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The Spanish Inquisition

Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478 as a court for the detection of heretics, although its true purpose remains somewhat obscure. Learn more!

The Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478 as a court for the detection of heretics, although its true purpose remains somewhat obscure. While most historians point to a combination of political, economic and religious motives, the latter were certainly predominant.

The notorious hatred between Jews and Christians led the inquisitors to believe that their actions actually saved Jews from the hideous fate awaiting them in the underworld; since the Jews were dying at the hands of God's children, their spirits would be pervaded by the wisdom and knowledge of God's followers, and they would therefore be spared from hell and rise to heaven. Of course, this is unconceivable today, but 13th-century inquisitors who had only received a religious education were guided by blind faith.

The Spanish government and its religious officials proclaimed the need for a pure and unified Spanish-Christian race, forbidding intermarriage between Christians or converts and Jews, which would destroy their ideal of purity of blood (limpieza de sangre). Following this ideal the Jews were either killed or driven out of the country, although when the Spanish Inquisition was finally suppressed in the early 19th century, many thousands of practicing Jews were still living in Spain.

The political justification for the Spanish Inquisition was the existence of a threat to the monarchy. The Spanish Christians (Christianity was the most widespread faith) were outraged at the Jews for a variety of reasons, most of them religious, and saw the Spanish Inquisition as a means of controlling the Jewish population, removing the actual source of the problem.

Finally, in financial terms, 13th-century Spain was not a prosperous land. Continued warfare in Spain and Italy, not to mention the conquest of Granada, had drained the country's resources. Both the monarchy and the government feared a public outcry if such signs of weakness became obvious, especially in view of the increasing wealth and power of the Jewish community, overtly successful, some of whose members enjoyed greater social prominence than Spanish Christians. The government would soon turn to the Spanish Inquisition in search of an instrument capable of restoring the balance; the execution of hundreds of thousands of Jews was at once a form of revenge and a way of acquiring money and possessions at a stroke.

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