The Spanish Inquisition
The Full Story
Is it true that during
the Spanish Inquisition evil Catholic monks developed various
horrendous mechanisms of torture in their dungeons such as the Iron
Maiden to force Protestants and Jews to become Catholics ?
The Spanish Inquisition is one of the
favorite topics of those seeking to attack the Catholic Church.
Ever since the 1500’s fictionalized accounts have accused the
Inquisitors, and the Catholic Church in general, of enormous
atrocities. One book popular with Fundamentalists claims that 95
million people died under the Inquisition. However, the population
of Europe was probably between 70-75 million at the time, and so
that would have meant that every person in Europe (including the
“inquisitors” themselves) would have to have been killed (plus
about 20 million more that didn't exist!) …
Context of the Times
Spain had just concluded a bloody battle
with the Moslems. The Moslems were known for their ruthless killing
of every man woman and child of the Catholic towns that they had
captured. Complicating this issue was the fact that the Jews had
fought on the side of the Moslems. At night the Jews would open up
the city gates of the Catholic towns to the invading Moslem Moors.
In the centuries before, the Jews had been
granted permission by the Catholics in Spain to come there as
refugees. Unlike the Catholics who considered usury as sinful, the
Jews became very powerful in the business of money lending.
twenty percent, in Castile
thirty-three percent, and in the
famine of 1326, in Cuehca they refused to lend money for
sowing except at forty percent
interest. Added to this was their practice of insulting the
Christian religion. Even today the epithet, “Christian dog” (perro
cristiano), comes from those times.”
Because of the devastating years of battle
with the Moslems, and those Jews who assisted them, Spain had
rescinded the Jew’s permission to stay there and ordered them to
leave Spain in order to preserve the fragile government.
Some Jews had faked conversion. Because the
government did not want to make itself vulnerable to possible
traitorous acts committed by those who were still aligned with
Moslem forces it needed to make determinations as to whether or not
those who claimed to be converted to Christianity were being
honest. It was the Inquisitors job to make this determination. The
Inquisition had no jurisdiction, and therefore no authority over any
practicing Jew or Moslem because they were not baptized. The
Inquisition only investigated professed Christians suspected of
being fakes. The Inquisitors did use some torture in their
examinations, but any statement that was made during this torture
was not accepted as evidence if the individual later retracted any
such confession. It was the state and not the Church that carried
out the sentence or punishment against those who were found guilty.
There are several websites on the
Spanish Inquisition, but each that I have found lacks some
important elements that are on one or more of the other sites.
Rather that list each site, some of which are no longer
functional, and have the reader sift through all the
overlapping, I have excerpted the main points below. Unlike
myself, some of these webmasters do this full time and ask for
donations to make ends meet. So, if you are one of those who
have falsely accused the Church and who wish to make
restitution, you contact them. ( I do not accept contributions
since I have a full time job.)
Isabella the Catholic
site no longer functional]
Causes of Disruption
“One of the most urgent problems facing
Ferdinand and Isabella was that of the Jews and the Moslems. For
several centuries Spain and suffered the effects of Jewish and
Moslem intrigue, ever since the Moorish takeover in 711 when Moslems
and Jews had worked jointly to overthrow a beleaguered Christian
“In many instances Jews had opened city
gates to invading Moors. The new caliphate could not help but bestow
some gifts of gratitude on their helpers. Whole cities were placed
in their care Granada was known as the city of the Jews and their
power in central and southern Spain was almost unchallenged. If
Isabella found it necessary to expel the Jews when Spain had been
recovered from the Moors, it was for the simple reason that the ally
of an enemy should receive the same treatment as the enemy. There
were several other reasons why the Catholic sovereigns, in dealing
with the Jews, would have to take drastic steps—steps which many
would think unjustified. …
Muley Aboul Hassan, the Mohammedan leader of
Granada, went into action before the ink was dry on the agreement.
With 35,000 men he stormed and took the town of Ciefo in three days
and put every man, woman, and child to death. …”
A New Study
The Inquisitors took extensive notes on what
they did. These extensive notes were compiled in numerous
volumes and kept in their library. They were made for the
exclusive use of the inquisitors, and therefore this enabled them to
make a most accurate account of what really happened. These
volumes of texts were just recently made available to the scholars.
They offer the real documentation as to what happened. See below
the findings of a non-Catholic study of these documents that was
broadcast on the BBC. The immediately following article
contains that data and is the newest on this page, and it is based
on this recent obtained objective data and is therefore the most
A New Look At the
by Edward O'Brien
We're all familiar with the popular idea of
the Spanish Inquisition, which for centuries has been depicted as a
monstrous tyranny imposed upon Spain by sinister Church and state
officials. .. . Some fundamentalists have claimed that millions
died in this fashion.
.. . Men of great imaginative genius such
as Edgar Poe have written of inquisitorial terrors as though they
were worse than the Gestapo's. I remember being appalled by the
powerful prose of Poe's, The Pit and the Pendulum.
Historians have known for some time that the
popular view of the Spanish Inquisition is only part of the "Black
Legend"-that body of writings which, since the 16th century, has
vilified both Spain and its Catholic faith. In the 16th century,
Catholic Spain was the great continental power. Her Protestant
enemies were jealous of Spain and many resorted to lies to help
bring down Spanish power and control. Spaniards were described by
Northern Europeans as dark, cruel, greedy, treacherous, ignorant,
and narrow. The Inquisition was fiercely attacked with gross
exaggeration. Thus, a combination of political rivalry, contempt for
the Catholic faith, and anti-Spanish racism created a distorted
image of the Inquisition.
Now, however, new and startling information
is beginning to blow away the dark cobwebs of lies and myths-that
racist distortion of the Spanish national character and Hispanic
culture. On June 9th, 1995, the BBC documentary -
The Myth of the
Spanish Inquisition - was aired on Ancient Mysteries. TV often
trashes the Church, but not this time. Spanish scholars using
computerized searches through the actual records left by the
officers of the Inquisition are showing that the Inquisition had
neither the power nor the desire to put Spain under its control. ..
A most important point made by the Spanish
scholars is that the inquisitional courts of the Church were both
more just and more lenient than civil courts and religious courts
elsewhere in Europe at the time. Prisoners in Spanish secular
courts, knowing this would sometimes blaspheme in order to be sent
to the courts of the Inquisition where conditions were better. .. .
Modern Spanish scholars point out that other
nations have worse records than Spain in dealing with heretics.
English Catholics suffered horribly under Protestant regimes.
American historian William T. Walsh writes: "In Britain, 30,000 went
to the stake for witchcraft; in Protestant Germany, the figure was
100,000" (, p. 275). In Scotland, too, alleged witches were cruelly
put to death. Karl Keating quotes from the : "It is well-known that
belief in the justice of punishing heresy with death was so common
among the 16th-century Reformers-Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and their
adherents-that we may say their toleration began where their power
ended" (C.E., s.v., "Inquisition," 8:35). Such facts are
embarrassing to lovers of the Black Legend.
Two books useful for Catholics who want to
learn about the real Inquisition of history are by William T. Walsh,
and by Karl Keating. Both authors are Catholic but neither
whitewashes the Spanish Inquisition. There abuses: instances of
cruelty, persecution, and personal vengeance. It would be strange if
there were no abuses in a human institution that lasted so long. The
BBC documentary says torture was used, but it could not last more
than 15 minutes and could never be used twice on the same person.
Walsh says that for torture to be used, a doctor had to be present,
and at his command it had to be stopped.
And there were other safeguards.
In any case, no Catholic should ever
whitewash the Inquisition. We must honestly acknowledge that three
Popes-Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, and Alexander VI-tried to moderate
the undue severity of the early Spanish Inquisition. We must also
face this question: Why should anyone ever be put in prison or put
to death for believing heresy? That is not the way of the Gospel,
nor the path of reason. Walsh pointedly says that no Catholic today
wants a return to the Inquisition. Nor do we want cover-ups of the
past, for as Leo XIII said, "The Church has no need of any man's
We do serve God in truth and so we should
know the full truth about the Inquisition and refute the
preposterous myths made up by enemies of the Church.
For example, Fray Tomas de Torquemada, the
Grand Inquisitor whose very name is now a symbol of ruthless
cruelty, actually checked the excessive zeal of the earlier
inquisitors in many ways, including the limiting and mitigating of
torture. Walsh thinks that torture under Torquemada was no worse
than that used by American police in the 1930s. Also, under
Torquemada's entire tenure as Grand Inquisitor (1483-1498), 100,000
prisoners passed before his various tribunals throughout Spain. Of
this number, less than 2% were executed. In Barcelona, from 1488 to
1498, “one prisoner out of 20 was put to death” (23 executions).
Torquemada is not the monster of the Black Legend; still, he was
responsible for an estimated 1,000 or possibly up to 1,500 deaths.
Beyond the Myth of The Inquisition:
Ours Is "The Golden Age"
Brian Van Hove, S.J.
Are they aware the Inquisition was never
primarily an anti-Protestant body, and that Philip II of Spain never
had a consistently anti-Protestant foreign policy?
The figures given above for punishments in
Valencia and Galicia suggest an execution rate of well under 2 per
cent of the accused. .. . during the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries less than three people a year were executed by the
Inquisition in the whole of the Spanish monarchy from Sicily to Peru
_ possibly a lower rate than in any provincial court of justice.
Muslims and Jews did not fall under the
jurisdiction of the Inquisition because they were not baptized. On
the other hand: All properly baptized persons, being Christians and
members of the Catholic Church, came under the jurisdiction of the
Fr. William G. Most
This topic is a favorite for attacking the
Church. We need to remember two things: 1) Actions are not the same
as teachings. The fact that the Church had some abuses is clear. ..
2)The abuses were much less than most people
think. For a good account see Warren Carroll, The Glory of
Christendom (part of a seven volume series—the data below is from
his work) on the Inquisition, and on sad abuses by the Popes in the
Middle Ages. Further all governments of Europe around this period
severely punished heresy. In England, the offender, often a Catholic
priest who had merely said Mass, was hanged, drawn and quartered
while still alive.
In France and Spain especially, the Cathar
heretics were a danger not just to the Church, but to the state, and
to all. In 1229 a council at Toulouse required that everyone in
Languedoc, where most of the Cathars were, to take an oath and renew
it every other year, to remain a good Catholic, and to denounce
heretics. But Cardinal Frangipani heard testimony from a former
Cathar, William of Solier, who said that to make such names public
would endanger the lives of the informants. Out of this grew the
Inquisition, established by Pope Gregory IX in 1233 to be staffed by
Dominicans. The Cathars then were as dangerous as terrorists today,
and brought fear, cruelty, bloodshed and war wherever they had
sufficient numbers. In southern France it took the full armed power
of the King of France to overcome them.
But then they went underground. Persons
accused by the Inquisition were not allowed to know the accusers, to
protect the accusers—this sort of thing happens in protection of
witnesses in U. S. courts today. But the person arrested was to make
a list of his personal enemies and none of their testimony would be
used against him. What modern court allows such a thing? Torture was
used, but quite infrequent, and not lasting in its effects. In the
50 years of the operation there were no more than 5000 executions,
which was small in comparison to the total executed for other crimes
in the same period. Some Inquisitors did abuse their power, but they
were promptly and strongly curbed by Pope Gregory IX. In 1242 the
Cathars murdered ten of the Inquisitors.
As to the Spanish episode, the Turks in 1480
attacked the south Italian city of Otranto. 12, 000 people were
killed, the rest made slaves. The sacred book of Islam does call for
killing all "infidels" (The Koran says: When ye encounter
unbelievers, strike off their heads until ye have made a great
slaughter among them, and bind them in bonds. . . ."—cited from B.
Palmer, Understanding the Islamic Explosion, Horizon Books, 1980, p.
36). The Turks killed every cleric in the city and sawed the
archbishop in two. So Queen Isabel sent a fleet to Italy. In
September of 1480, when it was clear the Turks might do the same to
any coastal city, Isabel established the Inquisition. It dealt with
the special problem of those who pretended to become Christian, but
were not really converted, and might open the gates of the city to
Torture was used only occasionally and it
was the government that inflicted that and death, after the
Inquisition turned them over. The Inquisition had no authority over
practicing Jews and Moslems, only over professed Christians
suspected of being fakes. After the appointment of Tomas de
Torquemada as Inquisitor General in 1483 its tribunals were so fair
that many preferred to have it hear their cases rather than the
regular courts. Again, those questioned could not see their
accusers, but could make a list of their enemies, and all testimony
from them was discarded.
We must remember again that every government
in Europe punished treason and heresy by painful death. Yes, the
Inquisition is to be blamed for some things, but not as badly as the
.. .. .. Many Fundamentalists believe, for
instance, that more people died under the Inquisition than in any
war or plague; but in this they rely on phony "statistics" generated
by one-upmanship among anti-Catholics, each of whom, it seems, tries
to come up with the largest number of casualties.
But trying to straighten out such historical
confusions can take one only so far. As Ronald Knox put it, we
should be cautious, "lest we should wander interminably in a
wilderness of comparative atrocity statistics." In fact, no one
knows exactly how many people perished through the various
Inquisitions. We can determine for certain, though, one thing about
numbers given by Fundamentalists: They are far too large. One book
popular with Fundamentalists claims that 95 million people died
under the Inquisition.
The figure is so grotesquely off that one
immediately doubts the writer’s sanity, or at least his grasp of
demographics. Not until modern times did the population of those
countries where the Inquisitions existed approach 95 million.
Inquisitions did not exist in Northern
Europe, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, or England, being confined
mainly to southern France, Italy, Spain, and a few parts of the Holy
Roman Empire. The Inquisition could not have killed that many people
because those parts of Europe did not have that many people to kill!
.. .. ..
The crucial thing for Catholics, once they
have obtained some appreciation of the history of the Inquisition,
is to explain how such an institution could have been associated
with a divinely established Church and why it is not proper to
conclude, from the existence of the Inquisition, that the Catholic
Church is not the Church of Christ. This is the real point at issue,
and this is where any discussion should focus.
To that end, it is helpful to point out that
it is easy to see how those who led the Inquisitions could think
their actions were justified. The Bible itself records instances
where God commanded that formal, legal inquiries—that is,
inquisitions—be carried out to expose secret believers in false
religions. In Deuteronomy 17:2–5 God said: "If there is found among
you, within any of your towns which the Lord your God gives you, a
man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your
God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other
gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host
of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear
of it; then you shall inquire diligently [note that phrase: "inquire
diligently"], and if it is true and certain that such an abominable
thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring forth to your
gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall
stone that man or woman to death with stones."
It is clear that there were some Israelites
who posed as believers in and keepers of the covenant with Yahweh,
while inwardly they did not believe and secretly practiced false
religions, and even tried to spread them (cf. Deut. 13:6–11). To
protect the kingdom from such hidden heresy, these secret
practitioners of false religions had to be rooted out and expelled
from the community. This directive from the Lord applied even to
whole cities that turned away from the true religion (Deut.
13:12–18). Like Israel, medieval Europe was a society of Christian
kingdoms that were formally consecrated to the Lord Jesus Christ. It
is therefore quite understandable that these Catholics would read
their Bibles and conclude that for the good of their Christian
society they, like the Israelites before them, "must purge the evil
from the midst of you" (Deut. 13:5, 17:7, 12). Paul repeats this
principle in 1 Corinthians 5:13.
These same texts were interpreted similarly
by the first Protestants, who also tried to root out and punish
those they regarded as heretics. Luther and Calvin both endorsed the
right of the state to protect society by purging false religion. In
fact, Calvin not only banished from Geneva those who did not share
his views, he permitted and in some cases ordered others to be
executed for "heresy" (e.g. Jacques Gouet, tortured and beheaded in
1547; and Michael Servetus, burned at the stake in 1553). In England
and Ireland, Reformers engaged in their own ruthless inquisitions
and executions. Conservative estimates indicate that thousands of
English and Irish Catholics were put to death—many by being hanged,
drawn, and quartered—for practicing the Catholic faith and refusing
to become Protestant. An even greater number were forced to flee to
the Continent for their safety. We point this out to show that the
situation was a two-way street; and both sides easily understood the
Bible to require the use of penal sanctions to root out false
religion from Christian society.
The fact that the Protestant Reformers also
created inquisitions to root out Catholics and others who did not
fall into line with the doctrines of the local Protestant sect shows
that the existence of an inquisition does not prove that a movement
is not of God. Protestants cannot make this claim against Catholics
without having it backfire on themselves. Neither can Catholics make
such a charge against Protestants. The truth of a particular system
of belief must be decided on other grounds, and defamatory charges
against one side or another only generate too much heat, not enough
: a torture device consisting of a hollow iron statue or coffin
in the shape of a woman that is lined with spikes which impale the
"The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition,"
The Inquisition Myth, which Spaniards call
"The Black Legend," did not arise in 1480. It began almost 100 years
later, and exactly one year after the Protestant defeat at the
Battle of Mühlberg at the hands of Ferdinand's grandson, the Holy
Roman Emperor Charles V. In 1567 a fierce propaganda campaign began
with the publication of a Protestant leaflet penned by a supposed
Inquisition victim named Montanus. This character (Protestant of
course) painted Spaniards as barbarians who ravished women and
sodomized young boys. The propagandists soon created "hooded fiends"
who tortured their victims in horrible devices like the knife-filled
Iron Maiden (which never was used in Spain). The BBC/A&E special
plainly states a reason for the war of words: the Protestants fought
with words because they could not win on the battlefield.
The Inquisition had a secular character,
although the crime was heresy. Inquisitors did not have to be
clerics, but they did have to be lawyers. The investigation was
rule-based and carefully kept in check. And most significantly,
historians have declared fraudulent a supposed Inquisition document
claiming the genocide of millions of heretics.
What is documented is that 3000 to 5000
people died during the Inquisition's 350 year history. Also
documented are the "Acts of Faith," public sentencing of heretics in
town squares. But the grand myth of thought control by sinister
fiends has been debunked by the archival evidence. The inquisitors
enjoyed a powerful position in the towns, but it was one constantly
jostled by other power brokers. In the outlying areas, they were
understaffed - in those days it was nearly impossible for 1 or 2
inquisitors to cover the thousand-mile territory allotted to each
team. In the outlying areas no one cared and no one spoke to them.
As the program documents, the 3,000 to 5,000 documented executions
of the Inquisition pale in comparison to the 150,000 documented
witch burnings elsewhere in Europe over the same centuries ...
One facet of the Black Legend that
evaporates under scrutiny in this film is the rumor that Philip II,
son of Charles V, killed his son Don Carlos on the advisement of the
aging blind Grand Inquisitor. But without a shred of evidence, the
legend of Don Carlos has been enshrined in a glorious opera by
Discrediting the Black Legend brings up the
sticky subject of revisionism. Re-investigating history is only
invalid if it puts an agenda ahead of reality. The experts - once
true believers in the Inquisition myth - were not out to do a
feminist canonization of Isabella or claim that Tomas de Torquemada
was a Marxist. Henry Kamen of the Higher Council for Scientific
Research in Barcelona said on camera that researching the
Inquisition’s archives “demolished the previous image all of us
Our 20th century crisis of man playing God -
usurping power over conception, life, and death - leaves us with no
alternative but to qualify our demythologization of the Inquisition
with a reminder: 3,000 to 5,000 victims are 3,000 to 5,000 too many.