Friday, November 27, 2015

The Spanish Inquisition

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” was a line made famous by the Monty Python team in a 1970 sketch. I laughed at the prancing, red robed cardinals but I had no real idea what the Inquisition was. In fact the Inquisition existed to hunt out heretics defined as people who held beliefs based on inaccurate interpretations of the Bible. I suspect that Cayetano Ripoll, hanged in Valencia in 1826 for talking about the nature of God, wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition. He was its last victim.

You will remember that North African Muslims invaded Spain in 711 AD and that it took the Christians just over 700 years before the last outpost of Moorish Spain, Granada, fell to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs. At the time the population of Spain was a mix of three religious groups: Christians, Muslims and Jews. As winners the Catholic Monarchs intended to make it patently clear who was top dog.

This was important stuff for the Catholic Church. It's not every day that your religion gives another one a good thumping and regains a whole country. Ferdinand and Isabella were in a strong negotiating position. In 1478, as they closed in on Granada, they pressured the Pope into allowing them to set up a tribunal or Inquisition to hunt out false Christians. In 1492, with the reconquest complete, the Monarchs ordered all the Jews out of Spain. Many chose to convert to Christianity rather than go. The Church mistrusted these converts and by 1502 eight tribunals were active.

The Pope didn't like this blood letting and tried to slow everything down. The Spanish rulers piled on the pressure. The Pope caved in and named Tomás de Torquemada as head of a new Inquisition. It was Torquemada who established new structures and procedures for the tribunals. So later, in 1609, when Philip III kicked all of the Moriscos, the families whose forebears had converted from Islam to Christianity, out of Spain the Inquisition was waiting for them. Later the Inquisition censored books as well as pursuing bigamists, blasphemers, witches, Freemasons, sodomites, mainly child abusers, and Protestants.

The tribunals were made up of clergy to try the cases but they had an array of legal professionals to help. A fiscal presented the evidence, three notaries listed property, recorded evidence and recorded court proceedings whilst a sheriff took care of the physical arrest and interrogation which may well include torture.

When the Inquisitors rolled into town there was a thirty day period for people to come forward. Under the promise of leniency many people gave themselves up and often accused other people in the hope of better treatment. Cases were investigated by "qualifiers" though often people were arrested before being investigated. Accusations were anonymous so many people spent years in prison not knowing what they were accused of or who had denounced them.

The outcomes of the trials ranged from acquittal to death. When there was doubt about the guilt of the accused, the case was suspended. The implied threat was that the case could be re-opened. Heavier penalties ranged through fines, confiscation of property, physical punishment and time in prison or serving as galley slaves. Top of the pile was Relaxation. Relaxation meant the accused would be burned alive at the stake.

In time, as attitudes liberalised, the Inquisition lost pace and people were often burned in effigy rather than for real. In the 19th Century the changing European political scene, the rivalry between Church and state and many other factors meant that the Inquisition fell out of favour. It was suspended twice before being finally abolished in 1834. Just a little too late for Cayetano.

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