CONTENT WARNING: this article contains commentary on religion, and includes disturbing descriptions of torture and death.
The Spanish Inquisition 1478-1834
The Spanish Inquisition was a Judicial Institution initiated by the Kingdom of Spain in effort to combat ‘heresy’. In reality, it consolidated the power of the monarchy and was used to justify the brutal torture of thousands of non-Catholics and perhaps one of the worst genocides in human history. As bad as The Crusades were (all NINE of them!), the Inquisition is probably the darkest chapter of Christian history, lasting hundreds of years and claiming countless lives – and I bet 90% of you have never even heard of it.
Seriously, horror movies don’t typically scare me, I laughed all the way through The Conjuring, but this… it’s this kind of stuff that really keeps me up at night. It’s stuff like this that makes me question whether or not we deserve to get smited by a swarm of zombie pandas.
I mean, just… I can’t even…
THE MEDIEVAL INQUISITIONS
So this entire mess all started way back in 1233 when Pope Gregory IX established a papal inquisition in France and dispatched heavily armed friars to dish out – er, confessions? Then in 1252, Pope Innocent IV took things a step further and authorized the creation of literal torture chambers. Anyone could be suspected of heresy, with little to no evidence. There was no legal counsel, there was no jury, there was just the Grand Inquisitor yelling ‘repent!’
During these mock trials, suspects were guilty until proven guilty and were often tortured into confessing their sins, real or imagined. Those found guilty (nearly everyone) were turned over to the local authorities. If the person in question confessed their heretical nature and recanted before the tribunal, they were often let off with a lighter sentence: a fine, recommended penance, a slap on the wrist, confiscation of one’s entire property and sometimes merely life imprisonment.
Those who didn’t confess?
Burned at the stake.
Some of the greatest scientific minds in history were persecuted by these literal church-sanctioned witch-hunts. Galileo fell victim to the Roman Inquisition because of his discovery that the Earth was not in fact the center of the universe. He was interrogated for 18 days, threatened into recanting his findings and forced to live under house arrest for the remainder of his days. Giordano Bruno on the other hand, posited (correctly) that the stars in the sky were in fact countless suns like our own with their own planets and was subsequently burned at the stake for it.
These Inquisitions laid the foundation for one of the darkest chapters of a period so dark that its dubbed the Dark Ages…
THE SPANISH INQUISITION!
Spain during the late 1400’s was rife with rampant xenophobic fear and hatred towards ‘outsiders’, especially native-born Jews. This led to a wave of anti-Jewish violence in the streets. Thousands of surviving Jewish victims were forcibly baptized – because the best way to teach others about Jesus is to put a gun to their head? So naturally many of them ‘converted’ to Christianity, but kept their personal beliefs and culture a secret.
When times were tough for the economy and the people once again needed a scapegoat to put all their blame on, they turned to the newly converted Jewish community. Even those who were sincere were blamed for ‘faking it’. So in 1478, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (yes, the very same Ferdinand and Isabella who reluctantly funded Columbus’s expedition to ‘India’) decided it was time for an all new inquisition, just to spice things up.
This time however, it was only authorized by the Church and instead run by the state. As you can probably assume by the nature of this blog, things rapidly spun wildly out of control (because they were so in control to begin with). The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, authorized by Pope Sixtus IV and was led by a pious prick named Tomás de Torquemada.
One of the many problematic aspects of the Inquisitions was that there was very little oversight, especially considering the Inquisitors were above the law, leading to dozens of abuses. Many nobles and clergy who supported the Inquisition soon fell victim to it. One particularly corrupt Inquisitor, Diego Rodriguez Lucero, used his position to have two men killed just so that he could take their wives as his mistresses without repercussion!
A decree was sent out to all of Spain and the newly conquered Muslim territories, that all non-Catholics must convert, or leave. This edict prompted 40,000 Jews to flee the country, instantly leaving an economic depression in their absence. Instead of seeing the error of their ways, the Spanish monarchy doubled down on their anti-immigration stance and used the Inquisition as an excuse to steal from the more prosperous minorities who decided to stand their ground.
Unfortunately basic human rights weren’t really a thing back then. Droves of accused heretics were ‘cleansed’ in a ceremony known as ‘Auto-de-Fe’ which means ‘Act of Faith’. Cleansing in this case meant death by fire. And believe it or not, those were the lucky ones…
Torquemada was a sick @$#%&! and complete hypocrite. He was appointed as the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition in 1483 and immediately set off on a brutal antisemitic joy ride of terror and mayhem across Spain. Nearly 2,000 victims were killed by Torquemada’s zealous tactics. In fact, it got so bad that at one point, Pope Alexander VI decided to send four assistant inquisitors to restrain him.
What makes Torquemada especially diabolical is that he was absolutely unforgiving. It didn’t matter whether or not you repented: the arrival of the Inquisition was a death sentence. If you don’t admit your sins – you die. If you admit your sins – you die. If you sincerely ask for forgiveness – you still die, but you might get off easy with strangulation rather than being tortured to death or burned alive.
Even though the Inquisition specifically targeted “insincere” Jewish converts, Torquemada decided to use it as a weapon against a range of perceived crimes, including: adultery, blasphemy, sodomy, and even accusations of ‘sorcery’. Whether or not you did anything wrong was irrelevant because Torquemada had a variety show of new and innovative ways of extracting confessions…
There were a number of disturbing / horrendous torture methods invented by the creative minds of the Tribunal.
No joke, the following may ruin your appetite:
I think its safe to say that the Spanish Inquisition perpetrated far more evil than it sought to eliminate over its four hundred year reign of terror. It was basically ‘The Purge’ Medieval Edition.
OTHER INQUISITIONS AND STUFF
During this time there were a couple of spin-offs: The (previously mentioned) Roman Inquisition was prompted by Martin Luther‘s Protestant Reformation and the Portuguese Inquisition, which took place in Portugal. In addition, the Spanish Crown exported three Inquisition tribunals to the Americas: Mexico, Peru and Columbia where they forcibly converted the native populace.
The Spanish Inquisition itself was finally abolished after Napoleon briefly took over, but didn’t officially end until 1834. The last victim of the Inquisition was a school teacher named Cayetano Ripoll, who was hung in 1826 for allegedly being exposed to deism after being captured by French forces while fighting for his country.
Throughout six centuries, its estimated that the inquisitions were responsible for the deaths of at least 600,000 with perhaps as many victims as 5 million (a number that is very much debated). They sought to make the world a more prosperous place and turned it into a living nightmare.
And that kids, is why the separation of Church and State is so important.