Uncomfortable Facts About The Spanish Inquisition That Expose An Unpopular Side Of European History

The Spanish Inquisition was originally set up to convert Muslims and Jews to Christianity. But over the years its net widened, and its officials persecuted everyone from Protestants to bigamists and even Catholics whose views were deemed heretical. All too often, inquisitorial proceedings would descend into gruesome torture sessions and unspeakable cruelties of all kinds. Read on to find out the inside story of the Inquisition. 

More than a Spanish affair

Most people have heard of the Spanish Inquisition, but in fact it was far from the only institution of its kind. Other groups aiming to root out heresy and defend the Roman Catholic faith sprung up elsewhere. Portugal had its own Inquisition, as did France and Italy. There were also branches in Mexico, Peru, and the Netherlands.

The last execution

Most would assume that the Spanish Inquisition was a phenomenon of the Middle Ages — we certainly did. But the truth is that the institution actually staggered on into the 19th century under the title of Congregation of the Meetings of Faith. The last person to be executed on the orders of the Inquisition was Cayetano Ripoll, a schoolteacher. Shockingly he was hanged in 1826. 

Multi-faith persecution

The original purpose of the Spanish Inquisition was to persecute Muslims and Jews who had falsely claimed to have embraced Christianity. The conversion was compulsory although there was one alternative — leave Spain. These Muslim and Jewish converts were known as conversos and their sincerity often questioned. But as the years went by, people of Protestant faith also came under the baleful eye of the Inquisition accused of heresy.

Severest punishments

In general, if people accused of heresy by the Inquisition were prepared to mend their ways and embrace the Catholic Church, they would be let off lightly. The most severe punishments were reserved for those who offended a second time — or who tried to spread their reviled beliefs to others. These heretics might be sentenced to a grueling spell rowing a galley ship. In the most serious cases, they could be sentenced to death.