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on October 13, 2014
This book is a collection of documents during the period that weave together a very loose narrative around the workings of the Spanish Inquistion. It is brutually dry, I put it down, picked it up, repeatedly for two years beforing finish it. If you're not absolutely obessed with the Spanish Inquistion, you'll tire of it quickly.
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on January 10, 2010
The "Spanish Inquisition", or even better translated, the "Spanish Investigation" was really a diverse phenomenon that extended from 1478 to 1834. Though many have stereotyped this era as an era of superstition, ignorance, and blind zeal; it is becoming more accepted among fellow historians of the Spanish Inquisition, that this historical phenomenon was actually diverse and secular than many are willing to give credit. The editor of this anthology admits this in the introduction. For a balanced view on religious violence and secular violence as being the same phenomenon please read The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict.

The Spanish Inquisition was not the only or even the main inquisition since other European inquisitions had occurred on other places like France, Italy, Portugal, etc. before and during the Spanish Inquisition. Some inquisitions had ended by the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The phenomenon of inquisitions began in the 1200s AD and the total number of people that died under all inquisitions put together were a few hundred-thousand. It should be remembered that the phenomenon of the inquisitions was spread for 600 years and and was active in many countries - so the number of people that died in any given local area was very low each year. The concept of the secret police, "big brother is watching", and governmental use of torture under certain circumstances came to fruition more concretely from the inquisitions, even though these ideas were not new at all and were used even before the phenomenon.

Modern examples of inquisitions are seen in Joseph Stalin's Soviet purges and McCarthyism, and other events according to historian and attorney Jonathan Kirsch (see comments section for a link to his book). See The New Inquisitions: Heretic-Hunting and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Totalitarianism for the link between atheist and secular governments being fundamentally the same as those of the Inquisition - and being even worse at times.

Now onto the Spanish Inquisition ...

Many do not seem to be aware as to the whole background of the Spanish Inquisition as to why it started all of a sudden. The Moors, Muslims from Northern Africa, had dominated and ruled much of Spain since the 8th century (711 AD), except for some Northern Territories. It should be noted that Madrid was at one point called "Maghrib". Those northern territories would eventually rise up for the reconquest of Spain that began in the early 13th century often called the "Reconquista". The Reconquista was completed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella when they defeated the last Muslim ruler in 1492 (The same year Columbus' voyage was dispatched). A bit earlier, when most of Spain was reconquered from the Moors it became the time of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1492, the decree of expulsion was issued by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. It would seem that purification of the country was at hand since it was feared by many that the Moors might rise again in alliance with Jews to overthrow the new Spanish Catholic Crown. National security was a very important issue between the transition period after the defeat of the Muslim Moors and the formal rise of the Spanish Catholics. There were reasons for demanding that Jews and Muslims have to covert or be expelled from Spain. This book brings about some of these reasons and context within the text, footnotes, and introduction.

This book does an excellent job of resurrecting 25 key documents that show the diversity of the Spanish Inquisition from actual trials and cases of people who were suspected of converting (the "coversos") and then returning to their old ways. The targets and penalties changed over time from Jews to Muslims to Protestants to Witches and all in between. A common notion at the time was that if one was willing to lie or hide about one's beliefs in God in order to stay in Spain, then what else would that person be willing to lie and hide from the Spanish authorities? These questions were very important for National Security and maintaining a uniform National Identity as well to prevent rebellions from occurring again.

In this book you will find detailed documents and rebuttals of specific cases (some of which include details of the process of torture), the importance of witnesses, procedures for trials, the positive purposes of the Inquisition, procedures and standards for how the accused should be treated and cared for, perpetual imprisonment, demand for complete competence of the Inquisitors, the purposes of the Inquisitors as restorers of people and not as abusers of people, and also resistance by some Spanish citizens of the inquisitors with so much more.

The background and summary that is done for most of the 25 Documents found here, REALLY help set up the needed information to lay down correct context of each of the documents. The footnotes are extremely helpful since they too add texture and life to each document. One advantage of this book is that many Spanish terms that are originally found in the texts are retained and defined for the readers who cannot read Spanish. The only complaint I have is that some of the documents are not unabridged, but the editor mentions this would have to be the case in some cases due to space. Still, for the price, this book is an excellent foundational resource for an able researcher and should not be ignored. Finding lengthy actual accounts on the Spanish Inquisition elsewhere is pretty difficult - even for me who has been looking for some in Spanish.

One thing I can say about many of these trials, is that these trials were long and rigorous and that the Inquisitors were aiming for the greater good for the accused. "Relaxation to the secular arm" (put to death) was the last thing they wanted to do to a "converso". And the fact that they had lots of complex rules and procedures and handbooks concerning these types of cases shows that it was not disorganized or fueled by hysteria. It was a very systematic approach to keeping the innocent safeguarded from false judgements and false accusations and allowing the guilty multiple opportunities to set their records straight. None of those who made and participated the inquisition wanted to spill the blood of innocents or have any innocent blood to fall on their hands since it went against reason and scripture. The goal was to protect lives within Spain, not destroy them. Even though some would inevitably lose their lives.

This book does humanity a service in allowing people to read some accounts for themselves to see the human diversity in this critical period in time that has been so misunderstood. It was not a uniform period of targets and penalties, but an ever changing situation that involved changes in views on national security, community, identity, and interests.

It was during the early period of the Spanish Inquisition that Columbus left for the New World and it is also the time of the Conquest of Mexico so here are some related writings, primary sources, that may shed some light in the situations and historical contexts of Spain during the Spanish Inquisition : "Letters from Mexico" - Hernan Cortes, "Yucatan Before and After the Conquest" - Diego de Landa, and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History - multiple early and modern Muslim sources (some of these papers are from the time and the perspective of the Moors when they were in power in early Spain). The Spanish concept of "Purity of Blood" was used to distinguish those who were born Spanish (in Spain or other lands) and those who were mixed or not Spanish at all. These distinctions impacted how the Spanish saw others including the loyalties and suspicions people had to other Spaniards and the Spanish Crown.

For those interested in some excellent history on Atheist violence and genocide please look at The Plot to Kill God: Findings from the Soviet Experiment in Secularization,And God Created Lenin: Marxism vs Religion In Russia, 1917-1929,The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens and Death by Government.

For those interested in Buddhism and violence please look at Buddhism and Violence (Publications of the Lumbini International Research Institute, Nepal).

Overall, this is an excellent read from primary sources from the time of the Spanish Inquisition.

This book deserves a wide audience.


On a similar note, for anyone interested in an actual early reliable account on why the Crusades began in the first place and the First Crusade, please read A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, 1095-1127 by Fulcher de Chartres. Pope Urban's speech to call people from all Europe to take over Jerusalem from Muslim hands is found here and sheds light on why people were called to fight. For more of early accounts of the First Crusade, look at The First Crusade: "The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres" and Other Source Materials (The Middle Ages Series).
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on June 21, 2014
This book is composed of two parts.

The first part is an introduction that constitutes a 37 page monograph on the antecedents and practices of the Spanish Inquisition. If the reader is looking for the titles of the officers of the Inquisition or the kinds of torture inflicted or the locations of inquisition tribunals, then this is an excellent source.

The introduction is also a useful corrective for the lurid images that capture the public imagination. This may be a disappointment for those who want their lurid imaginations. For example, the Introduciton observes:

//The forms of torture in the Spanish Inquisition - and there is no evidence they ever changed - were the toca, wherein large quantities of water were poured down the defendant's nose and mouth to simulate drowning; the potro or rack, on which hte prisoner was bound with cords that could be tightened; and the garrucha, in which the prisoner was hung by his wrists tied from behind. Inquisitors explicitly warned defendants that any injuries they suffered would be their own fault. They also repeatedly asked the defendant to confess from the moment they all entered the torture room. If the defendant did confess during torture, whatever he had said had to be ratified on a subsequent day; if he later revoked what he had confessed, he could be tortured again for the same purposes. Though torture remains one of the most luried features of the Spanish Inquisition, scholars now believe it was applied rarely.// (p. xxv.)

It actually does sound like how America treated terrorist suspects, right down to "water-boarding."

The second part of the book consists of original documents of the Spanish Inquisition, including actual cases and decrees and even an inquisitorial "Deliberation on the Reality and Heresy of Witchcraft."

This book is not for the faint of heart or for scandal-seekers. The documents read like the legal documents they are. Nonetheless, it does provide both an interesting view as to how the Spanish Inquisition actually worked and a sense of the experience of a facet of history as it was lived.
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on April 14, 2014
This is a great compilation. The introduction gives a great overview and there are short author's comments at the beginning of each document and helpful footnotes.
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on July 24, 2010
If your interest is Historical truth about some of the most maligned institutions of the Catholic Church read this book! You will be surprised and informed.
If you want a gruelsome description of torture ... look elsewere.
The writing is terse, suggesting more a textbook than a divulgation effort.
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on August 11, 2015
Quite an extensive anthology. I enjoyed it and will use it in the class I teach on the Inquisitions.
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on January 5, 2007
If you're hoping to read about the notorious spanish inquisition, with all it's injustices, tragedy, human suffering....if you want to read accounts and anecdotes and terribly sobering descriptions of the misguided evil that humans are capable of....keep looking!

This book is not that book.

This book is probably well done for what it is. It is a translation of medieval spanish courtroom documents over (I presume) a select sampling of inquisition cases.

To my suprise, what i found was that the inquisition seemed pretty fair, by their own standards. In some cases, the defendant was released with minimal punishment such as a warning and/or "small" pennance. Any torture was barely described by the author in the opening notes and just matter of factly mentioned in the court documents. It was pretty sterile.

You DO gain some insight into the procedures of the inquisition. That is worthwhile. I did not come away with an impression of a kangaroo court led by manical zealots, as I expected I would.

All in all, the book was rather boring though, unless you ARE interested in the sterile nitty gritty, rather than seeking the emotional impact hopefully delivered to the reader of some other book.
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A controversial period in Roman Catholicism, this relfects sources from the time on life in a turmoil when even the church itself transited in ideology. Innocents were executed ... and the intentions vary. The only thing I will say is that the Church believed it was engaging in a form of purification but it was probably unChristian in its implementation. Christ converted followers through love while this time in history was the Christian version of the jealous Pharisees. The late Pope John Paul 2 worked on interfaith dialogue .... which was a healing intention given this 200 years plus time of fear and fire and brimstone.

I will say this .... some of the "witches" were innocent healers ... but others were engaged in sorcery and mischief which were endangering people. This distinction should have been clearer with the church.
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