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

By Staff | Jul 26, 2011

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

Of all the inquisitions instituted over the centuries to weed out 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 named Cayetano Ripoll, today (July 26) in 1826.

From 1478-1834, 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), he or she would be acquitted. If the person 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 Aragon 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 multireligious society, weaken their political opposition and beef up their treasury with wealth confiscated from convicted heretics.

Because of 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.

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 attend 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 then buried in unconsecrated ground.

It would be almost another decade before the Inquisition 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 Saturday courtesy of The Week in Preview. Read more of both at www.nashuatelegraph.com/columnists/weekinpreview.

– Teresa Santoski

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