealth and with being a
plague to the society to which they belong. Fourteenth-century Spain
was no different. In the city of Seville, there was an archdeacon
named Martinez who continually tried to incite the people to purge
themselves of the "dirty" Jewish citizens. After several reproaches by
the Spanish Cardinal and the Pope, Martinezfinally succeeded. On Ash
Wednesday (March 15,1391), Martinez incited his congregation to riot.
The crowd moved enmasse towards the Juderia (Jewish quarter). Some of
the participants were captured by the police and flogged or beaten,
but that was not enough to stop the mob. Although they did not succeed

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that day to destroy the Jews, the feelings that Martinez had evoked
lay simmering until June 6th when the mob sacked the Juderia of
Seville. It is believed that the victims numbered in the hundreds, if
not thousands (C. Roth, The Spanish Inquisition, 1964). After that
episode and a few sporadic others, the Jews thought themselves to be
free of those problems, but this was not to be the case.

When Ferdinand V and Isabella were married, it united Aragon and
Castille, the two most powerful states in Spain. At the time, Spain
was on the verge of becoming one of the wealthiest nations of the
period. A large part of that was due to the Jewish community. After
their ordeal with Archdeacon Martinez, many Jews had professed to
believe in Christianity to free themselves from persecution. It is
doubtful, however, that many of the conversos, as they were to become
known, were truly converted to the Christian faith. However, these
conversos came to enrich and perhaps dominate almost every aspect of
Spanish society (Roth, 1964). The problem was that the Jews were
getting all of the things the non-Jewish, Catholic people wanted. The
Jews were able to gain wealth and positions of power and authority in
the kingdom as new Christians. The Catholics, however, could not do
anything to them because these new Christians were at least in
profession Christian.

The hierarchy of the Spanish church became concerned with the reports
of heresy of some of its new members. Then in 1478, the time came that
the "true Christians" had been waiting for. A young cavalier, who was
trying to court a Jewish girl, went to meet the girl and came upon a
group of Jews and conversos in some mysterious celebration. That night
was the Jewish Passover, and the assembled had come together to
celebrate it. The problem was further exacerbated because that week
was also the Holy Week for the Catholic church. News spread quickly of
the blaspheme that had been done. A few months later, at the urging of
the heads of the Spanish church, Pope Sixtus issued a Papal Bull
giving authority for an Inquisition. However, the authorization was
actually given to the Spanish crown. They were to be the ones who
would appoint the bishops to complete the Inquisition. Thus, the
Spanish Inquisition was founded to purify the nation from heretics
(Roth, 1964). Although purification was the original intent for the
Inquisition, it came to have more materialistic, racial, and political
motives, which led to the terror for which it is infamous.

The Spanish Inquisition was executed at the request of Isabella. She
was a very pious and devout Catholic. One of her advisors, who would
later become the first General Inquisitor, was Thomas de Torquemada. A
rumor exists that while advising the queen in her youth, Thomas had
her take a vow that should she ever reach the throne, she would devote
herself to the termination of heresy and the persecution of the Jews
(Roth, 1964), which at the time seemed unlikely. Now, however, she was
in a position to do what she had vowed to do. Besides, the queen had
already said she wanted "one country, one ruler, one faith" (N.
Dirksen and M. Johnson, The Spanish Inquisition's Effect on the
Church, 1996).the Catholic sovereigns were determined to have a united
country, and they did not believe this ambition could be achieved
unless all their subjects accepted one religion. This they were
determined to bring about through persuasion, if possible, and if not,
by force. Spain under Isabella and Ferdinand was ripe for the
Inquisition; that was why the cruel institution was embraced so
heartily and continued to survive until the nineteenth century (J.
Plaidy, The Spanish Inquisition, 1967, p.86).

It is likely that Isabella truly wanted to end heresy within the
Catholic faith. Ferdinand, however, was not as pious as his wife and
probably saw the opportunity for wealth. It is highly likely that some
of Spain's early triumphs abroad and at home were financed through the
Spanish Inquisition. This idea of financing without increasing taxes
could be seen as Machiavellian in nature. Machiavelli suggested that
in order for a ruler to hold his principality, he must not overburden
his people with taxes, yet he must not spend all of his funds either,
or he would risk not being able to finance the maintenance of his
kingdom (N. Machiavelli, The Prince, 1965). It is not likely, however,
that Machiavelli would have been pleased with the attitude that the
"Catholic Kings" had produced in their subjects.The Spanish
Inquisition was particularly terrifying because of its inherent
characteristics. The accused never knew who their accusers were. Once
arrested, the accused heretic's properties were seized. These
properties were then administered at first by the Crown, and later by
the General Inquisitor. This fostered the means for anyone to accuse
for personal reasons, or to get gain. In many areas, ". . . men began
to wonder whether a man's worldly wealth, as well as his descent, was
now become [sic] an incriminating circumstance" (Roth, 1964, p. 60).
The Inquisition certainly did not limit itself to purifying only those
of the Jewish faith. This was especially true if the accused was found
to have any Jewish blood in his ancestry. Even if the accused was now
a devout Christian, he was tried as severely as possible because of
his roots. The accused was also not allowed to have a lawyer or
counsel for his defense, and the names of all witnesses were kept
secret from him (Roth, 1964).The punishments and tortures used to gain
confessions are the most famous parts of the Inquisition. Because the
trials were for spiritual matters, the Church handled them. However,
the punishments were usually very much physical, so they were handled
by the state. There were many means of this physical torture for
confession. The two most famous or infamous were the strappado or
pulley, and the aselli or water torment. The strappado was a device
that used ropes to strap a person in by their arms and legs, and then
weights were attached to the ends of these ropes. The person was
raised to a certain level and then the ropes were released. This
created a situation where the body would be stretched painfully,
sometimes enough to produce death (see Figure 1). The aselli was
accomplished as a person was brought to lay down on a trestle with
sharp-edged rungs and secured with an iron band. Their feet would be
elevated above their heads. The accused then had a small piece of
linen forced into the gullet. Using a jar (jarra), water would be
poured into the mouth and nose producing a state of semi-suffocation.
The process would be done repeatedly. While doing that process, the
cords binding the limbs would be tightened until it would seem the
very veins would explode (Roth, 1964). The torture would not be
stopped, but a break could be taken. The difference is that if the
torture were stopped, it could not be started again according to
church law. But, if the torture was only suspended, it could be
resumed at a later time.

The tortures were used on old and young alike to get confessions and
to learn of accomplices. In this way, the Spanish tried to ensure they
would be pure. Once a confession was reached, if it was heinous
enough, the perpetrator would be sentenced to death.The sentence of
death was carried out as the accused was thrown into a fire as an auto
de fe (act of faith). The fire was reserved for those who would not
admit their heresy, those who relapsed in their heresies, and to other
dissenters. The guilty were burned because the church believed they
(the church) should not be a direct party in the shedding of blood. To
remain free of blood, the church "relaxed" or handed over the guilty
to the secular arm. Once handed over, the church would recommend mercy
with the qualifier that if the accused was guilty, they be punished by
death. It was understood that the secular authorities would
immediately condemn those with "relaxed" status to death (Roth, 1964).
If the guilty were fortunate enough to die in the prisons instead,
they and their families were still not safe. Their dead bodies, along
with effigies of those that had escaped to other lands, would be taken
along with the living and thrown into the fire. This allowed the lands
of all of those people to be confiscated, if that had not already been
done. There truly was no escape from the fanaticism of the Spanish
Inquisition.It has been suggested that this was an ethnic, as well as
religious, purification. The difference between the Spanish
Inquisition and the Papal Inquisition was that the Spanish Inquisition
was turned over to secular authorities. The secular authorities were
the ones who were in charge of the maintenance and perpetuation of the
Inquisition.It was therefore a primary instrument of Spanish
absolutism. Moreover, its independent status enabled it to amass
wealth, heaped up by repeated confiscations, and this in itself
rendered it a force to be reckoned with in the affairs of the country
(Roth, 1964, p. 73).From the actions of the Spanish Inquisition, it is
apparent it was an ethnic cleansing. The Spanish Inquisition and its
actions caused 200,000 loyal, but Jewish, Spaniards to leave the
country. Surely, the Spanish Inquisition was about more than just
religious purity.The crown gained in many ways due to the Spanish
Inquisition. Ferdinand and later monarchs were able to use the guilty
as rowers for their war ships. Also, besides increasing in wealth
because of the Inquisition, the Spanish crown gained a certain amount
of control over the Catholic church in Spain. Because Pope Sixtus gave
the authority to the crown, the Catholic church lost some authority
and control of Spain.In summary, the Inquisition in Spain began in
1478 and officially ended in 1808. During that time, 323,362 people
were burned and 17,659 were burned in effigy. It is one of the darkest
periods in Spanish history. By far, the greatest number of cases tried
were for Judaising (Roth, 1964). These were also the cases that were
tried the most severely. There were other minorities, of course, that
were persecuted, but the majority were Jews. The Inquisition
definitely had racial overtones. Although, it can be said that Queen
Isabella officially initiated the Spanish Inquisition for the purity
of faith, nation, and people, this is probably not the case. The
materialistic desires of the aristocracy certainly factor into the
reasons for the perpetuation of the Inquisition.The inquisition is
like most other dark periods of history. It was primarily brought on
because of prejudices and greed. When one people excel within a
society and they make up the minority, they historically are labeled
as scapegoats for the problems of the rest of society. The Renaissance
period was obviously the same. It seems strange that in the history of
man we still have not found a way to deal with our own petty
jealousies.
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