Did the Spanish Inquisition really burn thousands of heretics at the stake?
Did it regularly issue draconian punishments to anyone who didn’t agree with the Church’s teachings?
The notion that the Spanish Inquisition dealt out death sentences, torture, and cruel punishments to thousands of innocent, free-thinking heretics is traceable to a number of cultivated myths.
Near the end of the 16th century, northern European Protestants began a conscientious propaganda campaign against their enemies, the Spanish. It included much disinformation about a lot of things, including the supposed cruelties of the Spanish Inquisition.
These propagandized calumnies spread through Europe via pamphlets and books (with the newly-invented printing press speeding this process along) and were adopted by later enemies of the Church, as well. It was an anti-Spain, anti-Catholic historical thread that became known as the “Black Legend.” Much of the disinformation about the Spanish Inquisition has its roots in this “legend.”
The actual numbers of heretics condemned to death by the Spanish Inquisition are actually small, even considering the fact that the Spanish Inquisition was a state institution, rather than a Church institution, and was at times abused by the monarchs (and excoriated by the Holy See for politicized sentences).
Furthermore, the Spanish Inquisition—reputed to be so severe—actually only condemned 1.8% of the accused to death in 130,000 heresy trials between 1478 and 1834 (that’s 356 years!) according to the meticulously-researched book Vatican Secret Archives: Unknown Pages of Church History.
Another 1.7% were sentenced “in absentia” (the whereabouts of the accused being unknown, an effigy was burned in their place). But most of the defendants were acquitted or given punishments—most of which were spiritual—such as a penance or pilgrimage.
Vatican Secret Archives also notes that the Portuguese (whose Inquisition was actually more severe than Spain’s) received no such treatment in the press. The reason was that they were allies of the propagandists.
So: don’t believe everything you read on the internet. You don’t even have to believe us. You can learn the truth about the Inquisition for yourself in Vatican Secret Archives: Unknown Pages of Church History. Brimming with top-notch research drawn from the Vatican’s own archives and the work of expert historians—and filled with hundreds of beautiful photos—this book tackles the controversies surrounding not only the Inquisition, but the Crusades, the trial of Galileo, the colonization of the New World, and more. Order yours at The Catholic Company today!