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The Man of Faith (Part 2)

Posted Sep 26 2010 5:00am
Continued from Part 1

The Tribunal also attached a series of articles to the Edict describing the various signs by which a secret Jew might be known.  These signs included: anyone keeping the Sabbath following the law of Moses, i.e.,  refusing to light fires or work beginning on Friday evening, anyone eating meat during Lent or other holy days, anyone observing Jewish holidays (Purim was identified as "the fast of Queen Esther"), anyone reciting the Psalms without adding the words "Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritu Sancto" (Gloria to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), anyone who had their male children circumcised,  or who abided by Jewish dietary laws.  The articles were intended to be as broad as possible to prove to the Queen that Judaizing was rampant in Seville and to justify the repression needed to weed it out.  Local friars developed an efficient espionage network to monitor all conversos for suspicious activity.  One friar even climbed onto the Convent roof on Saturday mornings and carefully noted which houses had no telltale smoke rising from their chimneys.  Those homes not burning fires (presumably due to honouring the Sabbath) were reported to the Tribunal.  No one was safe from being denounced by friends or even family members (one of the first heretics to be burned was turned in by his daughter).

Once the Tribunal was established, the trials began immediately.  While using torture to extract confessions was already common in many countries, the Inquisitors raised it to an art form and all testimony obtained 250px-Pedro_Berruguete_-_Saint_Dominic_Presiding_over_an_Auto-da-fe_%281475%29[1] as a result was accepted without question. The first auto-da-fe (public ceremony of penance) was on February 6, 1481 when six convicted heretics, former prosperous conversos who had spoken out against the Inquisition, were led through the streets of Seville while dressed in yellow sacks.  They were taken to the Cathedral to hear a mass, then taken to a place outside the city where they were burned at the stake.  Although the auto-da-fe ceremony would later develop even more pomp and circumstance, the Inquisition would continue following the guidelines that Torquemada had laid down from the beginning.  Heretics, "lapsed Catholics", witches, "sodomites", Protestants, and conversos were all fair game under the new Tribunal.   The scope of the Inquisition quickly spread beyond Seville as heretics in other parts of Spain were implicated by the ones in Seville. 

In 1481 alone, hundreds of heretics were burned while others who had escaped the Inquisition were burned in effigy (the actual numbers who died are still open to question).   Although the early Inquisition was interrupted by an outbreak of plague in Seville, the Inquisitors were quick to blame the sickness on the heretics (despite the fact that Inquisitors and heretics alike were affected).  Ironically,  Alonso de Ojeda was one of the first to die of the plague not long after the first auto-da-fe (no divine protection for him) but Torqemada still reined supreme.  The successful assassination of one of the Inquisitors in 1485 made things far worse for the conversos since the dead priest (who had been killed in a church no less) quickly became a martyr for the sacred cause.

It probably says something about the ferocity of the Inquisition that Pope Sixtus IV wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella in January 1482 protesting their methods.  While many of the conversos who had fled Spain went to Portugal or Morocco for safety, some had fled to Italy and petitioned the Papacy for protection from Torquemada's inquisitors.  In his letter, the pope revoked his earlier decree allowing the Spanish crown to control the Inquisition.  A political battle followed with conversos directly appealing to the Papal courts, Ferdinand and Isabella arguing that their power was being eroded, and a general chaos due to different orders being given.  At Isabella's request, Sixtus finally agreed to appoint Torquemada as Inquisitor for Aragon, Valencia and Catalonia in 1483.  In the meantime, the trials continued in Seville and neo-Christians continued to flee Spain. 

At a formal assembly in Seville in 1484, Torquemada presented the twenty-eight articles that would eventually constitute his formal manual for guiding Inquisitors.  Although other manuals for Inquisitors had been published before (including the infamous Malleus Malificarum ),  Torquemada's manual lay the groundwork for the Spanish Inquisition for centuries to come.  Never officially published during his lifetime (the first publication was in 1576), the manual outlined the proper procedures for establishing an Inquisition in regions where none had existed before following the example of the Seville Tribunal.  The thirty-day grace period was also established as a formal part of any new Inquisition as well as how the Church would deal with confessed heretics (including appropriate penalties).

The manual also outlined the degrees of suspicion under which a heretic might fall: light, vehement and violent.  Light cases would receive minimal penalties, i.e., fasting, prayers or pilgrimages.  Vehement cases involved prison sentences followed by more severe penance, e.g., standing outside a church holding a candle of specified days.  Violent cases involved prison sentences with more severe penance, this could include being forced to wear penitential garb while standing outside a cathedral where they would be publicly shamed.  In all cases, confiscation of some (or all) of their property was solely at the discretion of the Tribunal.   Children of heretics, while treated more leniently, were not allowed to inherit their parents property.  They would also share their parents' "ban of infamy" preventing them from holding any crown or ecclesiastical office.

One of the most far-reaching (and horrifying) provisions in Torquemada's manual dealt with the protection of witnesses.  Allegedly meant to prevent witnesses from being killed by heretics, the manual specifically stipulated that the accused heretic could not be provided with the names of any witnesses providing evidence against them.  The manual even went so far as to accept rumours as testimony against heretics, i.e., heretics accused by the "public voice", and the accused had no real recourse.  Even those heretics who could afford attorneys found themselves in the bizarre position of defending themselves against anonymous accusers.  That was probably the greatest fear any potential victim had during the Inquisition years.   An even more bizarre provision in Torqumemada's involved the posthumous prosecution of heretics.  If someone already deceased was deemed to be a heretic, his or her body was exhumed and burned.  As well, the heretic's otherwise innocent children and grandchildren suddenly found themselves impoverished since the property that had been left to them could be seized by the Inquisition. 

The use of lying to trick accused heretics into confessing was deemed a necessary evil.  If an Inquisitor promised to spare a heretic from being burned in return for a confession, that Inquisitor was free to renege on any promise made (the rationale was often given that the Inquisition could only lessen Church penalties, not the penalties laid down by the law of the land).  Recruiting spies to investigate supposed heretics was also perfectly acceptable as well.  In many ways, Torquemada's Spain became one of the first true police states and a model for later repressive governments to follow.

The most well-known method of extracting confessions was, of course, torture (a.k.a. "the audience of torment").  While torture was nothing new in Europe, the laws governing its use were different in criminal courts (nobles were exempt for instance) but nobody was exempt from the Inquisitors.  Under the letter of the law, torture was only allowable for accused heretics when there was clear proof against them or even when there were "grounds for vehement or violent suspicion".  When someone was "reputed" to be a heretic, all that the Inquisition needed was a single witness (whose name was never given) to put someone "to the question".   Historical sources described five degrees of torture: 1.  the threat of torture, 2. being conducted to the torture-chamber and being shown the various implements and how they worked, 3. being stripped and prepared for the ordeal, 4. laying and binding on the torture-engine, and finally 5.  the actual torture.  The Inquisitors had an elaborate system of threats, promises of mercy, and emotional duress that proved devastatingly effective.  Along with the Inquisitor who was always present during the torture, there was a notary to write down whatever the accused happened to say (even Inquisitors believed in paperwork).

To be continued
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