Llorente, the historian of the Spanish Inquisition, and M. Fidel Fita, the distinguished contributor to the “Boletin de la Real Academia de la Historia,” both had access to and both made use of a record left by the licentiate Sebastian de Orozco, an eyewitness of the establishment of the Inquisition in Toledo. This has been printed verbatim by M. Fidel Fita.139

The details afforded by Orozco are so circumstantial that it is worth while to follow them closely, since they may be said to afford a typical picture of what was happening not only in the city with which they are concerned, but throughout the whole of Spain.

It was in May of the year 1485 that the Inquisition was first set up in Toledo, that noble city erected upon a rock that rises sheer from the swirling waters of the Tagus, and is crowned by the royal palace which still bears the Moorish name of Alcazar. It was transferred thither, by Torquemada’s orders, from Villa Real, where it had been operating for some months.

“To the end that our Infinite Redeemer Jesus Christ be praised in all that He does, and for the greater power of His Holy Catholic Faith,” writes Orozco, “know all who shall come after us that in the year 1485, in the month of May, the Holy Inquisition against heretical pravity was sent to this very noble City of Toledo by our very enlightened Sovereigns, Don Fernando and Donna Isabella.... Of this Inquisition were administrators Vasco Ramirez de Ribera, Archdeacon of Talavera, and Pedro Dias de la Costana, Licentiate of Theology, and with them one of the Queen’s Chaplains as fiscal and prosecutor, and one Juan de Alfaro, a patrician of Seville, as chief constable (alguazil), and two notaries.”

The licentiate Pedro Dias de la Costana preached to the people on the third day of Pentecost (Tuesday, May 24), notifying them of the papal bull under which the inquisitors were acting and of the power vested in these inquisitors to deal with matters of heresy; pronouncing greater excommunication against any who by word or deed or counsel should dare to oppose the Inquisition in the execution of its duty.

At the conclusion of his announcement the Gospels and a crucifix were brought, and upon these all were required to make solemn oath of their desire to serve God and the Sovereigns, to uphold the Catholic Faith, and to defend and shelter the administrators of the Holy Inquisition.

Lastly the licentiate published the usual edict of grace for self-delators. He summons all Judaizers to return to the Faith and become reconciled to the Church within a term of forty days, as set forth by the edict itself, which by his orders was nailed to the door of the Cathedral.

A week elapsed without any response to this summons. The conversos of Toledo had been preparing to resist the introduction of the Inquisition to their city, and under the guidance of one De la Torre and some others they had already matured their plans and laid down the lines which this resistance was to take.

Photo by Donald Macbeth.

From Limborch’s “Historia Inquisitionis.”

The plot was—according to Orozco, who, you will have gathered, was an ardent partisan of the Holy Office—that on the feast of Corpus Christi, which fell that year on June 2, the conspirators should be armed to lie in wait for the procession, falling upon it as it was advancing through the streets, and slaying the inquisitors and their defenders. That done, they were to seize the gates of the city and hold Toledo against the King.

The fine strategic position of the city might have lent itself to so daring a scheme, and presumably the aim of the New-Christians would have been to hold it rebelliously until accorded terms of capitulation that should guarantee the immunity of the rebels from all punishment, and the immunity of Toledo itself from the jurisdiction of the Holy Office. But, on the whole, it was so very crack-brained a conspiracy that we are more than justified in doubting whether it ever had any real existence.

“It pleased our Redeemer,” says Orozco, “that this conspiracy was discovered on the eve of Corpus Christi.” He does not satisfy our curiosity as to how the discovery was made, and the omission increases our doubts.

The details, we are told, were derived from several of the plotters who were arrested on that day by the Corregidor of Toledo, Gomes Manrique. In view of the information thus obtained, Manrique proceeded to capture De la Torre and four of his friends. One of these captives, a cobbler named Lope Mauriço, the Corregidor hanged out of hand on the morning of the festival, before the procession had issued from the Cathedral. The act may have been intended as a deterrent to any who still entertained the notion of putting the plot into execution.

The procession passed off without any disturbances; and having hanged another of his prisoners Manrique subjected the remainder to heavy fines, whereby they escaped far more lightly than if they had been tried by the court of the Holy Office. Fortunately for themselves, it was deemed that their offence was one that came within the jurisdiction of the secular courts.

Soon thereafter, possibly because they now realized that they had nothing left to hope for, self-delators began to come before the inquisitors to solicit reconciliation.

But when the term of the edict had expired, it was found that the indefatigable Torquemada had prepared a second one to supplement it. He ordered the publication of an entirely fresh measure, commanding that all who knew of any heretics, apostates, or Judaizers, must, under pain of excommunication and of being deemed heretics themselves, divulge to the inquisitors the names of such offenders within a term of sixty days.

There was already in existence an enactment of the Inquisition, which instead of offering, as in all times has been done by secular tribunals, a reward for the apprehension of fugitives from justice, imposed upon those who neglected spontaneously to set about that catchpoll work when the occasion arose, a fine of 500 ducats in addition to excommunicating them. But Torquemada’s fresh measure went even beyond that. Nor did it end with the edict we have mentioned. When the sixty days expired, he ordered the prolongation of the term by another thirty days—not only in Toledo, but also in Seville, where he had commanded the publication of the same edict—and now came the cruellest measure of all. He commanded the inquisitors to summon the Rabbis of the synagogues and to compel them to swear according to the Mosaic Law that they would denounce to the inquisitors any baptized Jew whom they found returning to the Jewish cult, and he made it a capital offence for any Rabbi to keep such a matter secret.

Not even now did he consider that he had carried far enough this infamous measure of persecution. He ordained that the Rabbis should publish in their synagogues an edict of excommunication by the Mosaic Law against all Jews who should fail to give information to the inquisitors of any Judaizing whereof they might have knowledge.

In this decree we catch a glimpse of the intensity of the fanatical, contemptuous hatred in which Torquemada held the Israelites. For nothing short of blended hatred and contempt could have inspired him so to trample upon the feelings of their priests, and to compel them under pain of death to a course in which they must immolate their self-respect, violate their consciences, and render themselves odious in the esteem of every right-thinking Jew.

By this unspeakable enactment the very Jews themselves were pressed into the secret service of the Inquisition, and compelled by the fear of spiritual and physical consequences to turn informers against their brethren.

“Many,” says Orozco, who no doubt considered it a measure as laudable as it was fiendishly astute, “were the men and women who came to bear witness.”

Arrests commenced at once, and were carried on with an unprecedented activity revealed by the records of the Autos that were held, which Orozco has preserved for us.

And already fire had been set to the faggots piled at the stake of Toledo, for the first victims had soon fallen into the eager hands of the Inquisitors of the Faith.

These were three men and their three wives, natives of Villa Real, who had fled thence when first the inquisitors had set up their tribunal there. They reached Valencia safely, purchased there a yawl, equipped it, and set sail. They were on the seas for five days, when, of course, “it pleased God to send a contrary wind, which blew them back into the port from which they had set out”—and thus into the hands of the benign inquisitors, so solicitous for the salvation of their souls. They were arrested upon landing, and brought to Toledo, whither the tribunal had meanwhile been transferred. They were tried; their flight confirmed their guilt; and so—Christi nomine invocato—they were burnt by order of the inquisitors.

As a result of the self-delations the first great Auto de Fé was held in Toledo on the first Sunday in Lent (February 12), 1486. The reconciled of seven parishes, numbering some 750 men and women, were taken in procession and submitted to the penance known as verguenza—or “shame”—which, however humiliating to the Christian, was so hurtful to the pride of the Jew (and no less to that of the Moor) that he would almost have preferred death itself. It consisted in being paraded through the streets, men and women alike, bareheaded, barefooted, and naked to the waist.

At the head of the procession, preceded by the white cross, and walking two by two, went a section of the Confraternity of St. Peter the Martyr—the familiars of the Holy Office—dressed in black, with the white cross of St. Dominic displayed upon their cloaks. After them followed the horde of half-naked penitents, cruel physical discomfort being added to their mental torture, for the weather was so raw and cold that it had been considered expedient to provide them with sandals, lest they should have found it impossible to walk.

In his hand each carried a candle of green wax—unlighted, to signify that as yet the light of the Faith did not illumine his soul. Anon, when they should have been admitted to reconciliation and absolution, these candles would be lighted, to signify that the light of the Faith had once more entered their hearts—light being the symbol of the Faith, just as “light” and “faith” have become almost convertible terms.

Orozco informs us that among the penitents were many of the principal citizens of Toledo, many persons of eminence and honour, who must deeply have felt their shame at being paraded in this fashion through crowded streets, that they might afford a salutary spectacle to the multitude which had assembled in Toledo from all the surrounding country districts. To ensure this good attendance the Auto had been proclaimed far and wide a fortnight before it was held.

The chronicler of these events tells us that many and loud were the lamentations of these unfortunates. But it is very plain that their condition did not move his pity, for he expresses the opinion that their grief was rather at the dishonour they were suffering than—as it should have been—because they had offended God.

The procession wound its way through the principal streets of the city, and came at last to the Cathedral. At the main doors stood two chaplains, who with their thumbs made the sign of the cross on the brow of each penitent in turn, accompanying the action by the formula: “Receive the Sign of the Cross which you denied, and which, being deluded, you lost.”

Within the Cathedral two large scaffolds had been erected. The penitents were led to one of these, where the reverend inquisitors waited to receive them. On the other an altar had been raised, surmounted by the green cross of the Inquisition, and as soon as all the penitents were assembled, the crowd of holiday-makers being closely packed about the scaffolds, Mass was celebrated and a sermon of the Faith was preached.

This being at an end, the notary of the Holy Office rose and called over the long roll of the penitents, each answering to his name and hearing his particular offence read out to him. Thereafter the penance was announced. They were to be whipped in procession on each of the following six Fridays, being naked to the waist, bareheaded and barefooted; they were to fast on each of those six Fridays, and they were disqualified for the rest of their lives from holding office, benefice, or honourable employment, and from using gold, silver, precious stones, or fine fabrics in their apparel.

They were warned that if they relapsed into error, or failed to perform any part of the penance imposed, they would be deemed impenitent heretics and abandoned to the secular arm; and upon that grim warning they were dismissed.

On each of the following six Fridays of Lent they were taken in procession from the Church of San Pedro Martir to a different shrine on each occasion, and when at last they had completed this humiliating penance it was further ordained that they should give “alms” to the extent of one-fifth of the value of their property, to be applied to the holy war against the infidels of Granada.

Scarcely are the penitents of this Auto disposed of—the last procession took place on March 23—than the second Auto was held.

This occurred on the second Sunday in April, and 486 men and women were penanced on this occasion, the procedure and the penance imposed being the same.

At Whitsuntide of that year a sermon of the Faith was preached by the inquisitor Costana, whereafter an edict was publicly read and nailed to the Cathedral door, summoning all who had fled to surrender themselves to the Holy Office within ninety days, under pain of being sentenced as contumaciously absent. Among those cited there were, we learn, several clerics, including three Jeronymite friars.

Finally, on the second Sunday in June—the 11th of that month—we have the last Auto within the period of grace. In this the penitents of four parishes, numbering some 750 persons, were conducted to reconciliation under precisely the same conditions as had already been observed in the two previous Autos.

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