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Secret Files of the Inquisition - Episode 1

High in the Pyrenees in the southwest of what is now France, in a time when the Church of Rome proclaims itself the one true religion, heresy has taken hold. The Pope sends the Inquisitors of Heretical depravity to exterminate the heresy. Unbelievers are hunted down, condemned and burned. In 1308 the entire village of Montaillou is taken prisoner of the Inquisition. No one is safe - not even the village priest and the chatelaine of its castle. From the secret files - the extraordinary revelations of village life under the Inquisition.

Secret Files of the Inquisition - Episode 2

Spain 1468. A land where Christians, Muslims and Jews have lived in tolerance for centuries. But that time is ending. A young King and Queen bent on immortality proclaim themselves the Catholic Monarchs and start an Inquisition. Jews who had converted to Christianity are accused of secretly sabotaging the Christian faith. They become the pawns in a game of chess with dire consequences. Thousands perish in a ritual called the Act of Faith. In Zaragossa, the inquisitor is assassinated - setting off a wave of reprisals. Mothers will die to protect their children - and the highest in the land will pay the ultimate price. It is the beginning of the Spanish empire and a long dark night that will last for centuries

  Secret Files of the Inquisition - Episode 3

1522. The decadence of a Medici Pope in Rome outrages the devout priest in Germany named Martin Luther. In the face of the Protestant Reformation, a fanatical monk sets out to exterminate the heresy. On his path to power he will create the Roman Inquisition. And he will become the most hated Pope in history. Powerful leaders of the Catholic Church are arrested and imprisoned, accused of reading books banned by the Church. Free-thinking students are silenced. Darkness descends on the centers of learning and Renaissance. The Roman Inquisition leaves a legacy that lasts into the twentieth century.

Secret Files of the Inquisition - Episode 4

The End of Inquisition. The secret files of the Inquisition are locked away for centuries. A Spanish priest devotes his life to exposing the brutal records of the Inquisition. Napoleon spreads the ideas of the Enlightenment. He conquers Italy, abolishes the Inquisition and orders its files sent to Paris. Spain's greatest painter, Goya, will depict the Inquisition for the first time - and then run for his life. The kidnapping of a young Jewish boy secretly baptized will be one of the desperate last attempts at exerting the power of the Inquisition. A devoted father fights to get back his son. The boy becomes a symbol for a Pope who is about to lose his dominion on earth



See Catholicism


Historically there were four  Inquisitions: The Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition, the Portuguese Inquisition, and the Roman Inquisition.n (11


Inquisition tribunals and institutions

Before the twelfth century, the Catholic Church gradually suppressed heresy, usually through a system of ecclesiastical tribunals. Initially, the persecution was carried out mostly by state authorities, but the Catholic Church gradually became more active as episcopal jurisdiction grew in power. The Church's punishment included excommunication, proscription, and imprisonment. Although many states allowed the Church to use the death penalty, initially it was not frequently imposed, as this form of punishment had many ecclesiastical opponents.[3]

In the twelfth century, to counter the spread of Catharism, prosecution against heresy became more frequent. Church Councils, composed of bishops and archbishops, were charged with establishing inquisitions.

Later, in the thirteenth century, the pope assigned the duty of carrying out inquisitions to the Dominican Order. Inquisitors acted in the name of the Pope and with his full authority. They used inquisitorial procedures, which was a common law practice at the time. They judged heresy alone, using the local authorities to establish a tribunal and prosecute heretics. After the end of the fifteenth century, Inquisitions were headed by a Grand Inquisitor. Inquisition in this way persisted until the nineteenth century.

In the sixteenth century, Pope Paul III established the Roman Inquisition. This was a system of tribunals, ruled by the "Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition," staffed by cardinals and other Church officials. In 1908, its name was changed to "Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office" by Saint Pope Pius X. This, in turn, was changed in 1965, to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which continues to be the modern name.

Historic Inquisition movements

Historians distinguish between four different manifestations of the Inquisition: The Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition, the Portuguese Inquisition, and the Roman Inquisition.

Because of its objective, combating heresy, the Inquisition had jurisdiction only over baptized members of the Church (which, however, encompassed the vast majority of the population). Non-Christians could still be tried for blasphemy by secular courts. Also, most of the witch trials were held by secular courts. The Inquisition could only operate because of the consent of the secular authorities, which recognized the Church's legal jurisdiction in those areas covered by ecclesiastical law, including the right to inflict capital punishment.

Medieval Inquisition

The Medieval Inquisition is a term historians use to describe the various inquisitions that started around 1184, including the Episcopal Inquisition (1184-1230s) and later the Papal Inquisition (1230s). It was in response to large popular movements throughout Europe considered apostate or heretical to Christianity, in particular the Cathars and Waldensians in southern France and northern Italy. These were the first inquisition movements of many that would follow. Just as Constantine assumed that his Empire needed one Church, with one creed to unify his subjects, so the medieval world thought that conformity to the teachings of the Church was necessary in order to maintain the social fabric. The Church was fully integrated into the social system. No king could ascend his throne without the Church's blessing. Bishops and Abbots were also feudal lords, with serfs subject to their authority, and acted as royal advisers alongside the nobles. Kings were understood to be divinely anointed, like the Biblical David. To dissent from the teachings of the Church—or even to cease to worship in the Church—was regarded as undermining its authority. If the authority of the church was undermined, so was that of the king and his assistants. People who were considered heretics often questioned whether they needed the services of priests. They were also often critical of the wealth of the clergy, pointing out that Jesus had been poor. At bottom, a concern for the preservation of the social order informed the Inquisition. The secular rulers thought that if the authority of the Church was questioned, the basis of their own authority and rights would be undermined and anarchy would ensue

To understand how the Inquisition worked and the fear it caused read Richard Zimler on the Goa Inquisition (Chapter XX), ‘The Saintly Men of Safed’ in ‘The Source ‘ by James Michener and ‘Cathedral of the Sea’ by Ildefonso Falcones.  

Click here for details of its growth.


The Inquisition came into existence through the actions of Pope Innocent III at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and formally endorsed by Pope Gregory IX in 1233 creating the Dominicans and then the Franciscan's as Inquisitors.  In 1260 a Papal Bull redirected their allegiance from their Orders to the Pope.

Inquisitors of all countries and ages followed the same body of canon law, gave the same punishments and used the same torture and devoted themselves to the same mission - the arrest, torture and execution of any man, woman or child they regarded as a heretic who excited their anxieties or greed.  Middle Age manuals and handbooks, were still being used six centuries later.   

Henry Lea, the overall authority on the Inquisition in summing up the verdict of history,  states that “Fanatic zeal, arbitrary cruelty and insatiable cupidity rivaled each other in building up a system unspeakably atrocious.  It was a standing mockery of justice - perhaps the most iniquitous that the arbitrary cruelty of man has ever devised.” (pp60,97)

‘Heresy’ comes from the Greek word for ‘choice’, so being a heretic is not from being accused of a crime but from having thoughts not allowed by the the church. This procedure was later described by George Orwell  in his novel 1984 where he describes ‘thought crime’ as being guarded against by the ‘Thought Police’. As the dogma of the Church was still being developed it was impossible to know what was and was not allowed. Jonathan Kirsch in ‘The Grand Inquisitors Manual’  pp9 gives the following examples of why arrests were made

  • Joan of Arc because she dressed in men's clothing (20 years later it became politically expedient for her to be retried.  Her acquittal broke the authority of the Inquisition in France.  In 1869 the Church began canonisation and in 1920 she was elevated to sainthood)
  • Jewish and Muslim converts to Christianity who were accused of practising their previous religion in secret
  • Galileo because he doubted the sun revolved round the earth. (His books remained on the Index till 1822 .  In 1979 Pope John Paul II convened a commission to reconsider the verdict.  After 13 years they said the Inquisition ‘had committed a subjective error of judgement‘.  However his conviction on charges of heresy has never formally been reversed.)
  • Doubt.  The believer must have unwavering faith and it is the Inquisitor’s business to ascertain the condition of the waverers mind (Lea)
  • A woman of North African descent seen to be eating couscous at a family meal.
  • A Jewish convert to Catholicism seen to put on clean underwear on a Saturday
  • A woman with a facial mole, a bad temper or no husband
  • Living next door to someone whose supply of beer had gone bad  
  • Digging up corpses from a graveyard,  then having them burnt and seizing  assets from their descendents.  This was often done where the ‘supply’ of heretics from other sources was running low
  • Burning text such as the Jewish Talmud or of a Christian theologian whose author had long since died (this might be done for their image and/or to to seize assets from their descendents)
  • Members of sects such as ‘The Free Spirits’
  • Witches and worshipers of the Devil.  As Norman Cohn said ‘it is far easier for one human being to torture another if he has convinced himself that the victim is not really human at all.’ (Europe’s Inner Demons 17, 20 adapted)
  • Franciscans who attempted to uphold Francis' ideal of poverty were sometimes persecuted as heretics.

To justify their acts the Inquisition portrayed themselves as the ‘army of God fighting the traitors of God’  For example when announcing a sentence they let their imagination run wild by saying the individual had engaged in sexual orgies on behalf of Satan.  For example a Spanish priest wrote of Muslim conversos that they were ‘the drones in the beehive, the ravens among the doves, the dogs in the Church, the gypsies among the Israelites and finally the heretics among the Catholics.’

The Inquisition operated on fear giving the impression of being omniscient and omnipresent so being a self contained power from whom no secret could be kept.


Inquisitors believed they were doing Gods work.  

They believed they did not punish anyone.  They were correcting the errors of others and returning them to God’s embrace.  An inquisitorial handbook described someone who managed to escape from an Inquisitorial prison as ‘one who insanely led to reject the salutary medicine offered for his care’ , while the truly repentant Christian was likened to ‘a patient who took his medicine by performing without protest all the penances that had been prescribed by the ‘good doctors’ of the Inquisition.’ (Kirsch p14)

While doing God’s work they collected, all details of their activities with pride and massive attention to detail,  Their psychology was that rumours and view of their treatment would frighten the community into compliance.  Interrogation, torture and trial were conducted in strict secrecy.  Sentences  were carried out by the civil authorities at Auto-da-fe.

When going to a new community

  • The Inquisitor gave an opening sermon to display Inquisition power at which every male over fourteen and every female over twelve had to attend.  Anyone secretly having a belief forbidden by the Church was expected to confess the crime of heresy.  Absence was a public admission of guilt.
  • Some would be inspired, or terrorized, hoping an early un-coerced confession might result in a mild punishment and benefit them by giving names that would turn them into witnesses.  
  • They were backed up by a spy network.  
  • Any local facilities they needed were provided, for example the Toulouse Dominican convent was known as the ‘Hotel de l'lnquisition’, a Franciscan Inquisitor might use a Franciscan monastery, while any objection to using the local town hall or Bishops Palace could leave those objecting being sent to a dungeon.


Once arrested they used a procedure called inquisitio

  • An investigation could be carried out in secret and rely on rumour
  • An accused did not know who had accused them
  • They did not know what they were accused of
  • They had no defence counsel
  • Judges using predefined questions waiting for expecting answers
  • No time limit on how long an accused could be held.
  • Witnesses had to sign an oath of secrecy never to reveal what they had observed

Anyone failing to turn in a suspected heretic was guilty of the crime of fautorship, that is aiding and abetting a heretic,  and so faced punishment  of equal severity given to the heretic.


Torture could include

  • The pulley, also known as squassation and the strappado.  
  • The rack for dislocating limbs.
  • Flogging,
  • Bathing in scalding water with lime,
  • Eye removal using purpose designed eye-gougers.
  • Pulling out fingernails.
  • Grésillons (thumbscrews) to crush thumbs and big toes.
  • Spiked iron chair heated by a fire underneath until it glowed red-hot. Branding irons and red-hot pincers.
    (see also Medieval Torture)

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.


It was widely accepted that the Inquisition existed only to rob people, as they openly affirmed (Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, p 150). Both rich and poor knew that it was the rich who were most at risk. The fact that the Inquisition funded itself from the property it confiscated meant that in effect it burned people on commission. Individual inquisitors also funded themselves, acquiring great wealth during their careers. Some inquisitors were known to have fabricated evidence in order to extort money from their victims, but even when discovered they received no punishment. Similarly their staff of helpers, called familiars, were free to commit crimes without fear of punishment by the secular courts. After 1518 this was formalised. Familiars enjoyed immunity from prosecution similar to benefit of clergy or modern diplomatic immunity. This provided another cause of popular scandal, along with their exemption from taxation .

The activities of the inquisitors were resented by all sections of society, and the papacy was obliged to interfere from time to time, although the inquisitors were powerful enough to ignore it on many occasions. Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull on the 18th April 1482 protesting that

in Aragon, Valencia, Mallorca and Catalonia the Inquisition has for some time been moved not by zeal for the faith and the salvation of souls, but by lust for wealth, and that many true and faithful Christians, on the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves and other lower and even less proper persons, have without any legitimate proof been thrust into secular prisons, tortured and condemned as relapsed heretics, deprived of their goods and property and handed over to the secular arm to be executed, to the peril of souls, setting a pernicious example, and causing disgust to many.

Money was also raised through the sale of Indulgences

An indulgence is the full or partial remission of temporal punishment for sins after the sinner confesses and receives absolution.  Under Catholic teaching, every sin must be purified either here on earth or after death in a state called purgatory.

The first known use of plenary indulgences was in 1095 when Pope Urban II remitted all penance of persons who participated in the crusades and who confessed their sins.  Later, the indulgences were also offered to those who couldn't go on the Crusades but offered cash contributions to the effort instead.  In the early 1200s, the Church began claiming that it had a "treasury" of indulgences (consisting of the merits of Christ and the saints) that it could dispense in ways that promoted the Church and its mission.  In a decretal issued in 1343, Pope Clement VI declared, "The merits of Christ are a treasure of indulgences."

(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 of the Unholy office 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.

(from JewishEncyclopedia)                                                           

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 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 the breast and the back with the St. Andrew cross painted in red. For those, convicted but persisted in their denial, or who had relapsed, the scapular was gray and was called "samarra," and on the front and behind the likeness of the prisoner resting upon burning torches and surrounded by devils was shown. 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 if 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 ampitheatre 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."

The doctors of the Church were merely divided on the question whether those convicted should be put to death by the sword or by fire (compare Julien Havet, "L'Heresie et le Bras Séculier au Moyen Age," Paris, 1881). Death by fire was preferred as more in keeping with John xv. 6, "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." Simanoas and Roias were even of opinion that the culprits ought to be burned alive; the only precaution necessary being that their tongues be bound, or their mouths stuffed, in order that they do not scandalize the audience. The custom seems to have been that the penitent were first strangled and then burned, while the impenitent were cast into the flames alive. It was also held that the secular arm should not delay too long in carrying out sentences of the Inquisition. Innocent IV., in his bull ’ad extirpanda’, fixes five days as the longest period of delay. In Spain it was customary to carry out the sentence immediately after its proclamation, which was so timed as to occur upon some feast-day, when the populace would be at liberty to witness the burning.


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.

from Wikipedia                                                                       

The Inquisition is classified into Medieval, Spanish, Portuguese and Roman  


Various inquisitions started around 1184, including the Episcopal Inquisition (1184–1230’s) and later the Papal Inquisition (1230’s). These inquisitions responded to large popular movements throughout Europe considered apostate or heretical to Christianity, in particular the Cathars in southern France and the Waldensians in both southern France and northern Italy.

The legal basis for some inquisitorial activity came from Pope Innocent IV's papal bull Ad exstirpanda of 1252, which authorized and regulated the use of torture in investigating heresy.


King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile set up the Spanish Inquisition in 1478. In contrast to the previous inquisitions, it operated completely under royal authority, though staffed by secular clergy and orders, and independently of the Holy See. It operated in Spain and in all Spanish colonies and territories, which included the Canary Islands, the Spanish Netherlands, the Kingdom of Naples, and all Spanish possessions in North, Central, and South America. It targeted primarily converts from Judaism (Conversos and Marranos) and from Islam (Moriscos or secret Moors) — both groups still resided in Spain after the end of the Islamic control of Spain — who came under suspicion of either continuing to adhere to their old religion or of having fallen back into it. Somewhat later the Spanish Inquisition took an interest in Protestants of virtually any sect, notably in the Spanish Netherlands. In the Spanish possessions of the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples in southern Italy, which formed part of the Spanish Crown's hereditary possessions, it also targeted Greek Orthodox Christians. The Spanish Inquisition, tied to the authority of the Spanish Crown, also examined political cases.

In the Americas, King Philip II set up two tribunals (each formally titled Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición) in 1569, one in Mexico and the other in Peru. The Mexican office administered Mexico (central and southeastern Mexico), Nueva Galicia (northern and western Mexico), the Audiencias of Guatemala (Guatemala, Chiapas, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica), and the Spanish East Indies. The Peruvian Inquisition, based in Lima, administered all the Spanish territories in South America and Panama. From 1610 a new Inquisition seat established in Cartagena (Colombia) administered much of the Spanish Caribbean in addition to Panama and northern South America.

The Inquisition continued to function in North America until the Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821).  In South America Simón Bolívar abolished the Inquisition; in Spain itself the institution survived until 1834.

The period 1569–1621 also witnessed a series of controversial trials such as that of the Archbishop of Toledo and Primate  of Spain, Bartolomé de Carranza (1503–1576) who spent many years in jail.

Death Tolls in the Spanish Inquisition    

Juan Antonio Llorente the General Secretary of the Inquisition in Madrid from 1789 to 1814 had access to Inquisition archives.  He wrote  his great work ‘The History of the Inquisition of Spain, from the Time of its Establishment to the Reign of Ferdinand VI’ which was published in Paris in 1817/18.  In this he estimated that 31,912 people were executed between 1480-1808.

Cases in the Spanish Inquisition, 1540–1700

(Excludes the tribunals of Cuenca, Cerdaña, and Palermo)

                  Judaizers Moriscos   Protestants    All Others     Total  Total Relaxed

                      4,397      10,817       3,646        25,814        44,674     1,604

                       9.8%       23.2%         8.1%         57.8%         100.0%     3.5%

Adapted from Jaime Contreras and Gustav Henningsen,

"Forty-four Thousand Cases of the Spanish Inquisition (1540–1700):

Analysis of a Historical Data Bank," in Henningsen and Tedeschi, 116.

Included in the category "All Others"

are propositions and blasphemy (27.1%),

bigamy and solicitation (8.4%),

acts against the Inquisition (7.5%),

superstition (7.9%), and various (6.8%).

The "Total Relaxed" involves only those sentenced to death in person.

The period 1569–1621 also witnessed a series of controversial trials such as the archbishop of Toledo and primate  of Spain, Bartolomé de Carranza (1503–1576)

The Inquisition was not merely an expression of religious authority nor was it solely an instrument of social and political control....it was an arena where social and political cultures met and clashed on both shores of the Atlantic..... Persecuted groups whether Christianized Jews in Spain or native folk healers in the New World, were able to survive the Inquisition by strategies as diverse as preserving their experiences through literature and answering the need for medical care (From frontispiece Cultural encounters: the impact of the Inquisition in Spain and the New World)

PORTUGUESE INQUISITION                                                                       
The Portuguese Inquisition formally started in Portugal in 1536 at the request of the King of Portugal, João III. Manuel I had asked Pope Leo X for the installation of the Inquisition in 1515, but only after his death (1521) did Pope Paul III agree. The Portuguese Inquisition targeted the Sephardic Jews, who had been forced to convert to Christianity. Most were those expelled by Spain in 1492 and ha moved to Portugal.

The Portuguese Inquisition came under the authority of the King. At its head stood a Grand Inquisitor, or General Inquisitor, named by the Pope but selected by the Crown, and always from within the royal family. The Grand Inquisitor would later nominate other inquisitors. Cardinal Henry was the first Grand Inquisitor.  Later he became King Henry of Portugal. Courts of the Inquisition operated in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, and Évora.

The Portuguese Inquisition held its first auto-da-fé (the Portuguese equivalent of the Spanish auto de fé) in Portugal in 1540. It concentrated its efforts on rooting out converts from other faiths (overwhelmingly Judaism) who did not adhere to the observances of Catholic orthodoxy; the Portuguese inquisitors mostly targeted the Jewish "New Christians", conversos, or marranos.

The Portuguese Inquisition expanded its scope of operations to Portugal's colonial possessions, including Brazil, Cape Verde, and Goa, where it continued as a religious court, investigating and trying cases of breaches of the tenets of orthodox Roman Catholicism until 1821.

King João III (reigned 1521–1557) extended the activity of the courts to cover book-censorship, divination, witchcraft and bigamy Originally oriented for a religious action, the Inquisition had an influence in almost every aspect of Portuguese society: politically, culturally and socially.  

According to Henry Charles Lea between 1540 and 1794 tribunals in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and Évora resulted in the burning of 1,175 persons, the burning of another 633 in effigy, and the penancing of 29,590. But documentation of fifteen out of 689 Autos-da-fé has disappeared, so these numbers may slightly understate the activity.

The "General Extraordinary and Constituent Courts of the Portuguese Nation" abolished the Portuguese inquisition in 1821.


The Portuguese started this Inquisition in their colony of Goa in 1560.  Where it was primarily  devoted to antisemitism and anti-Hinduism,  Aleixo Dias Falcão and Francisco Marques set it up in the palace of the Sabaio Adil Khan.  
Click here for more information.

ROMAN INQUISITION                                                                                

In 1542 Pope Paul III established the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition as a permanent congregation staffed with cardinals and other officials. It had the tasks of maintaining and defending the integrity of the faith and of examining and proscribing errors and false doctrines; it thus became the supervisory body of local Inquisitions. Arguably the most famous case tried by the Roman Inquisition involved Galileo Galilei in 1633.

The penances and sentences for those who confessed or were found guilty were pronounced together in a public ceremony at the end of all the processes. This was the sermo generalis or auto-da-fé. Penances might consist of a pilgrimage, a public scourging, a fine, or the wearing of a cross. The wearing of two tongues of red or other brightly colored cloth, sewn onto an outer garment in an x pattern, marked those who were under investigation. The penalties in serious cases were confiscation of property or imprisonment. The most severe penalty the inquisitors could themselves impose was life imprisonment. Thus, when the inquisitors handed a guilty person over to civil authorities, it was tantamount to a demand for that person's execution.

Following the French invasion of 1798, the new authorities sent 3,000 chests containing over 100,000 Inquisition documents to France from Rome (some were lost en route to France, others were used as scrap paper).  After the restoration of the Pope as the ruler of the Papal States after 1814, Roman Inquisition activity continued until the mid-19th century.

Edgardo Mortaro, The Last Arrest of the Inquisition   \\
(From the Prologue of ‘The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortaro by David Kertzer)

In 1858. In Rome, Pope Pius IX sat on St. Peter’s throne as French troops patrolled the Eternal City. Two of the three most powerful men in Bologna were cardinals: the Archbishop, the city’s spiritual leader, and the Cardinal Legate, representing the papal government, the civil ruler. The third was a military man, an Austrian general, whose troops (along with the French forces in Rome) ensured that the tottering papal government did not fall.

Across the street from the general’s headquarters was the  Dominican church of San Domenico where the Inquisitor lived.  He was charged by the Congregation of the Holy Office in Rome with combating heresy and defending the faith. Among his tasks was ensuring that restrictions imposed on the Jews were obeyed.

For two centuries, Bologna’s inquisitors had had little reason to worry about the Jews, for in 1593 the Pope had expelled all nine hundred of them from the city and its surrounding territories. In the wake of the French occu­pation of the 1790’s a few adventurous Jews returned. Once the Papal States were restored, their status again became tenuous and their right to live in the city less than clear. Yet, by 1858 close to two hundred lived m Bologna, merchants for the most part, carving out a comfortable niche for their families. Given the Church authorities’ mixed feelings about their presence m the formerly forbidden city, the Jews had no desire to call attention to themselves, and so had neither synagogue nor rabbi.

In 1858 police, acting on the orders of the Inquisitor, went to the home of a Jewish merchant, Momolo Mortara, to arrest their six year old son.  They sent him to a special monastery in Rome where Jews were converted into good Catholics.  His parents learned that the family's Catholic servant, thinking he might die had claimed to have secretly baptized him as she feared that otherwise he would go to hell. Edgardo recovered, but the story had reached the Bologna Inquisitor, Their justification was that no Christian child could be raised by Jewish parents. It became an international cause célèbre. Refusing to return the child to his family, Pope Pius IX began to regard the boy as his own child. When eighteen he decided to become a priest.  He died in a Belgian abbey in 1940 aged eighty eight.

His fate came to symbolize the entire revolutionary campaign of Mazzini and Garibaldi to end the dominance of the Catholic Church and establish a modern, secular Italian state.   Had this not happened it is possible that the Pope would have become the first President of Italy and Catholicism more dominant.


The Spaniards brought the Inquisition to the Americas and used it to punish the native inhabitants. Through the 1500's, 879 heresy trials were recorded in Mexico alone. Thus, other than people, the Inquisition was one of Europe's first exports to the Americas. Church leaders supported the suppression, enslavement and murder of native inhabitants - a 1493 papal Bull justified declaring war on all non-Christian natives in the Americas. Jurist Encisco wrote in 1509:

The king has every right to send his men to the Indies to demand their territory from these idolaters because he had received it from the Pope. If the Indians refuse, he may quite legally fight them, kill them and enslave them, just as Joshua enslaved the inhabitants of the country of Canaan.


One factor often ignored is the devastating impact which the Inquisition had on the basic economic life of Europe. The tragedy of seizing vast amounts of property is the most obvious but perhaps not even the worst part. Some occupations became suspect, such as map-making which was essential to navigation and trading.

Inquisitors regarded the printed word as a vehicle for heresy and so they seriously hampered communication. In addition, when a person was accused of heresy by the Inquisition, all of their debts became null and void. Because no merchant could be certain of the religious orthodoxy and reliability of another, it became difficult to trust others enough to allow them to go into debt to you. See Journeymen-Printers, Heresy, and the Inquisition in Sixteenth-Century Spain by Clive Griffin

The   effect upon how people lived their lives was clear to all people - the Inquisition was not a secret affair by any means. In the 1490s Juan de Mariana reported that people "...were deprived of the liberty to hear and talk freely, since in all cities, towns and villages there were persons placed to give information of what went on." Some people regard this time period as the "Spanish Inquisition" and claim that it existed more under the secular authority of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella rather than the authority of the church.

But in fact, the Spanish Inquisition's most influential leader was the Dominican Monk Tomas de Torquemada, appointed Inquisitor General by Pope Sixtus IV and not a secular ruler. The reason that the leaders of the Spanish Inquisition persecuted the Jews and eventually called for their expulsion was the fear that they would contaminate Christians.

The Inquisition was not merely an expression of religious authority nor was it solely an instrument of social and political control....it was an arena where social and political cultures met and clashed on both shores of the Atlantic..... Persecuted groups whether Christianized Jews in Spain or native folk healers in the New World, were able to survive the Inquisition by strategies as diverse as preserving their experiences through literature and answering the need for medical care (From frontispiece Cultural  Cultural Cultural Encounters: The Impact of the Inquisition in Spain and the New World)


While many reasons are given as to why this happened the 17th century saw a decrease in the severity of punishments probably due to a mixture of the following factors:

  • Protestantism became a greater threat to Catholicism than Judaism
  • It became seen as more a political arm of the throne than a defender of the faith
  • The venality of many inquisitors became public knowledge
  • The declining value of confiscated goods by the tribunals meant the Inquisition ceased to be so profitable.   Fewer penitents were sent to autos de fé in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, given short jail sentences and fines never included the total confiscation of the prisoner's property.  
  • New ideas such as those of the of Rousseau  

The last Inquisition execution was a schoolteacher called Cayetano Ripoli who was garroted to death in Valencia on July 26, 1826, allegedly for teaching Deist principles. His body was put into a barrel decorated with flames and buried in unconsecrated ground.  

The Goa Inquisition was abolished in 1812, Mexico, Peru and Cartatgena in 1820 and finally Spain on July 15th 1834.  The Inquisition had lasted 600 years.


The Catholic Church now attempts to justify the Inquisition by claiming that the stories of its terror are exaggerated.  For example see the survey by the Catholic Education Reform Centre  Status: Inquisition in the Catholic Church   and Status: Inquisition in the Catholic Church .  What does go unchallenged is that the Church was responsible for the horror of creating fear, torture, executions, lengthy jail sentences, penalties and confiscation of goods.

(From:  The Transfer and Return of the Vatican Secret Archives to Paris (Vatican website)

ROMAN ARCHIVES                                                                                           
In February 1810, Napoleon decided that all the documentation preserved in the archives were transferred to Rheims, but then the destination became Paris. Various convoys - made up of enormous wagons carried about 3.239 cases (or chests) of documents coming from the archives of the Holy See, including (or better in primis) the Vatican Secret Archives - left Rome and headed for Paris in the month of February of that same year; other similar transfers followed.

In Paris, the great number of precious papers were placed in Soubise Palace and from there they were supposed to go to the planned Central Archives of the Empire, that were being built on the Drill Ground; but were never accomplished because of the rapid fall of Napoleon.

After the fall of Napoleon (11th April 1814), King Louis XVIII, of the restored Bourbon Dynasty, decided to return the Vatican Archives to the Pope, so the Pope sent some of his trustworthy men to Paris,

On 28th April 1814 in Paris, the Vatican archives at Soubise Palace were publicly handed over.  These operations were suddenly interrupted by the Napoleonic period of the Hundred Days (26th February – 22nd June 1815); in this lapse of time the provisions to return the archives to the Pope were declined, the Vatican archivists were thrown out of Paris  and the documents were seriously damaged and tampered.

When Napoleon was defeated on the 12th August Pius VII preparation for the transfer of the archives back to the Vatican resumed and the first wagons left in October, by sending back the documents Rome most urgently felt the need to have. Even on their way back to Rome, entire wagons of documents were lost because of accidents (in Piedmont, for instance, some wagons nearly lost their entire precious load while crossing the River Taro).

On 23rd December 1815 the first part of the documentation taken away by Napoleone was handed over to the Pope instructions were given for archives still found on French soil to be returned to Rome. The enormous transport costs obliged the Secretariat of State to issue orders to the delegates to save money, so it was decided that «useless papers, that could be burnt» were to be destroyed directly on the spot so hundreds (if not thousands) of pieces were burnt and thousands of others sold to be used as wrapping paper by the Parisian delicatessen shopkeepers. Therefore, many series of Vatican archives were mutilated and others were totally lost. Between July 1816 and March 1817, several trains of wagons headed for Rome and the Vatican material gradually returned to the Holy See (with the above-mentioned losses) in the years that followed.

The disorder with which the cases were prepared for the delivery of the documents, upon their arrival in the Vatican, some series of different archives of the Curia were confused with others and were therefore put in places that were absolutely inconsistent (for instance, some parts of the Holy Office went to the Vatican Library and to the Vatican Secret Archives; on the contrary, some documents of the Vatican Archives ended up in the Vatican Library or elsewhere). Throughout the years, these illogical displacements have been put into order and some series, at least virtually (on the indexes) have been reassembled. However, the wounds inflicted to the corpus of the Vatican archives by the inauspicious transfer to Paris, are still clearly evident.

(Note: A large number of documents passed through English hands ending in 1854 in the library of Trinity College, Dublin)

SPANISH ARCHIVES                                                                                  

In 1834 the archives of the Spanish Inquisition became part of the National Archives of Spain.  Being accessible they have been subject to more detailed analysis than have the Roman archives.

Dr.Rivka Shpak Lissak  (12/17/2006)
unveils new findings about the lives of the Marranos in the New World.
The remarkable steadfastness which the converted Jews displayed
to their original faith attests to the vitality of the Jewish people


The New World, which was conquered by Spain and Portugal, was divided into colonies and sub colonies. Under the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494, Portugal received the eastern portion of the South American continent, in other words Brazil, and the rest was given to Spain. The original Spanish colonies were "New Spain" and Peru. New Spain comprised Mexico, today's South Western United States, Central America and a number of islands in the Caribbean Sea. The Philippines in the Far East were also part of the colony. At first, Peru, Brazil, and Panama comprised all of Latin America. In 1717, part of Peru was severed and became "New Granada". It included what are today Columbia, Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador. In 1776 additional areas were taken from Peru and the new colony was called "Rio de la Plata", and comprised what are today Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

THE IMMIGRATION POLICY OF SPAIN AND PORTUGAL REGARDING NEW CHRISTIANS  Spain prohibited New Christians (who recently converted to Christianity, including many converted Jews) until the fourth generation from emigratin to the New World empire, whereas Portugal, which was interested in settling Brazil and did not have surplus population like Spain, permitted New Christians to emigrate, and even exiled New Christians who had been arrested and condemned by the Inquisition to Brazil.

In Spain, many New Christians found ways to circumvent the law, and the fact that the Spanish government kept reiterating the prohibition proves that the prohibition was flouted. Some New Christians forged documents and fled to Portugal or northwest Europe, and thence to the New World. Others arrived as sailors or stowaways. In any event, the fact is that many New Christians managed to emigrate to the New World. Brazilian historians estimate that about 10% of 180 million residents of Brazil are descendants of New Christians. Luis de Carbajal, who was burnt at the stake in Mexico City in December 1596, declared before the flames consumed him, that Mexico had more New Christians than old ones.

CLANDESTINE JEWISH COMMUNAL LIFE                                           

From Inquisition and other documents it emerges that the New Christians (not all New Christians were Marranos) who remained faithful to Judaism, managed to preserve Jewish life in secret for over 200 years, in the framework of communities which gathered in private houses.

The Inquisition archives in the New World, in Spain and Portugal, shed light on the efforts by Marranos to preserve their Judaism in secret. The Inquisition kept precise records regarding the confessions of Marranos from which one can deduce this. It's important to note, that not only New Christians from Spain and Portugal emigrated to the New World. There were New Christians who originally emigrated to Europe, returned to Judaism, and subsequently emigrated to the New World. The New Christians in Portugal possessed inner Jewish resilience and were proficient in Jewish customs, because their adoption of Christianity took place on a single and collective basis, in October 1497. They not only continued to live in Jewish quarters, but the Portuguese king gave them a respite of 20 years during which they would not be sued for observing Jewish customs. The arrests only began in 1536, when the Inquisition was established in Portugal. The New Christians of Spain, in contradistinction, converted to Christianity, most of them under duress, but the act was a personal one, and the process continued over a hundred years. It was also accompanied by the terror of Christian gangs and pogroms, which led to a gradual weakening among the New Christians and made it difficult for them to observe their Judaism, especially after the expulsion of Spanish Jewry in 1492, and the severance of all contacts with Jews and Judaism. In short, there were various levels of knowledge and proficiency in Jewish customs among the emigrants.

New Christians established secret synagogues in private houses, and their congregations were organized in communities throughout the Spanish and Portuguese empires. There is testimony of three communities in Mexico City and communities in Guadalajara, Vera Cruz and Pueblo in New Spain and in a series of communities in New Granada, in Peru in La Plata and in the Caribbean Islands, which were under Spanish rule. Likewise, there were communities in Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, and in northeastern Brazil there was a concentration of communities in Recife, Natal, Pernambuco and others. From the confessions it emerges that there were rabbis and Jewish scholars in the communities and members of the communities gathered every afternoon for prayer. Some of the Marranos were circumcised. For example out of a group that was burnt at the stake in Mexico City in one of the auto da fe ceremonies, 57 were circumcised.

One of the most striking facts is the New World Marannos’ success in maintaining close ties with New Christians in Spain and Portugal, France, Italy and Belgium, and with New Jews - Marranos who returned to Judaism - in northwest Europe and even with Sephardic communities in the Ottoman Empire. These ties were facilitated by virtue of a ramified system of international commercial and family ties. For example, Anthony de Fonesca had brothers in the Canary Islands, Lisbon, France and Pernambuco, in northeast Brazil. Thanks to these ties, money was raised for various purposes: redemption of captives of Jewish origins, who were taken captive by barbarian pirates, transfer of money to Holland to finance its war against Spain, contributions to Jews in the Holy Land, bribing government officials and the Inquisition etc.

The New Christians also had a secret code, which they used to preserve the secrecy of their correspondence. Preserved in the archives of the British Museum are the documents of Mendes da Costa, written in a secret code. New Christians identified each other throughout the world by placing the right-hand on their heads, in the course of conversation. There was also a question, used as a means of identifying a person of Marrano stock by to the answer. They provided mutual assistance, when someone had to escape the Inquisition. New World had secret harbors, where one could board a vessel belonging to a New Christian who observed Judaism and escape to Europe. For example, the two brothers of Luis de Carbajal, who was burnt at the stake in Mexico City in December 1596, managed to reach Europe in a vessel, which took them on at a secret location near Campiza. Marranos arriving from Madrid or Seville at the port of Veracruz in New Spain knew that they had to go to the home of Fernando Rodriguez. They stayed in his home for several days, and only then proceeded to Mexico City to the home of Simon Vajiz, one of the leaders of the city's Jewish community.


The need to preserve their Judaism in secret from the Inquisition led the Marranos to adopt different camouflage measures:

Circumcision-according to Jewish law the foreskin was removed. But since the Inquisition was aware of the obligation of circumcision and its nature, and was accustomed to strip the prisoners in order to check if they underwent circumcision, there were Marranos who tried to trick the Inquisition by making a longitudinal cut instead of removing the foreskin. But there were those who were willing to take the risk and were circumcised.

Outward Fulfillment of Church Obligations - Marranos visited church and attended mass and communion - eating the sacred bread and drinking wine - but only a few went to confession. Those who went to confession obviously did not confess their Judaism. While visiting church, Marranos refrained from looking at the holy bread when they received it, and hastened to spit it out immediately upon leaving church.

Smiting Images of the Saints and Concealing Their Faces - One of the accepted ceremonies in the secret gatherings of the Marranos for the purpose of prayer was smiting the statues of the Christian saints. On January 21, 1639, 12 Marranos were burned at the stake in Lima the capital of Peru for smiting statues. Since maintaining the statues of the saints in the home was a common practice amongst Christians, the Marranos were accustomed to retaining statues of saints in their houses for security purposes, but their faces were turned to the wall. Only when Christians visited the house would the statues be turned to face the room.

The First Born to the Church - Generally young people were apprised of their origin when they reached bar mitzvah age (13), but they were sworn to secrecy. They did not reveal the secrets to the first born and intended him to fill a post in the church, as a security measure, as well as to ferret out the current moods in the church.


The exiles called themselves Sephardim the plural of Sepharad the Hebrew name for their native Spain  The name Sepharad appears in the prophecy of Obadiah (Obad. 20) as one of the places where the Jews exiled from Jerusalem lived. The biblical allusion is probably to Sardis, a city in Asia Minor. But Jewish tradition, especially since the eighth century C.E., tended to identify Sepharad with the western edge of the known world--the Iberian Peninsula. Thus, during the entire Middle Ages, and especially during the Golden Age of Hispano-Hebraic culture, Spanish Jews called themselves Sephardim, a name they subsequently used (and not without a certain pride in their glorious peninsular past) in the diaspora following their expulsion from Spain.

The term Sephardi is often used in contrast to Ashkenazi, which refers to another major ethnocultural branch of Judaism--the Franco-German-Slavic branch. As in the case of Sepharad, Ashkenaz is also a biblical place name (it appears in Gen. 10:3, Chron. 1:6, and Jer. 51:27), which originally seems to have meant a country in the upper Euphrates valley bordering Armenia, but which medieval rabbinic literature identified with the earliest Jewish settlements in central Europe--first Germany and northern France, then Poland and Lithuania. A cultural tradition grew from this nucleus, one with its own folkways and customs, rich folklore, religious and literary currents, a strong philosophy, and its own liturgy. Linguistically, the Ashkenazi branch of Judaism is characterized by its particular pronunciation of Hebrew in religious texts and by the use of Yiddish--a derivative of High German influenced by Slavic, other European languages, and, naturally, Hebrew--in daily life. Successive migrations have placed the Ashkenazim in other areas, especially North and South America and Israel.

Curiously enough, the opposition Sephardi/Ashkenazi has given rise to a certain confusion that dates from the end of the nineteenth century and has religious, or rather, liturgical origins. The growing Ashkenazi emigration to Palestine created the need for a chief rabbi for the Ashkenazim, parallel to the Sephardic chief rabbinate that had existed for many years. An immediate consequence of the increasing impact of Ashkenazi culture in the area of Palestine that later became Israel was to include under the authority of the Sephardic rabbinate all matters that were not Ashkenazi, even those that had no connection to the Jews of Spanish origin. And so Sephardim became the name not only of the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in the fifteenth century but also of all those who came from Arab and Eastern countries, be they the Jews of Conchin (India), the Yemenites, or the black Jews from Ethiopia.


Inquisition documents, we also learn about the Jewish customs of the Marannos in the New World:

Candle lighting on the Sabbath and Festivals - Failure to light candles was considered a sin divinely punishable by death. The wives of the Marranos were accustomed to hide the candles under the table or to cover the windows with a black cloth. However, there were families who had candles burning everyday of the week in order to observe the commandments of lighting candles on the sabbath and festivals without being caught.

Gathering for Prayer - The Marranos met secretly to pray. The custom of the prayer quorum was scrupulously observed. When there was a need to invite the worshipers for a special meeting, they were accustomed to send a Negro dressed in red and playing on the tambourine, to circulate through the streets. This was a secret sign to come to synagogue. They were accustomed to fast in groups and gather in groups to read the Torah. Since Bibles were rare, the Marranos used psalms from the Dominican Psalm Book. The prayers were in Spanish and Portuguese, but there were a number of words that were recited in Hebrew, such as Adoshem, Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Ehad. There were a few who knew additional words such as: talit, tefilla, teref and treifa. There were also isolated individuals who knew the Shmona Esreh prayer. During prayers there was no separation between men and women. They were accustomed to reciting the Shma Yisrael prayer by raising their arms or by crossing them on their chest. Likewise they were accustomed to cover their eyes with the left hand, while placing the right-hand on their hearts, when the direction of the prayer was towards Jerusalem.

Kashrut Observance - Marranos observed the customs of Jewish ritual slaughter. They had a special knife for slaughtering and they hung the animal by its hoofs after slaughter, so the blood could drain out. They salted the meat, did not eat fish without scales, did not use animal fat for cooking, but only olive oil, made their own wine for kiddush, or used a liquid produced from cocoa beans. They did not have separate utensils for meat and dairy, but pig derivatives did not enter their homes.

Sabbath Observance - They were accustomed to prepare hot food on Friday and it was retained on the stove during the Sabbath. Towards the Sabbath eve they changed clothes and everybody wore clean clothing. They opened their stores on the Sabbath, but refrained from using sales stratagems.

Yom Kippur - was fixed on the tenth of September. They fasted on Yom Kippur, which was called "The Day of Forgiveness" or "The Day of the Great Fast". On Yom Kippur eve they customarily asked forgiveness from members of the family and friends in case that they had offended them during the year. Likewise, it was customary, following the concluding meal before the fast, which included fish and vegetables, to go down on bended knee in chronological order before the mother of the family and a grandmother in order to receive a blessing. The boys were blessed that they should be like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whereas girls were blessed to be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. On Yom Kippur they were accustomed to pray all day in a secret synagogue and in order to avoid suspicion, it was customary to take an afternoon break when the worshipers went out walking through town.

Passover - Before Passover they would customarily purchase new dishes. This did not arouse suspicion because people used earthenware dishes, which were broken easily. The women would customarily bake the matzos by themselves. They were round and called "tortas". Prior to the meal they ate lettuce, bitter herbs and radish. They did not have a Hagoda (Order of the Passover Night celebration) and they read from the Latin translation of the Bible about the Exodus from Egypt. The person conducting the Seder wore white clothing. The festival lasted seven to eight days.

Purim - was not considered a happy festival in the New World. The Marranos felt a sense of identification with Esther and Mordechai and the Jews of Persia and Medea, who suffered persecution at the hands of Haman. The king of Persia did not know that Esther was a Jewess, and she fasted three days before she approached him to intercede on behalf of the Jews. The Marannos observed the "Fast of Esther", and used the Latin version of the Book of Esther for the purpose of reading the Book of Esther.

The Ninth Day of Av - In July, the Marranos were accustomed to observe the Fast of the Ninth Day of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples. They refrained from eating meat and fowl for three weeks prior to the fast.

Tabernacles - From the middle of the seventeenth century they stopped celebrating the festival, for fear of exposure.

Rosh Hashanah - was not observed.

Hanukkah - They were accustomed to lighting candles in a Hanukah candelabrum for the eight days of the festival, to commemorate the victory of the Maccabees and the purification of the temple.

Marriage - Mothers and grandmothers were responsible for arranging marriages. The first preference - even prior to love - was marriage into a Marrano family. However, there were many marriages within the family to guarantee the religion was preserved. For quite a few years, there was a permanent connection, via an emissary, with Italy and other parts of Europe and even the Ottoman Empire, in order to provide grooms and brides for Marranos in the New World. Some of the grooms were circumcised, as emerges from the Inquisition documents. After the wedding night it was customary to abstain from sexual relations, until hymeneal bleeding stopped. Husbands and wives did not bear the same family name. There was a custom which originated in Spain in 1480, to adopt the family name of the grandfather or grandmother of one of the parents. The menu of the wedding meal included honey cake among other things.

Customs of Burial and Bereavement - When a person died, they turned his face to the wall, washed him in warm water and wrapped him in imported linen fabric, originally produce in Rouen, France and subsequently in Holland. The cloth was woven in factories that belonged to people of Jewish origin. The custom of tearing one's clothes was common amongst the Marranos. After the burial of the dead they ate hard-boiled eggs without salt. The egg symbolized the cycle of life, and the absence of salt came to emphasize the bitterness of the loss. Marannos observed the custom of shiva, and during the seven days they were accustomed to turn the mirrors towards the wall and empty water vessels, in order to get rid of evil spirits. During the shiva, friends and relatives would customarily bring food. They would recite the Kaddish three times a day for 11 months in the framework of a prayer quorum.

Belief in the Advent of the Messiah - Of course they did not believe in the Holy Trinity or Jesus as the Messiah. They were firm in their belief that when the Messiah of David's seed would arrive they would be saved and would live in peace and tranquility in accordance with their faith.

Fast and Prayers for Forgiveness - Marannos bore a heavy sense of guilt for betraying Judaism. They were accustomed to fast frequently and composed a special prayer to ask forgiveness and absolution from the Lord God of Israel.


It emerges that the persecutions of the Inquisition failed to liquidate Jewish life in the New World. However, two primary factors account for the disintegration of the communities. The first factor was the lack of the rabbis, scholars, and teachers who were sufficiently learned in Judaism to be able to preserve Judaism in a communal framework over generations. In the fourth generation, the ties between the Old World and the New were severed, due to a lack of family and commercial ties. The knowledge that was transmitted within the framework of the family dwindled appreciably. The second factor was the decline in scope of Inquisition activities. Persecution had reinforced adherence to Judaism and it was precisely the decline in persecutions that weakened devotion to Judaism. In the absence of pressure by the Inquisition, the assimilation of New Christians within Christian society increased, and the financial success of many turned them into desirable matches. Mixed marriages became more common and conversely the link to Judaism became attenuated. But, as has become clear in recent years from the reawakening of descendants of the Marranos, which has prompted them to explore their Jewish roots, there were families that continued to cleave to Jewish customs for over 500 years.


Clandestine Judaism           

in the Shadow of the Inquisition

Dr.Rivka Shpak Lissak  (12/17/2006)

Inquisition (Peters) p279

Inquisition:Sources (Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary)

The history of the Inquisition of Spain, from the time of its establishment to the reign of Ferdinand VII: composed from the original documents of the Archives of the Supreme Council and from those of subordinate tribunals of the Holy Office (Google eBook)

The Cathars, The Medieval Inquisition in the Languedoc, R. Dean Peterson, .

Catholic Education Reform Centre  Status: Inquisition in the Catholic Church

The Great Mortality - Part 3 - Death's Aftermath
Deals with the effect of the Black Death

Reformation 101 - The Protestant Reformation in Europe

Christian History Timeline of the Inquisition

Journeymen-Printers, Heresy, and the Inquisition in Sixteenth-Century Spain, Clive Griffin 2005

The Dark Side of Christian History. Helen Ellerbe,

Holy Horrors, James A. Haught,

Christianity and Paganism, 350-750, J.N. Hillgarth

Medieval Heresy, Malcolm Lambert

Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe, Edward Peters

The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, David Kreutzer

The Grand Inquisitors Manual.  A History of Terror in the name of God, Jonathan Kirsch

Cultural Encounters: The Impact of the Inquisition in Spain and the New World
edited by Mary Elizabeth Perry, Anne J. Cruz  (Ch10 by Moshe Lazar)




The Roman Church had consolidated its power in the early Middle Ages and heretics were seen as enemies of society. The crime of heresy was defined as ‘a deliberate denial of an article of truth of the Catholic faith and a public and obstinate persistence in that alleged error.’

Pope Gregory IX instituted the Papal Inquisition in 1231 for the apprehension and trial of heretics. The name Inquisition came from the Latin verb inquiro (inquire into).  

Inquisitors looked for persons accused of heresy, later extending its activity to other sacrilegious persons such as witches and blasphemers. Recruitment was almost exclusively from the Catholic Fransiscan and Dominican orders.

It was hoped that heretics would see the falsity of their opinion and return to the Roman Catholic Church. Many believed that they did not punish anyone but were helping others to corrrect their errors and return them to God’s embrace.  Others believed they could benefit from confiscating Jewish assets. Their handbook described someone who managed to escape from an Inquisitorial prison as ‘one who insanely led to reject the salutary medicine offered for his care’ while the truly repentant Christian was likened to ‘a patient who took his medicine by performing without protest all the penances that had been prescribed by the good doctors of the Inquisition.If they were found guilty or refused they were passed to civil authorities as they had also violated civil law. The penalty included burning at the stake.

The Spanish Inquisition was authorized by Pope Sixtus IV in 1478 at the request  of King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella. Sixtus also agreed its independence. It was  permanently suppressed by decree on July 15, 1834.  The Portuguese Inquisition was authorised in 1536 and abolished in 1821, the Roman Inquisition in the Papal States was from 1542 to the mid 19th century.  The Inquisition lasted for about 600 years.  The last arrest was in 1858 in Bologna of a six year old Jewish boy called Edgar Mortaro.

Spanish Inquisition
- The Brutal Truth (BBC)
itis4peace  (51.03)

The Spanish Inquisition
Full Documentary
productofit   (50.0)





The Inquisition is Born



Financing the Inquisition

Auto de la Fe






Where Held

in Europe

Edgardo Mortaro




Impact of the Inquisition




Clandestine Judaism




Disappearance of Jewish Communities


Conversions Inquisitions and Expulsion  Crash Course in Jewish History: Session 14 -  (5.47)