. . . they are observed in their works and their ways of life with such attention that, even if they prevaricate in the smallest Christian rite, they are seen as suspicious of heresy and punished . . .
IN THIS CURIOUS story of violence and fetid emotion, the most obvious questions of all can be difficult to answer. We have just explored a series of protracted inquiries in small villages as to the ancestry of minor officials. In such cases how could inquisitors know that the information they received was accurate? The answer must be through the trust they had in the capacity of villagers to keep watch on one another and to know intimate details of one another’s distant ancestry – or at least pretend to know such details. Iberia had become a society of spies.
For a moment, turn back to the messianic ambience of the Carvajal household in Mexico City in the 1590s. Here was a house in the Indian neighbourhood of Tlatelolco where fear had for a time been defeated by longing. After Luis the Younger’s reconciliation in 1590, they were inspected by a Franciscan friar, Pedro de Oroz, who noted with approval the religious images which the Carvajals had placed in their home as evidence of their sincere attachment to the Catholic Church.*1
Yet not all of the neighbours of the Carvajals were as convinced. One was a Portuguese woman called Susan Galván.1 Galván was fifty years old and, one can surmise, bored with her lot. She liked nothing better than to meddle in the affairs of others and thengossip as to what she had found. To have a family of reconciled heretics living nearby was therefore a welcome distraction.
Galván soon befriended the Carvajals’ servant, a Chichimec Indian from the northern Mexican deserts. She asked her what the Carvajals drank and what they ate. She was told that none of the them ate pork or bacon, and that they used olive oil or butter rather than lard when they cooked. These practices were seen in Iberian societies as proof that a person or family was not a Catholic but a crypto-Jew or a crypto-Muslim, neither faith permitting the eating of pork. Excited by this information, Galván nosed her way into the kitchen of the Carvajal household so that she could see with her own eyes what sort of fat was used to grease the saucepans.
When the second trial of family members began, Galván gave evidence. She declared that she had always suspected that the Carvajals still lived as Jews. On top of her culinary evidence, she had been told by the Chichimec servant that the Carvajals dressed in clean clothes on Friday nights, and that they wore their best clothes on Saturdays as if it were a festival. Indeed, one Saturday had Galván herself not seen Luis the Younger’s sister Leonor sitting on a cushion doing nothing, wearing a dress of black velvet? When she had seen this idleness on an ordinary workday – which just happened to be the Jewish sabbath – Galván had been suitably scandalized, her thrill disguised by a mask of moral censure.
Reading through the case records, it becomes plain that Galván spent much of her time acting as an unpaid spy for the Inquisition. She noted the sort of clothes that the Carvajals wore and the days on which they wore them. She pried into their cooking arrangements. Thus, for the bored, the gossips and the acid-tongued, the Inquisition provided a notable social service: it was now not only legitimate to watch one’s neighbours, it was a social duty, as the edicts of grace, with their admonitions for citizens to report anything that seemed contrary to the faith, made clear.
The way in which every aspect of life was affected in Mexico was summed up just a few years after the auto of 1596 in which Luis the Younger and his sisters Isabel and Leonor had died. In 1604 Antonia Machado, the granddaughter of a relajado, was prosecuted for wearing silk clothes with a golden fringe,2 something forbidden to someone with this sort of blood tie to a convicted heretic.*2 One can imagine the righteous scandal as this was observed in the whitewashed streets of Mexico, which were kept clean by African slaves and what remained of the Aztec population after the epidemics: one was not shocked by the genocide where up to 95 per cent of the indigenous population had been lost in the preceding century;3 nor by the scarred faces of those Indians who had survived the disease; nor by the torture in the mines and the slavery of the miners – no, one was disgusted, affronted and scandalized by this descendant of a relajado having the temerity to wear silk!
It is difficult to maintain a sense of proportion. By focusing on one or two minor anomalies, bigger anomalies and evils could be overlooked. The Inquisition, defining conformity in religious terms as always, was keen to prosecute all religious deviants. Yet at the same time conformity and normality were increasingly defined in racial terms; thus the descendants of deviants had to be punished as well.
These twin vectors of marginalization were ideologically incompatible, and revealed the contradiction in Iberian psychology between a conservative and almost medieval world view, which concentrated on religious deviance, and the emerging modern world view which saw differences in racial terms. But, as we have seen, the Inquisition was able to straddle these two positions. The extraordinary adaptability of the persecuting mentality meant that it was able to switch horses with all the panache and killer instinct of a champion jockey offered a prize ride. Yet concern with conformity could only thrive if some groups could be shown to be nonconformist. Thus, as the 16th century turned into the 17th and the obsession with purity intensified, every aspect of daily life was chewed over in the search for what was deemed abnormal.
WHILE THESE PARTICULAR Mexican cases concerned details of daily life such as those which preoccupied the Inquisition in Portugal and Spain, in general the Inquisition in the overseas colonies was most concerned with imposing a different type of conformity: the acceptance of broader European ideals.
For the Portuguese Inquisition in Goa and Africa, failure to wear Portuguese-style of clothing was enough for people to be prosecuted. In 1585 the General Council of the Inquisition in Portugal ordered the inquisitors in Goa to proceed against Christians who live in the land of the infidels and dress in the manner of the infidels as if they were apostates and separated from our Holy Faith, even if there is no proof of them performing the rites and ceremonies of the infidels’ – the proof of apostasy resided in their ‘adopting their style of dress, which is different to that of the Christians’.4 Then in 1619 Manoel da Silva was thrown into jail in the town of Cacheu in modern Guinea-Bissau under inquisitorial law. The sole evidence against Silva was that, although he claimed to be a Christian, he had been observed in the town of Buguendo*3 and in neighbouring Bichangor*4 dressed ‘like a local black’ in a boubou (kaftan) and with rings through his nostrils. Da Silva, who had been born in Malacca, was sent from Cacheu to the jail in Ribeira Grande in Cape Verde, where the future governor of Nuevo León Luis de Carvajal had once lived, and was then deported to Angola.5
Clearly such accusations could only occur if the members of a society were encouraged to watch out for this sort of thing, even in places as distant from Portugal as Goa and Guinea-Bissau. While Portuguese authority waned significantly in the Estado da Indiain the latter 17th century6 – as Portugal fought its long war of independence against Spain between 1640 and 1668 – the power of the Inquisition there remained significant. One of the main crimes it tried in Goa, particularly from the mid-17th century onwards, was the ‘sorcery’ of crypto-Hindus who were supposed to have converted to Christianity. Successfully identifying this crime required detailed observation of daily life to pick up on heretical practices. This was the territory in which, as the French traveller Pyrard de Laval had written in 1619, the Inquisition was ‘much more severe than in Portugal’.7
In Brazil, as in Goa, the Portuguese Inquisition was particularly concerned with sorcery. Denunciations of superstitious practices again required detailed observation of behaviour. They became particularly common in the early 18th century, when a common charm found in Brazil was the bolsa de mandinga. These bags often contained pieces of marble, or six-pointed stars, or pieces of paper covered with Kabbalistic signs. They were highly prized by those who carried them and were said to protect the wearer against injury by knives or bullets.8 They were also used by Brazilian slaves living in Lisbon, and three inquisitorial cases centred on them in 1730–1.9
There was an extraordinary degree of superstition and non-Catholic practice in the patchwork world of the colonies. In Brazil in the early 18th century one African slave, Joana, used to lace the food of men she desired with the second batch of water with which she had washed her vagina.10 Another slave, Marcelina Maria, cooked an egg, slept with it between her legs and gave it to the man that she desired; she had also been taught that when she had sex with a man she should wet her finger in her vagina and then make the sign of the cross upon each of her eyes so that the man would never leave her.11 In Mexico powders were ground up by slave women and thrown over men so that they would desire them; some carried earth taken from a graveyard and others special herbs, all intended to achieve the same end of sex with a desired man.12 In Brazil slaves were sent to touch objects of desire with charms so that they would fall under the sway of the slave’s master or mistress.13 There was no shortage of obsession with sex, superstition about sex and attempts to induce others to have sex; in this atmosphere and in the sultry afternoons of the tropics one suspects that, in spite of the best efforts of the Inquisition, there was no shortage of actual sex either.
Such, then, was the ‘tropic of sins’, as one scholar has put it,14 a world alien to the climate, ideologies and social requirements of Iberia. Many of those whose lives and approaches to reality were picked over in such detail by the Inquisition were slaves who had been brought to the New World from Africa and had maintained some of their ancestral beliefs.15 Yet although this meant that slaves were therefore subjected to inquisitorial attention, it is not a little solace that they themselves often became quite adept at using the Inquisition in their own interests.
Cartagena de las Indias 1648–50
IN 1648, THE SLAVE Manuel Bran*5 was arrested in Cartagena de las Indias, accused of spitting on crosses and denying the existence of God.16 When one considers his life history, this attitude towards the religious faith of his oppressors is hardly surprising.
Manuel had been born in Cape Verde and went as a babe in arms along with his mother who was taken to be a slave in the Azores. In the Azores he served as a page to an archdeacon, cultivating his master’s vines and doing whatever was asked of him. When he grew into adulthood he married a Spaniard called Leonor de Sossa, a servant of his master, and had a child with her. The child died at the age of four. Then his master the archdeacon ordered him to sail in the service of the brothers Don Diego de Lobo and Don Rodrigo de Lobo. They took him to Brazil and then to Cartagena, where Rodrigo de Lobo sold him as a slave. He never saw his wife again.17
In such circumstances the hostility of slaves towards the religion of their masters is no surprise. The hierarchy of values was expressed by one case from Brazil, in 1737, where the plantation owner Pedro Pais Machado killed two slaves for allegedly injuring one of his oxen; one of the slaves was murdered by being hung by his testicles until he was dead.18 Only a few years later one of the wealthiest residents of Bahia in Brazil, Garcia de Avila Pereira Aragão, had a three-year-old slave girl brought to him, and held her face over a fire of hot coals. He then fanned the fire with his other hand. Aragão also tortured a six-year-old slave boy by dripping hot candle wax on him, laughing with glee as the boy screamed in pain.19
Such pornographic details exploit the tragedies of these human beings, who were exploited enough in life. But if these cases help us to grasp something of the impossible ocean of desire and the insatiable demand for satisfaction opened up by the power relations within the New World, thinking about them today may not be entirely lacking in merit. What we glimpse in these terrible sadists are, perhaps, emotions analogous to those which we have seen in some of the most lubricious inquisitors, the Luceros and Salazars and Mañozcas of the world.
In such an environment one is heartened that slaves often renounced God when they were being whipped, or put in fetters;20 their real meaning was, of course, ‘I renounce your God’. This was not only an expression of rebellion but also a means of escape; if the blasphemy was reported to the Inquisition, they might be incarcerated in the inquisitorial jail for a year or more and thereby escape further beatings at the hands of their masters. Some fabricated visions and pacts with the devil and then, once in the inquisitorial jail, confessed that their masters had treated them so badly that they preferred to be prisoners of the Inquisition.21 In 1650 in Mexico the slave Juan de Morga decided to take his chances. He blasphemed at the drop of a hat, accused himself of bigamy and then declared that he had entered into a demonic pact; Morga finished his confession by explaining, ‘I serve a very cruel man in [the mining centre of] Zacatecas, and as long as they keep me here I shall continue to live by this law and to deny God’.22
The fact that the Inquisition was a better option for many slaves than their daily life says much about the horror of their existence in the New World. Yet one should not conclude that the Inquisition was therefore entirely benign towards them. The Inquisition was charged with handling the mistreatment of slaves in Mexico, for instance, but although this was a daily occurrence only three cases were brought between 1570 and 1620.23 The ‘deviant’ cultural practices of slaves were moreover part of a panoply of difference which was anathema to an institution like the Inquisition, which desired – or pretended to desire – uniformity of practice and belief. Such were the realities and the different peoples in the colonies that the Inquisition was always fighting a losing battle there. It was only by being vigilant over so many aspects of slaves’ daily lives and devilish predilections that a modicum of ‘normality’ could be imposed.
JUST THREE YEARS before the revolt of Portugal against the Spanish king Philip IV and the end of the joint monarchy tensions were reaching their peak in Iberia. In Peru the large colony of Portuguese merchants had been hit by a series of inquisitorial arrests (led, it will be no surprise, by Juan de Manozca) which had seen the incarceration of eighty-three people and the questioning of 110 more. The belief spreading in Spanish society that the Portuguese were Jews led to these traders being accused of a crypto-Jewish plot.24Eleven of them would be killed in the great auto of 23 January 1639.
Events and feelings in the colonies and the homelands were, then, connected. But in many parts of Portugal denunciations to the Inquisition frequently reflected the more parochial, daily concerns of the citizenry. This was the case in Lisbon in April 1637, when information began to be received concerning a ‘witch’, Cecilia da Silva, who lived in the countryside outside the city. Silva, if witnesses were to be believed, was an extremely dangerous person whose heretical activities needed to be stopped at all costs.25
One witness described Silva’s activities in some detail. She had portraits of St Erasmus, whom, the old woman Silva said, did whatever she asked. Silva could see devils painted alongside St Erasmus, and said that she knew how to perform spells so that these devils would do her bidding. Many people had come to see her because of this and given her money and offerings, and all this had made Silva a rich and doubtless envied member of the community.
The effects of Silva’s notable powers were especially severe on a certain Antonio de Bairros, a trader who lived in the same area as she did. For many years Bairros had been having an affair with one Marta Gonçalves, who was a great friend of the witch. It was publicly rumoured that the affair had only lasted so long because of Silva’s spells, and one day a servant of Bairros called Antonia had seen a slave belonging to Marta Gonçalves arriving with an offering for Silva and a message complaining that Bairros did not come to her house any more. Why bring an offering if not for some service in return? Why complain about Bairros? In a society where the slightest event could be seen to come within the purview of the Inquisition, this was inflammatory indeed.
One of the most diabolic aspects of Bairros’s ‘bewitchment’ was that Marta Gonçalves was ‘old and with facial deformities’; his wife in contrast was beautiful, young and gentle. Yet the spells of the witch Silva were so strong that Bairros had nothing to do with his household, which was the cause of great sadness to his wife. Bairros himself described the occult forces which drove him to humiliate his wife and himself in full view of the gossips: ‘Many times some inner force has constrained him to go to the house of Marta Gonçalves whilst standing in the street or many times even when lying in bed . . . Often he sees himself in his house with his wife and children and then finds himself in the house of Marta Gonçalves without knowing how he got there, and many times he finds himself taken there as if with chains of iron’.
All this was said to be witchcraft; and yet one suspects that the accusers of Cecilia de Silva, marvelling at Bairros’s infidelity with this ‘ugly old woman’ Gonçalves, were poorer students of human psychology than they were of the daily activities of one another. It may well have been precisely Gonçalves’s apparent repulsiveness which was so attractive to Bairros, this respectable trader who had married a respectable wife. In Bairros the inner drives and contradictions which make all of us human needed an outlet, an outlet which could be found in this person who symbolized everything that he had outwardly rejected in himself and in his choice of spouse.
Cases such as this reveal that it was by no means just in the New World that superstition was rife; indeed, the archives of the Inquisition make it plain that Portugal and Spain were countries riddled with superstition at the time. Denunciations of witchcraft centred on women living alone, stealing cattle by night, their houses filled with clues of their participation in the occult such as strands of hair and loose teeth.26 Diviners were accused of reading events in distant places by gathering all sorts of peculiar objects such as beans, a whelk, a rag and various coins. Two of the beans would be put in the mouth of the person seeking information, one to represent them and one their loved one. Ten beans were thrown onto the table, and read by seeing to which object they landed nearest. Sometimes these diviners would even pass on their occult knowledge to a friend, who would then give up the practice after they found, to their great surprise, that it was never accurate.27
This was a widely credulous society. Yet while people at large were often finding indications of pacts with the devil in the behaviour of their neighbours – observed in minute precision – the Inquisition itself was less credulous. As we saw in the Prologue, Portugal and Spain were among the few European countries that experienced no mass witch-hunts during these years, and indeed the Inquisition often sent people packing when they came to denounce the diabolic pacts of their neighbours.28 By the early 18th century inquisitors in Portugal no longer believed that witches went to coven meetings and could use spells to curse others.29
Here is the curious paradox of an institution that was able to see that some of those claiming to fly by night to covens were mentally ill, and a population many of whom still believed that such events were part of daily life. Yet the explanation for this is quite simple: just as the witch-hunts in northern Europe expressed powerful social drives and contradictions which required a scapegoat, so in Iberia the Inquisition had already targeted its own scapegoats, in the shape of the conversos and the moriscos. Witches were no longer necessary; fantastical enemies were not required as others had already been invented.30
For the citizens of Portugal and Spain, however, things were different. Envy and jealousy, those quotidian emotions, could be exorcised daily in gossip and spying on neighbours, rivals and enemies. A moral purpose could be served by watching people who may have been pure of blood but were open to being contaminated by other types of heretical activity and by their own fantasies of demonic possession and magic.
THERE WAS OF COURSE no need to be a converso or a morisco in order to enter into a pact with the devil or to practise witchcraft. All Old Christians were equally susceptible to this sort of behaviour. Thus the sense in a large part of the general population that witches were ubiquitous and of interest to the Inquisition – even if it was misplaced – fostered an atmosphere in which the daily practices of all classes of people came under scrutiny. Just as under Inquisitor-General Valdés in the mid-16th century concentration on theLutheran threat had widened the possibilities of suspicion, so now interest in beliefs beyond Islam and Judaism meant that every member of society could be an object of vigilance.
As it happened, Valdés had also been a key figure in the expansion of inquisitorial vigilance to Old Christians, as a leader of the movement that became known as the Counter-Reformation. In the aftermath of the Carranza case which had convulsed the Spanish elite in the 1550s the Inquisition in Spain had moved on to examine the collective attitudes of the nation.31 The Inquisition began to move out from urban centres, making regular visits to rural districts and, in the second half of the 16th century, prosecuting with increasing severity minor offences which were expressive of ignorance or anger rather than heresy – bigamy and blasphemy being particularly targeted.32
In order to achieve this reach, Valdés undertook a thoroughgoing reform of inquisitorial institutions. He reorganized inquisitorial finances by securing for the Inquisition the right to charge rents on canonjias, specific ecclesiastical posts. He greatly expanded the network of inquisitorial officials from the cities to small towns and villages throughout Spain. He revised the rules governing the administration of the Inquisition, and by the end of his life had secured the institutional pre-eminence of the Inquisition over all other civil and ecclesiastical courts in Spain.33 Thus, like many of the most terrible persecutors who followed him in other places and at other times, Valdés was a meticulous administrator.34
The advance of the Inquisition was accompanied by a massive programme of religious indoctrination, following the impetus of the Council of Trent,35 perhaps the most important council ever held by the Catholic Church. The aim was to achieve uniformity of behaviour in keeping with Catholic doctrine and morals through a concerted effort of indoctrination.36 The irony was that most Old Christians were already good Catholics, and did not understand why the Inquisition should have anything to do with them.37 Had they not supported the establishment of the Inquisition? They found it difficult to grasp how this institution of persecution could so suddenly turn on its supporters and be used to repress them.38
The way in which the atmosphere in Spain changed between the formation of the Inquisition and the reforms of Valdés is best exemplified by looking at blasphemy. In the instructions issued by Inquisitor-General Diego de Deza in Seville in 1500 it was specifically stated that words uttered ‘with anger or ire’ were not heretical but blasphemous, and should not come under the province of the Inquisition.39 By the 1560s all that had changed, and the most innocuous remark thrown out in the heat of the moment could be enough for a denunciation to the Inquisition. Thus, in 1560 the trader Melchior de Berrio from Granada was sentenced to three years in the galleys for having offended the Holy Sacrament;40 in 1562 the labourer Luis Godines from Cordoba was tried for saying that ‘the tithe could go to the devil since the devil invented it.’41 Now everyone, Old and New Christian alike, had to watch what they said, and to whom they said it.
To read through the archives of the Inquisitions of Portugal and Spain is to develop the general impression that blasphemy and swearing were as common then as they are now. Indeed, it does not seem as though the fact that the Inquisition dealt with these crimes had much effect in stemming them; anger is not something easy to repress, and the same clearly holds for the words that go with it.
Blasphemy tended to come into one of three categories. The first was general disparagement of the Church and its institutions. Luis Godines’s dismissal of the tithe in Cordoba is one good example of this; another comes from Marco Antonio Font, a royal bailiff in Valencia in the early 17th century who was sent to arrest a man who claimed to be an official of the crusade. Font greeted him with the challenging (and blasphemous) remark, ‘So you’re from the crusade are you? I shit on the crusade, I’ll wipe my arse with the papal bull and with the crusade’.42
The second type of blasphemy was when the offender expressed overt scepticism of God sometimes bordering on atheism. This was quite common, and people often blasphemed when they lost their faith in God.43 At times the blasphemous expression was merely a version of common sense, as when the Old Christian labourer Afonso Annes declared near Porto in Portugal in 1569, ‘God could not be in the sky and in the church at the same time’.44
Perhaps the most explosive type of blasphemy, however, was that which reflected what the Inquisition saw as sexual deviance. One of the most common types of blasphemy was to assert that the condition of a married person was better than that of a friar. Such a view was in direct opposition to that of St Thomas Aquinas, who had held that total chastity was superior to any other condition, as it was the best route to perfection and a relationship with God.45 This philosophy was of course meat and drink to the (theoretically) celibate friars themselves, but could be expected to hold less sway among the general population. Typical of those who fell foul of this rule was Alonso García in Cordoba, who had declared that ‘it was not a sin to sleep with a woman if you paid her’.46 In Évora the way these blasphemies related to daily life was graphically revealed when Fernão Matheus was accused of saying that it was not a sin to sleep with two sisters; his sister-in-law Isabel Díaz was accused shortly afterwards of saying that it was not a sin to have sex with her brother-in-law.47
The punishments meted out for this sort of self-betrayal were more minor than those directed at conversos or moriscos but usually stretched to lashes and sometimes exile, the galleys and/or prison. For the Inquisition to secure a conviction people had to monitor their neighbours for any sign of nonconformity. Thus while in the colonies the Inquisition’s presence in daily life was often seen in the denunciation of slaves renouncing God or practising some form of ‘sorcery’, in Iberia the state of mind which it fostered led to vigilance over the most mundane of conversations.
It is in this context that we can see why historians tend to think of the Inquisition as one of the first modern institutions. With its organization and ability to check on the lives of its citizens, it was a forerunner of the organizations which cast such a shadow over human beings in the 20th century. It is true that some historians today hold that this facet of the Inquisition has been exaggerated and that the Old Christians perceived it as a remote tribunal.48 But the reach of the Inquisition was something which varied with the period in question. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries its reach within rural communities was immense, with an administrative presence even in small towns where there was no tribunal. Yet although this reach contracted, collective memory ensured that in its later years the scope of the Inquisition was imagined to be far greater than it actually was.
IF YOU ENTER a restaurant in Spain today and carefully examine the menu, you may notice something specific to Spanish culture. Any soup or stew described as ‘a la Española’ or ‘Castellana’ is served with slices of ham or pieces of roast pork in it. A popular chain of restaurants in Madrid is called the Museo del Jamón (Museum of Ham), and once you have pushed your way past the dozens of legs of ham curing from the rafters this is as good a place as any to test out one of these dishes. One of the most ironically named dishes of all is Judias con Jamón – Jewesses with ham – or rather, as it is today, beans and ham.
Turn from the restaurants to the culinary emblem of Spain, the tapas bar. Here, you can sit on a stool beside the bar and the barman will hand you a plate of food to whet your appetite while you cradle a cold beer. Look at the food you have been given: pork scratchings, a piece of chorizo, some prawns, a collection of pickled shellfish. It is rude not to eat it, and so you comply, even though it may be stale or cold. You will probably not notice that these offerings – like many portions of tapas – are against both Islamic and Jewish dietary laws.
Turn back the clock over 300 years to the island of Majorca, the jewel of the Balearics. Here in the late 17th century a large community of conversos still lived in the capital of the island, Palma, occupying a ghetto known as the Sagell. One summer’s day in 1673 a group of local bigwigs gathered in the garden of one of the richer conversos, Pedro de Onofre de Cortés. Also present were Gabriel Ruiz, a familiar of the Inquisition and Antonio de Puigdorfila, who was related to the bailiff of the Inquisition. Miguel Pont, a shoemaker, described what happened next.
Among other things that [the visitors] had brought and set out to eat was a stew with blood sausage made of pork, and one of the brothers [of the converso Pedro de Onofre de Cortés] – he does not remember which – wanted to eat some of it, whereupon the other Cortés said to him: That is blood sausage, pork! And they ate none of the stew but rather some fish and fruit that they had. Then the aforementioned Antonio de Puigdorfila said to them, Why do you not eat this? And he insisted that the damned Jews eat. But they said that it would make them ill; and the rest of those present then laughed and said to one another: Look, the Jews have refused to eat the stew!49
Here, then, was a social dynamic where the visitors generously brought food to a house where, if conversos did keep some aspects of the Jewish law, they would be unable to eat it. Such generosity was a challenge and a veiled threat. It spread through the culinary tradition as a means of testing people, keeping watch over their orthodoxy and gaining a hold over those thought to be suspicious. As both Islam and Judaism banned the consumption of pork, offering it to a converso or a morisco was the perfect way to humiliate someone while pretending to keep to the rules of Christian charity. The refusal of people to eat pork is constantly present in the cases of conversos and moriscos before the Inquisition, and testifies to how the ideology of the Inquisition percolated the most basic human activity of all, eating.
For conversos and moriscos the nature of culinary vigilance varied. For conversos the question of the consumption of pork was critical and, as the Italian traveller Leonardo Donato noted in 1573, ‘they are observed in their works and their ways of life with such attention that, even if they prevaricate in the smallest Christian rite, they are seen as suspicious of heresy and punished’.50 For moriscos an additionally dangerous period came during Ramadan, when the slightest hint that they were not eating during the day could lead to a denunciation, in another instance of the interplay of sham generosity with the ideology of the Inquisition. In 1578 a morisco in the district of Valencia was accused of refusing to eat or drink throughout the day during the fast of Ramadan when working with some Old Christians at a house, even though ‘they invited him to eat and have snacks’.51 The same year an Old Christian denounced four moriscos who had come and worked on his land during Ramadan in 1577 and had neither eaten nor drunk throughout the day.52
Evidently, in order for such accusations to be made, the suspects would have to be observed constantly, with the question always lurking as to whether or not they would eat or drink. One can imagine the pleasure and tension in the witnesses as they watched. One suspects that many would have taken more delight in proven sedition than in vindicating the suspect.
It is clear that such extreme vigilance began very early in the Inquisition’s history. When the conversa Maria de Cazalla – later accused of being an alumbrada – was attending mass in the Castilian town of Guadalajara in 1525, Diego Carrillo observed that she lowered her eyes when the sacrament was raised and then turned them to look at the church door.53 This sort of accusation was commonplace, and it is difficult not to feel simultaneous amusement and revulsion at the hypocrisy of people denouncing others for not observing the sacrament with sufficient attention, when for their own part they were clearly more interested in observing the behaviour of potential heretics than they were in offering their own reverence to the body of Christ.
Such questions concerning this sort of evidence do not seem to have occurred to the inquisitors, however, and church was one of the prime locations where the behaviour of conversos and moriscos was examined. In 1566 one morisco was reconciled in Granada ‘since when the priest raised the Holy Sacrament he was seated with his head lowered and his hands covering his eyes so as not to see it’.54 Thirteen years later the morisco Gómez Enreymada – banished from Granada after the failed uprising – was denounced by eight witnesses for behaving suspiciously when the sacrament was raised by the priest.55 The intensity with which people were watched over is illustrated by the fact that three witnesses denounced the morisco Miguel Melich in Valencia for not having confessed for a whole year;56 clearly, all of them had been watching him and keeping notes.
Perhaps the most extraordinary example of vigilance comes from a case of 1597 when the morisco Bartolomé Sánchez was arrested with his whole family. One of the witnesses, a neighbour, maintained that Sánchez washed himself even after defecating. One can only conclude that even this most private of bodily functions was considered fair game, something which perhaps should not surprise us in a society where the mere fact of washing was thought suspicious.
But if catching people out when shitting was legitimate, the problem was that this was merely society shitting on itself. Given the extraordinary diligence with which members of the community watched over the conversos and moriscos in their midst, it is difficultnot to conclude that it was precisely this grounding in vigilance which enabled it to be transferred to members of the Old Christian community itself. Expertise in securing evidence for the persecution of others would be turned back on the dominant community. Thus again was the persecuting institution able to turn skills and practices developed in one context against the very people who had supported its creation in the first place.
The effect on society was stark. As the historian Juan de Mariana put it, the secret investigations of the Inquisition ‘deprived people of the freedom to listen and talk among themselves’.57 Since the slightest slip of the tongue could lead to a denunciation, humiliation and the loss of privileges, the society of vigilance became the society of suspicion, and of division.
LET US RETURN TO the gory days right at the start of the history of the Iberian Inquisitions – to Seville in 1484 and the first Instructions issued for the operation of the Inquisition by Inquisitor-General Tomás de Torquemada. The sixth chapter of the Instructions declared as follows:
The said inquisitors should order that [heretics and apostates] cannot hold public offices, nor benefices, that they cannot be attorneys, nor landlords, nor druggists, nor spice merchants, nor doctors, nor surgeons, nor bloodletters, nor brokers. And that they cannot wear gold or silver or coral or pearls or any such thing, nor precious stones, nor wear any sort of silk or camlet . . . and that they cannot ride horses, or bear arms for the whole of their lives on penalty of being found guilty of relapsing [into their heresy].58
In 1488 in Valladolid Torquemada took things further and ordered that the children and grandchildren of heretics be banned from all official positions.59 We have seen in this chapter how these prohibitions were enforced through the case of the granddaughter of ardajado, Antonia Machado, prosecuted in Mexico in 1604 for wearing silk clothes with a golden fringe.*6 Such prosecutions were not at all uncommon; in 1587 several descendants of people ‘relaxed’ or reconciled by the Inquisition were fined in Hellín in Murcia for wearing silk and carrying knives.60
Something of the anxiety of those touched by these prohibitions comes across from the case of Jerónima de Vargas, who in 1560 made a heartfelt plea to inquisitors to allow her to wear silk, taken as a sign of nobility and honour in Castilian society. Jerónima’s parents had been reconciled in Cuenca eighteen years before, when she was two years old, and she feared that if her husband, a member of the petty nobility, discovered that she could not wear silk then he ‘would not give her a good life or provide a marital life [sleep with her]’.61
It is worthwhile thinking again about what Torquemada’s original Instructions of 1484 implied. For if people are to be prevented from wearing certain types of clothing and jewellery, from riding horses and bearing arms, and from entering certain professions, then it is obvious that they will have to be watched over. From the very start, then, the Inquisition set out rules which insinuated mutual vigilance into society. Thus while it was not the Inquisition which did all the watching, nor all the accusing, it was the rules of the Inquisition which created the atmosphere from which this followed.
Yet at the same time one should not fall into the trap of making the Inquisition the scapegoat for the failings of human beings. The admonition to be nosy was one which many people were only too happy to follow. Most of us, if we are honest, will admit to enjoying the discussion of mutual acquaintances. Gossip is communal, it is fun, and best of all it allows us to talk about the failings of others rather than think about our own. By giving such behaviour moral legitimacy, the Inquisition took a brilliant step towards ensuring its own popularity, allowing the desire to gossip to be concealed behind the desire to do good.
From the legitimation of gossip came, as we have seen, the spread of the Inquisition into all walks of public life. In Portugal teachers and midwives were required to be examined on their lives and customs before being given a licence.62 In Sicily no foreign schoolteachers were appointed without inquisitorial permission, and autos spread from the capital, Palermo, to the cities of Catania and Messina on the east coast.63 Yet this constant promotion of conformity would have the same effect on human society as a drought has on a river. People stagnated as innovation and creativity were leached out of society by the more immediate gratifications offered by gossip and revenge.