THE SPANISH INQUISITION: Before The Judgement Hall

This Work is adapted from the book the Perils of The Republic of The United States of America by Percy Magan Tilson 1899


The secret reason for the Inquisition-Everything based on the Bible-Treatment of the Albigenses-Stories circulated concerning the Jews-Position of Queen Isabella-Ideas of King Ferdinand-Evidences that a Jewish conversion was not sincere-The hall of torture-Modes of torture-Why the people of Cuba and the Philippine Islands rebelled against Spain

One of the greatest grievances held by the Cubans and Filipinos against the kingdom of Spain was the extortion practised by the Spanish Roman Catholic clergy and monks. The people continually groaned under the weight of the ecclesiastical taxes. They constantly complained that it was absolutely unjust to compel them to support a religion, no matter whether they believed in that religion or not. In all of the islands recently wrested from the throne of Madrid, this was one of the main causes of dissatisfaction and insurrection. In the Philippines, in many cases and places the followers of Aguinaldo were ready to release the Spanish soldiers who had been taken prisoners of war; but in almost every instance they have manifested a most determined purpose to retain the friars in bonds. They have even threatened to butcher them in a wholesale manner.

This policy of extortion for ecclesiastical purposes has been long in vogue with the government of Spain, and to a large degree it has led to the stripping her of her foreign possessions. In fact, the theory upon which Spain’s colonial system has been based, is that dependencies and foreign peoples under her control are a kind of property, or farm, from which a revenue for the benefit of the home country and the state church should of right be drawn.

The Spanish government first originated this policy in its treatment of the Jews, and the Inquisition was invented to carry it into execution. The story is intensely interesting, and well worthy of consideration here, as it marks the beginning of a piece of sowing from which Spain has just reaped the last instalment of the harvest of loss.

The kingdom and church of Spain have always professed to find in Holy Writ precedent for all their doctrines and practises. I do not say that Holy Writ contains precedent for their doctrines and practises; but simply aver that they think they find them there.

The Inquisition is one of the most diabolically gross abuses that ever disgraced the name of humanity. Nevertheless the Spanish writers rest the authority of this infamous tribunal upon the Word of God. PRUS 52.5

According to a well-known Roman Catholic historian, God himself was the first inquisitor-general. In the death penalty announced to Adam and Eve, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17), precedent is found for inflicting capital punishment on heretics, because our first parents were heretics,-they had left the true faith. Again, the Lord turned them out of the garden of Eden; this was the confiscation of the property of heretics. Thirdly, the Almighty made them “coats of skins, and clothed them.” Genesis 3:21. This was the model of the san benito1 The san benitos were coarse woolen garments, in which the heretic was arrayed for the auto da fe, the name given to the ceremony accompanying the burning of the victims. These garments were brought close round the neck, and descended like a frock down to the knees. They were of a yellow color, embroidered with a cross, and well garnished with figures of devils and flames of fire, which, typical of the heretic’s destiny hereafter, served to make him more odious in the eyes of the superstitious multitude. In certain cases the garment was also adorned with the picture of the wearer, burning in flames, with several figures of dragons and devils in the act of fanning them. 2 

The Inquisition has existed in principle ever since the fourth century, when Christianity became the established religion of the Roman empire; but acts of intolerance do not seem to have flowed from any systematized plan of persecution until the papal authority had risen to a considerable height.

Inquisitorial missions were first sent out by Pope Innocent III, 1210-1215, against the Albigenses, who dwelt under the shadow of the lofty Pyrenees in southern France. They were a most peaceable and polished people, and the only national crime of which they had ever been guilty was that of rejecting with shrinking horror the doctrines and practises of the Roman Catholic Church, whose clergy was regarded with loathing and contempt. “Viler than a priest,“ and “I would as soon be a priest,” became proverbial expressions. “The papacy had lost all authority with all classes, from the great feudal princes down to the cultivators of the soil.” How beautiful their land, how elegant their manners, how advanced, for that barbarous age, their scientific research, how cruel their extermination, the pen of Lord Macaulay has perfectly delineated!

In the year 1480, during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, the holy office was established in Spain. It was inaugurated for the benefit of the Jews, not primarily because they were heretics, but because they were wealthy, and Rome and Spain needed money. This is a serious charge, but nevertheless a true one, and one which can be easily and clearly sustained. PRUS 54.1

These unfortunate members of the race of Israel were not only wealthy, but they had gradually risen in political eminence until they were the incumbents of the highest civil offices. They made great advancement in various departments of letters. The schools of Cordova, Toledo, Barcelona, and Grenada were crowded with students. It was the Jews and the Arabs who kept alive the flame of learning during the mythological gloom of the Middle Ages. They frequently resided at the courts of Catholic princes as ministers of finance, situations which they were eminently qualified to fill. PRUS 54.2

But royal patronage proved incompetent to save them from the bloody hand of the state church, when their “flourishing fortunes had risen to a sufficient height” to excite her envy. I quote from Prescott:— PRUS 54.3

“Stories were circulated of their contempt for the Catholic worship, their desecration of the most holy symbols, and of their crucifixion, or other sacrifice, of Christian children at the celebration of their own Passover…. At length toward the close of the fourteenth century the fanatical populace, stimulated in many instances by the no less fanatical clergy, and perhaps encouraged by the numerous class of debtors to the Jews, who found this a convenient mode of settling their accounts, made a fierce assault on this unfortunate people in Castile and Arragon, breaking into their houses, violating their most private sanctuaries, scattering their most costly collections and furniture, and consigning the wretched proprietors to indiscriminate massacre, without regard to sex or ago.” 3 PRUS 54.4

On account of this barbarous treatment many of the Spanish Jews feigned conversion to Christianity. Such was their spiritual condition when Ferdinand and Isabella assumed the reins of government. During their reign complaints against Jewish heresy became more and more frequent, and the throne was repeatedly beset with petitions to devise some means for its extirpation. The words of the curate of Los Palacios, who lived at this time, throw considerable light on “the real as well as pretended motives of the subsequent persecution“:— PRUS 55.1

“This accursed race were either unwilling to bring their children to be baptized, or, if they did, they washed away the stain on returning home. They dressed their stews and other dishes with oil instead of lard; abstained from pork; kept the Passover, ate meat in Lent; and sent oil to replenish the lamps in their synagogues, with many other abominable ceremonies of their religion…. They were an exceeding polite and ambitious people engrossing the most lucrative municipal offices.” 

No wonder Prescott remarks, after quoting the above:— PRUS 55.3

“It is easy to discern in this medley of credulity and superstition the secret envy entertained by the Castilians of the superior skill and industry of their Hebrew brethren, and of the superior riches which these qualities secured to them; and it is impossible not to suspect that the zeal of the most orthodox was considerably sharpened by worldly motives…. Ferdinand listened with complacency to a scheme which promised an ample source of revenue in the confiscations it involved. 4 PRUS 55.4

To Isabella’s honor be it spoken, frequent importunities on the part of the clergy were necessary before she yielded her consent to having the Inquisition established in her dominions. But at last she gave way. PRUS 55.5

“Sixtus the Fourth, who at that time filled the pontifical chair, easily discerning the sources of wealth and influence which this measure [the establishment of the Inquisition in Spain] opened to the court of Rome, readily complied with the petitions of the sovereigns, and expedited a bull, bearing date Nov. 1, 1478, authorizing them to appoint two or three ecclesiastics, inquisitors for the detection and suppression of heresy throughout their dominions.” 5 PRUS 55.6

Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492, issued a decree expelling from Spain every Jew who did not deny his faith, so that the soil of Spain might be no longer polluted by the presence of unbelievers. To make them Christians, or failing in this, to exterminate them, was the business of the Inquisition. PRUS 56.1

Of course many of the Jews declared, when the terrible words which constituted the form of arrest, “Deliver yourself up a prisoner to the Inquisition!” were whispered in their ear, that they were not Jews, but Catholics. It then became necessary to prove that they were Jews. Here are some of the points by means of which the charge of Judaism was established among them:— PRUS 56.2

“It was considered good evidence of the fact if the prisoner wore better clothes or cleaner linen on the Jewish Sabbath than on any other day of the week; if he had no fire in his house the preceding evening; if he sat at table with Jews, or ate the meat of animals slaughtered by their hands, or drank a certain beverage held in much estimation by them; if he washed a corpse in warm water, or when dying turned his face to the wall; or, finally, if he gave Hebrew names to his children, a provision most whimsically cruel, since, by a law of Henry II he was prohibited under severe penalties from giving them Christian names. He must have found it difficult to have extricated himself from the horns of this dilemma. Such are a few of the circumstances, some of them purely accidental in their nature, others the result of early habit, which might well have continued after a sincere conversion to Christianity, and all of them trivial, on which capital accusations were to be alleged, and even satisfactorily established.” 6 PRUS 56.3

I give this quotation from Llorente, as he is a writer most competent to unveil the hidden mysteries of the Inquisition. He was secretary to that tribunal in Madrid from 1790-1792. He devoted several years to a thorough investigation of the records of the tribunals, as well as of other original documents contained in their archives. PRUS 56.4

It will therefore be now in place to relate some of those secret workings, and to relate how its victims were accused, condemned, and tortured. PRUS 56.5

To presume the innocence of the prisoner until his guilt has been established, is an axiom of justice accepted by all true jurists. The Inquisition, however, instead of granting to the prisoner the protection afforded by every other judicature, and especially demanded by his forlorn situation, acted upon the opposite principle, and used the most insidious arts to circumvent and surround all who came within its fearful grasp. Says Prescott:— PRUS 56.6

“The accused, … whose mysterious disappearance was perhaps the only public evidence of his arrest, was conveyed to the secret chambers of the Inquisition, where he was jealously excluded from intercourse with all, save a priest of the Romish Church, and his jailer, both of whom might be regarded as the spies of the tribunal. In this desolate condition the unfortunate man, cut off from external communication and all cheering sympathy and support, was kept for some time in ignorance even of the nature of the charges preferred against him; and at length, instead of the original process, was favored only with extracts from the deposition of the witnesses, so garbled as to conceal every possible clue to their name and quality. With still greater unfairness no mention whatever was made of such testimony as had arisen in the course of the examination in his own favor. Counsel was indeed allowed him from a list presented by his judges. But this privilege availed little, since the parties were not permitted to confer together, and the advocate was furnished with no other information than what had been granted to his client. To add to the injustice of these proceedings, every discrepancy in the statements of the witnesses was converted into a separate charge against the prisoner, who thus, instead of one crime, stood accused of several. This, taken in connection with the concealment of time, place, and circumstance in the accusations, created such embarrassment that, unless the accused was possessed of unusual acuteness and presence of mind, it was sure to involve him, in his attempt to explain, in inextricable contradiction. PRUS 57.1

“If the prisoner refused to confess his guilt, or, as was usual, was suspected of evasion, or an attempt to conceal the truth, he was subjected to torture. This, which was administered in the deepest vaults of the Inquisition, where the cries of the victim could fall on no ear save that of his tormentors, is admitted by the secretary of the holy office, who has furnished the most accurate report of its transactions, not to have been exaggerated in any of the numerous narratives which have dragged these subterranean horrors into light. If the intensity of pain extorted a confession from the sufferer, he was expected, if he should survive, to sustain it on the next day. Should he refuse to do this, his mutilated members were condemned to a repetition of the same sufferings, until his obstinacy (it should rather have been termed his heroism) might be vanquished.” 7 PRUS 57.2

“By a subsequent regulation of Philip II, the repetition of torture in the same process was strictly prohibited to the inquisitors. But they, making use of a sophism worthy of the arch-fiend himself, contrived to evade this law, by pretending after each new application of punishment, that they had only suspended and not terminated the torture.” 8 PRUS 58.1

“Should the rack, however, prove ineffectual to force a confession of his guilt, he was so far from being considered as having established his innocence that, with a barbarity unknown to any tribunal where torture has been admitted, and which of itself proves its utter incompetency to the end it proposes, he was not unfrequently convicted on the depositions of the witnesses. At the conclusion of his mock trial, the prisoner was again returned to his dungeon, where, without the blaze of a single faggot to dispel the cold or illuminate the darkness of the long winter night, he was left in unbroken silence to await the doom which was to consign him to an ignominious death, or a life scarcely less ignominious.” 9 PRUS 58.2

To add to the discomfiture of the victims, the three men who sat as judges in the inquisitorial courts were almost invariably chosen from the most ignorant. Says Puighblanch:— PRUS 58.3

“Even the common people, amidst the illusion in which they lived under the yoke of this tribunal, at length became sensible of the great ignorance which prevailed in its dark conclaves. This is proved by the following saying to be met in the mouths of every one:— PRUS 58.4

Question-What constituted the Inquisition? PRUS 58.5

Answer-One crucifix, two candlesticks, and three blockheads, alluding to the form and parade of its sittings, and the number of the Judges present thereat.” 10 PRUS 58.6

The culprit was obliged to declare his whole genealogy and descent, and to state whether any of his ancestors, in a direct or transversal line, or his brothers, wife, children, or, indeed, himself, had at any time previously been arraigned before the tribunal, and penanced by it. The real object of all this was to obtain possession of the property he might have inherited, by declaring the right of succession null and void. PRUS 59.1

There were three kinds of torture generally used by the Inquisition; viz., the pulley, the rack, and the fire. The apartment in which these were inflicted was underground, and was called the hall of torture. PRUS 59.2

The first of these three modes of punishment was inflicted by fastening a pulley, with a rope passed through it, to the roof. The executioners would then seize the culprit, shackle his feet together, and suspend weights of one hundred pounds to his ankles. His hands were bound behind his back, and the rope from the pulley fastened to his wrists. He was then raised about six feet from the ground, and twelve stripes were inflicted upon him. After this he was let down with a run, but checked just before either of his feet or the weights should touch the floor, in order to render the shock to his body greater. PRUS 59.3

The torture of the rack, also called that of water and ropes, was a common one. The victim, divested of his clothing, was stretched upon his back along a hollow bench with sticks across like a ladder, and prepared for the purpose. To this his head, hands, and feet were bound so tightly that he could not move. In this position he experienced eight strong contortions in his limbs; viz., two on the fleshy parts of the arm above the elbow, two below the elbow, two on the thighs, and two on the legs. Sometimes also his face was covered with a thin piece of linen, through which seven pints of water ran into his mouth and nostrils, preventing him from breathing. PRUS 59.4

But the torture by fire was the most revolting of all. The prisoner was placed with his legs naked in the stocks, the soles of his feet well greased with lard, and a blazing chafing-dish applied to them, by the heat of which they became perfectly fried 11 PRUS 59.5

Now all of these tortures and inhuman barbarities were committed in defense of those two theories that there should not be freedom of conscience, and that men are not equal before the law. They were committed for the purpose of wringing money from the inferior race (if inferior it can be termed) for the support of the superior. I can not believe that originally the Spaniards were more cruel or inhuman than the rest of mankind. It is certain that we are all of one blood, and all born in sin. But the manifestation of such awful cruelties by the Spaniards was brought about by following a wrong theory. PRUS 59.6

The people of Cuba and of the Philippine Islands were oppressed for precisely the same reasons that the Jews of Spain were oppressed so many years ago. As a result of the first persecutions, the Jews left, and were driven out of Spain. But as a result of the second, the Spanish were driven out of the Philippines, and out of Cuba; for in this latter time the cup of her iniquity was full and her punishment was decreed from above. PRUS 60.1

Author: Adventist Angels Watchman Radio

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