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The Spanish Inquisition

The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition, was a tribunal established in 1478 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. The Inquisition was not new - Aragon already had an inquisition - and It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the medieval inquisition which was under papal control. The Inquisition worked in large part to ensure the orthodoxy of recent converts, especially those Jews, Muslims and others coerced on pain of death to adopt the Christian religion. Various motives have been proposed for the monarchs' decision to fund the Inquisition, such as increasing political authority, weakening opposition, suppressing conversos, and profiting from confiscation of the property of convicted heretics. The new body was under the direct control of the Spanish.

The Trial

The inquisitorial process consisted of a series of hearings, in which both the denouncers and the defendant gave testimony. A defense counsel was assigned to the defendant, a member of the tribunal itself, whose role was simply to advise the defendant and to encourage them to speak the truth. The prosecution was directed by the fiscal. Interrogation of the defendant was done in the presence of the Notary of the Secreto, who meticulously wrote down the words of the accused. The archives of the Inquisition, in comparison to those of other judicial systems of the era, are striking in the completeness of their documentation. In order to defend themselves, the accused had two possibilities: abonos (to find favourable witnesses) or tachas (to demonstrate that the witnesses of accusers were not trustworthy).

In order to interrogate the accused, the Inquisition made use of torture, but not in a systematic way. It was applied mainly against those suspected of Judaism and Protestantism, beginning in the 16th century. For example, Lea estimates that between 1575 and 1610 the court of Toledo tortured approximately a third of those processed for heresy. In other periods, the proportions varied remarkably. Torture was always a means to obtain the confession of the accused, not a punishment itself. Torture was also applied without distinction of sex or age, including children and the aged.


The Inquisition - THE  BORGIAS   wikiAlthough the Inquisition was technically forbidden from permanently harming or drawing blood, this still allowed for methods of torture. The methods most used were garrucha, toca and the potro. The application of the garrucha, also known as the strappado, consisted of suspending the victim from the ceiling by the wrists, which are tied behind the back. Sometimes weights were tied to the ankles, with a series of lifts and drops, during which the arms and legs suffered violent pulls and were sometimes dislocated. The toca, also called interrogatorio mejorado del agua, consisted of introducing a cloth into the mouth of the victim, and forcing them to ingest water spilled from a jar so that they had the impression of drowning (see: waterboarding). The potro, the rack, was the instrument of torture used most frequently.

The assertion that "confessionem esse veram, non factam vi tormentorum" (literally: ((a person's)) confession is truth, not made by way of torture.) sometimes follows a description of how, after torture had ended, the subject freely confessed to the offenses.Thus, all confession acquired by means of torture were considered completely valid as they were supposedly made of the confessor's own free will.

Once the process concluded, the inquisidores met with a representative of the bishop and with the consultores, experts in theology or Canon Law, which was called the consulta de fe. The case was voted and sentence pronounced, which had to be unanimous. In case of discrepancies, the Suprema had to be informed.

Within the context of the times,, the Spanish Inquisition was neither especially cruel nor oppressive. The vast majority of those accused were fined or penanced rather than executed. The total number of those executed during the first thirty years of the Inquisition has been estimated at 3.000 -a figure dwarted by the execution of witches in Germany in the sixteenth century (over 100.000). The existence of the Inquisition was used by Spain's opponents to justify rebellion - this is known as the 'black legend'.

The Roman Inquisition

The Inquisition - THE  BORGIAS   wikiThe Roman Inquisition was a system of tribunals developed by the Holy See during the second half of the 16th century, responsible for prosecuting individuals accused of a wide array of crimes related to heresy, including sorcery, immorality, blasphemy, Judaizing and witchcraft, as well for censorship of printed literature. The tribunals covered most of the Italian peninsula as well as Malta and also existed in isolated pockets of papal jurisdiction in other parts of Europe, including Avignon in France. The Congregation of the Holy Office, one of the original 15 congregations of the Roman Curia created by Pope Sixtus V in 1588, presided over the activity of the local tribunals. While the Roman Inquisition was originally designed to combat the spread of Protestantism in Italy, the institution outlived its original purpose, and the system of tribunals lasted until the mid 18th century, when the Italian states began to suppress the local inquisitions, effectively eliminating the power of the church to prosecute heretical crimes.

The Inquisition - THE  BORGIAS   wikiThe pope appointed one cardinal to preside over the meetings. There were usually ten other cardinals who were members of the Congregation, as well as a prelate and two assistants all chosen from the Dominican Orders. The Holy Office also had an international group of consultants, experienced scholars of theology and canon law, who advised it on specific questions. In 1616 these consultants gave their assessment of the propositions that the Sun is immobile and at the centre of the universe and that the Earth moves around it, judging both to be "foolish and absurd in philosophy," and the first to be "formally heretical" and the second "at least erroneous in faith" in theology. This assessment led to Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium to be placed on the Index of Forbidden Books, until revised and Galileo Galilei to be admonished about his Copernicanism. It was this same body in 1633 that tried Galileo, condemned him for a "grave suspicion of heresy", and banned all his works.

Among the subjects of this Inquisition were Francesco Patrizi, Giordano Bruno, Tommaso Campanella, Girolamo Cardano, Cesare Cremonini, and Galileo Galilei. Of these, only Bruno was executed; Galileo died under house arrest, and Campanella was imprisoned for twenty-seven years. The miller Domenico Scandella was also put to the stake on the orders of Pope Clement VIII in 1599.

The Inquisition also concerned itself with the Benandanti in the Friuli region, but considered them a lesser danger than the Reformation and only handed out light sentences.

The Inquisition in Malta (1561 to 1798) is generally considered to have been gentler than the Spanish Inquisition. [Italian historian Andrea Del Col estimates that out of 62,000 cases judged by Inquisition in Italy after 1542 around 2% (ca. 1250) ended with death sentence.

The last notable action of the Roman Inquisition occurred in 1858, in Bologna, when Inquisition agents kidnapped a 6-year-old Jewish boy, Egardo Mortara, separating him from his family. The local inquisitor had learned that the boy was secretly baptised by his nursemaid. Pope Pious IX raised the boy as a Catholic in Rome. The boy's father, Momolo Mortara, spent years seeking help in all quarters, including internationally, to try to reclaim his son. The case received international attention and fueled the anti-papal sentiments that helped the Italian Nationalism movement.

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