The Inquisition was a Roman Catholic tribunal for
discovery and punishment of heresy, which was marked by the severity
of questioning and punishment and lack of rights afforded to the
While many people associate the Inquisition with Spain and Portugal, it was actually
instituted by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) in Rome. A later pope, Pope
Gregory IX established the Inquisition, in 1233, to combat the heresy
of the Abilgenses, a religious sect in France.
By 1255, the Inquisition was in full gear throughout Central and Western
Europe; although it was never instituted in England or Scandinavia.
Initially a tribunal would
open at a location and an edict of grace would
be published calling upon those who are conscious
of heresy to confess; after a period of grace,
the tribunal officers could make accusations.
Those accused of heresy were sentenced at an auto
de fe, Act of Faith. Clergyman would sit
at the proceedings and would deliver the punishments.
Punishments included confinement to dungeons,
physical abuse and torture. Those who reconciled
with the church were still punished and many
had their property confiscated, as well as
were banished from public life. Those who never
confessed were burned at the stake without
strangulation; those who did confess were strangled
first. During the 16th and 17th centuries,
attendance at auto
de fe reached as high
as the attendance at bullfights.
In the beginning, the Inquisition dealt only with
Christian heretics and did not interfere with the affairs of Jews.
However, disputes about Maimonides
books (which addressed the synthesis of Judaism and other cultures)
provided a pretext for harassing Jews and, in 1242, the Inquisition
condemned the Talmud and burned thousands of volumes. In 1288, the first mass burning of
Jews on the stake took place in France.
In 1481 the Inquisition started in Spain and ultimately surpassed the medieval Inquisition, in both scope and
intensity. Conversos (Secret Jews) and New Christians were targeted
because of their close relations to the Jewish community, many of
whom were Jews in all but their name. Fear of Jewish influence led
Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand to write a petition to the Pope
asking permission to start an Inquisition in Spain. In 1483 Tomas de
Torquemada became the inquisitor-general for most of Spain,
he set tribunals in many cities. Also heading the Inquisition in
Spain were two Dominican monks, Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San
First, they arrested Conversos
and notable figures in Seville;
in Seville more than 700 Conversos were burned
at the stake and 5,000 repented. Tribunals
were also opened in Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia.
An Inquisition Tribunal was set up in Ciudad
Real, where 100 Conversos were condemned, and
it was moved to Toledo in 1485. Between 1486-1492,
de fes were held in Toledo, 467 people were
burned at the stake and others were imprisoned.
The Inquisition finally made its way to Barcelona,
where it was resisted at first because of the
important place of Spanish Conversos in the economy
More than 13,000 Conversos were put on trial
during the first 12 years of the Spanish Inquisition. Hoping to
eliminate ties between the Jewish community and Conversos, the Jews
of Spain were expelled in 1492..
The next phase of the Inquisition began in Portugal in 1536: King Manuel I had initially asked Pope Leo X to begin an inquisition in 1515, but only after Leo's death in 1521 did Pope Paul III agree to Manuel's request. Thousands of Jews
came to Portugal after the 1492 expulsion. A Spanish style
Inquisition was constituted and tribunals were set up in Lisbon and
other cities. Among the Jews who died at the hands of the Inquisition
were well-known figures of the period such as Isaac de Castro Tartas,
Antonio Serrao de Castro and Antonio
Jose da Silva. The Inquisition never stopped in Spain and continued
until the late 18th century.
By the second half of the 18th century, the
Inquisition abated, due to the spread of enlightened ideas and lack
of resources. The last auto
de fe in Portugal took place on October 27, 1765. Not until 1808, during the brief reign
of Joseph Bonaparte, was the Inquisition abolished in Spain.
An estimated 31,912 heretics were burned at the stake, 17,659 were burned
in effigy and 291,450 made reconciliations in the Spanish Inquisition.
In Portugal, about 40,000 cases
were tried, although only 1,800 were burned, the rest made penance.
The Inquisition was not
limited to Europe; it also spread to Spanish
and Portugese colonies in the New World and
Asia. Many Jews and Conversos fled from Portugal and Spain to
the New World seeking greater security and
economic opportunities. Branches of the Portugese
Inquisition were set up in Goa and Brazil.
Spanish tribunals and auto
de fes were set
up in Mexico, the Philippine Islands, Guatemala,
Peru, New Granada and the Canary Islands.
By the late 18th century, most
of these were dissolved.