The Spanish Inquisition is usually synonymous with persecution, brutality and tyranny; and it is thought to be the forerunner of the covert regulatory bodies of contemporary autocracies. Yet how accurate is this picture of an establishment set up in the late 15th century to route out deviation and agnosticism in that land? This report aims to place the Spanish Inquisition in its correct historical context. BACKGROUND The conception of inquisitions to eliminate religious heretics was not new when, in 1478, Pope Sixtus IV sanctioned the formation of Spanish Inquisition.
The monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, decided to establish a body (which began its work in 1480) chiefly to deal with the issue of the huge numbers of converted Jews (Conversos) who were alleged of continuing to carry out tenants of the Jewish religion after apparent conversion to Catholicism. Following the formal expulsion of all non-converted Jews from Spain in 1492, the problem of the Conversos increased. The roots of the Spanish Inquisition can therefore be traced quite clearly back to anti-Semitism.
In 1518, the Inquisition became a permanently unified body under one head, the Inquisitor-General . Tomas de Torquemada was appointed by the Monarchs as Grand Inquisitor of the Inquisition. The Catholic Church, under the rule of the pope in Rome was a powerful force in Europe during the Middle ages. The decrees of the church provided the basis of law and order. Christians who disagreed with catholic principles were regarded as heretics, and heresy was considered an crime against the church and the state.
The “inquiries” into a person’s faith to determine whether or not one was a heretic, was branded as the inquisition, with the inquisitors being priests or bishops who subjected a suspect to long grilling followed by terrible tortures. Death by fire was often the punishment of those who did not repent. The heretic’s property was then claimed by the church. Between 1478 and 1502, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon took three complementary decisions. They persuaded the pope to create the Inquisition; they expelled the Jews; and they forced the Muslims of the kingdom of Castile to convert to Catholicism.
All these measures were designed to achieve the same end: the establishment of a united faith. The Christian, Muslims and Jewish communities existed tolerantly throughout the first centuries of Muslim domination and continued to do so in the Christian Spain of the 12th and 13th century. Tolerance presupposed an absence of discrimination against minorities and respect for the point of view of others. This tolerance was nowhere to be found in the Iberia of the 8th century to the 15th. Spanish archdeacon named Ferran Martinez was busy delivering a sequence of sermons in the diocese of Seville.
It was his remarkable eloquence rather than the novelty of his subject which attracted an audience: for he spoke only on a single theme, one that in every age has provided an easy stalking horse for demagogues religious and civil- the iniquities of the Jews. Their veins had venom that poisoned whatever contribution they made. The Jews, he argued, had been guilty, as a body, of the greatest crime in history. They adhered to a faith that had been rejected in no uncertain manner by the Deity.
Their ceremonies were outmoded and impious, rendered those who performed them capable of the most heinous misdoings and doomed them to eternal punishment in the hereafter . ORIGIN AND AIMS Jews weren’t newcomers in Spain. They had been settled there since the 1st century. Documentary and archaeological evidence demonstrates their numbers at the beginning of the fourth century, long before the coming of the Arabs or the Visigoths. The latter had persecuted them, but under the moors they had flourished as nowhere else in Europe. They were an important and influential minority.
Every Spanish city had its prosperous juderia, or Jewish quarter, comprised of craftsmen and weavers, goldsmiths and carpenters . The Jews had been expelled from England in 1290 by Edward I En masse. His example had been followed in France sixteen later, by Philip the Fair. The Spanish Jews considered themselves secure from anything of the sort. The activities of Martinez disturbed them but didn’t alarm them. Month after month passed without any untoward occurrence. They fell into the error of imagining that nothing would happen.
It came as a shock to them when at the close of 1390, just before Christmastide, Martinez succeeded in having some synagogues in the diocese partially destroyed and closed down, on the plea that they had been built without authorization. The community, alarmed, applied for protection to the council of regency then governing Castile in the name of the young king Henry III, which ordered steps to be taken for the protection of the petitioners. Martinez was defiant, however, and his sermons were as violent as ever. On Wednesday, March 15th, 1391 his harangue was particularly effective, and his audience was roused to a high pitch of frenzy.
On its way from the church, a turbulent crowd, thirsting with zeal and greed, surged towards the Jewish quarter, which seemed to be in imminent danger of sack. The civil authorities were at last awakened to the necessity of stern measures. Seizing two of the most turbulent members of the mob, they had them flogged, turned them into martyrs overnight. After some further disturbances, order was outwardly restored: but the spirit of unrest still simmered and Martinez continued his unbridled invective from the pulpit.
These seemingly unimportant disorders are to be traced some of the greatest tragedies in history – the darkest page in the dark record of the Jewish people, one of the saddest episodes in the history of human thought, and the ultimate decline of sprain from the high status to which her achievements and her genius entitled her – everything, in a word, which is associated with the term, “the Spanish Inquisition”. On June 6th, a storm broke out. An infuriated mob rushed upon the juderia of Seville and put it to sack. An orgy of carnage raged the city.
The dead were numbered by the hundreds, if not by the thousand. Every ruffian in the city flaunted the finery sacked from Jewish houses, or boasted the ravishing of a Jewish maiden . Through some curious psychology of mass psychology, the infection spread from one city to the other, and throughout Spain onslaughts on the Jews became the order of the day. The fury raged that summer and autumn, and at several places the entire Jewish community was exterminated. At Cordova, the ancient Jewish quarter, where Moses Maimonides had first seen the light, was reduced to ashes.
Toledo was witness to a similar horrifying carnage. 70 other towns in Castile were doomed to similar incidents of terror. In Aragon, in spite of measures put into force by the authorities to suppress the mayhem, the case was commonly adhered. In Valencia, within a few days, not a single professing Jew was left alive in the entire kingdom. In Barcelona, despite a half hearted protection given by the civic authorities, the whole community was wiped out. From Catalonia, the disorders spread to the Balearic Islands, where a massacre took place on August 2nd at Palma.
Outbreaks were prevented only in the kingdom of Granada thanks to the efforts of the crown, in Portugal. Elsewhere in the peninsula, hardly a single community escaped. The total no of victims was estimated as many as 50,000 . The Inquisition did not begin in Spain, but did gather notoriety there. Shortly after commencement, the Spanish Inquisition was accused of numerous abuses. Accusations of heresy ran rampant, and innocent, faithful people were unjustly punished by public trials and condemnation. This usually took the form of strangulation or burning at the stake.
The Inquisition, although vastly changed and more humane, remained a strong force in Spain until the early 19th century . By about 1750 the Inquisition had lost its power. It had been created to eradicate all traces of Semitism in Spain. The Jews had long been expelled and two and a half centuries of persecution had eventually eliminated the Judaisers. Yet the statues of blood purity still did not disappear; in fact, in the course of the eighteenth century, they tended to multiply. They no longer constituted a serious obstacle to a career in the Church, the official administration, or civic society.
By the end of the eighteenth century, essentially the Inquisition was operating as a political policing force devoted to opposing the introduction of revolutionary and liberal ideas. By this time, it seemed to have softened its attitude. It no longer published edicts of faith encouraging the faithful spontaneously to denounce their neighbors and their relatives. Nor did it any longer torture its prisoners. CONCLUSION The Spanish Inquisition was one of the most powerful organizations used to eradicate heresy and safeguard the unanimity of Christendom.
Begun in 1478, by 1512 the Inquisition was under review for a wide range of issues – from corruption, patronage and bribery. The Spanish Inquisition, first established under Queen Isabella was finally suppressed 356 years later under Queen Isabella II, leaving its mark in the annals of Western civilization. The onset of the Enlightenment slowed down the Inquisition. It, however, wasn’t until the Spanish invasion of Napoleon that the Inquisition finally came to an end in 1810, being completely abolished in 1836. It is estimated that more than 20,000 people were killed because of the Inquisition.
Numerous more were subjected to torture and others had their possessions confiscated. John Paul II’s teachings are an ever present reminder of how to learn from history: “ …we must take account of the complexity of the relationship between the subject who interprets and the object from the past which is interpreted…. Events or words of the past are, above all, “past. ” As such they are not completely reducible to the framework of the present, but possess an objective density and complexity that prevent them from being ordered in a solely functional way for present interests.
It is necessary, therefore, to approach them by means of an historical-critical investigation that aims at using all of the information available, with a view to a reconstruction of the environment, of the ways of thinking, of the conditions and the living dynamic in which those events and those words are placed, in order, in such a way, to ascertain the contents and the challenges that – precisely in their diversity – they propose to our present time .
On 12 January 2000, to mark the Catholic Church’s Jubilee, Pope John Paul II issued a document entitled Memory and Reconciliation in which he asked for forgiveness for the errors of the Church over its 2,000 year history. ? BIBLIOGRAPHY Kamen, Henry. The Spanish Inquisition: An Historical Revision. London, 1997. John Paul II, Memory and Reconciliation, 2000.
Finkelstein, Louis. 1970. The Jews: their history. New York: Schocken Books. Kohen, Elizabeth, & Elias, Marie Louise. 2004. Spain. New York: Benchmark Books/Marshall Cavendish. Lea, Henry Charles. A History of the Inquisition of Spain. 4 vols. New York, 1906–1908. Lemieux, Simon. “The Spanish Inquisition. ” History Review 7. 44 (2002): 44-49
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