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Monday, July 26, 2010

Daily TWiP - The Spanish Inquisition executes its last victim today in 1826

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Welcome to Daily TWiP, your daily dose of all the holidays, historical observances, etc., we couldn’t cram into The Week in Preview.

Out of all the inquisitions instituted over the centuries to weed out religious heresy, the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, better known as the Spanish Inquisition, was the most feared. After nearly four centuries of activity, the Spanish Inquisition executed its last victim, a schoolteacher by the name of Cayetano Ripoll, today (July 26) in 1826.

From 1478 until 1834, inquisitors strove to ensure orthodoxy within the Catholic Church, often using torture to extract confessions from those accused of heresy. If the accused was determined to be innocent (a rarity), they would be acquitted. If they were guilty, punishments ranged from penance or confiscation of property to imprisonment or being released to secular authorities for execution.

Established by Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragorn and Isabella I of Castile, the Spanish Inquisition was controlled by the crown. No single motive for the Inquisition has emerged, but historians believe it stemmed from the monarchs’ desire to maintain power in Spain’s multi-religious society, weaken their political opposition, and beef up their treasury with wealth confiscated from convicted heretics.

Due to the Spanish Inquisition’s long history and the difficulties of maintaining accurate records for such a large operation, the exact number of deaths will probably never be known. It has been estimated, however, that between 3,000 and 5,000 were executed. Schoolteacher Cayetano Ripoll would be the last.

Ripoll had been a soldier in the Spanish army, fighting against the invading Napoleonic forces. He was captured during the Peninsular War and had embraced the philosophy of Deism while in prison. The Inquisition charged him with failing to intend Mass and with believing that the Ten Commandments were all that were required for religious instruction. There was also suspicion that he had imparted his Deist beliefs to his students.

Ripoll was imprisoned for two years after the charges were made, during which time he refused to recant. The Inquisition judged him a heretic and released him to the secular authorities to be executed.

By this time, the Inquisition was running out of steam. Instead of burning Ripoll at the stake as was the traditional method of execution, the secular authorities hanged him and then symbolically burned him by placing his body in a barrel decorated with painted flames. Ripoll was subsequently buried in unconsecrated ground.

It would be almost another decade before the Inquisition was officially ended. Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies, acting as regent for the young Isabella II, issued a royal decree abolishing the Inquisition on July 15, 1834.

The Holy Office, the segment of the Catholic Church created for the implementation of the Inquisition, exists to this day. It managed the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (a list of books prohibited by the Catholic Church) until the abolition of the list in 1966 and is currently responsible for overseeing Catholic doctrine.

Daily TWiP appears Monday through Friday courtesy of The Week in Preview. Check out The Week in Preview online in our Columnists section at or read it in print on Mondays in our Nashua and Region section.

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- Teresa Santoski