“The Inquisition… Look Out Sin”

Over at Wonders and Marvels, Jonathan Kirsch has a guest post on the language of the Inquisition, and its relevance to torture discussions today. You can even enter to win a copy of his new book, The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual. I did! Still my favorite disquisitions on the Inquisitions remain:


and, of course, this rather disturbing, yet poignant portrayal of the goose and the gander…


One of my own few personal connections to the topic, derivative as it may be, goes back to a semester-long paleography course taught just once by Richard Greenleaf at the University of New Mexico after his retirement. Many of the documents we used for practice, and stories he told to supplement the time came from his investigation of the Inquisition in archives throughout Mexico and Spain. 

In spite of its reputation for torture, inquisitional records have proved a real boon to social and cultural historians of Spain and Latin America. As one of the Empire’s institutions of rule, the Holy Office left behind tremendously detailed records of investigations into witchcraft (which was treated different in the Empire than in Northern Europe– less as heresy punishable by death than as mistakes, doctrinal misunderstandings in need of correction), sodomy, and other aberrant sexual practices by priests and laity alike. 

One of my favorite cases, available through Jacqueline Holler’s (UNBC) English translation here, involved a Mexican beata named Marina San Miguel. It’s a perfect example of how, even without the use of torture, the Inquisitorial method of questioning forced a particularly modern process of self-policing, internal gaze to elicit from confessants all manner of information. Marina confessed to having discussions with others in the market about whether or not there was a hell, but then they kept bringing her back in. What more could they know? She confessed variously to having sex with the devil, with Jesus, and with candles in front of a mirror. The questioners never told her what it was they were looking for, so her stories kept evolving in new and wilder directions. Its a fun one to read in class.


Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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Hacer juicio ú dictamen acerca de alguna cosa... significando que el objeto excita el juicio ú dictamen en la persona que le hace.

Deducir ante el Juez la accion ú derecho que se tiene, ó las excepciones que excluyen la accion contrária.

RAE 1737 Academia autoridades
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Chad Black

I, your humble contributor, am Chad Black. You can also find me on the web here.
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