The Inquisition and European Torture Techniques

With the capture of the Muslim city of Granada in 1492, the Muslims lost their grip on their Spanish territories. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (now under papal rule) acquired permission from the Catholic Church to target those people suspected of Muslim, Jewish or heretical beliefs or tendencies and to root out through the application of torture those who, although posing as devout Catholics, were secretly practicing religions considered antithetical or non-conformist by the Catholic hierarchy. As a direct result of this permission and authorization the Spanish Inquisition was born. Soon afterward, in an atmosphere fueled by acute paranoia, a desire for revenge, and an insatiable blood lust, tens of thousands were paraded before pseudo courts to face the sadistic rulings of Inquisition judges.

The European Inquisition was developed over several periods. There was the Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Roman Inquisition.

The Medieval or Papal Inquisition was established in the 13th century when Pope Innocent III realized that the efforts of a lasting controlling presence in Jerusalem were untenable.

In 1210 the Church launched an attack against the Cathars. The Cathars lived in Southern France in a region known as Languedoc. They were also a likely target of the Papal sponsored Crusaders because of their perceived heretical beliefs. They believed that Jesus had never existed in bodily form, but in spirit only. They also believed in two Creator Deities. One that fashioned the pure and heavenly, and another that created the physical and temporal with the tendency to be evil and wicked.

To get an idea of the ferocity of these attacks by Roman Catholic soldiers against the Cathars: it is recorded that on July 22, 1209 the city of Beziers was overun by Crusaders. When Papal legate Arnaud was asked if Catholics who were lived in the area should be spared he replied, "Kill them all, for God knows His own."

The roasting of captives (apparently a legacy from the Roman Empire) was also perpetuated during these Crusades. At the capitulation of Lavaur (in 1211), 400 people were burned, and 94 met the same horrendous fate after Casses was taken. It was in this backdrop of war, religious hatred and cruelty that Pope Gregory the IX established as an institution the papal Inquisition in the year 1227.

By the year 1233, the Dominican Order of the Roman Catholic Church was given th eauthority and the charter to act as Inquisitors. They were subsequently joined by the Francescans..

After the 13th century the Inquisition widened its influence into Germany and Scandinavia. There was no formal Church sanctioned Inquisition in England at this time, although Christobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) no doubt influenced by the Inquisitions in Spain and Portugal, hatched his own nefarious brand when he plundered and murdered indigenous people of the Americas.

By the 15th Century, the Catholic Monarchs , Ferdinand and Isabella of Castile established a Spanish Inquisition independent of Rome. It’s primary purpose was to root out Muslim and Jewish converts to Catholicism (conversos) who not being thoroughly subjugated) were suspected of continuing to practice Islam and Judaism covertly. It was also used as an instrument of terror and torment against scientists, philosophers, and members of the Christian Church , who were believed to be heretical in their thinking irreverent toward the authority of the Catholic Church and its agencies.

In the time of these Inquisitions, covering periods of unimaginable cruelty and ignorance, tens of thousands of human beings were subjected to fiendish physical and psychological tortures. With millions more (particularly Jews and Muslims) being exiled.

There were a variety of methods used by the agents of the Inquisition to force victims to "confess" to heresy or to sins or crimes against the Church. Two of the more widely used were the stappado (or pulley) and the aselli (or water torment).

The strappado was utilized to secure the victim by the arms and legs. Using weights, the victim was then raised until suspended off the floor. In this position the body would be stretched unmercifully. The aselli was inflicted by forcing the accused to lay down on a trestle while being secured by an iron band. The feet of the person would be elevated above the head. A piece of linen would be forced into the gullet, water would then be poured into the victim’s mouth and nose to induce a feeling of being drowned or suffocated. Often, during these procedures, the cords securing the limbs would be tightened causing unbearable agony.

Another stretching technique was known as the rack and is perhaps the most infamous of all the torture implements used in this period. The unfortunate individual was tied or strapped to a board by the wrists and ankles to two rollers. Then the rollers were turned in opposite directions, thus slowly stretching the victim until the limbs popped from their sockets or the body was broken.

Those who "confessed" were burned in a ceremony that was ironically named auto-da-fe’ (act of faith). The first auto-da-fe’ was recorded on February 12, 1481 in Spanish Seville, where six men and six women were burned alive for the crime of practicing Judaism.

On June 30, 1680, in the area of Madrid, 51 outcasts were roasted alive in a orgy of torture that lasted 14 hours and was held as a grisly celebration to commemorate the marriage of Carlos II to Marie d’ Orleans. It is reported that the king himself gleefully set light to the first human bonfire.

The madness of the Inquisition also held sway in Spain’s colonies in ths Americas. In Mexico 108 human beings were put to the torch after being accused of practicing Judaism. Those that "confessed" to their crime were afforded the relative leniency of being strangled to death before their bodies were burned.

People suspected of practicing witchcraft also suffered a fiery demise, resulting in over 30,00 by burnings by the Inquisition over a period of 150 years.

Other devious methods of torture and incredible violence were the pillory, in which the victim’s toes were crushed with a hammer and wedge. The dunking stool was also a favored method where by the victim would be repeatedly dunked into water until they confessed or were overcome by death.

Death by boiling alive, having eyes gouged out (usually the penalty for peeping Toms), the tearing to pieces by having limbs tied to horses that where prompted to run off in different directions were all common punishments in Medieval Europe.

Other practices that were prevalent in the Middle Ages were to tear out the tongue. To blind the victim with sharp sticks or red-hot iron spikes. The pulling of the flesh with pliers. The skinning of the accused alive. Quartering (in which the victims intestines would be pulled from the body) and impaling, in which a stake would be hammered through the victim’s body avoiding the vital organs, resulting in a slow death that could last for hours or days.

Thus was the "civilized" modes of punishment of the "enlightened" civil and religious authorities of Europe during a large part of it’s history. It is little wonder that the inhabitants of Eastern Europe, a people that had been subjected to similar practices along with cruel agrarian exploitation for centuries, welcomed Islamic culture and principles, and helped to establish a Muslim dynasty that has lasted to the present day.