The Inquisition, or as it was known within the Catholic Church, Inquiry on Heretical Perversity, had been around for several centuries by the time King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I of Spain launched the Spanish Inquisition in 1478.
Up to that point the suppression of ‘heresy’ by the Catholic Church in Europe had rarely used torture to force confessions and only the occasional heretic was put to death. The Spanish Inquisition was to change that dramatically, and with the founding of colonies in the sixteenth century, it wasn’t long before the insidious tentacles of the Inquisition reached Spain’s new overseas possessions.
Today, Cartagena has a small but fascinating museum dedicated to the Spanish Inquisition in the city. An added benefit of a visit to the Palace of the Inquisition is that it is housed in one of the finest colonial buildings in the city.
I wouldn’t want to accuse those lovely Dominican monks who carried out the Inquisition in the Americas of getting inappropriate sexual kicks from torture, but the middle rope on the ‘Rack’ below was attached to the testicles which were stretched along with the rest of the unfortunate person.
In Spain the Inquisition was aimed at ‘cleansing’ the recently reconquered country of Islamic or Jewish influences, and was under the control of the Spanish monarchy who had numerous motives for adopting it as a measure of state control. Yet it came at a time of general moral uncertainty in Europe. There was a long-term change in the weather leading to a prolonged cold period which devastated agriculture and led to starvation and social upheaval.
The Catholic Church, along with everyone else, hadn’t got a clue about climate fluctuations and decided to blame it on witches, magicians and other heretical types. It may seem laughable today that a wave of torture and Church-sponsored killing was unleashed because climate change reinforced people’s fear that witches were at work. Yet, in the absence of science the easiest course of action was to fall back on superstition.
It was against this backdrop that the somewhat inappropriately named Pope Innocent VIII launched a campaign against witchcraft in 1484. The suppression of witchcraft was to form a central pillar of the Spanish Inquisition and led to countless denunciations of the innocent. In Cartagena, there was a special window on one side of the Palace of the Inquisition for denouncing people.
There was an established routine for questioning ‘suspected’ witches, or as we know them today, women. This included a fascinating questionnaire of thirty three questions. I particularly like the examination of the entertainment at the witch’s demonic wedding: “What kind of music was played? What were the dances? Did not you dance?” Apparently, music and dancing were not good in the eyes of the Inquisition.
Interestingly, no one thought to ask the most obvious question, “Are you a witch?” No room for innocent until proven guilty in the Inquisition.
And, of course, there was the traditional ducking stool. A device so devious that you only died if you were innocent; whereas if you lived you were guilty. Of course you were immediately put to death for being a witch so either way things didn’t turn out well.
The Inquisition in Spain was to have serious implications for hundreds of thousands of innocent people across the Spanish colonies during the reign of Philip II of Spain. Under Philip the Inquisition was to reach fanatical heights. He established the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in the Americas in 1569, to be run by the Dominican Order throughout the Spanish colonies.
The Inquisition remained active in Spain until 1834, and was an active ‘department’ of the Holy See until the mid-nineteenth century, when it changed its name to something less associated with torture and death. Today it is known as Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.