Since the 14th century, Christianity and Islam were becoming the two premier religions followed by many throughout the globe. Several territories had practiced only one of these two religions, while a few would allow a mix of both Muslim and Christian traditions on their territories. However, while religion was considered a right allowed to all, there were several countries that had looked down on other religious sects and persecuted them. One of these nations that adhered solely to one region is Spain, a known devout nation to Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition of 1481 or the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition was established by the Catholic leaders and by King Ferdinand II and Isabella I to ensure that heretics were removed their territories and ensure that Christianity remains untarnished by corruption and maintain balance in the Spanish territories. The Spanish Inquisition can be considered one of the darkest moments in world history as it evolved into a religious and racial purge, leading to the death of many individuals and affected religious balance throughout Europe.
The Spanish Inquisition could be considered the result of the growing influence of Islam and Jewish teachings throughout Europe. With the fall of Granada which ended the Muslim domination in Spain and its territories, many were still weary for the possible mass uprising of people who followed different beliefs other than Christianity. These weary Europeans believed that tolerating these religious groups should no longer be done given the possibility they would influence Christians to follow their religion. With this mindset, the monarchies imposed religious uniformity and ensured that no foreign influence can tarnish the beliefs of their subjects. The order of the Catholic kings had merits in the period due to the large number of Jews and the conversos (Spanish or Portuguese Jews) posed problems on the orders of religious uniformity despite the conversion of Jews throughout 1391. For Queen Isabella, she saw the conversos as a threat to the country’s adherence to Christianity and may foster the continuous conversion to Judaism and pretend they are devout Catholics. Isabella saw it as a grievous sin that conversos were trying to pull under their territories. With the remaining conversos refusing to convert to Christianity, calls for them to be punished began to spread throughout Spain and the rest of Europe. Pope Sixtus IV was forced to accept the petition of kings to establish an inquisition to remove these conversos from their territories on November 1st 1478.
The Spanish Inquisition was established in 1483 under the Consejo de la Suprema y General Inquisicion to ensure the removal of conversos and punish them under the name of the crown. The influence of the Inquisition was also extended throughout the crown of Aragon and Castille despite the protests in the Aragon territories. The king and queen controlled most of the administrative duties of the Consejo, appointing inquisitorial officials and issued their orders upon their proceedings. The first inquisitor-general appointed was Fray Tomas de Torquemada, O.P and was regarded throughout the globe due to his ruthless inquisitions and caused religious strife that the Inquisition was renowned. At least 2,000 conversos were found guilty under his jurisdiction, being burnt alive or after being convicted to death through hanging or others. More than 15,000 people were convicted to lesser punishments such as imprisonment and confiscation of property. In some instances, families were eliminated and others became pariahs due to being in the Inquisition. The Inquisition, as an institution supported by the Pope, held influence through all the Christians. Nonetheless, there had been arguments within its control as it also influences Jews and Muslims. Many Jews and Muslims had been forced to emigrate or covert unless they wished to be sent to the Inquisition.
Historians agree that the Spanish Inquisition displayed the brutality of medieval inquisition, nonetheless, it was a popular institution for many Spaniards. It was done in secret and the accused were now given details as to who accused them of being a converso and were also tortured to confess. Once the inquisition deemed an accused guilty, their properties are confiscated in the name of the state and either faced exile, imprisonment, or burning at the stake. An auto da fe or an execution ceremony is done before heretics are convicted, the ceremony reflecting an act of faith that showcases the community’s acceptance to orthodoxy. Convicts were paraded in the streets while wearing embarrassing dunce caps and sanbenitos wherein their sins are written for the public to see. The most common transgression written in these sanbenitos is blasphemy, which often resulted to the convict paying heavy fines. Convicted “witches” were also regarded as dupes by the Inquisition and not as mediums of the devil to commit sin. Heretical beliefs or continuous practice of Judaism and Islam were considered under the Inquisition’s rule as a crime that is punishable by death or imprisonment. The most grave crime that one can commit in the period is promotion of heresy, which would be punishable by burning. If there are convicts who repent upon execution, they are garroted before being lit to death. Most of the punishments were done in the edge of towns with clergymen, law enforcers and executioners monitoring the execution . While heresy was not a priority of the Inquisition, the Inquisition concentrated on searching and punishing the false conversos. The active and somewhat ruthless sessions even shocked Pope Sixtus IV and while he complained about this treatment, he was not heeded by the Spanish monarchy and the Inquisition continued to punish whomever is seen guilty .
The decisions of the tribunal were also obeyed by the Spanish citizens and accepted them, creating ceremonies to make it appealing to the public. The inquisition also became the Spanish monarchy’s unified institution that covers all of Spain’s territories and principalities. It was also a tool of the monarchy to ensure that the monarchy used to make alliances with the social forces. Ferdinand and Isabella also used the Inquisition as a means to promote centralization and ensure that the Spanish community would remain united under one religion and belief. In turn, the elites had provided the support to the monarchy, making alliances and loyalty.
The impact of the inquisition can be seen throughout history as it became the beginning of a religious intolerance crusade throughout Europe in the Middle Ages up to the present time. Jewish and Muslim communities, even those from the minor religions, consider the Inquisition as a sign that their stay in the region is no longer welcome to many European countries. For the Spanish monarchy, it became their tool to ensure that they still controlled their constituents and used the Inquisition to ensure total submission to the crown’s interest . It had also been a part of Spanish life for more than 350 years, executing and imprisoning tens of thousands of people due to their faith. Inquisitors even used the Inquisitions to attack the wealthy or the influential converso families, expanding state power in the process.
While it could be argued that the Spanish Inquisition could be considered to be ruthless by historians, looking at the perspective of Spain in the period, it should be seen as a legal proceeding considering their rules of evidence and procedure. However, the Inquisition can be considered the black mark on the entire history of Spanish Catholicism and in World Catholicism due to the judgments and killings it had done. It also reinforced narrow mindset, fostering the feeling of dissent between the Christians and the other religions. The dissent between religions also caused a decline in activity in terms of Spanish culture and tradition considering that the tribunal prevented any influence of other religious groups to the rich Spanish culture. It had also marked the beginning of a historic inversion that can also been seen in the Golden Age . Spain had also been in the receiving end of controversies due to the Inquisition, calling it the “Black Legend”, as it painted Spain as a nation of bigots and fanatics. Even the monarchs had tried to refute their desire over continuing the Inquisition such as in the case of Ferdinand given the image it has painted on Spain in the neighboring countries. Nonetheless, due to the Inquisition, anti-Converso sentiments continued to reign throughout the region, affecting the lives of Conversos until its end in the 18th century .
The Spanish Inquisition could be considered in two images: one as a cruel form of religious discrimination and two, as a method to unite nations under one faith. On the one hand, it had indeed managed to form a sort of loyalty to the monarchy and control over the nation despite the people they had punished due to their religious affiliation. It also became a means for the monarchy to unify all of its territories under one institution, especially in the field of jurisdiction. On the other hand, it is one of the earliest deadly discrimination cases recorded in history as many Jews, Muslims and heretics were killed or a few falsely accused for the sake of religious unity and allegiance. Many were deprived of their homes and their rights, making this one of the earliest forms of religious movements seen in history.
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