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The Spanish Inquisition

CONTENT WARNING: this article contains commentary on religion, and includes disturbing descriptions of torture and death.

The Spanish Inquisition 1478-1834

The Inquisition - as depicted by Mel Brooks ("History of the World - Part One")

The Inquisition – brought to you by Mel Brooks

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…

Painting - The Inquisition



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!’

imprisoned victim of the InquisitionDuring 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.

witch burning

Seems reasonable

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…



Nobody ever expects THE SPANISH INQUISITION! (Monty Python meme)

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.

Initially, the Spanish Inquisition was not taken too seriously -- 'Come on! This is a wind-up.....right?'

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…

The Spanish Inquisition - burnings




Torquemada – even his face is pure nightmare fuel

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…



SAW - movie

Would you like to play a game?

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:

  • First up is the Strappado – a pulley system designed to hoist a victim up with their hands tied behind their back with heavy iron weights strapped to their feet.
  • Despite its name ‘Chinese Water Torture’ was also practiced in Spain as one of the more ‘humane’ tactics – a torture so debilitating that it has been known to drive someone mad within just a few hours.
    Inquisition Wheel

    Fun times?

  • The Judas Cradle was an excruciating device that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy: it was basically a sharp pointy pyramid that one was slowly lowered onto – butt first.
  • Thumbscrews were all the rage throughout the Dark Ages, this was no exception. A simple device that slowly crushed one’s thumbs (no more video games I guess)
  • The medieval coffin was a particularly popular form of torture / execution in which the alleged criminal was shoved inside a full body cage and left out to rot in front of the townsfolk as an example, where they were often pelted by spoiled vegetables and rocks.
  • The Spanish Donkey was / is a horrifying torture technique employed by both the Spanish Inquisition *and* the Union soldiers during the American Civil War: it’s basically a spiked wooden beam that a naked person would be strapped to as weights forced you down on it. Most passed out from the pain and it completely sliced through at least one poor schmuck.
    Pin-head Hellraiser meme: Really struggling to find that funny
  • Another truly evil device was the Spider, also dubbed “the Breast Ripper” which, as you probably could guess, was often used against females accused of witchcraft or adultery. This insanely messed up invention (straight from the nightmares of Freddy Kruger) involved molten hot spikes tearing into – well yeah, you get the picture.
  • The Rack was basically like being Stretch-Armstrong in the middle of a relentless game of tug-o-war – it often ended with dislocated joints, limbs, and / or spines.
  • Perhaps the most diabolical device, used exclusively by the Spanish Inquisition was the Head-Crusher. The Head-Crusher did exactly that, albeit very, very slowly.
  • On occasion if these tortures didn’t force a confession, the ‘unrepentant heretic’ would be strapped to a cross where they’d have each of their limbs broken with an iron bar, in two places, and then left to die of exposure and / or burned to death depending on the weather.

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.



The Seal of the Tribunal - Spanish InquisitionDuring 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.

                                          ERIK SLADER

Thanks for reading! If you’re a fan of the blog, be sure to listen to the Epik Fails of History podcast and check out my all new “EPIC FAILS” book series – available now wherever books are sold!

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Spanish Inquisition - Magic Card—– More articles on Historic Failure:







“The Spanish Inquisition” by Cecil Roth

“Medieval Europe: A Short History” by C. Warren Hollister

“The Dark Side of Christianity” by Helen Ellerbe

Erik Slader
Erik Slader
Erik Slader is the creator of “Epik Fails of History” a blog (and podcast) about the most epic fails… of history. With Ben Thompson, Erik is the co-author of the Epic Fails book series. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Media, once managed a comic book shop, has a weakness for fancy coffee and currently lives in Green Cove Springs, Florida with too many cats.


  1. Mikel says:

    To be fair, the original stage-and-dvd version of Stella almost always ended with them taking their wieners out.If Brian Azzarello reads Best and Worst, then I demand you start making obtuse references to &#r6u2;Architect18e and Morality.’

  2. R says:

    It would be better to just copy wikipedia. At least it proposes rational numbers. 5 million victims? More like 5,000 but then I do not think the truth is that interesting.

    Read the wikipedia article. It is not the best source but better than this site.

    • Erik Slader says:

      Hi there, thank you so much for your reply, R!

      It’s worth pointing out that victims don’t just include deaths, but those that were persecuted by the Inquisition over the course of 600 years. Although I have checked a number of sources (listed at the bottom of the article) I’m of course by no means an expert. I have since included that the number is up for debate among historians, but from what I have gathered estimates are anywhere between 60,000 and 5 million, unfortunately we may never know – unless someone manages to develop a Flux Capacitor. Of course, the important thing is to recognize the tragedy and learn from it.
      Thank you for reading!


      “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).”

  3. […] killing them for who they are. Unfortunately this is just one of *many* cases throughout history. (see: The Spanish Inquisitions for more random fun!) It may not have been on the scale of the Holocaust Death Camps in Nazi Germany, but at least they […]

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