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Mimesis of the Last Judgment: The Spanish Auto de fe

Author(s): Maureen Flynn


Source: The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Summer, 1991), pp. 281-297
Published by: The Sixteenth Century Journal
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2542736
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Sixteenth
CenturyJournal
XXII, No. 2, 1991

Mimesis of the Last Judgment:


The Spanish Auto de fe
MaureenFlynn
University
ofMaryland
In thissemiotic
oftheSpanishautodefe,we beginto understand
analysis
forthefirst
timethemeaning
ofreligious
rituals
thathaveappeared
completely
in
traditional
accounts.
The
ofpenitents
incomprehensible
morning
processions
theformal
denunciations
ofheretics
onpublicscaffolds,
through
citystreets,
andthefinalburning
at thestakeofunrepentant
sinners
areplacedwithin
thecontext
ofmedieval
The
andeschatological
beliefs.
penitential
practices
oftheautodefeunveiled
in timetheJudgment
all
ceremony
Day awaiting
humankind
at theendof time.Forthisreason,thespectacle
arousedthe
interest
ofspectators
all overChristendom,
themwithapprehension
filling
oftheirownfinaljudgment.
THE IMAGE OF A COSMIC TRIBUNAL in which God adjudicates the destinyof

humankind
loomsovertheJudeo-Christian
consciousness
ofsin.The individual
soul is alwayson trial."What will theDay ofJudgment
be like,"theSpanish
Santa
Teresa
de
in
wondered
"when
our
horror,
mystic
Jesuis
Majestymanifests
himselfto us and we see clearlyall our lives' errors?"1
SantaTeresa thought
about the Day when she would be broughtbeforethe throneof
frequently
God and contemplatedthe punishmentthatmightbe inflictedon her for
her sins. In one of her mysticalvisions,she appearedat the mouthof hell
and experienceditstorments.
Severebodilypainwas accompaniedbyburning
of the soul. The agonyof the soul,she said,was "like suffocation,
a pain so
and
with
such
and
I
not
that
could
exaggerate
affliction,
sharp
despair unhappy

its description ....

I felt myselfburn and disintegrate."2

For Spaniardsless inclinedto mysticalexperiencesof theLastJudgment,


theInquisition'sautodefeindicatedwhatthefinalmomentsofhumandestiny
would be like. The autodefe was the ceremonyat which the Inquisition
judged and punishedprisonersforviolationsagainstthe Catholicfaith.The
public burningof hereticsthattook place at some of the autoshave come
downto us in Spanishhistoriography
and religious
as actsofsingularhostility

1TeresadeJesus,Librodela Vidain Obrascompletas


(Madrid:Bibliotecade AutoresCristianos,
1986), 40:11.
2Ibid.,32:1-2.

281
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282

Sixteenth
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in meaning.3If we look closely


fanaticism
almosttotallyincomprehensible
at the symbolicmessagesexpressedin the ceremonies,however,a veryclear
and consistent
of medievaleschatologicalbeliefsis discernible.
representation
The Inquisition'smethodof dealingwithhereticsborea markedresemblance
to the infernalpunishmentexperiencedby SantaTeresa and otherChristian
visionaries.Indeed, a contemporary
apologist of the Inquisition,Luis de
as closelyas possible
Paramo,assertedplainlythatthe autodeferepresented
thetremendous
dramaof the Day ofJudgment.4
It was a ritualperformance,
symbolicallyre-enactingthe Last Day when all sinnersstood beforethe
throneof God.
BiblicaltextsthatdescribedtheLastJudgment
wereevokedcontinuously
in the stagesetting,the gesturesof the tribunal,and the apparelof victims.
A scaffoldwas erectedin the mostpublicarea of the cityor town at which
theautowas held,usuallyin front
ofcityhallwherecivillaw was administered.5
At thismoment,civiljustice gave way to eternaljustice as local magistrates
canonsofthecathedral
andfriars
ofthemendicant
familiars,
joined Inquisitors,
This was thesceneofthetrialandjudgment
ordersto disciplineparishioners.
whereSt.Matthew'sgospelaccountofthejudgmentseatofGod wasperformed:
"When the Son of man shallcome in his glory,and all the angelswithhim,
thenshallhe siton the throneof his glory;and beforehim shallbe gathered
all the nations."6
The gatheringof sinnersbegan earlyin the morningwith a procession
fromthe cathedralto the seatof the Holy Tribunal.Soldiersled the parade
throughthe streetsto the town square,carryingwood to fuel the firein
which unrepentantsinnerswould be reducedto ash on that day.7Then
followedtheprisoners,
mostofwhomwereunawareas yetoftheirpunishments,
to
the witches,the
arrangedaccording misdeed.So we see theblasphemers,
In
in
and
the
auto
C6rdoba
on May
the
held
bigamists,
Judaizers.
defe
public
3The classicsourcein Englishon the Inquisitionis writtenfroma liberalProtestant
point
ofviewbyHenryCharlesLea, A History
ofSpain,4 vols. (New York:Macmillan,
oftheInquisition
in
see
vol.
which
in
detail
the
customs
of
he describes
ceremonial
3, chap. 5,
1906-1907);
esp.
theautosdefeand arguesthatit was essentially
thesumptuousdisplaythatattracted
thepopulace
to theseevents.BernardinoLlorca's explanationforthe popularityof the autodefe is equally
He arguesthatit was essentiallya collectivemanifestation
ofenthusiasmand loyalty
superficial.
to the religionof the state,comparableto modernreligiousfestivalsthatcombineindividual
contentof these
pietywith nationalpatriotism.No attemptis made to analyze the symbolic
rituals.La inquisicion
enEspaha(Barcelona:EditorialLabor,1936, 1946), 241.
sixteenth-century
4Luisde Paramo,De origine
etprogressu
sanctaeInquisitionis
(Madrid:Ex Typographia
officii
Regia, 1598).
in Emilio MenesesGarcia,
5Seea detailedcontemporary
reporton thedesignof scaffolding
"Construcci6ndel tabladopara el auto de fe de 1632," RevistadeArchivos,
Bibliotecas,
y Museos,
3d ser.,75 (1965): 363-92.
6Matt.25: 31-32.
7BritishLibrary,MS Eq. 1887 Relaciondel autopublicode la Fe que se celebr6
en estaCorte,
Domingo21 deEnero1624, fols.28-29v.

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The SpanishAutodefe

..

.......

~ ~ ~ ~
.

283

i_
...-.----.

,?

ofthisauto&f]esiton gridrated
stepson therightwiththoseto
Fig. 1. Prisoners
be consigned
flameson thetopstep.In thecenterofthestagebeforethe
to theflmes
witnesses
is the
thelone
lonepenitent
thesentence
sentence
read.By
Adrian
andwitnesses
is
the
Rae
judge
penit hearmsg
judgeand
hearing
ByAdrian

Schoonebechin
in Phillip
Van Limborch,
HistoriaInquisitionis,
Philip Van
Schoonebech
Limborch,
History
1692).
(Amsterdam,
1692).
Inquitimnis,
(Amstd.m,

permission,
Reprinted
MountSaintMar's
Emmitsburg,
bypennission,
Mary'sCollegeArchives,
Mayland.
Maryland.

the parade
that he
he saw
saw three
watching the
3,1655,
3,
1655, a physician
threebigamists
physician watching
bigamists
parade reported
reportedthat
walk
ahead
the
miters
on
which
were drawn
others,
of
conical
wearing
walk
crime.8
symbols
oftheircrime.s
Trailingbehindwerefourwomenaccusedofwitchcraft,
wearingveryhigh mitersadornedwith painteddevils.Three criminalsin
long tunicsbore harnessesaround theirnecks that indicated
indicatedtheircaptive
state.The physicianthen observedrepentantsinnersin tunicsof yellow
fabric,"slashed
slashed acrossthe frontand back with colored bands more or less
wide accordingto the seriousnessof theircrimesand the lengthof timefor
which theirpenanceslasted."9
lastedc"9They walked
wallkedbarefootand wore no veils or
hatsin orderto manifest
theirguiltto thecrowdsof
people
people liningthestreets.
"thatthe
In theirhands,unlitcandlessignified,as one witnessunderstood,
'that
ones."10As in other
lightof Faith has been extinguishedin thesewretchedones."'l?
8ln RafaelGraciaBoix,Autos e Fey CGusas& la Inquisicn deCrdoba,(Crdob: Deputaci6n
Provincial,1983), 1655 Mayo 3: 425-44.
9bid., 434, 457.

l?BritishLibray, MS Eq. 1887.

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284

Sixteenth
Century
Journal

processions,convictswho had escaped the hands of the Inquisitionwere


in effigy.Their mannequinsbore such resemblanceto the flesh
represented
and blood sinnerthatno one in thecrowdhad doubtsaboutwho was being
condemned.The Church also managed to raise the dead forjudgment,
in boxes the bones of convictedhereticswho transpired
before
transporting
the day of the auto.

Fig. 2. Public processionof sinnersat an autodef Effigiesar of deceased

in PhillipVan
theirbonesbornebehindin boxes.By AdrianSchoonebech
sinners;
Limorch,Historia
(AmsterdaAm
1692).Reprinted
bypermission,
Inqisitionis,
MountSaintMary'sCollegeArchives,
Maryland.
Emmitsburg,
Allusionsto New Testamentdescriptions
oftheSecondComingbecome
moreapparentas we watchofficialsof the Inquisitionmarchsolemnlyamid
crossesbehindthesinners.Theycarriedbetweenthemtwobrightly
decorated
chestswhich held all the legal documents,includingwritsof sentences,
againsttheconvicts.These are signpoststo theRevelationof St.Johnwhere
referenceis made to the existenceof writtendocumentsverifying
decisions
made at the FinalJudgment.The prophetJohn"saw thedead,the greatand
the small,standingbeforethe throne,and books were opened; and another
book was opened,which is thebook of life;and the dead werejudged from
the thingswhich were writtenin the book accordingto theirdeeds."1 The
"Rev. 20:12.

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The SpanishAutodefe

285

Inquisitionhad recordedcarefullyitsprisoners'misdeeds,along withpublic


testimoniesand personalconfessionsrelatingto the validityof accusations
forwhich theywere beingtried.Now it broughtforththe evidenceto read
beforethe public,usheringJohn'sapocalypseinto C6rdoba's citystreets.

'Fi. I3. P

sm

h in p

n ad

by s

r ad fs

marchin procession
Fig.3. Prisoners
who
accompanied
bysoldierandfriars
beseechrepentance.
Engraving
byAdrianSchoonebech.
Reprinted
bypermission,
MountSaintMary'sCollegeArchives,
Emmitsburg,
Maryland.
This particularautowas rathersmall,with only thirtyor fortyspiritual
in the
outcasts.We have accountsof much largerspectacles,particularly
the
Toledo
auto
of
of
the
rule.
In
February1486,
earlyyears
Inquisition's
750 parishioners
wereseenwalkingin procession;two monthslater,a second
In Decemberofthesameyear,another
autopresented900 local transgressors.
wereenlisted.12
Someoftheseindividulsjoinedtheprocessional
900 parishioners
marchwillingly,confessingtheirsinsto Inquisitorsand beggingforgiveness.
Accordingto one chroniclerwho watched a cortegeof severalhundred
penitents,includingnobles and affluentburghers,the shame and disgrace
thatthey experiencedwas so greatthattheycried out loud, howled, and
pluckedout theirhair.13
havehistorians
ofreligionbegunto grasphow themetaphor
Only recently
oftheLastJudgment
the
andshapedWestern
captivated Christianimagination
views of spiritualreality.Its mostprofoundeffecthas been exploredby Paul
Ricoeur in his studyof the phenomenologyof sin in theJudeo-Chrisian
world.14Ricoeur arguesthatit was preciselythe image of the tribunalthat
guidedthe Westernexperienceof evil into the specificemotionalresponse
of guilt.Beliefin a just God who rewardsforvirtuousbehaviorand punishes
foriniquitiescompelledpeopleto regardtheirown actionsfromtheperspective
of an externalmoral force.One's thoughtsand deeds are withinsightof
2Fidel Fita,"La Inquisici6nToledana. Relaci6ncontemporineade los autosy autillosque
celebrodesde el ano 1485 hastael de 1501, Boletinde la Real Academade la Historia(1887):
2:295, 297, 301.
13Ibid.,2: 295.
14PaulRicoeur,The Symbolism
ofEvil (New York: Harper& Row, 1967).

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286

Sixteenth
CenturyJournal

God and will be judged accordingto divine standardsat the end of time.
of thisfinalreckoning,Ricoeurmaintains,instilleda feelingof
Anticipation
forwrongdoing.
In contrast
to religions
whichinterpreted
personalaccountability
evil as a defilementof the humansoul comingfrompowerslocatedoutside
the individual,Christianity
as well as Judaismassertedthatsin originatedin
thedepthsof one's being.This transformation
of thesenseof "beingdefiled"
an
force
external
to
by
"beingguilty"throughone's own internalpropensity
forevil came about througha complex interactionof ritualpracticesand
mythsthat positionedpeople as defendantsand obliged them to regard
themselvesfromthe vantagepointof a transcendental
arbiter.
The autodefewas one of thesetransformative
rituals.Here in the streets
of Spain,wherepublicritualre-enactsmyth,we see clearlyhow metaphors
of trialand judgmenthave shapedthe Christianexperienceof sin. For in
the auto defe it was the symbolismof a pilgrimageto an eschatological
judgmentthat swelled the experienceof guilt in the heartsof penitents.
Their uncoveredheads-conspicuousin an epoch when individualrankand
in the hat,cape,or veil-exposedpenitentsto public
prestigewas represented
ridicule.This inversionof fashionservedto inspirein each participant
the
sensethat"my sin is withinthe absolutesightof God"15-asuperegowhose
partwas playedby thepublic.Ashamedofbeingseen,penitentsfeltstripped
of all materialresourcesand alienatedfromthemselves.Participation
in the
theatricaltribunalcreateda gulfbetweentheself,or thesoul,and theactions
in which
bythatself.It was a momentof Cartesianself-reflexivity
performed
the mindenduresdivorcefromthe actionsof itsown body.And it was just
thissenseof mind-bodydualismthatPaul Ricoeurargueswas crucialto the
Christiannotionthatevil is a dimensionof personalexistence.In the auto
defeas in the confessional,the humansoul was subjectedto the inquiryof
a transcendental
Judge,and thebodyturnedintotheobjectofanother'sgaze.
oftheautodefereadilyadmitted
Objectifiedin thismanner,mostprisoners
recorded
remorseforwrongdoings,althoughon rareoccasionseyewitnesses
the presenceof obstinatesinnerswho clung to the righteousness
of their
own beliefs.The Church called them relajadosbecause they were to be
"relaxed"to the seculararm forburningat the stake.The relajadoswere
alwaysinformedof theircondemnationto the firesthe nightbeforean auto
defe in the hope thattheywould abjuretheirsin in the last momentsof
theirlives.These pertinacious
as theywerealso called,woreinsignias
heretics,
to
the
theirpenances.Over theirshoulders
their
crimes
and
displaying
public
sanbenitos
and
over
their
heads
sat
conicalturbanspaintedwithbright
hung
redflamesthatsignaledtheirimminentpunishment.16
Each of themwalked
flankedby friars,
who admonishedrepentanceforthe sake of the soul.
5Ibid.,84.
delAuto Generalde la Fe, C6rdoba 1627, in Gracia Boix, Autosdefe,398; and
16Relacion
BritishLibrary,MS 1887.

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The SpanishAutodefe

287

_......

...........

.?

':

in a sanbnita,
indicated
that
Fig.4. LeftPenitent
rightFlamespointeddownward
theheretic
hadrepented dwas to be strangled
beforebeingburnt.
Engraving
in Philli Van Limborch,
HistoriInquisitionis,
Amsterdam
byAdrianSchoonebech
1692.Reprinted
MountSaintMary'sCollegeArchives,
bypermission,
Emmitsburg,
Marylan
confessors,
Arrivingat theplaza,theentireretinueof relajados,
penitents,
Inquisitionofficials,secularauthorities,and notariesmounteda large and
elaboratelydecoratedplatform.In the autodefeat Valladolidin 1559, a tall
pyramidofbenchescrownedthescaffolduponwhichthevictimswereseated
at the apex. Toward
in orderof the gravityof theirguilt,with the relajados
the foot of the stage stood a single pulpitto which the victimswould be
ushered,one at a time,to hear theirsentences.7Some would be pardoned,
'7BritishLibrry,MS Eg. 2058, no. 2.

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288

Sixteenth
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Century

othersconvicted,at the pulpit,followingthe patternset out in Matthew's


scene of thejudgmentseat in which the sheep are directedto the rightside
of the Lord fortheirrewardof eternallife,while the goatsare condemned
to the leftfordamnation.18
Aroundthe scaffoldassembledthe publicwhose presencewas crucialto
the eschatologicalmomentofjudgment.People gatheredfromvillagesand
cities many hundredsof miles away to witnessthe indictmentof souls.
Logrono's auto de ft in 1610 broughtover thirtythousandfromFrance,
Aragon,Navarre,Viscaya,and Castile.19More thantwo thousandspectators
held candles in the plaza of Valladolid on May 21, 1559. Althoughmany
of themcould not see the actorson stage,all marveledat the experienceof
being among "the diversityof peoples, nationalities,and languagesthere

- il;8!-z||tiiL~
:-f

WIC

_':st':F
~ ~ ~

~~~~..

I_

-4

is readfrom
Fig. 5. Cond ed hereticneelsalonein theceter as thesentence
thepulpit.Frenchengraving
in EliasAmezaga,AutodefeenValladolid
reproduced
reprinted
Aires,1966);
(BuenosAires,
1966);reprinted
bypermission.
(Buenos
phermisom.
by
18Mat. 25:32-33.
and theSpanishInquisition
9GustavHenningsen,The Witches'Advocat BLsqueWitchcraft
(1609-1614) (Reno: Nevada UniversityPress,1980), 184.

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The SpanishAutodefe

289

present. . . it appearedto be a generalcongregationof the world . . . a


veritableportraitofjudgment,"said friarAntoniode la Carrera.20
The trulydramaticevent on these theatricaldays of wrath was the
of repentancefromheretics.Sincere repentance,
sorrowfulmanifestation
to
the
scholastic
theology,was essentialin dealingwithcrimesof
according
the soul, fordivinejustice was not servedwith corporalpunishmentalone,
as in secularcourts.Sin requireda special renunciationfromthe heartof
offensesagainstGod. The theologianWilliam of Auvergneexplainedin the
thatrepentance"is a spiritualjudgment,a judgmentin
thirteenth-century
testifies
whichthesinfulsoulindictsitself,
ajudgment
againstitself,
pronounces
The Inquisition'stask,then,was morethanmerelyto impose
againstitself."21
punishmenton criminals;its special mission was to elicit statementsof
fromsinners.In orderto stimulatepangs of conscience
self-condemnation
at theauto,themosteloquentpriestsand friarsdeliveredsermonseulogizing
After
theChristianreligionand denouncingviolationsagainstdivinetruth.22
Pressure
confessors
the
convicts'
encouragedabjuration.
everyspeech
personal
increasedas the Secretaryrose to the pulpitand in a loud voice recitedthe
Above thegroundswellof communal
Creed alongwiththegeneralpublic.23
sentiment,sinners were requested to come forward and give ear to
A chronicleof February
of theirpersonaltransgressions.
pronouncements
1486 in Toledo summarizedthe occasionby reportingthat"a notarystood
up and began to call each one by name, saying:Estd ayfulano?And the
reconciledcame forwardwith a candle,and responded,si. Then he listed
beforethepublicall the waysin which thepersonhad Judaized. . . 24 At
of thespeeches,as well as thecommunalchantsand
timesthesensationalism
choirmusic,conqueredthe convictionsof those who up to thispoint had
remainedloyalto theirown beliefs.Accordingto a witnesspresentat Toledo's
autoof December 1486, aftera notaryannouncedpubliclythe mannerin
had engagedinJewishrituals,theyresponded
whichtheassembledtragedians
by proclaiming"thatfromthenon theywantedto live and die in the faith

20MarcelinoMen&ndezy Pelayo, Historiade los Heterodoxos


Espanoles(Madrid: C.S.I.C.,
1963), 3:422.
21Citedin JacquesLe Goff,TheBirthofPurgatory
(Chicago: Universityof Chicago Press,
du Purgatoire
(Paris:EditionsGallimard,1981).
1984), 243; originallypublishedas La naissance
accountsof the autosdefe,
22The mostcompletebibliographicalguide to contemporary
Bibliographica
includingsermonspreachedat the events,is Emil van der Vekene, Bibliotheca
Vol. 1 (Vaduz: Topos Verlag, 1982); 151-253. See also Edward
Historiae
SanctaeInquisitionis,
Glaser,"Invitationto Intolerance.A studyof the Portuguesesermonspreachedat autos-da-fe"
HebrewUnionCollegeAnnual27 (1956): 327-85; and MeyerKayserling,"Autosde Fe andJews"
Review16 (1902): 136-40.
JewishQuarterly
23Relaci6n
delAutoGeneralde la Fe, C6rdoba 1627 in GraciaBoix, AutosdeFe, 399.
294.
24AutodeFe, 12 Febrero1486, in Fita,La Inquisicion,

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of Christ.Then theywere readthe articlesof faith,and at each articlethey


respondedin loud voices,"Sf creo.... ,25
oftheSecondComing
Of criticalimportance
to theInquisition's
rendition
at thispointwas the notionthatin adjudicatingthe eternaldestinyof men,
God wouldpunishsinners
withsorrowcommensurate
withtheirevilbehavior.
In St. John'sRevelation,those not listedin the book of life were thrown
into the lake of fire.26
Scholarsof the earlyChurch had determinedfrom
as wellas othersoftheapocalypse
thatthedamnedexperienced
John'sdescription
this retributionphysicallyas well as spiritually.Tertulliandecided after
ponderingthe natureof eternalpunishmentthatin orderforman to feel
To accountforsuffering
afterdeath,
pain,he mustbe presentin the flesh.27
of
the
therefore,Church doctrinesince the third-century
spoke
physical
resurrection
of man fromthe grave.The experienceof bodily pain was,
perhaps,the most convincingway for the Church to communicatethe
severityof hell, and religiousliteratureabounds in vivid detail of these
torments.We learn,forexample,in theApocalypse
ofPeterthat"some were
their
and
were
these
that
hangingby
tongues
they
blasphemedthe way of
and
under
them
was
laid
fire
righteousness,
flamingand tormenting....
And therewere also others,women,hangedby theirhair above thatmire
which boiled up; and thesehad adornedthemselvesforadultery.. . . And
in anotherplace were gravel-stones
sharperthanswordsor any spit,heated
with fire,and men and women clad in filthyrags rolled upon them in
torment."28
Such dreadfulthreatsof eternalpunishmentbecame centralto
the plot not only of medievaleschatologicalstoriesbut of LastJudgment
in the formof
in the graphicarts.29
scenes represented
Death's afflictions
werechiseledin Churchtympana
brutalphysicaltorture
(thinkoftheexquisitely
detaileddooms of Leon, Burgos,and Toledo) and paintedon chapel murals
formeditationduringreligiousservices.
The anxiety
ofeternal
suffering
bythesedailyreminders
profoundly
produced
Church
in
the
course
of theMiddle Ages,all of
doctrine
and
shaped
liturgy
whichinfluencedthe Inquisitionin itsdramaticproductionof the LastDay.
The conceptof purgatorywhich was incorporated
into Christiantheology
in the twelfth-century,
forinstance,respondedto widespreadconcernover
302.
25Auto,10 Diciembre1486, in Fita,La Inquisicion,
26Rev.20:14-15.
De testimonio
27Tertullian,
animae,IV.
28M. R. James,The Apocryphal
New Testament
(Oxford: Clarendon,1926), 515 forthe
of Peter.The Apocalypse
afterthe Revelations
of
Apocalypse
ofPeterrankedsecondin popularity,
St.John,in medievalapocalypticliterature.
It was composedby a Greekauthorin thebeginning
of the second-century
and determinedthe eschatologicaltextsof Clement of Alexandria(c.
VisioPauli,versionsof which werewidespreadin the Middle
150-215) and the fourth-century
Ages.
29E.Male, L'artreligieux
duXIIe sicle enFrance(Paris:A. Colin, 1947), 406-19; and S. G. F.
Brandon,TheJudgment
oftheDead (New York: Scribner'sSons, 1967), 118-35.

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291

the fateof souls in the afterlife.30


Althoughpurgatorydid littleto temper
the sadisticnatureof death'spenalties,it limitedthe durationof suffering
forsinners
whosemisconduct
didnotwarrant
eternaldamnation.In purgatory,
bodilytormentscleansedsouls of sin and functionedas a conduitto final
salvationand celestialrelief.So, too, the sacramentof penitencewhich
evolvedin thehighMiddle Ages respondedto increasingtensionmanifested
chastisement.31
Underthepenitential
bythelaityovertherisksofpostmortem
of
the
term
due
in
could
be
remitted
system,
suffering
byvoluntarily
purgatory
and sorrowfully
exercises
admittingone's sinsto a confessorand performing
of satisfaction.
Penitencereplacedsuffering
in the afterlife
in
withsuffering
life. This transference
of hell's experienceto earthenhancedthe role of
betweensinnersand God. In confessional
manuals,priests
priestsas mediators
wereinstructed
on how to inquireintothecircumstances
of each sinin order
to calculatetheexactpaymentrequisiteto makeup forpenaltiesofpurgatory.
As HenryCharlesLea explained,priestsbecamejudges,composingformulas
to assesstheguiltofmen.3 Punishments
in theformofpilgrimages,
scourging,
and sexualabstinencewereadministered
fasting,
carefully
accordingto degree
of severityto penitentsanxious about the fateof theirsouls. By the late
Middle Ages, such an elaboratesystemof penanceshad been devisedthat
one could virtuallyexperiencethe underworldpriorto one's death.
It was within the contextof a Last Judgmentthat was descending
intothetemporalspheresof earthlyexistencethattheInquisition
inexorably
inflictedits methodsof punishmenton the guiltyat the end of the autode
fe. The Holy Tribunalreferred
continuallyto the penitentialcode already
familiarto thelaityin itssearchforforgiveness
of sins.Prisonerswereforced
to kneelbeforethe Tribunalfora communalconfessionof faults,to ask for
pardon,and to acceptreadmissionintotheChurchin orderto fulfillthefirst
tworequirements
ofsacramental
andconfession
penitenceinvolvingcontrition
of guilt.Exacted throughforceand humiliation,theseproclamationswere
as voluntaryacts of contritionby the Inquisition,in
regardednevertheless
misuse
of
the
medievalsacramentof penitence.And once again in
flagrant
fulfillment
of the letterratherthan the spiritof the penitentialcode, the
to completetheritewithan actofsatisfaction.
Inquisitionrequestedprisoners
It issueda sentenceof penance to each contritesoul, the performance
of
whichwouldreleasehimor herfromthepainsofpurgatory
and thepurifying
flamesof the auto.A chroniclerof Toledo's productionin February1486
relatedthatafterprisonerscompletedtheiractsof contrition
and confession,
30LeGoff,BirthofPurgatory.
31See Thomas N. Tentler,Sin and Confession
on theEve of theReformation
(Princeton:
PrincetonUniversityPress,1977); and JeanDelumeau, Le P&cheet la peur:La culpabilisation
en
XIIIe-XVIIIesicles (Paris: Fayard,1983).
Occident,
and Indulgences
in theLatin Church
32HenryCharles Lea, A HistoryofAuricularConfession
(New York: GreenwoodPress,1968), 2:171.

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292

Sixteenth
CenturyJournal

priestsadministered
publicpenance,ordering"thatforthe nextsix Fridays,
the penitentsshouldpromenadethroughcitystreetswearingneithershoes
norhats,scourging
baredshoulderswithcordsofhemp.And itwas prescribed,
moreover,thattheyshouldfaston theseFridays,and thatforthe restof the
daysof theirlives,theyshouldhold no publicoffice. . . norwear silk,nor
finescarletclothor anycoloredfabric,nor gold or silver,norpearlsor coral
or anyotherjewels. . . ."33The purposeof theseactsof satisfaction
was to
the
the
of
the
material
world
in
order
to
cleanse
body
away
deny
pleasures
sin and escapemoregrievousafflictions
in hell. The ritualsaffirmed
thatthe
soul could be saved throughthe body. With this in mind, canons and
flagellated
chaplainsofC6rdoba'sautoof 1665 ceremoniously
prostrate
penitents
as thechoirsangtheMiserere.The officials
were"removingthroughexternal
ritualtheirinternalcrimes,as was donebytheearlychurch,"a contemporary
The Inquisition's
commented.34
theater
ofpenitence
Leonorsuffering
spotlighted
as a meansto purgethe soul of sin.
It mustbe stressedthat penance,designedto achieve satisfaction
for
violationofthedivineorder,was ineffective
withoutan initialactofcontrition.
Penancewas the effectof a choice madeby the sinneras to the statusof his
soul; it was a mercifulgiftthat followedan open admissionof guilt and
promiseneverto repeatthe offense.This was why the moststirringscenes
to spectatorsoccurredwhen prisonerswho had been condemnedto die for
earnestsorrowfinallyrepudiatedtheirconvictionsat
failingto demonstrate
theauto.These wereregardedas momentsin whichsoulsescapedthehorrors
of eternaldamnation.If theaccusedrepentedat anytimepriorto sentencing,
theywere reconciledto the Church,and forthispurposetherewas always
a space reservedunderthe stage.35If prisonersrecantedafterthe readingof
or strangled
deathpenalties,theyweregarrotted
"mercifully"
priorto burning.
was
burned
alive. In such
who
resisted
recantation
Anyone
staunchly
simply
cases,confessorsaccompaniedthe accuseddown fromthe scaffoldthrough
the cityto the quemadero,
pleadingalong the way fora change of heart.36
This was the essentialcombat,the strugglebetween two faithsthat so
intriguedthe audience,makingthe autodefesomethinglike a religiousbull
humiliated,and
tortured,
fightto witness.The heretichad been importuned,
now finallyterrorizedbeforea blazing pyre to denounce his infidelity.
with the triumphof the Catholic faith.
Repentancewas synonymous
So in C6rdoba in Juneof 1665, the public witnessedthe tragicordeal
ofLeonorMariaEnriquez,a twenty-four
yearold womanaccusedofJudaism.
295-96.
33Autodefe,12 Febrero1486, in Fita,La Inquisicion,
34AutoGeneralde Fe, C6rdoba 1665, in GraciaBoix, Autosdefe,486.
35H. C. Lea, AuricularConfession,
3:191.
36See,forinstance,Relaci6ndelAutoGeneralde la Fe, C6rdoba 1627 in GraciaBoix, Autos
defe,398, 405, 435.

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The SpanishAutodefe

293

-..

Dutchprintshowing
Fig.6. Valladolid's1559 autodefeof 1559.A contemporary
theprivate
roomunderthestagefortherepented
sinners.
by
Reprinted
British
permission,
Library.
Her triallefta powerfulimpressionon an attendingFranciscanfriarwho
relatedthat "both ministersand non-ministers,
the wisestand most pious
of
this
ecclesiastics
and
within and outside the
both
nation,
laity
people
Tribunal[attempted
to convertthrough]persuasion,compassion,tears,and
demonstrations
so excessiveand extravagantas to be indecent,rightup the
edge of the flames.But in frontof such a potentand forcefulillumination,
this contumaciouswoman remainedblind in her obstinacyand was leftto
and hair-raising
bur. It was a scandalous,horrendous,
sightforthepublic."37
Refusalto repentat such a criticalmomentwas always regardedas a
forthefirethatconsumedthebodyalsobrought
destruction
spiritual
catastrophe,
to the soul. Watching a recalcitrant
hereticburnwas like peeringthrough
a window into hell. The flameinitiateda ritepassage thatconductedthe
37Auto Genalr deFc, Cirdoba 1665, in Gracia Boix, Autosdefe,479.

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294

Sixteenth
Journal
Century

soul to eternaldamnation.In thisrespectfiretook on the symbolicmeaning


of religionwithinsacredrituals.
and historians
identified
by anthropologists
"Firewipesout thepastperiodofexistenceandmakesa new periodpossible,"
madeby officialsof theInquisition
Statements
G. Van derLeeuw explains.38
of the soul. "If thereis anyinscription
call attentionto thismetamorphosis
on his tomb,or if his armsare anywheredisplayed,theyshall be erased,"
the Inquisitionorderedof thosewho died withoutrepentance,"so thatno
memoryof him shall remainon the face of the earth,exceptour sentence
of
and of the executionwhich we orderin it."39In furtherdemonstration
the
of
the
over
the
status
its
of
the finality
soul,
Inquisitionhung
judgment
thenamesandsinsofitsvictimson thewallsofparochial
sanbenitos,
inscribing
theirinfamy.
churches,thusperpetuating
oftheautodefein medieval
In orderto comprehendfullythesignificance
and earlymodernChristiansocietywe mustconsidercloselythe reactionof
accountsareconcerned
thepublicforwhomtheeventwas staged.Ifeyewitness
of hereticsthanwith the experiences
morewith the trialsand tribulations
of spectators,
suggestthatcrowdsrespondedwithfatalistic
theynevertheless
calm and even enthusiasmto executions.AfterLogroiio's autoof 1610 in
whichfifty-three
delinquentswerebroughtto trial,sixofwhomwereburned
a contemporary
at the stakeforwitchcraft,
pamphletreportsthat"having
forthespaceoftwowhole days . .
listenedto so manyghastlymonstrosities
we all returnedto our severalhomes,crossingourselvesthe while."40That
the audiencedid not regardthe punishmentof thesesinnersas ruthlessacts
of violenceis not surprising,
perhaps,in an age when seculargovernments
had legitimizedpublic tortureproceedingsforcriminals.41
What is curious,
38G. Van der Leeuw, La Religiondanssonessence
etses manifestations
(Paris: Payot, 1955),
53. The classicstudyof firein primitivereligionsis J. G. Frazer,MythsoftheOriginsofFire
(London: Macmillan,1930).
39PabloGarcia,OrdendeProcessar,
fols.67-68, citedin HenryCharlesLea, A History
ofthe
in Spain (London 1907), 3:85.
Inquisition
de Mongast6n'spamphletwas publishedin early1611 andwas basedon an anonymous
40Juan
handwritten
reportpartiallycompiledduringthecourseoftheautodefeas thewitches'sentences
were being read. Mongast6n,ed., Relacionde las personasque salieronal Auto de la Fe . . . en
de 1610 Ahos(Logroiio:Juande Mongast6n,
Logroio,ensiete,y enochodiasdelmesdeNoviembre,
193.
Advocate,
1611), citedin Henningsen,Witches'
in Spain were known to expressshockand disgustat such events,however.
41Foreigners
See HenryKamen,Inquisition
andSociety
inSpain(Bloomington:IndianaUniversity
Press,1985),
190. Researchon medievaland earlymoderncriminalprocedurehasincreasedourunderstanding
of publiccomplacencyin the faceof violencecarriedout by stateauthorities.
One shouldbegin
withMichel Foucault'sDiscipline
andPunish:TheBirthofthePrison(New York: PantheonBooks,
1977) andJeanImbertand GeorgesLeVasseur,Le Pouvoir,
(Paris:Hachette,
lesjugesetlesbourreaux
Crimein the
1972). Ready synthesesin English are providedbyJohnH. Langbein,Prosecuting
Renaissance
(Cambridge:HarvardUniversityPress,1982); V. A. C. Gatrell,Bruce Lenman,
and Geoffrey
Parker,eds., Crimeand theLaw: The SocialHistory
Europesince
ofCrimein Western
1500 (London: Europa, 1980); Edward Peters,Torture(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985), and
Michael Weisser, Crimeand Punishment
in Early ModernEurope(AtlanticHighlands,N.J.:
HumanitiesPress,1979).

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The SpanishAutodefe

,~

_
,"^ ~.

',..
.:X.....

.:j_^_
e , i!

...

......,-.
....

? ..,

295

............." .
.

.""

.......
. _

;'

ofthe
Council
tothe
sent
account
own
Tribunal's
tothe
Inquisition,
According
enVa:ad
(Bueno>s
>fe

Ai,

19).

of anykindoccurred
incidents
and no
the
greatestattention,
I. untoward
?

*,_

C_
Fig. 7.

'.

,::. ..'",:-

.....

,-

..

usually
queader to whichthecondemned
were
of sinn for
The
burning

Eis Amezaga,
dede
by
oAm Auto
Auto
Reprinted
from Eli
wals Reprinted
citywaa
son friom
outsideethe
wass outsid,
he city
by permission
feen ValLadolid
Aires,
1966).
(Buenos

public.
in
thepublic.
in the
aroused
aroused
spectacle
thespectacle
thatthe
pietythat
of piety
moodof
is the
themood
is
however,
however,
oftheInquisition,
totheCouncil
sent
ownaccount
totheTribunal's
According
andpaid
ceremony
theentire
during
silence
thedeepest
"thepeopleobserved
ofanykindoccurred...
incidents
andnountoward
attention,
thegreatest
ofthepeople.Forall agreethatnever
it hasbeento thegreatedification
more
and more
and
more
more
strange,
solemn,
more
anything
experienced
have
havethey
before
solemn,
before
strange,
theyexperiencedanythingmore
ofthetrialand
Theseactsoffaithwerevividreminders
authoritative."42
allattheendoftheir
them
wouldconfront
believed
thatspectators
judgment
ownapprehensions
their
livedthrough
they
onstage,
penitents
Watching
days.
feelings
rehearsed
trialofsinners
The Inquisition's
oftheFinalJudgment.
destiny.
ofhuman
moments
thefinal
thatmarked
awe,andsubmission
offear,
42Citedin Henningsn, Witces' Advoate 194.

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296

Sixteenth
CenturyJournal

In this respectthe autosdefe were tragediesof the most fundamental


kind.As Aristotledeclared,the tragicformin arttouchesupon two human
emotions,pityand fear.For spectators,he maintained,tragedyallows the
catharsis
of thesetwo emotions;it evokesa cleansingupsurgeand discharges
violentemotionto calm the soul.43In Counter-Reformation
Spain, it was
fearof hell and its tormentsbroughton by centuriesof meditationon the
theaterofcruelty.
thatproducedtheInquisition's
Standing
frightful
Apocalypse
on platformserectedin the centerof urbanlife,victimsof the autosdefe
embodiedthe sin thatweighed on the'mindsof the public.With theiracts
of contrition,they purged communitiesof religiousguilt and with their
blood, theyappeasedthe wrathof a vindictiveGod. Aroundthe pyre,true
believerssatisfieddesiresforvengeanceon traitorsto theirfaithat the same
timethattheyempathizedwiththecorporalsuffering.
Chroniclersobserved
thepopulacewaitingandweeping,prayingandrejoicing.44
Saidone inquisitor,
"andthepeopleleftmoreappeasedandrepentant
as a resultoftheexhibition."45
Resistanceagainstthe Inquisition'suse of forceon friends,neighbors,
andfamilymembers
was unthinkable
in thiscontext,fortheactsofpunishment
witnessedat thismimesisof theLastJudgment
were instancesof divine,not
The autodefewas consideredby the publicno morea
human,aggression.46
humancreationthanwas the Mass in the Catholic religion.Like the Mass,
the autore-enactedin the presentan originalcosmic eventin the historic
courseof Christianity.
As the Mass reactualizedthe sacrificeof Christthat
had occurredonce in the past,the autodefere-enacteda momentof cosmic
judgment that would occur in the future.The power of the sacredwas
implicatedin each new ritualperformance,
deferringthe role played by
mortalmen in theproductionof violence.It is as a ritual,then,thattheauto
defemustbe understood.If physicalpunishment
accompaniedthistheatrical
riteof the Inquisition,it is fundamentally
becausepunishmentunderlaythe
Christiannotionof the Second Coming. The autodefeunveiledin timethe
divineplan thatwould be realizedat theend of time.There can be no doubt
thatin re-enacting
thejudicial powerswhich Christianity
attributed
to God,
De Poetica,1449.25.
43Aristotle,
44British
Library,MS, 4625 g.1, AutoPiblicode Fe (Sevilla 1648), fol. 108; and Relaci6n
delAutoGeneralde la Fe, (C6rdoba, 1627) in GraciaBoix, AutosdeFe, 405.
MS Eg. 1508, AutodeFe (Zaragoza 23 Septiembre1592), fol. 115v. That
45British
Library,
ritualviolence could generatepeace and concordcomes as no surpriseto Rene Girardwho
ritesare directedagainstsurrogatevictimsin orderto put an end to more
arguesthatsacrificial
viciousand destructive
cyclesof violencewithincommunities.The death of Oedipus purges
and theSacred(Baltimore:The Johns
the communityof aggression.See Rene Girard,Violence
HopkinsUniversityPress,1977).
to JacquesDerrida,truemimesiscannotescape thisconfusion,formimesis
46According
of humanactionwithdivineaction."See his article"Economimesis"
"displaystheidentification
in Diacritics11:9.

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The SpanishAutodefe

297

the Inquisitionassumedan awesome controlover the moralbehaviorand


beliefsof the Spanishpeople in the late medievaland earlymodernperiods.
Imitatio
deihashad similarly
societies,
dangerousconsequencesin non-Western
MirceaEliade discovered,includingpracticesof cannibalism,head-hunting,
and blood sacrifice.For the purposeof understanding
the autodefe in the
of
we
return
to
Eliade's
instruction
that"whatdemands
history Christianity,
is
the
fact
to
that
man
and believedthat
imitate,
religious
sought
emphasis
he was imitating,
his gods even when he allowed himselfto be led intoacts
thatvergedon madness,depravity,
and crime."47

trans.WillardR. Trask (New York: Harcourt,


47MirceaEliade, The Sacredand theProfane,
Brace & World, 1959), 104.

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