Research Paper: Inquisitions

Pages: 12 (3603 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature - Latin-American  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Legally, it was required that there be at least two witnesses available as to the alleged heresy but in most cases the tribunal demanded far more. In the early days of the Inquisition the testimony of witnesses who had previously been convicted of heresy could not be used against the accused but as the fervor surrounding the Inquisition increased this standard was relaxed and the Inquisition tribunals began accepting a heretic's offer of evidence at nearly full value. Under Inquisition procedure, the accused was denied both the right to know the identity of their accusers and the right to confront them personally. Worsening matters further for the accused is the fact that defense witnesses were a rarity as well because of fear by said witnesses that they might be suspected of being heretics as well. In the early days of the Inquisition the accused was even denied the right to counsel but eventually this custom was relaxed but the legal adviser had to be in every way beyond suspicion, "upright, of undoubted loyalty, skilled in civil and canon law, and zealous for the faith."

When a successful Inquisition was conducted the subsequent punishment stage was much less severe and less frequent in Latin America than it had been in Europe. The New World tribunals tended to allow potential heretics, i.e. non-Catholics, considerably more time to comply than had been the custom back in Spain and Portugal. Actual torture occurred only after a prisoner continued to insist on his innocence, refused to admit the truth (obviously truth being what the Inquisitors claimed it to be), or to reveal the names of other heretics or unbelievers.

Punishment in Latin American Inquisition courts came in various forms. It could be as simple as placing a silk scarf in the prisoner's mouth and then pouring water in the prisoner's mouth or as complex as placing the prisoner on a device known as potro. A potro was a bed-like frame on which the prisoner was placed with his limbs extended by leather straps. Periodically, the straps, which were attached to a wooden wheel, would be slowly tightened until the prisoner either confessed or passed out from the intense pain.

Under the Inquisition, even those who confessed or reconciled, were not immune from punishment. Those who reconciled still had to face the likelihood of their property being confiscated, being forced to wear some form of identifying clothing, or to perform a simple act such as attending mass, saying a public rosary, or fasting. It was at this time that Jews were first forced to begin wearing the dreaded yellow vest that would eventually be used by the Nazis to identify Jews in pre-World War II Germany.

Perhaps the most notorious event in the history of the Inquisition in Latin America was the arrest, imprisonment, and punishment of several members of the Carvajal family. The Carvajal family did something unheard of in the New World when they began to observe Jewish rituals. There were six separate branches of the Carvajal family in Latin America: three in Mexico City, one each in Puebla, Veracruz and Guadalajara. Luis de Carvajal, the family patriarch, and his wife were arrested by the Inquisition officials. Subsequently, forty-five Jews were punished by the Inquisition authorities in Mexico City. Nine of them were burned.

During the early 1600's a large number of Jews emigrated from Portugal to the New World. Most of the new immigrants settled in Peru. Over the next forty years a series of minor Inquisitions were held in several Peruvian settlements with burnings occurring only occasionally, however, the pressure of possible punishment tempered the small Jewish communities so that actual ritual practice was largely not performed.

In the mid-1600's the Papacy drastically changed their attitude toward Jews. The reasons for this are unclear but it is likely that the growing threat of Protestantism in Europe attracted a great deal of the Vatican's attention. Since the posting of Martin Luther's theses in 1517, the Catholic Church had seen its membership slip considerably and, as a result, could not afford to give as much attention to the persecution of the Jews. Although the Inquisitions largely disappeared after the mid-1600's, they were not finally suppressed by Spain until 1834 and by Portugal in 1821.

In the immediate years subsequent to the end of the Inquisition in Latin America Jewish immigration into Latin America was very limited. Those who did immigrate were mainly motivated to do so by economic factors as opposed to the religious freedom. Unfortunately the vestiges of Catholic intolerance remained and the new Jewish residents did not enjoy full equality. Because of the small number of Jews in the area, the Latin American countries were not compelled to afford the Jews much consideration when formulating legislation regarding religious freedoms. Instead this type of legislation was reserved for the Protestant denominations whose numbers were much greater. As a result, the formation of wide scale Jewish communities in most Latin American countries was very limited.

The Spanish Inquisition in Latin America caused many of those who had immigrated to the New World to flee from their original destination to a safer location. The areas that were chosen by most Inquisition victims were to colonies under Dutch and English control. These areas were considered far safer as the Inquisition was far less popular in those nations. By the sixteenth century, full functioning Jewish communities were organized in Brazil, Suriname, Curacoa, Jamaica and Barbados. In fact, the first synagogue in the Americas was established in Recife, Brazil in 1636. There were unorganized communities in other areas of Latin America but these Jews generally concealed their identity for fear of repercussions.

The Jewish community in Brazil must be considered the most successful. Dating back to the early 1500's when they began escaping the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, the Jewish community in Brazil had grown to almost 50,000 by the early 1600's. In 1624, the Dutch took over control of northern Brazil and this spelled good news for the Jewish community. The Dutch government was sympathetic to the Jewish plight and this spilled over to the Dutch colonies. In Brazil, under the leadership of Rabbi Isaac Aboab da Fonesca and Raphael d'Aguilar, Jews were able to establish fully functioning religious communities. This open practicing continued throughout northern Brazil for only a short time, however, as Portugal reaffirmed their control over the area in 1654.To the credit of the Dutch commander, a Protestant, a condition of his surrendering to the Portuguese armies was that the Jews were not to be harmed. Portugal's taking re-control of northern Brazil caused a new rush of immigration with many of the Brazilian Jews finding their way to another Dutch settlement in New Amsterdam which is modern day New York City and another group settling in the community of Curacoa. The group of 23 Jews who immigrated to New Amsterdam were not regarded favorably by the colonial governor, Peter Stuyvesant but fought through the prejudices to establish a Jewish community there. Unfortunately, only one of the 23, Asher Levy, remained ten years later.

Besides the substantial Jewish community in Brazil, immigrants seeking escape from the Inquisition in Europe and elsewhere in the New World also found friendly surroundings in the new colonies forming in the Guianas and the Caribbean Islands. These new immigrants came from Dutch Brazil, as well as from the Netherlands, England, France and Germany. They assimilated in these colonies by engaging in the plantation economies and took on an active role in the commerce, shipping trade, and public service. These mostly Protestant colonies of the Netherlands, England and Denmark allowed the Jews to practice their own religion and to preserve their own customs and traditions.[footnoteRef:8]. Strangely, one Caribbean island that did not welcome the arrival of Jewish immigrants was Puerto Rico. Jews were prohibited from settling in Puerto Rico throughout its history and that it remained the case until after Puerto Rico being annexed by the United States. Today, Puerto Rico is the home of the largest community of Jews in the Caribbean supporting three separate synagogues. The majority of the population arrived from Cuba following Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959. [8: Martin A. Cohen, Abraham J. Peck. Sephardim in the Americas: Studies in Culture and History. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 1993.]

The process of religious and state prosecution of the Jews in Latin America through the Inquisition resulted in a great number of Jews being forced to assimilate into the communities in which they had immigrated. Unable to actively and openly practice their religion and related customs, these individuals and families began to lose access to their history and heritage. Fortunately, through the records of the Catholic Church, the historical archives of the various nations involved such as Spain and Portugal, and the private and public documents collected in libraries throughout Europe and the Americas much of this information has been preserved. When the government of Israel was re-established the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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