. . . they feel fits of madness and they go to look for them and their spiritual guides kiss them and . . . put their hands on their breasts and over their hearts, telling them that these contacts are not sinful, that they do them to make them happy . . .
THE MONASTERY OF BORJAS was in the district of the tribunal of Zaragoza, venue of the assassination of Inquisitor Arbues and home to the forebears of Montaigne. It was here that a bizarre case began in 1705, at the height of the War of the Spanish Succession. The case centred on a nun in the local convent, Sister Theresa Longas. Longas had entered the convent as a teenager. At once she had provoked comment, dressing herself with flamboyance and refusing to offer charity to those nuns who were sick.1 Such questionable behaviour, however, was merely the prelude to an extraordinary career in the convent which led to Longas being accused of literally hundreds of charges before the inquisitors of Zaragoza.
The charges were summarized: ‘[Longas is] a famous liar, a hypocrite, scandalous, impertinent, impious, abusive of the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist and of the exorcisms of the Church, irreverent, suspected of having an illicit relationship with her spiritual director ... a boastful faker of prophecies, revelations, apparitions, communications from the saints and of miracles’.2 With such a charge sheet it was clear that all was not peace and light within the sacred walls of the Borjas convent.
The case had developed gradually. At the age of nineteen Longas had taken a new spiritual director in the convent, a Franciscan friar called Manuel de Val. Tongues started to wag immediately, since Val was also young, only twenty-seven years old. There was good reason for the gossip since Longas ‘took to communicating with so much frequency and excess in the confessional that she was there every day for an hour and a half or two hours in the morning, and after lunch he [Val] would return to the confessional where he remained with [Longas] until dusk, and on some days he would return again at night’.3 Quite when Longas had the opportunity to commit the number of sins implied by such protracted confessions was not clear, since she appeared to spend every waking hour with Val; perhaps the sins were committed in the confessional itself. On one occasion Val only left the convent at three in the morning after having ‘administered communion’ to his ‘daughter of confession’.
Soon enough Longas and Val were fast friends. Many nuns in the convent were scandalized by the ‘pleasure which they could see in the feelings of both of them’ whenever they looked at one another.4 One can imagine the glowing smiles and the mutual enjoyment of the tension and envy which their pleasure provoked. On one occasion the two of them helped tend a nun who was sick. Their solicitude was not, however, all that it appeared. They took advantage of the situation to go at night to a nearby room to discuss spiritual matters. It was unclear what spiritual matters were being discussed as the nuns heard volleys of laughter echoing from the room.5
Longas and Val took to eating from the same plate and drinking water from the same glass.6 Val began to remark on the extraordinary spiritual prowess of Longas, who, he claimed, had visions, and of whom he said that all her works were prodigious and touched by divinity.7 Longas developed a following of adepts in the convent, people who perhaps admired her bravado. Naturally, this made her foes all the more vituperative. Matters came to a head nine years after the beginning of her relationship with Val, when Longas made an audacious bid to become the convent’s abbess.
Longas retired to her cell. No, she said, she would shun the world. She did not require material sustenance. No, she would only take bread and water from Friday through to Sunday, and she would survive off chard and beans for the rest of the week. Yes, she was disciplining herself, lashing herself repeatedly in the confines of the cell so that its walls were smeared with blood.8 Such an extraordinary show of discipline and devotion was undermined in the eyes of some by the fact that Longas’s room sometimes smelt of bacon and chocolate but the devoted nun took things further. She fasted for forty days without food and drink; breadcrumbs and pots for making hot chocolate were, however, sometimes found by the door of her cell.9 Nevertheless, the performance had its desired effect, and Longas was elected abbess.
Once she had become first among equals, the problems in the convent really started. Longas made use of her position to torment her adversaries. Spurred on by her confessor Val, she claimed to have visions of nuns from the convent who had died, saying of one dead nun that she had had horrible visions of her in hell. This dead nun was blamed for noises that were heard by some – Longas and her followers – in the convent; Longas’s adversaries claimed they could hear nothing. Tensions peaked as some of the nuns started to have fits whenever the noises occurred.
In an attempt to face down the ghostly noises Longas and Val took a group of nuns to the choir stalls of the convent chapel. As soon as they entered Longas leapt back and screamed, ‘Don’t you hear it? Don’t you hear it?’ Val joined in, saying in a frightened voice, ‘What’s that?’ cowering and indicating that he could hear the same noises as the abbess. Not all of the nuns were convinced, and one of them replied to his question, ‘Father, it’s the air going up the chimney’. Longas shooed the other nuns away and was seen in prolonged conversation with Val; at one point his voice rose and he asked her, ‘Condemned for ever?’ The answer, of course, was yes.10
Many now claimed that they could hear the noises. Longas and Val exorcized the poor nuns, who were increasingly desperate. The cell of the dead nun so disliked by Longas and said to be responsible for all the noises burst into flames at three o’clock one morning; the night before, Longas had been seen alone carrying a bucket of hot coals. Indeed, she and Val were clearly not as distraught as the rest of the community, since Val was seen one evening with a white flower in his hand, with Longas at his feet, both of them laughing about something or other.11
In all, Longas was charged with 377 offences. Her defence was piecemeal and she was found guilty. The Inquisition ordered her to abjure her errors and spend six years in seclusion in her cell. She was to emerge only to hear communal mass among the very nunswhose behaviour she had precipitated with her own cravings for power and attention.
The scenes from the convent reveal how after over two centuries of hard work excising heresy from the heart of Iberia, the Inquisition had built an increasingly neurotic society. Today, it is difficult to use the term ‘neurotic’ without thinking of Freud. Freud saw neurosis as a state which followed the repression of some of a person’s instincts. This repression was, however, ultimately unsuccessful, and the instincts were able to achieve their goals, drawing on creations of the person’s fantasies to do so. But in achieving these goals, reality was distorted, and the fantasies emerged as a substitute.*1 This is a fairly precise description of the goings-on at the Borjas convent, and indeed of much of Portugal and Spain during these centuries.12
This sort of behaviour was not confined to the repressed atmosphere of the convents. It was just as apparent among the holy women known as beatas, found in the towns and villages of Iberia. Beatas were secular women living in the community, held to have special powers to mediate with the divine.13 Unlike married women and nuns they did not accept the authority of any particular man, and this gave them an unusual position of freedom and power in a deeply misogynistic society.14 The Church hierarchy was unhappy with this situation and increasingly forced beatas to follow the rule of one or other of the spiritual orders. The Inquisition also began to discredit beatas through repression and misrepresentation.15 The stage was set for a series of extraordinary denunciations.
One condition of being a beata was that she had to make a private vow of chastity. This led to some calling them ‘brides of Christ’.16 These women dressed in simple habits and shunned material considerations; they were living exemplars of the purity of the Virgin herself. Yet chastity and purity were not qualities for which all beatas were known.
Cordoba 1718 to Villar 1801
ON 24 APRIL 1718 a beata was reconciled by the Inquisition of Cordoba. She had perverted the beliefs of four Franciscan friars, one of whom asked to be garrotted rather than suffer the indignity of wearing a sanbenito. The poor friar’s sense of humiliation was understandable. The beata had ‘through the cunning of the devil’ enticed an image of the baby Jesus to speak to the friars and give them precise and unusual instructions as to the best means of securing their salvation.
What the image of the baby Jesus had told the four men was that no soul existed below the hips and that their salvation required them to have sexual intercourse with the beata. It was only after this intercourse that they would become sanctified. However, in order to ensure the efficacy of their salvation they needed to strip naked and lubricate themselves with certain oils, with the friar and the beata rubbing the oil into one another from top to bottom. Once they had done this there was no need for them to receive communion or confess provided that they follow certain precise preparations before saying mass. These preparations required them to kiss the beatas breasts and then to look at the host, where they would see that she was herself visible in the sacrament with her breasts prominently displayed.
There were numerous other remarkable teachings and prophecies of this unusual leader of friars. The beata informed them that she was to have four children, one by each of them, and that these offspring would go to the four corners of the world preaching thebeatas remarkable divine law. And when any of them had toothache, there was a sure-fire way of alleviating the pain – sticking her tongue into the mouth of the patient.17 The four friars had accepted her teaching unquestioningly, and no doubt with a feeling of release that all their emotions and urges could at last find a holy outlet.
EIGHTY-THREE YEARS LATER, in Villar, a case was brought against the beata Isabel María Herraínz, who over three years had developed a large following in the town. Most of her male followers, it may come as little surprise to discover, were themselves in religious orders. The remarkable powers of Herraínz were confirmed by her servant Manuela Perea, who said that she herself had seen the baby Jesus at the breast of her mistress on numerous occasions. A group of her female followers known as the endiabladas – the bedevilled – took to barking, roaring and dancing in front of the church, screaming at those not in their group until the beata ordered them to be quiet.
One of Herraínz’s followers, Atanasio Martínez, revealed the sort of goings-on commonplace in her circle. Martínez had got to know Herraínz in Cuenca, where he used to take his hat off whenever he passed her home and received ‘an interior light from the mystery hidden within [her house]’. One day, when praying in Cuenca, he realized that God inhabited the beata and, following ‘an inner impulse, he embraced her, and kissed her on the face and on the breasts which were decently covered with a cloth’. Soon Martínez came to call the beata Señor – the Lord – and took to expressing his love of God by kissing her face and putting his tongue in the mouth of the Lord and kissing her naked nipples with his eyes closed, ‘knowing it to be an infallible truth that these acts were executed by the Lord himself in union with himself [Martínez] without any influence from carnal desires’. Curiously, once these demonstrations of Martínez’s sincere love for the Lord were over, he found that his feelings of anxiety ebbed away, and thebeataHerraínz would say to him, ‘Your grace may leave having received all of the sacraments’.
When the behaviour of Herraínz became widely known, Martínez was arrested by the Inquisition. Put in jail, he would go mad whenever Herraínz’s name was mentioned. After his intimate relationships with ‘the Lord’ he believed that he had Jesus in his chest. On one occasion he put his finger in his mouth, licked it, and spat at the doctors who were examining him so that they would receive the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Herraínz had been feted by many priests – all aged between thirty and fifty years old – who had experienced the same sort of intimacy with the Lord as Martínez. Four of them would surround her bed during private meetings. But there was nothing untoward here since, as the servant Manuela Perea told the inquisitors, when one of them got into bed with her the bedroom was filled with light and angels encircled the bed.
The beata summoned another priest to her room and stripped naked. Hugging the priest to her breasts, the beata shouted, ‘I feel it here, I have it here, I see it here, this is where God has placed his love for the highest ends of his providence. Come here, your grace, ask of it what you will, adore it, your grace, kiss it, do not be afraid, this is what God desires, this is his wish, this is what pleases him’. The priest did as he was ordered, kissing and adoring the Lord where he had been told to, and even touching it with his hand, although, as he stressed to the Inquisition, ‘without feeling even remotely any effects of sensuality . . . but rather love for God, respect for the Lord and devotion to the Holy Virgin’.18
Such extraordinary cases were all too common in 18th-century Spain. Beatas were often accused of faking miracles. Some pretended to levitate; others would suddenly announce to companions that the Virgin was in front of them or that Jesus had given them a crown, and then would slap themselves and say that the devil had taken it from them.19 In many cases such fantasies were clearly designed simply to obtain an easier life but from today’s standpoint it seems that there must often have been an intense conjunction of desire and repression.
Why did people sincerely believe in the divinity of these beatas? The answer must be that they dealt with some deep needs, with some of the distortions of reality that repression had forced people to accommodate. On a physical level they clearly provided an outlet for the increasingly repressed sexuality of Iberia under the sway of the Inquisition. On the psychological level, however, these cases were symptomatic of the effects of the cult of the Virgin.
It is worth bearing in mind that one of the most common blasphemies prosecuted by the Inquisition related to doubting the truth of the virgin birth. While some refused to believe that a virgin could give birth, others could use the sexual activities of beatas to show that supposedly pure women were like everyone else. The sexual impurity of some beatas fulfilled a psychological need for a supposedly pure woman who was in fact not pure and not a virgin; on an unconscious level, beatas represented society’s deep resentment of the uses made of the story of the Virgin, and its collective belief in its impossibility.
MANY PEOPLE LIKE a miracle. In Mexico the most important religious shrine today is that of the Virgin of Guadalupe, now on the northern fringes of Mexico City. The shrine commemorates miraculous visions of the Virgin said to have been had by an indigenous labourer, Juan Diego, in 1531 just ten years after the conquest of Mexico. In July 2002 Pope John Paul II came to Mexico City to canonize Juan Diego. Millions of people thronged the Reforma boulevard in the city to witness the passage of the pope as he made his way to the shrine of Guadalupe to canonize an individual who some historians now doubt ever existed. Many of the people who came were from Mexico’s indigenous communities and one of them said on TV, This canonization is for all of us’.
Perhaps similar feelings were prominent in the minds of those who adored beatas. How much better, after all, to adore holiness in the flesh than to think back to increasingly distant stories of the doings of Jesus and Mary in a far country that no one had ever visited. Yet when this credulity was stretched to allow all sorts of forbidden fruits, the real motivations behind such innocent desires were revealed.
Here it is worth recalling the religious atmosphere of the 1520s and the first persecutions of Old Christians by the Inquisition in Spain. One of the groups that came under close scrutiny was the alumbrados or illuminists, and one of the more unusual doctrines of a member of this group, Antonio Medrano, was that ‘devotees could embrace one another naked as well as clothed’*2 – not something found in many religious works, either then or now, but an idea testament to the sort of feelings being worked through as the Inquisition advanced through society.
As the 16th century unwound, beatas and alumbrados became increasingly associated in the minds of inquisitors, and each carried connotations of illicit sex. In early cases of persecution of alumbrados in the region of Toledo sexual activity had been a minor part of the accusations, but it was to become a much stronger element as time wore on. The next group of alumbrados was uncovered in the dusty region of Extremadura in the 1570s. They were revealed by an itinerant monk from the region, Alonso de la Fuente, who realized that curious modes of religiosity were at work when he came across a niece of his near Badajoz who ‘showed great signs of holiness . . . being yellow, dirty, thin, going about groaning, sweating and downcast’.20
The woman was a beata, and confessed to de la Fuente that her master had told her to confess in such a way that ‘she felt a huge weight of bad thoughts, revolting considerations, carnal feelings, faithless ideas, heresies, blasphemies against God and the saints and against the purity of the mother of God . . . that she felt dead, consumed, mad and without reason or the body of a woman; and that she bore it all with patience, since her spiritual advisor told her that all this was a sign of perfection and of being on the right path’.21If being a tortured, wretched misery was indeed seen as perfection, one wonders what hell would have looked like to these spiritual guides.
De la Fuente, for one, knew at once that ‘all the teachers of this wickedness were ministers of the AntiChrist’.22 In the town where his niece lived the leader of the local alumbradas was one Marí Sánchez, who, said de la Fuente, ‘was celebrated as a very holy and wise women . . . and she had reached such a state of perfection that she was given communion every day as a spiritual necessity, because she was so hungry for the Sacrament that if she was not given it on any day she fell ill in bed and gave out a thousand groans and suffered cruel torments and behaved like a woman who had been bitten with rabies’.23 In today’s language one might say that if she didn’t receive communion this beata had a neurotic fit.
The leaders of this group were Hernando Alvarez and Cristóbal Chamizo, who were both punished in an auto in Llerena in 1579.24 These father-confessors had exceptionally efficacious methods of inducing neurotic symptoms in their ‘daughters of confession’. They would declare that only they were to confess the women. They would instruct their charges to fast and discipline themselves with lashes at least once every five days. They would tell them to pray rigorously and contemplate the meaning of the passion of Christ. After some time undergoing this austere, self-mutilating programme, the priests would ask the women if they felt anything.25
An anonymous report for the Inquisition described what happened next:
Those who perform this prayer with feeling experience hot flushes, ardour, and pain in specific parts of the body, in the heart, in the chest, in the back, in the left arm and in ulcerous places; they faint, suffer from seizures, palpitations, tiredness, rabidness, anxieties, and other strange things. Then their confessors tell them that these come from God and the Holy Spirit. Some of these beatas, when they perform these prayers, see visions, hear noises and voices, suffer great fears and frights, and they cannot look at images or go to church . . . and it seems to them that the Christ who they are contemplating appears as a man and they suddenly feel great carnal temptations, and it really seems to them that they touch him sexually until he is polluted [ejaculates]. This is then the excuse for their guides to teach them to look on them as men as well, and they fall in with them putting mouth against mouth and limbs against limbs and the guides say pretty and loving words to them, such as ‘Flesh of my flesh, bones of my bones’ . . .26
Chamizo was found guilty of deflowering numerous beatas. The symptoms provoked by his mode of confessing went beyond the purview of inquisitorial explanation:
As soon as these women confess with their guides, they feel a strange affection for them, and they become lost in great temptations of the flesh. Soon they feel fits of madness and they go to look for them and their spiritual guides kiss them and embrace them and put their hands on their breasts and over their hearts, telling them that these contacts are not sinful, that they do them to make them happy, to console them and to help them to get rid of these feelings . . . and some of them go further with these contacts, putting their tongues in their mouths and touching them in their private parts and throwing themselves naked onto the bed with them.27
Such strong currents of repressed energy were unleashed by these methods of prayer and contemplation that some women were able to melt wax with their bare hands when they were in the midst of this inflamed passion, known to them as ‘devotion’.28 In the 1620s an even more widespread outbreak of alumbradismo would be experienced in Seville, led by a beata called Catalina de Jesús and her sidekick, the priest Juan de Villalpando. Once again a confessor would take advantage of his position to touch up his ‘daughters of confession’, and there were so many people in this group that over 500 people gave evidence against Villalpando.29
Both Extremadura and Seville, where these alumhrados were found, were places from which large numbers of men had left to go to the New World,30 places of longing, desires and sadness. But most of all they were places where these phenomena had to co-exist with sexual repression, watched over by the same ideology as accompanied the rise of the Inquisition. These conditions fostered the development of neurotic symptoms in those for whom repression was most severe. This usually meant women unable to marry for lack of men. The social forces unleashed with the expansion to America had thus also triggered the mass exploitation of women by men, an exploitation that took place on a hitherto unimaginable scale.
THE ROLE OF the Inquisition in propagating repression was a complex one. By the time of the discovery of the disturbed behaviour of the alumhrados of Extremadura in the 1570s the Council of Trent had placed the sexual behaviour of Catholics within the scope of inquisitorial inquiry. It was the Council of Trent which made monogamous marriage the sole legally and morally acceptable form of social behaviour, and it was the Inquisition which was charged with overseeing the daily repression of ‘sexual deviance’ – sex outside marriage.31 Bulls of 1559 and 1561 required the Church to examine the behaviour of priests in the confessional, and soon increasing attention was being given to sodomy and bigamy. What the French philosopher Michel Foucault called the ‘cycle of the forbidden’ had begun.32
Sodomy – homosexual sex – was tried by both the Inquisitions of the Crowns of Aragon and Portugal, though not by the Inquisition of the Crown of Castile. The first trials for sodomy in Aragon had been as early as 1531, in Barcelona,33 while in Portugal sodomy came under the Inquisition’s jurisdiction in 1555,34 and was the second most common crime tried by the Inquisition there after crypto-Judaism.35 The right of Portuguese inquisitors to inquire into sodomy spread to Goa in 1567.36 Women and men were covered by the inquisitorial definition of sodomy, as lesbianism was included, though the number of trials for this was very small; there were several cases of women denounced for lesbianism in Brazil in the 1590s37 but it was decided in 1646 that women should only be prosecuted for their part in anal sex.38
Many cases of sodomy which came before inquisitors were testament to the harsh, isolated nature of existence in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Migration to and from ports and between areas of seasonal work meant that Iberia was a place full of inns where strangers would bed down in the same room as one another before continuing on their journeys.39 These people may have been shepherds tending flocks, servants of powerful figures or muleteers and carters transporting goods from one end of the country to the other. They had to supply their own food and entertainment. Inns would have been filled with pulsing energies, tiredness and physical frustrations exacerbated by temptation. Beds were often shared with strangers as the key was thought to be to maintain bodily warmth with four in a bed not uncommon. This meant that those so inclined deliberately frequented inns looking for willing partners.40
Besides the chance homosexual encounters of the road, there were ugly stories of abuse. Francisco da Cruz worked in the convent of St Catherine in Évora and was accused by several young men of touching their private parts when sharing the same bed,41 while a friar from the Dominican monastery of the same city was notorious in the early 17th century for trying to rape young men in the district. One of his targets, Manoel Pires, was only able to escape by punching the fat, tall man and knocking him to the ground.42
While today we may draw a distinction between such predatory and abusive attempts at a homosexual encounter and consensual sex, the Inquisition did not. Since the Middle Ages sodomy had been associated with heresy.43 The act of sodomy was seen as a violation of the natural order and something increasingly significant when the state’s presence was encroaching on many aspects of life, and when it desired to impose the notion of a natural order and hierarchy.44 Thus all acts of sodomy, whether violent or not, needed to be prosecuted.
In pursuing homosexuals, the Inquisition was far from alone in Europe. More people were executed for sodomy in Calvinist Holland between 1730 and 1732 than in the entire history of the Portuguese Inquisition.45 Thus the repression of homosexuality by the Inquisition was not in any way unique; nevertheless, it was testament to the atmosphere of sexual repression which was also expressed through the pursuit of bigamists.
Bigamy is not seen as a major problem today, but in the 16th and 17th centuries it was rife. This was for two main reasons: first, that legitimate sexual relationships could only take place within marriage, and second, that this was a world where people were criss-crossing the oceans in an attempt to make their fortunes, and slaves could be uprooted from one place and deposited in another.
Thus many bigamists punished by the Inquisition in the Americas were slaves who had been taken away from their wives or husbands and had decided to marry again.46 Sometimes people had more prosaic reasons for committing bigamy; this was the case with a man accused in Lisbon in 1666 of having married a rich widow so that he could get hold of enough money to keep his first wife and their children.47
What the Inquisition’s dealings with bigamy reveal most of all is a form of institutional blindness reminiscent of the official searching a ship for banned books and ignoring the slaves stacked up like matchsticks in the hold. For when one reads some of the cases prosecuted by the Inquisition in this area it is clear both that they were expressive of lives of sadness, fear and danger, and also that the Inquisition had little empathy for the people caught up in the midst of these emotions.
Recife (Brazil) 1663
ANTONIO MARQUES DA SYLVA came before the inquisitorial representatives to accuse his wife, Maria Figeuira de Abreu, of bigamy. Sylva was a desperate man with a desperate story; the Inquisition was his last hope. He had married his wife sixteen years before in the city of Bahia, and after living with her for three years and having children, he had sailed for Portugal on business. It was a decision which was to have disastrous repercussions for the rest of his life.48
En route to Portugal, Sylva’s ship had been seized by English pirates and he had been taken to Harwich in England. He was imprisoned for eleven months before being allowed to go to Portugal. After a few years there saving money, he had left as a passenger on a ship travelling to the island of Madeira to pick up wine. From Madeira Sylva had planned to go on to Brazil, but his ship had again been captured by pirates and this time he had been abandoned in the Azores.
Sylva was clearly out of favour with the heavens. He had been forced to return again to Portugal, where for some time he was unable to get the money together to return to his wife. At last, in August 1661, eleven years after he had left Brazil, he set sail in an English ship for Rio de Janeiro. He arrived safely, but Rio was almost 1,000 miles from his familial home. Setting sail from Rio for Bahia, the ship he was travelling in sank off the coast of Espirito Santo and Sylva swam ashore without anything in the world except the clothes on his back.
After such an extraordinary series of adventures the prospect of home must have seemed a sweet dream indeed. Yet perhaps Sylva had also learnt to adopt a little fatalism; in Espirito Santo he learnt that his wife had married again and that if he appeared she andher husband would kill him. However, Sylva felt that he probably had little choice but to continue. He had no money, no possessions and no contacts anywhere but in his old home. Arriving in Bahia, he fell ill and spent three months in hospital. He did not try to find his wife; he kept his head down even after leaving hospital and going on to Recife, until one night his wife, having heard that he had reappeared, sent for him and took him to her house.
For two months Sylva and his wife lived together. He pretended that he was her brother-in-law, as anything else would have aroused suspicion. Maria told him not to worry and that she would give him the money to return to Portugal, but one night she and her second husband Francisco Alvares Roxo tried to move him out of the city to the house of Roxo’s aunt. Realizing that this was the prelude to killing him, Sylva escaped and told inquisitors his story; the inquisitors arrested Sylva’s wife, and the case began to unravel.
Stories like Sylva’s reveal the root cause of much of the bigamy of the time: the unpredictability and danger of life in the age of the discoveries. Sylva’s wife Maria was clearly afraid of the consequences of the Inquisition’s discovery of her sin and by no means the only bigamist to contemplate the murder of an inconvenient extra husband or wife.49 At times, exiled men married again in their place of exile, to the deep sadness of their first wives, who would come crying to the door to hear news of the people that they had loved, and lost.50
The penalties for those found guilty of bigamy were harsh. As late as 1774, in Portugal they included whipping and between five and seven years in the galleys for men, and six and eight years in exile in Angola or Brazil for women.51 Meanwhile, in both Aragon and Portugal sodomy could lead to being ‘relaxed’ to the secular arm. Just as sex outside marriage was perceived as sinful, multiple marriages or, in the Inquisition’s enigmatic phrase, ‘pollution outside the natural vessel [non-vaginal sex]’ could not be tolerated in a society governed by moral values.
Once again, we find ourselves in the gulf between the intentions and the effects of the Inquisition. With these notions of sexual conformity, the Inquisition claimed to desire a morally pure society and yet, as we have seen with the beatas and alumbrados, the society of which it was the moral guardian encouraged sexual neuroses which led to results which were anything but pure. There was an outward concern for morality, but no thought to what this might do to people’s inner emotions. A fastidious concern with the details of a case history blinded investigators to the emotional and moral significance of their subject.
The level of repression aimed at ordinary sexual activity emerges casually from details. Take the Frenchman Charles Dellon in Goa in the late 17th century: with ships constantly coming into port bringing men looking for sex and a little release, Dellon was told by a Portuguese to cover up the crucifix above his bed if he brought home a woman to sleep with.52 Natural impulses had been made taboo and the enforcer of this code was the Inquisition. In such circumstances outbreaks of mass insanity such as those which periodically centred on beatas were almost inevitable. Such neurotic acts of sexual fulfilment were a vital defence mechanism, and one of the only ways of exorcising the demons festering within.
AT LAST, BY 1717 the conflicts that had raged in Europe over the succession to the Spanish throne were over. The Bourbon Philip V had been acknowledged as king although not without some bitterness even within Spain, where many people feared the consequences of a French dynasty for Spanish society. Was France not the gateway to northern Europe and all manner of heresies? In the 18th century the French would embrace free thinking, and France would become one of the economic power houses of the Atlantic world and alien to the enclosed intellectual and cultural worlds of Iberia. Was this not, indeed, the beginning of the end for the neurotic society?
In the colonies the end of the War of the Spanish Succession ought to have brought a measure of peace. Privateers such as William Dampier and Alexander Selkirk – model for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe – were no longer able to attack Spanish provinces as enemy territory.53 Great settlements such as Mexico City, with their aristocrats, their riches hauled from the mines and the whitewashed walls of their houses, ought to have been secure. Yet in spite of the lancing of external boils, the inner demons which increasingly afflicted the societies of the Iberian world were not so easy to deal with.
Thus in the convent of Jesus María in Mexico City, strange events began to beset Sister Margarita de San José in 1717. Sister Margarita found herself constantly beset by temptations to commit all sorts of sacrilegious acts. She wanted to remove her rosary. She longed to scourge crucifixes. She was suddenly overcome by the desire to extract the host from her mouth, stab it through the middle and then fry it in oil. Possessed by fury and a sort of inflamed rage, she would run out of sung mass during the creed. Sometimes she would even lose her temper with the priests officiating at holy ceremonies, and launch vleys of vituperative insults at them.54
To Sister Margarita and those who brought her case to the attention of the inquisitors, it was clear that she was possessed by the devil. Indeed, Sister Margarita confessed as much. The devil tempted her continuously to offend God, and had led her to write a contract of slavery to him. She had done this, borne away by rapture; the contract had been signed by Margarita, in her own hand, as ‘the slave of Satan’. Now she found that whenever she tried to contemplate the divine mysteries and the works of Jesus Christ she was incapable of thought. And when she was advised to frequent the company of nuns of unimpeachable sanctity, she burst into maniacal floods of laughter.
As the historian Fernando Cervantes recognized, this is a clear example of someone suffering from neurotic delusion. The furious subconscious hatred of her religion which coursed in her breast was attributed by her to the devil, and then everything was permitted. As Freud himself noted, ‘neuroses of . . . early times emerge in demonological trappings’.55
It is easy to imagine what had led Sister Margarita to this state: forced by her parents into the convent, perhaps, forced to repress her desires, surrounded by symbols and teachings which told her that her desires were sinful and yet unable to resist the feeling that they held a truth which was equally as valid as the ideology which had corralled her into the ritual cycle of prayer, fasting and lamentation. How wretched this poor woman must have been; how blessed by her surrender to the promptings of the devil, which at least allowed her feelings some form of expression.
This account is not pure hypothesis. In Iberian societies of the time girls chosen by their parents to be nuns were dressed in nuns’ clothing when small.56 Those passed over by men were asked if they were not soon planning to enter a convent for a life of contemplation.57 In such circumstances it should not be a surprise that repression so often led to neurosis.
The way in which extreme religious orthodoxy – such as that encouraged by the Inquisition in Iberian societies – led directly to neuroses had already been revealed in a town to the north of Mexico City. In 1691 the case had come before the Inquisition of the demoniacs of Querétaro. These demoniacs had been uncovered by a group of austere Franciscan missionaries after the friars had embarked on an unusual form of preaching in the town.58
The Franciscans of the Propaganda Fide movement had arrived in Querétaro in 1683 where they had set up a demanding routine of prayer and contemplation which involved mass sleep-deprivation. As soon as the hours of the choir finished at two thirty in the morning they would busy themselves by walking through the town with crosses, ropes and crowns of thorns. They forced their lay followers to slap their faces, drag them with ropes and trample on them. Soon their preaching had achieved a ‘universal reformation of customs’: games, feasts and parties stopped, as did dances and comedies. Some women gave up their dresses for coarse Franciscan habits and took to leaving the family home without a word and attending three-hour-long sermons, where they proceeded to cry almost continually – not, one suspects, with happiness.
By December 1691 the asceticism of the missionaries was beginning to have startling effects. After each evening’s preaching a new demoniac emerged from the Franciscan mission. One woman, Francisca Mejía, was possessed by the devil, who spoke through her mouth, left bite-marks on her body and ripped her Franciscan habit to pieces. She herself was completely dumb and would only open her mouth if saintly relics were applied to it; whenever this occurred she suffered violent convulsions and tormenting pains elsewhere in her body. When the devil spoke through her he said that he had been placed in her by a group of four witches; on being exorcised, Francisca expelled four avocado stones, about half a pound of pebbles from a river which looked like small nuts, a small toad and a snake which slunk out of her ear.
Another of those possessed was Juana de los Reyes. The strangest objects emerged from her body, especially from her private parts; these included an iron spindle, a bag containing twenty pins, and also a bundle of black wool from her lungs. By 1 January 1692, 400 devils were said to inhabit Juana’s body, although 200 were good enough to announce that they would be leaving immediately. She swelled and turned blue, and the Franciscans said the last rites; the next morning, miraculously, she gave birth to a baby, although as her Franciscan spiritual guide the friar Pablo de Sarmiento explained, devils were well able to obtain human semen and transfer it.
The reality of such cases of exorcism, of confessions turning into sexual games, of inflamed manifestations of feeling, is the mass repression, coercion and abuse of women by men. The only cases where gender roles were reversed centred on beatas, and the Inquisition did its utmost to clamp down on these people.
The spectacle of a gang of repressed men preying on a group of repressed women, sexually exploiting them and catalyzing the expression of their neuroses is not an edifying one. Nevertheless, this was precisely what happened in Querétaro. Some members of other religious orders recognized the nature of the phenomenon. One Carmelite wrote that ‘the number of the possessed [has] grown so large that it [surpasses] all possible credulity’ and that women roamed the streets of the town with mad, vacant expressions on their face. As we have seen, the Inquisition was less credulous than many members of the society as far as witchcraft and devil possession was concerned, and the case was rejected out of hand by the inquisitors of Mexico City.
EVENTS LIKE THE EXORCISM of Juana de los Reyes in Querétaro remain a reality in the modern world. Exorcisms are far from uncommon, and we should not pretend that they themselves are proof of neuroses. There are many who devoutly believe that they deal with some kind of demonic possession. And yet, where religious manifestations clearly overlie repressed sexual urges expressed by uncontrollable bursts of energy and extraordinary acts of sexual catharsis, most reasonable people would agree that some form of neurosis is at work.
Particular to the world presided over by the Inquisition was that exorcism was often related to sexual exploitation of the possessed woman – almost always it was a woman who was exorcized. Reading through the records, it becomes clear that while this was a mental form of possession, it was increasingly exorcized by a possession that was entirely physical.
This was something which had indeed long been obvious in Mexico. Over one hundred years before the events in Querétaro, the Dominican Francisco de la Cruz was arrested in Mexico City in January 1572. He was said to have had disturbing visions. After several sessions of interrogation Cruz confessed that he had had an affair with a certain Leonor de Valenzuela, and that in December 1570 he had discovered that she was pregnant.59 Cruz had returned to his monastery in a state of deep agitation at the news and had begun to pray. Soon, he had been introduced to one Catalina Carmeño, whose daughter María Pizarro claimed to have visions. María Pizarro carried on absurd conversations with angels and saints, and on being introduced to Cruz informed him through an angel that his child with Leonor de Valenzuela, to be called Miguelico, would be a saint.
With his conscience thus salved, Cruz went to tell Valenzuela that a saintly child was to be born and that he would be abandoned at her door. Not surprisingly, given his relief, Cruz was highly taken with Pizarro’s angel. The angel had even told him that he would not commit any further mortal sins (father any further children). Yet Cruz found temptation a difficult cross to bear. Valenzuela was one of five sisters, and finding himself with her and some of her siblings he kissed them repeatedly and almost, as he put it, fell into lasciviousness. Going to ask forgiveness from the angel (Pizarro), he was told by the voice of God (Pizarro) that the angel was very cross and, as Pizarro put it, was quite right to be so.60
Perhaps it is not too cynical to suggest that it was Pizarro herself who was cross at Cruz, and secretly longed for him. Certainly, her impressive visions of angels now began to attract the attention of other members of Mexico’s religious communities. She described how the angel appeared to her in the shape of a beardless man, with long hair falling below his ears. She described how she spoke to the saints, and they told her to do good works, but then she confessed that she did in fact have a pact with the devil.61
Such possession clearly needed exorcism. Two friars began to sleep in her room to protect her from the devil. The Jesuit Luis López tried to exorcize her, but the devil immediately possessed her and she had visions of terrible black slaves and felt as if her tongue was being tied down with iron bolts. The devil made insatiable demands for jewels and velvet and taffeta and pearls and necklaces, which she conveyed to her exorcists López and the Dominican Alonso Gasco.62 The devil also had sexual intercourse with her several times, appearing in the shape of a gentleman and promising to marry her.
Whatever the truth of her relationship with the devil, she certainly had sex with her exorcist López. After several nights sleeping in the same room as her, kissing and embracing her in an attempt to exorcize the devil, López had extinguished the light and forced her to share his bed, where he had taken her virginity and caused her to bleed copiously.63 Thereafter, Pizarro noted a curious correlation. Whenever her exorcist Luis López slept with her, so did the devil. Then, another of the friars exorcizing her, Jerónimo Ruiz de Portillo, adopted the same technique as López, and slept with her several times.64
The Inquisition held that this was all evidence of a pact with the devil, and María was reconciled in a sentence of 1 June 1573; by now seriously ill and increasingly insane, she died that December, aged just twenty-three. Yet the real cause of her illness was at hand, as one intelligent friar, Pedro de Toro, realized. He noted that ‘the origin of the illness with demons that overcame doña Maria . . . was that her mother wanted to enter her into a convent to be a nun, partly because she thought that she would never be able to run a house and serve a husband and partly because this was a way of getting her to forego her inheritance of a sum that had been left to her by her aunt’.65
All the origins of neurosis were there: the need to seek attention, the despair of facing a lifetime of repression. The exorcists satisfied María’s inner need for sexual expression as they did their own, but her neurosis led inexorably to her death. One thinks of the good sense shown by the friar who understood the causes of her illness, and realizes that religion did not in itself lead to darkness and excess; people’s personalities allowed them to use religion in this way.
Exorcisms became common in Iberian societies from around the middle of the 16th century. While in the first half of the 16th century, those claiming visions were suspected of seeking material gain or some sort of fame, such common-sense scepticism evaporated thereafter.66 This change coincided precisely with the rise of the Inquisition as guardian of the moral condition of Spain; from repression came fantasy and a sexual style of exorcism.
By the 1620s and 1630s public exorcisms in churches were ordinary occurrences. Possession became an almost daily phenomenon and many of those requiring exorcism were none other than the beatas.67 The sort of exorcism which went on is revealed by a case from Alicante of the 1630s, where the beata Francisca Ruiz was exorcised by her spiritual guide, the canon of Alicante cathedral Lorenzo Escorcia. A witness who visited the house described what went on during the exorcisms:
[She] found Francisca Ruiz on the floor with her mouth open and Lorenzo Escorcia hitting her and saying: ‘You are present, obey me, get out of there’. And Francisca Ruiz was still stretched out and unable to speak . . . and the said Lorenzo Escorcia put his arm under the skirts of the beata, putting in his hand and reaching so that the arm was covered beyond the elbow, between her shirt and her flesh, and [the witness] did not see what he did, although it seemed to her that he must have reached her natural vessel [vagina] . . . and then the canon took a slipper from his sister Lelia, and beat her repeatedly on her buttocks, above her dress, and then beat her on her whole body saying ‘Obey me, come out of there’. But nothing [else] happened.68
Ruiz was not the only person to be exorcised by the sadist Escorcia. In the Augustinian convent of Alicante three nuns said to be possessed suffered his exorcisms; one of their colleagues noted how the devils only seemed to come to the convent when Escorcia himself arrived.69 Far from exorcizing devils, the exorcist, through his excitation of neurotic delusions, merely turned them from a fantasy into a reality. But then this should not surprise us, for this was merely another instance of the way in which, throughout its history, the Inquisition had invented enemies and heretics just in order to exorcize them.
PERHAPS IT IS UNFAIR to blame the Inquisition for the sorts of neurotic symptom observed in this chapter. One can prove anything by pointing to extreme examples and every society has its neurotics; it is only necessary to watch one of today’s reality TV shows to confirm the truth of that. Perhaps, even, in treating the symptoms of the neurosis, the terrible fits, convulsions and delusions, did not the exorcists actually deal with their root cause – sexual repression – using their own form of sexual predation? Were not the priests who led the alumhrados in Extremadura in the 1570s right when they said, ‘these [sexual] contacts are not sinful, that they do them to make them happy, to console them and to help them to get rid of these feelings . . .’?70 And of course one ought to bear in mind that the Inquisition did not sanction any of these goings-on.
Instead of concentrating on extreme symptoms, we should try to picture life in the villages, towns and cities of the 17th century. As Spain fell into the chaos of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1701, Portugal was on the verge of an economic boom that would follow the discovery of gold in the Minas Gerais of Brazil. Lisbon was full of English merchants, who described life in the Portuguese capital with a mixture of admiration and bafflement.
The houses of the city were plastered on the outside and the doors and windows made of a coarse marble; inside, the floors were of brick or tile, and each window had a balcony. The roads were paved as far as three leagues outside the city, and every league or so there would be a cistern with good water for pack animals.71 This physical reality was, however, pervaded by an atmosphere of religious zeal. One merchant wrote in 1701: The religious persons of all sorts are commonly reckoned one-third, and some say three-fifths of the whole. The clergy are thought to be posest [sic, possessed] of one-third of the land . . . If one strikes a priest one is liable to have ones hand cut off.’72 There were, he said, at least 6,000 mendicant friars in Lisbon, and they refused to eat mere scraps but wandered the streets begging in a loud singing tone, going from house to house with a linen bag thrown over their shoulders.73 Mass was said in the churches every day from six in the morning until noon – the priests had to have something to do – and people would commonly say their prayers in the middle of a conversation.74 At dusk bells rang from the churches; people were expected to stop what they were doing in the street to say the Ave Maria, and even street performers and carriages stopped in the street for this purpose.75 But at least there was now an agreement between Portugal and England not to try English Protestants under the Inquisition.
Clearly, this was a society in which almost every action was determined by religion. The same was true in Spain, where by the 18th century great care was taken to stop even a crumb from the host becoming stuck in the communicant’s teeth; sick people were given a glass of water after taking communion and asked, ‘Has the Majesty gone down?’76 When the bells were rung in the evening, as in Portugal, actors and spectators at theatrical performances fell to the ground crying, ‘God! God!’ and parties were abruptly brought to a halt in people’s homes.77 If a priest passed bearing the eucharist, he would be in a chair carried by porters, and everyone had to stop and fall to their knees, beating their breast until he had passed; if anyone did not, there was the danger that the priest would call them a heretic.78
These do not come across as societies where joy and spontaneity were prized or even possible but rather as places where everything was subordinated to the proclaimed requirements of religious orthodoxy. The Inquisition, as the champion of this orthodoxy, had been the main enforcer of this code and, as we have seen in this chapter, its move into moral censure in the late 16th century coincided with the emergence of the first symptoms of more widespread neurosis across society. Thus, while the Inquisition was not in itself the direct instigator of the sexual frolics of beatas and alumbradas and indeed prosecuted them, it was the moral force behind the social atmosphere which created them.
All this was a far cry from the situation in Portugal and Spain before the Inquisition. The Silesian noble Nicolaus von Popplau, visiting Lisbon in 1485, described how the Portuguese were ‘ardent in love’, how the women dressed so that you could see half of their bosoms and how they were ‘mad with sensuality, like the men, ready for anything’.79 The Italian traveller Federico Badoardo described in 1557, just as the Inquisition was beginning to censure moral behaviour, how the Spaniards ‘eat and drink with excess, and this combined with the heat of the climate means that they give themselves enthusiastically to the pleasures of love, and that the women are open to all types of vice’.80
It would appear then that there had been not a little sexual freedom in the late Middle Ages.81 Brothels had been widespread, opening up rapidly during the colonization of the Canaries in the early 16th century, for instance.82 At the start of the 16th century nudity was not taboo, and people were happy to dress and wash themselves in front of others.83 But all brothels would be closed by royal decree in Spain in 162384 and, as we have seen, by the beginning of the 18th century a different scale of values had come to dominate life in Portugal and Spain.
How then are we to explain these extraordinarily repressed societies? Where misplaced sexual energy melted candles. Where the level of delusion was such that women could believe themselves to have a pact with the devil, since the devil always appeared in the same form, as a student who wanted to have sex.85 Where priests and beatas believed that their sexual longings were divine blessings. Where violence, sadism and masochism were integral to the exorcism of the possessed. The measure of emotional violence and self-mutilation is difficult to take, but when we consider that a typical act of penitence in the late 17th century was to place a hand in the flame of a candle, keep it there for as long as possible, and reflect that the fires of hell were eternal,86 it becomes apparent that a level of repression existed which could only lead to the terrible expressions we have seen in this chapter.
In the Freudian interpretation of society repression is an essential part of the contract by which human beings enter civilization; we have to repress certain of our desires in order to interact with others and share communal goals. Where people are well adjusted, these repressed desires are expressed in Freudian slips, in dreams or literature, but where people develop fixations neuroses can develop. In such cases the repressed desires still exist, but repression forces the rejected aspects of the libido to express themselves in a roundabout, distorted manner.
Perhaps it will help to think back to the level of violence which accompanied the emergence of the new Inquisition in the late 15th century. As we have seen, that violence was eventually replaced by a more systematic, if less combustible, attitude to persecution. But repressive violence did not cease; in need of another outlet, it would appear, from the neuroses that we have observed, to have been redirected back at its original source, at the societies of Portugal and Spain.
This is a classic example of what Freud called the ‘return of the repressed’: the return of repressed desires. This in itself helps to remind us that violence, once unleashed, is difficult to reign back in. It festers. It is transferred – from converses to Lutherans tomoriscos and then back to the Old Christians. This violence may emerge in imperial expansion, but eventually it will return home to roost.
So, once the Inquisition had been established and persecution institutionalized, the groundwork for the neurotic society was done. The exorcisms and their accompanying laughable delusions were merely reminders of the dangers which must always follow from persecuting an enemy when our biggest enemies are always, if we dare to be honest with ourselves, to be found within us. Violence and repression can perhaps only pursue their circular paths back to those from whom they originated.
FOR SEVERAL YEARS I trawled the archives of the Inquisition in Portugal and Spain. In both Lisbon and Madrid the national archives are located in neo-fascist buildings constructed under the Iberian dictators of the 20th century, Franco and Salazar. Each time one of the thick, yellowing bundles of paper was brought to my desk and I unbound the cloth ties around it and began to read, a little of the parchment would disintegrate. When I had finished and returned the documents, motes of dust would sit where I had been reading, reminding me of the fragility and impermanence of life, and of moral standards.
Like almost everyone I had heard of the Inquisition. But when I began to make those lonely trips to the archives I had no idea of the enormities I would discover. The world felt darkest during the tales of terrible woe, of sadism and the loss of self. For how could such systematic abuse be measured in systems, analyses, science? It went beyond words. At times I was saddened not so much by the stories I read as by the remorseless compulsion with which I returned to read, which often felt like a reflection of the remorse-lessness with which the inquisitors themselves had conducted their investigations. But then I would come across a story of resistance and the sadness of those heavy, dusty reading rooms would lift.
At times, too, the decline that accompanied the woe would console. By the first decade of the 18th century the Inquisition’s social architecture of moral and cultural inertia was reaping its reward. Yet its leaders still carried on as if little had changed. Once Philip V had been confirmed as the new king of Spain and the war of succession had ended, condemnations increased again; there were fifty-four autos during his reign (1700–46), and seventy-nine people were ‘relaxed’ in person and another sixty-three in effigy.87 In Cuenca five Judaizers were ‘relaxed’ in person in 1721; three more in person in Valladolid in 1722, and twelve more in Granada in 1723.88 In Portugal, where there was no great war to interrupt the inquisitorial process, the violence did not abate. Eight people were ‘relaxed’ in Lisbon in 1732 and another seven in 1735.89 Twelve more followed in 1737, including one from Brazil, and another eleven in 1739 (with another Brazilian case).90 And seventeen people were ‘relaxed’ between 1744 and 1746 in Lisbon alone.91 The vast majority of these cases in both countries related to crypto-Judaism – the ‘Portuguese heresy’.
In Spain the reforming government led by the Bourbons did attempt to curtail inquisitorial power. In 1713 Philip V’s minister Melchor de Macanaz proposed withdrawing subsidies from the Inquisition; the Inquisition responded by launching an investigation into Macanaz, who fled the country.92
This partial revival of the Inquisition in the early 18th century in Spain is again testament to the fact that the institution waxed and waned with royal power, and was thus fundamentally propelled by secular and not religious goals. It had declined in the second half of the 17th century with the drooling King Charles II, and now had a last spurt of vigour under the impetus of a new royal dynasty. Yet although the Inquisition looked to have recovered its dynamism, the neurotic societies which it had helped to create were about to get their own back. For in the first half of the 18th century the ‘crime’ which increased most in the Inquisition’s eyes was that of solicitation by priests in the confessional, something which itself was testament to the type of society which had evolved under its watch.
AS THE 18th CENTURY drew to a close an extraordinary case began in Valencia which epitomized some of the currents running through society on the Iberian peninsula. It all related to the unusual disciplinary methods which the Franciscan friar Miguel de Palomeres used on his ‘daughters of confession’. Palomeres first came to the attention of the authorities in 1784 after being denounced by one Ramona Rica, a twenty-nine year old from the city who wanted to become a nun. The story which emerged reads like a handbook of sado-masochism.
The problem with Rica’s desire to enter a convent was that she was unable to read, and one day, after seven months of tuition, Palomeres became angry because she had not learnt her day’s study portion. Thereupon he:
ordered her to lift up her skirt from the behind as he wanted to whip her, to which [Rica] resisted . . . but sensing that after receiving the punishment she would give more attention to her study, she decided to obey him, and did so a few days later, after which [Rica] fell ill with a minor indisposition and asked [Palomeres] to come and confess her. [Palomeres] complied coming to confess her in her bed, which he did before leaving the room at once without saying a word. After three or four minutes he came back in and gave her a study portion, at which point [Rica] told him that she would pay more attention if he punished her as he had done before; at which he gave her the punishment, ordering her to take off her clothes and to lie on her stomach, at which he whipped her, and then fondled the parts which he had whipped.93
Soon, Rica recovered. After a time she went to see Palomeres and said that she was worried that Palomeres did not administer this discipline with noble aims, and that he enjoyed touching her flesh. This led to a merry dance of further sado-masochistic activity, as over the coming weeks Palomeres whipped her often, sometimes with Rica on the floor, at other times with her on the edge of the bed; however, no longer did these acts of discipline follow Palomeres’ ritual confessing of his charge.94
Palomeres was called before the Inquisition to defend himself in 1784, but he argued successfully that Ramona Rica was a stubborn student who was pertinacious in her false beliefs and therefore required rigorous disciplining. Yet four years later he was accused again, this time by Gertrudis Tatay, another would-be nun who had gone to him for instruction. Again, at times he had whipped her buttocks, and at others he had looked her over in the flesh as he had administered his punishments: ‘and many times without it being a day of confession he made her go to his house to receive tuition, and sometimes he disciplined her with an iron whip and at others he pardoned her’.95
Once again the attention of the Inquisition had been drawn to the activities of Palomeres, but the prosecutor did not proceed. Then in 1805 two more women, Pasquala Monfort and Josefa Marti, denounced Palomeres. Marti described how she had frequented Palomeres’ house over a period of two months of confession during which he had forced her to kneel with her buttocks in the air, hitting her so hard with his iron whip that twice he broke it and the blood often reached the floor. One day he forgot his whip and used a hair shirt to tear the skin of her buttocks to shreds before fondling the results of his butchery. Marti became convinced that Palomeres ‘was not guiding her soul well’ and ceased to go for confession, but she continued to go to be disciplined for a further two years.96
People like Palomeres were known to the Inquisition as ‘flagellants’.*3 Whereas in the 16th and 17th centuries cases of soliciting priests were commonplace and cases of flagellants isolated, in the 18th century flagellants became increasingly common.97 This tells us that by the 18th century repression had worked its way right through society and was decisively affecting people’s emotional behaviour. When one thinks of Marti returning for her whipping for two whole years and of Rica saying that ‘she suspected Palomeres did not have noble intentions in whipping her, and that he enjoyed touching her flesh [i.e., she realised that her own intentions were not pure and that she enjoyed him touching her flesh]’, one has a glimpse of the mutual repression and coercion expressed in these acts of pseudo-religion, of domination, submission and inner despair. It was no accident that the women who responded to Palomeres wanted to be nuns; consciously, they desired their own repression, but unconsciously the repression wreaked wounding effects upon them.
The relationship between confessors and their ‘daughters’ had definite sexual connotations.98 The archives of the Portuguese and Spanish Inquisitions contain innumerable cases of priests who took advantage of the undercurrent of passion to solicit the women whom they confessed. During the inquisitorial visit to the islands of the Azores in 1618 numerous priests were denounced for soliciting in the confessional99 and in Lima in 1595 sixteen priests were tried for soliciting, including one, Melchor Maldonado, who was accused by sixty-seven women;100 one priest in Lima was denounced by ninety victims.101
It would be wrong to be too judgemental of these priests. If you put sexually repressed men in an enclosed place with sexually repressed women, this sort of thing is likely to occur. The level of the problem is revealed by a handbook called Antidote to Soliciting Priests, published in Spain in 1778 (and recommended by one correspondent to the Inquisition for censorship, since it could fall into the wrong hands).102 This and the way solicitation mutated into flagellation in the 18th century reveal the extent of the symptoms of the neurotic society by this time.
In pondering the emotions and desires which must have coursed around those confessionals during those centuries when the Inquisition was the moral enforcer of Iberian society, the priest Francisco Martínez comes to mind, accused in Zaragoza in 1683 of saying to a married woman, ‘The black eyes of your grace have stolen my heart’.103 Battered by his desires and the conflicting need to repress them, Martínez found his way to a certain poetry.
Yet not everyone was capable of cleansing their inner demons. The nature of inquisitorial repression ensured that neurosis deepened the malaise of the societies which it was supposed to guard. Repression had at first been projected outwards at the perceived enemy, but it had returned unerringly to haunt Iberia on the threshold of the industrial age.