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AUTOS DE LA FE (Spanish),
AUTO DA FE (Portuguese)









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The first recorded auto-da-fé was held in Paris in 1242, under Louis IX.

On 1 November 1478, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella received permission from Pope Sixtus IV to name Inquisitors throughout their domains, to protect Catholicism as the true faith. It originally applied to the Crown of Castile — the domain of Isabella — but in 1483, Ferdinand extended it to his domain of the Crown of Aragon. Ferdinand's action met with great resistance, and resulted in the assassination by conversos in 1485 of Pedro de Arbués. In spite of this social discontent it is considered that between 1487 and 1505 the Chapter of Barcelona processed more than 1000 people, of which only 25 were absolved.

The monarchs immediately began establishing permanent trials and developing bureaucracies to carry out investigations in most cities and communities in their empire. The first Iberian auto-da-fé took place in Seville in 1481; six of the men and women who participated in this first religious ritual were later executed. Later, Franciscan missionaries brought the Inquisition to the New World.

The exact number of people executed by the Inquisition is not known. Juan Antonio Llorente, the ex-secretary of the Holy Office, gave the following numbers for the Inquisition excluding the American colonies, Sicily and Sardinia: 31,912 burnt, 17,696 burned in effigy, and 291,450 reconciled de vehementi (required to perform an act of penance). Later in the nineteenth century, José Amador de los Ríos gave even higher numbers, stating that only between the years 1484 and 1525, 28,540 were burned in person, 16,520 burned in effigy and 303,847 penanced. However, after extensive examinations of archival records, modern scholars provide lower estimates, indicating that fewer than 10,000 were actually executed during the whole history of the Spanish Inquisition perhaps around 3,000.

The Portuguese Inquisition was established in 1536 and lasted officially until 1821. Its influence was much weakened by the late 18th century under the government of the Marquês de Pombal. They were also held in the Portuguese colony of Goa following the establishment of the Inquisition there in 1562–1563.

Autos-da-fé also took place in New Spain, the State of Brazil, and the Viceroyalty of Peru.[8] Contemporary historians of the Conquistadors, such as Bernal Díaz del Castillo, recorded them. Although records are incomplete, one historian estimates that about 50 people were executed by the Mexican Inquisition.

Jewish Encyclopedia. By: Richard Gottheil


Portuguese form of the Spanish "auto de fé" (in French, "acte de foi," from the Latin "actus fidei"), the solemn proclamation and subsequent execution of a judgment rendered by the Court of the Inquisition on "reos," or persons condemned by it; though in the ordinary acceptance of the term it is applied to the carrying out of the sentence only. The expression is also erroneously, or perhaps metaphorically, applied to the burning of books (the Talmud, etc.) in the early Middle Ages.

The solemn proclamation was ordinarily made in a church and on the first Sunday in Advent; because on that day the lection from the Gospel (Luke xxi.) deals with the last judgment. Some authorities held that such sentences should not be publicly read in a church because of the death-penalty connected with many of them. Where this view was held, as in Spain, some public place in the city was chosen where a large estrade was erected so that a great concourse of people could gather and witness the ceremony; "for," says Nicolas Eymeric ("Manuel des Inquisiteurs," p. 143), "it is a sight which fills the spectators with terror and is an awful picture of the last judgment. Such fear and such sentiments ought to be inspired, and are fraught with the greatest advantages."

Some time previous to the auto a formal proclamation was made before the public buildings and in the public squares of the city, which proclamation, in the case of the auto held at Madrid in 1680, was worded as follows: "The inhabitants of the town of Madrid are hereby informed that the Holy Office of the Inquisition of the city and kingdom of Toledo will celebrate a general Auto da Fé on Sunday, the 30th of June of the present year, and that all those who shall in any way contribute to the promotion of or be present at the said auto will be made partakers of all the spiritual graces granted by the Roman Pontiff."


There were various kinds of autos: the "Auto Publico General," which was surrounded with much pomp and was held in the presence of all the magistrates of the city, often in celebration of the birth or marriage of a prince; the "Auto Particular," at which the inquisitors and the criminal judges alone were present; the "Autillo" (little auto), which was held in the precincts of the palace of the Inquisition in the presence of the ministers of the tribunal and some invited guests; and lastly the "Auto Singular," held in the case of a single individual.


After having been immured for months or even years in the dungeons of the Inquisition, and after the trial, the condemned persons whose sentences were to be read were taken out of prison on the night preceding the auto and led to a place where they were prepared for the ceremony. A special dress was given them, consisting of a vest, the sleeves of which came down to the wrists, and a pair of trousers reaching to the heels, both made of black stuff striped with white. Over this was thrown a scapular, called "sanbenito"—usually made, for those accused of some crime against the church, of yellow cotton marked both on breast and back with the St. Andrew cross painted in red. For those, however, who had been convicted and who persisted in their denial, or who had relapsed, the scapular was gray and was called "samarra," and there was figured on it both in front and behind the likeness of the prisoner resting upon burning torches and surrounded by devils. Often the name of the prisoner and the crime for which he was convicted were written beneath the picture. For those who had accused themselves the flames were inverted; and for such as had been convicted of sorcery a bonnet of paper in the form of a sugarloaf was also prescribed, upon which were figured devils and flames of fire. These bonnets were called "carochas." The culprit's feet were bare, and in his hand he carried a taper of yellow wax.

In the solemn procession which was formed, the banner of the Inquisition with its inscription "Justitia et Misericordia" was carried foremost; then came the officers of the Inquisition and other dignitaries. One or two citizens were assigned to each culprit to act as godfathers, whose duty it was to see that those given in their charge were returned safely to the prison. In the procession were also carried the bones of those who had died before sentence could be pronounced upon them; for, says Bernardus Comensis ("Lucerna Inquisitor," p. 52), "Mortui hæretici possunt excommunicari et possunt hæritici accusari post mortem . . . et hoc usque ad quadraginta annos." The procession also included effigies of those who had been condemned in absentia. The reason for this course was because the Inquisition, when it condemned a person, was able to sequester his property. As Bernard Gui expressly states in his "Practica Inquisitionis," "The crime of heresy must be proceeded against not only among the living, but even among the dead, especially when it is necessary to prevent their heirs from inheriting, because of the beliefs of those from whom they inherit" (Molinier, "L'Inquisition dans le Midi de la France," p. 358).


In the church elaborate preparations had been made for the ceremony. The great altar was draped with black cloth, and upon it were placed two thrones, one for the Inquisitor-General, the other for the king or for some high dignitary. A large crucifix was also erected: those to whom its face was turned were to be spared; while those to whom its back was shown were to die. Before the actual ceremony took place the secular authorities had solemnly to swear to lend all their aid to the Inquisition and to carry out its behests. A long sermon was then preached for the purpose of exhorting those who still remained obdurate to confess, and of inciting the onlookers to the profession of faith which was made at various intervals. On this account the auto was sometimes called "sermo publicus," or "sermo general de fide "(Molinier, ib. p. 8). A good example of this preaching may be seen in the sermon of Don Diego Annunciazaro Justinianus, at one time archbishop of Craganor (translated by Moses Mocatta, and published in Philadelphia, 1860). A bibliography of such sermons preached at the autos in Portugal is given by I. F. da Silva ("Diccionario Bibliographico Portuguez," Lisbon, 1858 et seq., s.v. "Autos da fé").

A chance was also given to those so inclined to make abjuration of their heresies, this being done at a table on which lay several open missals. Two clerks then read the report of the trial and the punishment meted out, the reading of which often occupied a whole day. As each report was read, the culprit was led out by one of the familiars of the Inquisition into the middle of the gallery, where he remained until the sentence had been pronounced.

The same ceremony was gone through when the service was held in a public square. Here a large amphitheatre was erected with all the necessary appurtenances for the service, and with temporary dungeons beneath the platforms for the condemned.


The punishments meted out by the Inquisition were of four kinds according to the official enumeration:

(1) Citation before the Inquisition;

(2) the performance of pious deeds;

(3) public pilgrimages, flagellations, and the wearing of large crosses; and

(4) confiscation of goods, perpetual imprisonment, and death.

All those found guilty at the trial were led back again in the same solemn procession; the heretic penitent and relapsed, the heretic impenitent and not relapsed, the heretic "impenitent and relapsed," the heretic negative (who denied his crime), and the heretic contumacious, were all delivered over to the secular arm, as the Inquisition itself technically refused to carry out the death-sentence on the principle "ecclesia non sitit sanguinem" (the Church thirsts not for blood). The various sentences of death always ended with some such formula as "For these reasons we declare you relapsed, we cast you out of the forum of the church, we deliver you over to the secular justices; praying them, however, energetically, to moderate the sentence in such wise that there be in your case no shedding of blood nor danger of death."

(from Manuel Azevedo)

The solemn proclamation, usually in a public plaza or square, of the sentences of persons condemned by the Tribunal of the Inquisition. The solemn spectacle attracted thousands of spectators from all social classes, inclusive of royalty. A large platform hosted the high clergy and dignitaries. A sermon was preached against heresy after which sentences were pronounced of the condemned who were kneeling. Condemned persons reconciled to the Church presented themselves at the public altar while those to be burned were turned over to civil justice officials. The auto sometimes lasted several days. The condemned paraded in long processions before the public. Public autos were abolished in the later phases of the Inquisition because of much foreign criticism.

It was an elaborate ceremony at which the sentences of the tribunal were carried out.  The location was usually announced two weeks before in order to construct platforms and scaffolding for the general public. Although a sombre affair for the penitents, a festive atmosphere prevailed, altars decorated, lengthy public sermons given by fiery orators attended by magistrates, civil servants, guards, armed soldiers, familiares (Inquisition informers/spies), bishops, monks, priests and the general public. On the day of the auto, a procession left from the Inquisition palace (the north side of the Rossio in Lisbon on the site of the current Dona Maria II national theatre), often early in the morning, winding its way through the city to the place where the sentences were to be pronounced.

The procession consisted of the penitents, in their sambenitos, wearing a conical hat, barefoot, lit candle in their hands, surrounded by two guards; behind them, the condemned to be “relaxed” (i.e. burned at the stake) accompanied by a priest ready to hear their confessions. The procession was followed by the familiares on horseback and dignitaries, including the Inquisitor General.

If the persons to be “relaxed” confessed and accepted Catholicism, they would be garrotted as an act of charity before being burned. If the condemned persisted in the belief of the law of Moses, they would be burned alive, or more accurately roasted because if there was little wind to whip the flames it took about two hours to die

Effigies were burned of those who had fled the country or died in prison. Coffins with the bones of those that had been dug up after interment, such as the founder of tropical medicine, Dr. Garcia D'orta and pioneer sugar plantation developer Branca Dias were also burned.

Not all autos da Fe were similar. In Coimbra for example, condemned persons were garrotted and tied inside a wooden hut on the bridge over the Mondego river. The huts were set on fire at midnight and thrown into the river. There were also some private autos, especially towards the end of the Inquisitorial regime.

(Editors Note:  Since the holy proceedings were conducted for the greater glory of God the instruments of torture were sprinkled with holy water.

Some inquisitors excelled at their job. Robert le Bourge sent 183 people to the stake in a single week. Conrad of Marburg burned every single suspect who came before him who claimed innocence. Bernard Fui convicted 930 people - confiscating all of their property for himself. Inquisitors like him grew rich in their jobs with little or no oversight.

Following church traditions, Inquisitor Franciso Pena declared in 1578 that:

We must remember that the main purpose of the trial and execution is not to save the soul of the accused but to achieve the public good and put fear into others.

Maria Antonieta Garcia, a retired professor of Sociology at the the University of Beira Interior who founded the ‘Centre for Jewish Studies’, records in ‘Inquisição e Independência, Um Motim No Fundao-1580’ (Inquisition and Independence, A Riot in Fundão-1580) the only known public act of resistance against the Inquisition in Portugal which occurred in Fundão on November 22, 1580.)


The same pomp which marked the public reading of the sentence was observed at its execution; the imposing procession wending its way from the Inquisition dungeons to the "quemadero," the place where the scaffolds were erected. The dignitaries of both Church and state were present; and at the auto of June 30, 1680, in Madrid, which Charles II. held in honor of his newly married bride, the King himself lighted the first brand which set fire to the piles.

During the night preceding the carrying out of the sentence a commission sat continuously to hear the recantations of the prisoners, whenever they were minded to make them. The victims were carried on asses with escorts of soldiers, and accompanied by priests who exhorted them to take the last chance of becoming reconciled to the Church.

A full report—called in Spain ‘Relacion’, in Portugal ‘Relaçao’—of the auto was drawn up and often printed for the double purpose of inciting the faithful to greater zeal and of bringing order into the process of the ecclesiastical court (E. N. Adler, in ‘Jewish Quarterly Review’, xiii. 395). These reports were sent not only to the central organization of the Inquisition, but to other tribunals as well.


The earliest record of the execution of Jews at an Auto da fé relates to that held in Troyes (L'Aube) on Saturday, April 24, 1288. Jewish accounts of this event are given in the Hebrew seliḥot (penitential poems) of Jacob ben Judah, Meier ben Eliab, and Solomon Simḥa, as well as in an old Provençal account in verse by the aforementioned Jacob. This execution called forth strenuous protests from Philip le Bel (May 17, 1288), who saw in the actions of the Holy Office an infringement of his own rights (compare A. Darmesteter, in "Romania," iii. 443 et seq.; idem, in "Revue Etudes Juives," ii. 199; Salfeld, "Martyrologium des Nürnberger Memorbuches," p. 162). We have, however, little documentary evidence about the Jews of the Inquisition in countries outside of the Spanish Peninsula. Most of the information relating to the Inquisition in its relation to the Jews refers to Spain and Portugal and their colonies (see below). That Jews suffered, however, from the tribunal in Italy may be seen from the fact that in Venice during the sixteenth century there were 43 persons before the Holy Office for the crime of "Judaismo," and in the seventeenth, 34. Many Jews may even be comprised under those who were charged with "Maomedanismo." The Inquisition worked its greatest havoc in Spain and Portugal, in the Balearic Islands, in Spanish America (Mexico, Brazil, Peru), in Guadelupe, and in Goa (India). In Spain autos were held from the time that Sixtus IV. (1480) issued a bull empowering Catholic kings to appoint inquisitors over all heretics, and in Portugal since 1531, when Clement VII. issued the bull "cum ad nihil magis," which formally established the Inquisition in Portugal (Herculano, "Estab. da Inquisiçao," i. 255). The Holy Office was established in America by letters patent of Philip II. on Feb. 7, 1569. The Inquisition in Venice was abolished in 1794; at Goa, in 1812. The last auto held in Portugal was at Lisbon, Oct. 19, 1739; but as late as Aug. 1, 1826, in a short period of reaction, an auto was celebrated at Valencia, in which one Jew was burned alive ("Revue Etudes Juives," v. 155). The Inquisition was finally abolished in Spain July 15, 1834. In Peru the Holy Office had already been abolished on March 9, 1820, at the earliest moment after the cessation of the connection with Spain.

It is impossible to tell the exact number of Jews who met their death at the many autos da fé in Spain and Portugal. They were usually charged with Judaizing—a charge which might have been made against Moriscos, or even against Christians who were suspected of heresy. This was especially the case with the marranos or Neo-Christians; and yet, from the documents already published, and from the lists which are now accessible (see below), it is known that many thousands must have met their death in this way. Albert Cansino, ambassador of Ferrara, writes on July 19, 1501: "I passed several days at Seville, and I saw fifty-four persons burned" ("Revue Etudes Juives," xxxvii. 269). According to Llorente, the Inquisition in Spain dealt with 341,021 cases and over 30,000 people were burned (see also Kohut, in "Proceedings Am. Jew. Hist. Soc." iv. 109). According to another authority, during the two hundred and fifty years that the Inquisition existed in America, 129 autos da fé were held.

From the details given by Adler the following numbers can be given of the Jews condemned, not always to death, so far as known. But in many instances, especially during the sixteenth century, no details are given:
click here to see table

Or in all 6,448 of whom the names and fates can be ascertained from the "relaciones" of 115 out of 464 autos da fé which are known to have taken place from 1481 to 1826.

The following list of autos da fé in which it is positively known that Jews were concerned has been selected from those held by the Inquisition; the thousands of volumes of Inquisition reports in the archives at Madrid, Seville, Simancas, Lisbon, etc.,when published, will doubtless add largely to the number. As a basis the list drawn up by E.N. Adler ("Jewish Quarterly Review," xiii. 392), with the additions made by the writer of this article (ib. xiv. 80) and S. N. Kayserling (ib. 136), has been made use of wherever definite details are given, showing that Jews or Judaism were concerned in the Auto da fé. The authorities are given in the articles mentioned.




Click here for the Inquisition Legal System in Spain