Appointment with Torquemada

RC deWinter

Fairfield, United States

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*© 2010 RC deWinter ~ All Rights Reserved

A medieval Spanish cathedral lit with tapers awaits the arrival of Torquemada and his minions – one other inquisitor, a prosecutor, a censor and a bailiff – who compose the tribunal that will be hearing cases of those accused of heresy and other crimes as defined under the mandate of the Spanish Inquisition.

As the first Inquisitor General of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, Tomás de Torquemada, a Dominican friar, made his reputation as an implacable administrator of swift and very often final justice. One did not want to be called before him or any other presiding cleric of the tribunals; however, all Spanish Christians over the ages of 12 (for girls & women) and 14 (for boys & men) were accountable to appear if so summoned. Although the Inquisition initially targeted conversos – descendants of Jews or Protestants who converted to Catholicism – and moriscos – descendants of converted Muslims – anyone could be called to account for their faith and actions before a tribunal. Speaking out against the Inquisition was an almost sure invitation to be denounced, arrested and judged.

One could sometimes escape the most egregious penalties imposed on those found guilty of heresy in various forms – including being denounced for secretly practicing one’s ancestral Jewish or Muslim faith – by confessing one’s sins and accepting punishments ranging from wearing penitential symbols and/or clothing in public, a term of imprisonment, or even being assigned to the Spanish navy as a galley slave. The catch was that if one confessed, one was forced to reveal the identities of family members or acquaintances also involved in one’s heresy. In this way the Inquisitors assured a never-ending supply of accused to be investigated, tried and sentenced. Other sins punishable through the Inquisitorial courts included sodomy, bigamy, bestiality, heretical speech not involving active heresy, crimes against the Holy Office of the Inquisition, Freemasonry, superstition, witchcraft and a host of other offenses. And, as is often the case with government-sponsored terrorism against the civil population, there were many innocent Spaniards falsely denounced by their enemies for political and business reasons.

Ironically, because the Inquisition was overseen by the Catholic Church of Spain, the tribunals were not allowed to cause blood to be spilled in the pursuit of justice. Therefore, the tortures used to obtain confessions from accused heretics who would not voluntarily confess were generally the potra (the rack), the strappado (hanging from the ceiling by the wrists) and the toca (an early form of waterboarding). If the accused was found guilty by the tribunal and sentenced to death, he or she was turned over to the civil authorities, who conducted the auto-de-fes (public burnings at the stake) that cleansed Spain of its worst convicted heretics and sinners. In this image, if you examine the balcony on the middle right, you will see the bloodstains of one of the accused who managed to wrest away from his guards and stab himself before the horrified court – horrified not because the accused was dead but because he spilled blood inside the cathedral in the name of the Church.

Digital oil painting from a photograph shot by Canadian artist Constance Widen. I hope she and the Queen will forgive my painting the British Natural History Museum as a medieval Spanish cathedral.*

Artwork Comments

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