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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Persecution of the Jews: The Inquisition of the church against the Jews 1481-1834

How criminal Catholic "Christian" church and the criminal Pope justified anonymous allegations against the Jews and New Christians with torture, degradation, and burning - and confiscation of the property

from: Black death; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 8

presented by Michael Palomino (2007)



3. Inquisition in Spain 1481-1492

[since 1481]: The Spanish Inquisition until 1492

The Spanish Inquisition, which began to function in 1481, far surpassed the papal Inquisition of the Middle Ages both in the scale and intensity of its activities. Its impact on Jewish history was incomparably greater, for its principal objective was the persecution of those inclined toward Judaism. Of the many scholars who have studied the nature of the Spanish Inquisition, some have emphasized its ecclesiastical character, while others have been inclined to regard it as a distinctly political institution. This Inquisition was in fact established as a Church institution deriving its authority from the pope, but it was destined to solve a specifically Spanish religious-social problem and thus evolved into a political institution, although retaining its purely religious aspect.

Woodcut about inquisitor Alfonso de Espina confronting with the devil, and Jews in the background are blindfolded, because they "do not see the truth", Spain, c. 1474
Woodcut about inquisitor Alfonso de Espina confronting with the devil, and Jews in the background are blindfolded, because they "do not see the truth", Spain, c. 1474

[Spain: The discussion about the integration of the Conversos]

The persecutions of 1391 and of 1412-14 created a new religious and social problem in *Spain, that of the *anusim or Conversos. Having abandoned the Jewish faith under duress, these *New Christians continued to maintain close relations with their former brethren and occasionally seized the opportunity to emigrate in order to return to Judaism. All attempts made by the authorities to separate the Conversos from Judaism - by legislation, by the separation of their dwellings from the Jewish quarters, or through education - were  fruitless. From the second half of the 15th century, a public discussion took place on the question of the Conversos and various methods and projects were advanced for the solution of the problem.

There were in fact some distinguished personalities who (col. 1381)

defended the Conversos and their right to become integrated within Spanish society as Christians with equal rights: the most outstanding of these was Alfonso de Cartagena (1384-1456), son of the apostate Pablo de *Santa María, in his work Defensorium unitatis Christianae (ed. by M. Alonso, 1943). Prominent among those who adopted a firm attitude against the Conversos was the Franciscan monk *Alfonso de Espina (second half of the 15th century). In his work Fortalitium Fidei (Nuremberg, 1485-98), he proposed a detailed plan for heresy-hunting among the Conversos, a scheme which might well be regarded as the harbinger of the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition. This debate was accompanied by violent outbursts against Conversos, the most important being the attempt by Pedro *Sarmiento in Toledo in 1449 to institute Inquisition court-proceedings against Conversos who had risen to important functions within Christian society.

[since 1478: Ferdinand and Isabella introducing measures for Inquisition against Conversos and Jews]

The ascent of *Ferdinand and Isabella to the throne of Castile in 1474 provided a favorable opportunity for those Church extremists who advocated a radical solution. The Catholic monarchs required some faithful supporters for the consolidation of their rule, and these emerged from among the churchmen and the townspeople. In exchange for their support, Ferdinand and Isabella introduced a series of restrictive measures against both Conversos and Jews.

However, there is no reason to doubt that the appeal of Ferdinand and Isabella to Pope Sixtus IV in 1477, requesting him to authorize them to establish the Inquisition, was motivated by the religious fervor which was characteristic of their policy from the start. In his reply given on Nov. I, 1478, the pope authorized them to appoint inquisitors in every part of Castile. (col. 1382)

[1481: Starting inquisition in Spain under Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San Martin - first Inquisition at Seville]

Two Dominican monks, Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San Martín, were appointed to head the Inquisition on Sept. 27, 1480, and on Jan. 1, 1481, they began their activities, choosing to start in *Seville because the region of Andalusia was considered an important center of Judaizers. The inquisitors demanded that the noblemen deliver into their hands all Judaizers who had fled and been taken under their protection. A large number of Conversos were arrested, including many wealthy and notable personalities of Seville. The records of the tribunal have not been preserved in this case, but from the evidence of the chronicler Andrés Bernáldez it appears that during the years 1481-88 over 700 Conversos were burned at the stake and more than 5,000 were brought back to the Church by means of various penalties.

In Aragon, the papal Inquisition which had been founded in 1237/8 under the influence of *Raymond de Peñaforte operated against the Conversos of Valencia during the 1460s. The results of its activities appeared unsatisfactory to the king, however, and as early as 1484 he appointed new investigators to take up their duties there.

[since 1483: Inquisition also in Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia - expulsions from Andalusia - inquisitor-general Tomás de Torquemada - abolition of Conversos' rights]

Moved by the complaints of many Conversos against the methods of the Seville Inquisition, Pope Sixtus IV at first (January 1482) opposed the extension of the tribunal to Aragon, but was unable to hold out against Ferdinand's displeasure and, in October 1483, agreed to extend the rights of the Inquisition in Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia.

During that year, the Jews were expelled from Andalusia, and Tomás de *Torquemada, head of the Dominican monastery of Santa Cruz in Segovia, was appointed inquisitor-general of the Spanish kingdom. The measures he introduced determined the character of the institution from the start and left their imprint on its activities during the whole of its existence. It was he who decided on the composition of every Inquisition tribunal and abolished all the orders which had previously been issued by the pope in favor of the Conversos.

[1483-1485: Inquisition at Ciudad Real - 52 Jews burnt at the stake]

In 1483, an Inquisition tribunal, which continued until 1485, was set up in *Ciudad Real. Torquemada intended this tribunal as an experiment in anticipation of the establishment of a tribunal in *Toledo, to prepare the public and test their reactions. During this period at least 100 Conversos were condemned, 52 to the stake, about 15 in effigy, and the remains of others were exhumed and burned.

[1485: Start of Inquisition at Guadalupe]

An Inquisition tribunal was also established in *Guadalupe in 1485, and during one year 52 Conversos were burned at the stake and the bodies of 48 condemned after death were exhumed and burned, as were the effigies of 25 Conversos who had fled.

[1485-1492: Inquisition at Toledo and many Jews burnt at the stake]

In 1485, the tribunal of Ciudad Real was transferred to Toledo, where, according to tradition, the Conversos had intended to assassinate the Inquisition officers during the Corpus Christi procession, but the plot was discovered and its initiators hanged. The "period of grace" of 40 days, during which the Conversos were called upon to confess their sins, was extended by a further 90 days. The authorities compelled the communal leaders of the Jews to proclaim in the synagogues that any Jew knowing of Conversos who adhered to Judaism, who did not bring this to the cognizance of the Inquisition, would be laid under the *herem. The tribunal of Toledo, which had jurisdiction over 88 towns and villages, brought many Conversos to trial during its early years, but by 1492 the number of trials gradually decreased, the Inquisition then being busy with preparations for the expulsion.

In 1486, 20 autos-de-fé were held in Toledo and 3,327 persons sentenced; in 1488, there were three autos-de-fé in which 40 Conversos were burned at the stake and over 100 bodies exhumed and burned; in 1490, there were two autos-de-fé in which 422 Conversos (col. 1383)

were burned at the stake and 11 sentenced to life imprisonment; and in 1492, five Conversos were burned at the stake and a few others sentenced to imprisonment.

[Inquisition in Aragon under inquisitor Juan de Çolivera at Cella - death sentences]

Torquemada's appointment of two inquisitors in *Saragossa in 1484 aroused the anger of the notables of Aragon, who regarded this as an attack on the freedom of their kingdom whose laws prohibited the appointment of officials of foreign origin. After the Inquisition had begun to function there at full strength, a special delegation representing the various estates of Aragon appealed to the king to repeal the decree, but to no avail. In spite of this, the opposition did not subside.

When Juan de Çolivera, the newly appointed inquisitor of Aragon, attempted to establish his tribunal in *Teruel, its leaders closed the gates of the town to him and he was compelled to settle in the village of Cella. During his stay there, he conducted the interrogations of the tribunal with unprecedented cruelty, and between 1484 and 1486 over 30 people were condemned to death, while only seven Conversos were accepted as penitents - all without a "period of grace" being proclaimed before the interrogations.

[Inquisition at Saragossa: Assassination of the inquisitor Pedro de Arbués - death sentences at the stake]

In Saragossa, the Conversos endeavored to obstruct the progress of the Inquisition; their diplomatic efforts failing, they organized a plot which resulted in the assassination of the inquisitor Pedro de *Arbués in 1485. The resultant investigation revealed that among the leading instigators of the plot were several of the most prominent New Christians who were also favorites at court, including members of the *Sánchez, *Santangel, and *Cavallería families. In Saragossa, the number of Conversos who were accepted as penitents was also small in comparison with those who were burned at the stake. Until 1492, about 600 Conversos were sentenced there.

[since 1487: Inquisition at Barcelona under inquisitors Juan Franco and Miguel Cassells - more Inquisition at Lérida and Huesca - circumcision questions]

The establishment of the Inquisition tribunal in *Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, also met with the opposition of the city's leaders. Becoming aware of Torquemada's projected tribunal, large numbers of Conversos fled, severely affecting the economy of the town in consequence. Once more the complaints were of no avail and in February 1486, Pope Innocent VIII appointed Torquemada as inquisitor of Barcelona and canceled the appointments of the medieval inquisitors who had functioned until then. In 1487, Torquemada appointed Juan Franco and Miguel Cassells as inquisitors in Barcelona and they began their activities in the town in July of the same year.

Additional tribunals were also established prior to the expulsion in *Lérida and *Huesca. In the latter town, many Conversos, including *Juan de Ciudad, who had taken refuge there during the middle of the 15th century, undergone circumcision, and returned to Judaism, were brought to trial. A number of Jews were also executed; these included Isaac *Bivach (Bibago), who was accused of having circumcised Conversos. Among the prominent trials held by the Inquisition prior to the expulsion was that of the Holy Child of *La Guardia in 1490, in which Jews were also involved.

[General result: 13,000 Conversos remained faithful to Judaism]

The trials of the Conversos during the first 12 years of the Spanish Inquisition demonstrated that the extremist churchmen had been true judges of the nature of the New Christians, as trial after trial revealed the loyalty of the Conversos to Judaism and their close ties with the Jewish communities of Spain. There is no doubt that the results of the investigations of the Inquisition, which brought to light some 13,000 Conversos who had remained faithful to Judaism, were factors prompting the Catholic monarchs, who sought to create a national unity in Spain based on religious and ethnic foundations, to order the expulsion of the Jews from the kingdom in 1492.

By expelling the Jews, they hoped to eliminate that element which was responsible (col. 1384)

for the Judaizing inclinations of the Conversos and thus weaken their attachment to Judaism and bring them back to the Christian faith. [ED.]> (col. 1385)

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