On February 12, 1481 in Seville twelve conversos were burned alive for allegedly practicing Judaism in the first recorded Auto da Fe (Act of Faith).
On February 12, 1486 In Toledo some 750 Conversos were paraded through the streets of Toledo from the Church of San Pedro Martir to the cathedral in order to be reconciled to the Christian faith. In the Auto Da Fe at Toledo the Jews were forced to recant, fined 1/5 of their property and permanently forbidden to wear decent clothes or hold office.
The Auto da Fe (Act of Faith) combined the judicial ceremony of the Inquisition with vociferous sermons. An individual could be denounced for having lapsed back into his old religion or committing heresy. The inquisition accused people of backsliding or heresy for actions such as not eating pig (for whatever reason), washing hands before prayer, changing clothes on the Sabbath, etc.
The Spanish Inquisition properly begins with the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. The Catholic faith was then endangered by converts from Judaism (Marranos) and Mohammedanism (Moriscos). On 1 November, 1478, Sixtus IV empowered the Catholic sovereigns to set up the Inquisition. The judges were to be at least forty years old, of unimpeachable reputation, distinguished for virtue and wisdom, masters of theology, or doctors or licentiates of canon law, and they must follow the usual ecclesiastical rules and regulations.
On 17 September, 1480, Their Catholic Majesties appointed, at first for Seville, the two Dominicans Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San Martin as inquisitors, with two of the secular clergy assistants. Before long complaints of grievous abuses reached Rome, and were only too well founded. In a Brief of Sixtus IV of 29 January 1482, they were blamed for having, upon the alleged authority of papal Briefs, unjustly imprisoned many people, subjected them to cruel tortures, declared them false believers, and sequestrated the property of the executed. They were at first admonished to act only in conjunction with, the bishops, and finally were threatened with deposition, and would indeed have been deposed had not their Majesties interceded for them.
Fray Tomás Torquemada (b. at Valladolid In 1420, d. at Avila, 16 September, 1498) was the true organizer of the Spanish Inquisition. At the solicitation of their Spanish Majesties Pope Sixtus IV bestowed on Torquemada the office of grand inquisitor, the institution of which indicates a decided advance in the development of the Spanish Inquisition. Innocent VIII approved the act of his predecessor, and under date of 11 February, 1486, and 6 February, 1487, Torquemada was given the office of grand inquisitor for the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Valencia, etc. The institution speedily spread from Seville to Cordova and Toledo, About 1538 there were nineteen courts, to which three were afterwards added in Spanish America (Mexico, Lima, and Cartagena).
Attempts at introducing it into Italy failed, and the efforts to establish it in the Netherlands entailed disastrous consequences for the mother country. In Spain, however, it remained operative into the nineteenth century. Originally called into being against secret Judaism and secret Islam, it served to repel Protestantism in the sixteenth century, but was unable to expel French Rationalism and immorality of the eighteenth. King Joseph Bonaparte abrogated it in 1808, but it was reintroduced by Ferdinand VII in 1814 and approved by Pius VII on certain conditions, among others the abolition of torture. It was definitely abolished by the Revolution of 1820.
Over two thousand Auto da Fes are said to have taken place in the Iberian Peninsula and its colonies. The number of victims in Spain alone is estimated at 39,912, many of whom were burned alive. Some were burned in effigy. Others, convicted posthumously, were dug up and burned – and the property they left was confiscated from their heirs. Approximately 340,000 people, many of them Jews, suffered at the hands of the Inquisition, although the vast majority were given lesser punishments. The last Auto da Fe was held in 1790.
The exact number of people executed by the Inquisition is not known. Juan Antonio Llorente, the ex-secretary of the Holy Office, gave the following numbers for the Spanish Inquisition excluding the American colonies, Sicily and Sardinia: 31,912 burnt, 17,696 burned in effigy, and those reconciled to the church through penance 291,450. Later in the nineteenth century, José Amador de los Ríos gave even higher numbers, stating that only between the years 1484 and 1525, 28,540 were burned in person, 16,520 burned in effigy and 303,847 penanced. However, after extensive examinations of archival records, modern scholars provide lower estimates, indicating that fewer than 10,000 were actually executed during the whole history of the Spanish Inquisition, perhaps around 3,000.
Max Harris writes:
“On a bitterly cold first Sunday of Lent, 12 February 1486, seven hundred fifty conversos (Jewish converts to Christianity) ‘‘went in procession . . . bareheaded and unshod’’ through the streets of Toledo, then the capital of Spain. ‘‘Howling loudly and weeping and tearing out their hair,’’ according to a contemporary account, the penitent conversos—both men and women—stumbled ‘‘through the streets along which the Corpus Christi procession goes, until they came to the cathedral.’’ Their humiliation was watched by ‘‘a great number of spectators.’’ After a mass and sermon in the cathedral, each prisoner publicly acknowledged ‘‘all the things in which he had judaizes [relapsed into Jewish practices].” The conversos were then condemned “to go in procession for the six Firdays of Lent, disciplined their body with scourges of hempcord, barebacked, unshod and bareheaded.” The final demeaning procession would take place on Good Friday. Stripped for life of many civil privileges, the conversos were warned that “if they fell into the same error again, … they would be condemned to the fire.”
Over the sixteen years that followed Toledo’s first auto de fe (act of faith) in February 1486, some two hundred and fifty people were burned in person in the city. Twice that number were burned in effigy. Although the number of executions declined over the years, the Holy Office of the Inquisition continued for several centuries to employ the pyre to suppress dissent. Established in 1480, at a time when Ferdinand and Isabella were obsessed with reducing to unity the kingdoms consolidated by their marriage, the Spanish Inquisition was not finally abolished until 1834. Although its reach later extended to moriscos (Moorish converts to Christianity), Lutherans, and others suspected of heresy, its initial and enduring purpose was to rid the church of Jewish influence. Especially after Spanish Jews were given the forced choice of conversion or expulsion in 1492, conversos were widely suspected of being Christian in public and Jews in private.”
Father, have mercy upon us, pardon us, forgive us, renew us and restore us.
Father, have mercy and compassion upon your people Israel, who have suffered so much at the hands of so-called Christians.
Father, have mercy and confirm your promises to your people. Show us the meaning of true forgiveness and reconciliation, justice and peace, as you demonstrated in your son, our Messiah Yeshua. In his name we cry out to you. Amen.
See also Peter Hocken and Johannes Fichtenbauer’s act of repentance here