Once upon a time, there was a land home to a mixture of races and religions, all of whom lived in total peace. Then, one day, the evil king became greedy, and brought pain, fear, and suffering to these people in the name of religion. This war lasted for hundreds of years and brought many riches to the nobles of Spain. This was the Spanish Inquisition.
Sounds like a really twisted fairy tale, doesn’t it? Obviously, the Spanish Inquisition was not a fairy tale, but that intro does a pretty solid job of condensing centuries of horror into a neat little paragraph. Let’s expand a bit, shall we?
Before the Spanish Inquisition
Let’s start back in medieval Spain, just before the Spanish Inquisition officially began. There were three major groups of people in Spain: the Catholics, the Jews, and the Moors (Muslims who had migrated from North Africa). These three religious groups lived together in harmony for quite some time. Much of Spain’s architecture today still reveals traces of these cultures. For example, this church is a classic example of Moorish architecture.
Why did it happen?
There were two big reasons for the Spanish Inquisition. The first was, obviously, religion. Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the rulers of Spain at the time, wanted a more centralized country. And by centralized, I mean they wanted their country to be under the Catholic Church. They didn’t want other religions, and, as history tells us, they were willing to kill to get their way.
The second reason was money. The Church owed the Jews a lot of money. Why? The Catholic Church forbids offering loans for profit. However, Jews, because they’re not Catholic, were completely free to give out all the loans they wanted. When the Jews tacked on interest payments, they made quite a bit of money, and indebted the Catholics to quite a bit more money. Therefore, forcing the Jews to convert to Catholicism got rid of a lot of debt that I don’t think the Church really had much interest in paying off (pun absolutely intended). Of course, we can’t forget the money the Church made from taking Jewish and Moorish homes, the spectacular shows of the Inquisition, etc., but we’ll get there.
The General Idea
The Spanish Inquisition officially began in 1478. The Jews and the Moors had to make a decision: either convert to Catholicism or leave Spain. Now, remember the reasons behind the Spanish Inquisition: religious control and money. Well, religious control? That one’s obvious. Money? First, when a Jew converted to Catholicism, all debts were washed away. Second, if a Jew left Spain, all debts were washed away. Third, if a Jew (or Moor, though Moors were usually not so financially stable) left Spain, they lost all their property to the State. Money, money, money.
Now, here’s the nasty part. If a Jew or a Moor converted to Catholicism and stayed, the Church was going to make sure you weren’t practicing another religion in secret. This is where the Inquisition comes in. The timeline went as follows:
- Two noble people claim you have committed a religious crime.
- You are held by the Inquisition and left (for months at a time) to think about:
a. Who might have accused you of heresy – usually impossible to guess.
b. What crime you are accused of – if you guess your crime incorrectly, you are punished for both the crime you are charged with and those you have admitted.
- You are punished for your sins.
All of this includes a whole lot of gruesome torture. Interestingly enough, the Church authorized the Inquisition under a couple conditions, one of which was that no blood was to be spilled. Therefore, many of the tortures involved things like waterboarding and stretching.
Every once in a while, all heretics who were sentenced to death were part of a spectacular show called an “auto de fe”. Thousands of Spaniards would come to a huge stadium (now known as Madrid’s Plaza Mayor) to watch a day-long show of heretics being punished for their sins – there was even a band! This was, again, another way the monarchs benefited from the Inquisition financially. Although the show itself cost a fortune (and thus was not a very common occurrence), the show did come with an entrance fee! Great for the Church, not-so-great for those accused of heresy. This is what heretics would have seen approaching the now-Plaza Mayor to meet their death.
The End of the Spanish Inquisition
This whole sh-bang lasted close to 400 years. Why did it end? The Industrial Revolution happened, and Spain being involved in such medieval practices was not very good for public relations. Not because torturing heretics was inhumane. Not because Spanish ideals evolved. Because the rest of the world evolved around Spain.
Today, you will not find any memoriams, museums, or artifacts related to the Spanish Inquisition. The only reference you will find is the following plaque, placed upon the building where heretics were tortured, punished, and confessed.