The Last Victim of the Spanish Inquisition

Torture Chamber during the Spanish Inquisition
(1805 – 1859)

On July 26, 1826, Cayetano Ripoll, a schoolmaster in Valencia, Spain, teaching deist principles should become the last victim executed by the Spanish inquisition. Ripoll has the dubious honor of being the last of the many people known to have been executed under sentence from a Church authority for having committed the act of heresy. For almost 350 years the Spanish inquisition tried to secure the primacy of the Catholic Church in Spain. There have been many crimes and wrongs committed by the Church, but the Spanish Inquisition for sure was one of the worst.

Officially entiteled as the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (Spanish: Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición), the Spanish Inquisition was a tribunal established in 1481 by Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval Inquisition which was under Papal control.

The first public punishment occurred in February 1481 when six people were burned alive and after that, the Inquisition grew throughout the kingdom. Only two years later, a new court system established, taking care of the confessions and collected the accusations while starting physical torture to extent the confession rate. The most active period during the Inquisition is assumed to be between 1480 and 1530 with around 2000 executed people, mostly being of Jew origin.

To keep their system working, the Spanish Inquisition established indexes of prohibited books including religious works such as vernacular translations of the Bible. Also prohibited were several popular works of Spanish literature and many works by non Spanish authors like Ovid, Dante, Rabelais, Ariosto, Machiavelli, Erasmus or Jean Bodin.

Next to religious accusations, several further offences were to be controlled with the Inquisition. Witchcraft was a big topic during the most active periods as well, even though it is assumed that the Spanish Inquisition stayed skeptical towards witchcraft cases in contrast to many other European countries. Other enforced laws concerned bigamy, sodomy, being homosexuality or rape.

But how did the Inquisition work? When the Inquisition arrived a certain city, a Sunday mass was held followed by the call for non believers to turn in themselves. Often, people did so, because punishments were not as severe and often they took this chance to denounce others as well. Accusing others for heresies went by anonymously and defendants were not able to find out who denounced them, which led to numerous false accusations caused by personal rivalries. When a person was denounced, the case was examined and the person was held in custody while his property was used to pay imprisonment costs. After a long time of waiting a trial took place with several hearings which the defendant was able to find witnesses for. Another strategy was to proof the accusers non trustworthiness. During the process, the accused was tortured in order to extract a confession and this method was applied without the slightest distinction of sex or age. If a person was found guilty, the cruelest punishment depicted burning alive in public.

The Spanish Inquisition was completely abolished in 1834 by a Royal Decree, eight years after the last man was executed, Cayetano Ripoll. He became a deist after being captured by French soldiers during the Peninsular War and taught his understandings at a Spanish school when returning. Before being burned to death, Ripoll shouted “I die reconciled to God and to man.”

At yovisto, you may watch a documentary on the Spanish Inquisition.

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