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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: Inquisition; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 8

presented by Michael Palomino (2007)



21. The methods of the Inquisition


[Inquisition methods: The invitation for making confessions - Jewish customs are reasons for the stake]

In the course of time, the Spanish Inquisition evolved an elaborate procedure of its own. When a tribunal was opened at any place, an edict of grace would be published, inviting those conscious of heresy to come forward and make confession within a "period of grace", generally of 30 or 40 days.

After the lapse of this period they could be proceeded against by Inquisition officers. At later stages, an edict of faith would periodically be issued summoning all persons, under pain of excommunication, to denounce to the authorities all offenses enumerated in it of which he might have cognizance. These invariably comprised all those popularly associated with Judaism:

-- lighting candles on Friday evening
-- changing the linen on the Sabbath
-- abstaining from pork and scaleless fishes
-- observing the Jewish holidays and especially the Day of Atonement and the fast of Esther
-- laying out the dead according to the Jewish custom, etc.

By this means, the whole population became accomplices of the Inquisition in its task of eradicating heresy; and the denunciation of one of the customs mentioned above, performed absentmindedly or by mere force of habit, was frequently sufficient to bring a man to the stake.

[Inquisition methods: The arrest and the anonymous accusation]

ARREST AND EVIDENCE. Everything took place under the greatest secrecy, which became one of the main terrors of the Inquisition. Any breach of this was liable to be punished with the utmost severity, like heresy itself. From the moment of arrest, therefore, the utmost segregation obtained.

The accused persons were confined in the dungeons of the Inquisition, such as may still be seen in Évora and elsewhere. As was inevitable, there were sometimes terrible abuses, women suffering especially; and (col. 1400)

it happened more than once that female prisoners were dragged pregnant to the stake.

The rules governing evidence were so devised as to exclude all witnesses who were likely to be of any use to the prisoner, on the ground that their evidence would be untrustworthy. No such scruples, however, prevailed with regard to witnesses for the prosecution, who were frequently inspired merely by venom. Moreover, the names of the accusers were suppressed, though originally this was supposed to be permissible only in the case of "powerful persons" who might intimidate the witnesses.

The accusers and accused were thus never confronted. The evidence admitted was flimsy in the extreme: mere regard for personal cleanliness might be sufficient to convict a man of Judaism or Islam, and so cost him his life. Once the accusation was made, the subsequent procedure was based upon a desire to make the accused person confess his crime and thus be admitted to penitence.

[Inquisition methods: Torture to extort confessions]

If this was not forthcoming spontaneously, in accordance with the spirit of the age, torture might be applied: though as a matter of fact in this particular instance the Spanish Inquisition, notorious though its cruelties were, compared favorably with the Roman, where torture might be continued even after confession in order to extort the names of accomplices.

Death under torture was by no means uncommon. In most cases, however, the physician who was present enforced sufficient moderation to avoid this conclusion. Generally, the torture was abundantly sufficient to elicit a confession, if one had been withheld up to that point. It was imposed in most cases only to procure the confession of what the inquisitors already knew or suspected. The cases in which a condemnation was avoided were therefore few in the extreme.

Thus, in the Toledo tribunal between the years 1484 to 1531 they totaled on an average less than two yearly. In the Portuguese Inquisition, the number of condemnations came to well over three-quarters of the total number of cases tried.

[Inquisition methods: The main punishments]

PUNISHMENTS. Often, in the case of any convicted person (col. 1401)

who professed repentance, "reconciliation" followed and the defendant was restored to the bosom of the Church. In such a reconciliation the defendant had to abjure either de levi or de vehementi. A transgressor of a de levi reconciliation may perhaps be punished to abjure de vehementi.

This, paradoxically enough, being itself considered a punishment since the convicted person had to participate in the procession of the auto-da-fé, and had to do many penances, pilgrimages to holy shrines etc. There were two forms of reconciliation on de vehementi, and a slight transgression from Christianity would be considered a relapse into the old sins.

Harsher penalties in force, included scourging, very common in the early period but remitted more and more frequently as time went on. This was executed publicly under every humiliating circumstance. Similar, with the omission of the lashes, was the verguenza, which consisted in the offender parading the town stripped to the waist and bearing the insignia of the offense, the town-crier meanwhile proclaiming the sentence.

The mordaza or gag was sometimes applied, this being regarded as increasing the humiliation of the punishment. In Abjuration de levi, he added that in case of failing in his promise to comply with punishment he should be held as impenitent: in abjurations de vehementi, that in such a case he should be considered and treated as a relapsed heretic.

A reconciliation of this sort could be performed only once and any subsequent conviction was taken as an obvious proof that the original penitence had been insincere and the culprit was condemned to the stake.

The reconciliation was invariably accompanied by a punishment of varying intensity. More severe was the penalty of the galleys, an economical device of Ferdinand the Catholic whereby the punishment of heresy was turned to the benefit of the state and which was adopted by the Roman Inquisition.

In 1573, and again in 1591, the Suprema ordered that all Conversos, even when confessing their crime freely, should be sent to the galleys, and it remained a penalty very frequently inflicted upon secret (col. 1402)

Jews. In the course of the 18th century, other types of penal servitude were substituted. For women, forced service in hospitals or houses of correction was the alternative.

Perpetual incarceration was another common form of punishment; though the prison was known by the euphemistic title of casa de la penitencia or de la misericordia. At a later period, the duration of the imprisonment was generally decreased, persons being released after eight years or even less, though the title of the punishment officially remained the same.

Among the other punishments may be mentioned that of exile or exclusion from certain places, and the custom of razing to the ground the house of any particularly heinous offender or one in which heretical - especially Jewish - services had been held.

[Many more little punishments of the Inquisition]

It was not only in his own person that any person convicted of a serious offense by the Inquisition was punished. A number of disabilities followed which fell not only on those penanced but also on their children and their male descendants for two generations to come:

-- they were not allowed to enter Holy Orders;
-- they were excluded from any public dignity;
-- they were not permitted to become physicians, apothecaries, tutors of the young, advocates, scriveners, or farmers of revenue;
-- they were subjected to certain sumptuary laws, not being permitted to wear cloth of gold or silver or precious stones, to bear arms, or to ride on horseback.

Neglect of these provisions, sometimes even after the lapse of several generations, brought the offender once more into the clutches of the Inquisition. However, infractions were generally punished only by a fine, and the sale of rehabilitation ultimately became very common.

[Inquisition: Confiscation of the property made Inquisition "interesting"]

One of the strongest weapons of the Inquisition was the power it had of confiscating the property of those convicted of heresy. At the beginning, the proceeds were devoted to the use of the crown, but they gradually devolved more and more upon the Inquisition itself. In the early period, general arrangements on the part of the New (col. 1403)

Christians to save themselves from arbitrary confiscation were not uncommon, but this practice speedily died out. It was through this power that the Inquisition was raised into a corporation of such vast influence and wealth. Above all, it made it overwhelmingly to its interest to procure the conviction of all who were brought before it, especially when they were persons of great means.

Noting else, perhaps, was more instrumental in draining the Peninsula of its accumulated wealth during the course of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. It was a weapon which struck at the whole of a man's family, and might reduce it in a moment from affluence to beggary, while through its means the economic life of the whole country was liable to be disorganized.

[The death penalty of the Inquisition: The "Christian" justification of the stake]

THE DEATH PENALTY. The final sanction of the Inquisition was that of death. As an ecclesiastical body, however, it was not permitted itself to be a party to this. It therefore "relaxed" the convicted person to the secular arm, with a formal recommendation for mercy, adding that if it were found necessary to proceed to the extreme penalty, it should be done "without effusion of blood" - that is, by burning.

This was an old legal fiction of the Catholic Church dating back to the 11th or 12th century; and the mode of punishment was justified by a text in John 15:6:

"If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."

Generally speaking, the extreme penalty was reserved for those who refused the opportunity for repentance: either the contumacios, who gloried in their crime and died true martyrs; or the "relapsed", who had been reconciled on some previous occasion and whose backsliding proved their insincerity; or the diminutos, whose confession was incomplete and who shielded their accomplices; or the negativos, who refused to confess to the charges made against them in the hope of escaping conviction.

In this last category there must necessarily have been included on occasion some who were absolutely innocent of the crimes imputed to them and would not confess to falsehood even to escape death. The fact that such persons were condemned to the flames shows clearly on what sure ground tie Inquisition generally felt itself.

"Dogmatizers" or those who, whether baptized or not, propagated heretical views were also regarded as inevitable victims, and in the earlier period of the Inquisition many fervent professing Jews suffered under this head.

However, by no means all of those executed capitally were burned alive. A profession of repentance, even after condemnation, was almost always effective in securing preliminary garroting, only the corpse then being burned at the stake. The effigies of fugitives, with the bones of those who had escaped justice by death (sometimes in prison or under torture) would similarly be committed to the flames. Those burned in effigy on certain occasions sometimes totaled something like half as many as those burned in person. This was far from an empty formality, as the condemnation secured the confiscation of their property, while reconciliation was in such cases obviously outside the bounds of possibility.

[The death penalty of the Inquisition: The stake]

THE AUTOS-DA-FÉ. The sentences of the Inquisition were announced at the so-called Act of Faith: auto-de-fé as it was termed in Spain and auto-da-fé in Portugal. For lighter offenses, the ceremonial might be private (auto particular or autillo), in which case it would be held in a church; but this was rarely resorted to for so grave a crime as Judaizing, particularly as it was considered wrong to pronounce a sentence of death in the sacred precincts.

In most cases, the ceremony was public (auto publico general). This ultimately became the subject of elaborate organization. The ceremony would take place on some feast day in the principal (col. 1404)

square of the city. Ample notice was given so as to attract as large a group of spectators as possible, spiritual benefits being promised to all who were present. Two stagings were erected at vast expense - one for those convicted and their spiritual attendants, and the other for the inquisitors and the rest of the authorities, while a temporary altar, draped in black, was set up in the middle.

The proceedings would be opened by a procession in which all the clergy of the city took part. Behind them followed those condemned to appear. All those abjuring de vehementi had to carry lighted tapers in their hands and to wear the sanbenito or saco bendito (the abito as it was called in the official sentence).

This, which was an innovation of the Spanish Inquisition, consisted of a long yellow robe, transversed by a black cross (in the case of those convicted of formal heresy alone, only one of the arms was necessary). In case the heretic had escaped the stake by confession, flames were painted on the garment, which was sometimes of black. Those condemned to be burned bore in addition pictures of demons thrusting the heretical into hell, while they wore tall miters similarly adorned for additional prominence (the use of these, which were worn in different forms also by bigamists and perjurers, was forbidden by the Roman Inquisition in 1596).

In certain cases, as an additional punishment, the sanbenito had to be worn in public even after the release of the prisoner, exposing him to universal scorn and derision. After it was removed, it was generally hung up in the parish church of the delinquent accompanied by a fitting inscriptions, thus marking out the wearer and his family for lasting humiliation. these memorials of shame were destroyed only with the abolition of the Inquisition in the early years of the 19th century.

When the procession had arrived in the square where the auto-da-fé was to be celebrated, amid general scorn the penitents would take their place on the scaffolding reserved for them. A sermon would then be preached by some distinguished cleric, directed especially against the penitents, upon whose heads a torrent of the most unsparing insults would be poured. They would then appear one by one before the pulpit to hear their sentences, which would hitherto have been kept a profound secret. This took some time, the proceedings often being protracted into night and sometimes being spread over two or even three days.

The sentences of those "relaxed" to the secular arm were left to the last. They were then formally condemned to death by the civil magistrate and escorted to the quemadero (or brasero), the place of burning, by a detachment of soldiers, whose presence was sometimes necessary to save them from a violent but more humane death at the hands of the infuriated mob.

To light the brand with which the pyre was kindled was considered a religious duty and honor of the highest degree and frequently fell to the lot of visiting royalty. The ashes of the victims were supposed to be scattered to the winds. A repentant heretic would sometimes be strangled before being burned.

[Auto-de-fé / auto-da-fé becomes a "Christian" mass attraction of the criminal king]

During the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, the auto-de-fé came to be regarded as a great public spectacle in the Peninsula and its dependencies, vying in popular appeal with bullfights. Especially splendid celebrations would sometimes be arranged in honor of royalty: thus on Feb. 24/5, 1560, an auto-de-fé was held at Toledo to celebrate the visit of Philip II and his bride, Isabella of Valois; the tribunal of Madrid was inaugurated on July 4, 1632 by an auto-de-fé in celebration of the safe delivery of the queen; but the climax was reached on June 30, 1680 on the Plaza Mayor of the same city, in the presence of Charles II and his bride, Marie Louise d'Orléans, in honor of their marriage.

At this, which began at six o'clock in the morning and lasted 14 hours, no less than 51 persons were burned either (col. 1405)

in person or in effigy, the king himself setting light to the brand which kindled the quemadero. This, as a great court spectacle, formed the subject of a painting by Rizi, It was the last great solemnity of its kind, as Philip V, the first of the Bourbon line, refused (in 1701) to grace with his presence one arranged in honor of his accession, and the usage was henceforth abandoned.

[Reports: The names of the victims]

Accounts of the auto-da-fé, giving full details of the names of the victims and the nature of their punishment, with particulars of who was burned alive, who after garroting, or who in effigy, were subsequently printed and hawked about the streets: they form one of the main sources of information for the proceedings.

[Reports: The sermons against the victims]

Similarly, the sermons preached at the auto-da-fé were often subsequently published: in Portuguese alone, about 75 are extant in print. They speak of the penitents often as Jews, and in terms of the most outrageous vituperation.

Most noteworthy is the sermon delivered on Sept. 6, 1705 at the great auto-da-fé held at Lisbon by the archbishop of Cranganore which was notable for the violence of its language: it was answered by David *Nieto, haham in London, in a crushing pamphlet which is a masterpiece of polemic and was not without influence in weakening the prestige and destroying the influence of the Inquisition in Portugal.

On the other hand, counterparts of these pamphlets were sometimes issued at Amsterdam and elsewhere, where the local rabbis and poets would mourn the death of their martyrs in sermons and elegies. A noteworthy example is the volume of collected pieces published on the occasion of the martyrdom of Abraham Nuńes *Bernal at Córdoba in 1655.

In the prayer books printed for the use of the Converso communities abroad at this period there is included a special *Ashkavah beginning "God of Vengeance" to be recited in the synagogue in memory of "those burned for the Sanctification of the Name".

It was in Portugal that the New Christians formed the most important element in the population, and there accordingly that the victims of the Inquisition were the most illustrious. Among the most noteworthy of the martyrs, one or two names may be mentioned:

-- Luis *Dias of Setúbal, a poor tailor of Setúbal who claimed to be the Messiah (1540);
-- Gonçalo Bandarra, the prophet of Sebastianism (1540);
-- perhaps the famous David *Reuveni, probably burned c. 1538;
-- Antonio *Homem, professor of (col. 1406) Canon Law at the University of Coimbra, who officiated as rabbi at a secret synagogue in that city (1624);
-- Fra Diogo da *Assumpcăo, a promising theologian, who remained revered by the Conversos as a martyr many years after his death (1603);
-- Lope de *Vera y Alarcon, a young noble who circumcised himself and went by the name of Judah the Believer (1644);
-- Isaac de *Castro Tartas, whose fortitude made a deep impression on all who came into touch with him (1647);
-- Manuel *Fernandes Villareal, poet and diplomat (1652);
-- and Antonio José da *Silva, the dramatist (1739).

Many other persons (such as Tome Vaz, the jurist, or Andre d'Avelar and Pedro Nuńes, the mathematicians) suffered lesser penalties.

In Spain, among the illustrious victims may be mentioned
-- Felipe *Godínez, the poet, who was reconciled at Seville in 1624, and
-- Antonio *Gómez Enríquez (Henriquez), the playwright, who was burned in effigy at Madrid in 1680. [C.R.]>

(col. 1407)
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