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Torture Techniques of the Spanish Inquisition

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Politics, sports, culture, history . . . no topic is off-limits for this author!

The Spanish Inquisition introduced the world to a number of particularly gruesome forms of torture.

The Spanish Inquisition introduced the world to a number of particularly gruesome forms of torture.

The Spanish Inquisition

The other day, as I was surfing through pictures of medieval torture devices (don't ask), I kept noticing that many such tools were invented by, or at least used in, the Spanish Inquisition. Soon I found myself jumping from one site to another learning more and more about this joint venture between the ultra-conservative government of 15th century Spain and many of the higher-ups and rank-and-file Christian warriors within the Roman Catholic Church at the time. I found it fascinating, gruesome, and most upsetting, still relevant to the world today.

The Spanish Inquisition began in the late 1470s when Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella wanted to do away with many of their political adversaries. These opponents were called the conversos, former Jews and Muslims who had been forced to convert to Christianity but had nevertheless managed to rise through the Spanish political and business ranks.

Threatened by their growing power, the King and Queen concocted a plan to purge these competitors from their positions in government and business. Because the couple knew that they didn't have any secular basis for taking on the conversos, who were by most accounts law-abiding and peaceful citizens, they decided to enlist the aid of the Cathoilc Church to lend some religious credibility to their planned attack.

To that end, the royal couple tooks steps to create an Inquisition, the purpose of which would be to identify false converts (fake conversos) within the Spanish Empire.

Initially, the Pope rejected the request. But after the King and Queen threatened to withdraw Spain's troops from defending the Vatican and leaving Christianity undefended against the growing threat of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, the Pope caved and issued the Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus, through which the Inquisition was established in the Kingdom.

Although the papal bull stated that the Inquisition was to be a religious institution, it gave the King and Queen exclusive rights to name the inquisitors. As a result, the King and Queen were, by 1480, running what was essentially a secular witch hunt (pardon the mixed metaphor) aimed at purging the Kingdom of political enemies, and did so with the blessing and the full assistance of the Church and its priests.

One can see why three hundred years later, the founding fathers of the United States decided it was time to erect a wall between church and state. And when you see what happens next, you'll be glad that you were born in America in the 20th century, and never had to endure the type of persecution that so often occurs when the Church joins with the State to eliminate political dissidents and religious competitors.

The first official act of the Inquisition seems to have taken place on February 6, 1481, when six conversos were burned alive in public. Their public conflagration was accompanied by a full sermon given by a Catholic priest. This public mass murder, however, was just the beginning.


Torture in the Spanish Inquisition

The ostensible goal of the Inquisition, you'll recall, was the discovery of false converts. In other words, the Inquisition was trying to find out which of the people whom they had forced under penalty of death to convert to Christianity weren't really Christians.

To achieve this end, the Inquisitors employed several means of torture to aid their victims in confessing their hidden allegiance to the Pentateuch or the Koran. One of the most popular techniques was something called tortura del agua (water torture), which consisted of introducing a cloth into the mouth of the victim, and forcing them to ingest water spilled from a jar so that they had the impression of drowning. (The current American term for this torture technique is "waterboarding" and it has been employed against alleged enemy combatants in the past and potentially continues to the present day.)

But this form of psycho-physical torture was tame compared to the more painful methods employed by Spanish torturers as priests stood by and urged the alleged sinner to confess.

These included the following.


1. The Strappado

Strappado is a form of torture in which a victim is suspended in the air by a rope attached to his hands which have been tied behind his back.

There are at least three variants of this torture. In the first, the victim has his arms tied behind his back; a large rope is then tied to his wrists and passed over a beam or a hook on the roof. The torturer pulls on this rope until the victim is hanging from his arms. Since the hands are tied behind the back, this action causes extreme pain and possible dislocation of the arms. The full weight of the subject's body is then supported by the extended and internally-rotated shoulder sockets. While the technique shows no external injuries, it caused long-term nerve, ligament, or tendon damage.

The second variation is similar to the first, but with a series of drops from a suspended height. In addition to the damage caused by the suspension, the repeated drops caused major stress to the extended arms, leading to broken shoulders.

In the third variant, the victim's hands are tied to the front. The victim is also hung from the hands, but his ankles are tied and a heavy weight is attached to them. This will cause pain and possible damage not only to the arms but also to the legs and hips. This variant was known as squassation.


2. The Rack

The rack consists of an oblong rectangular, wooden frame, slightly raised from the ground, with a roller at one, or both, ends, having at one end a fixed bar to which the legs were fastened and at the other a movable bar to which the hands were tied. The victim's feet are fastened to one roller, and the wrists are chained to the other.

As the interrogation progresses, a handle and ratchet attached to the top roller are used to increase tension on the chains, which induces excruciating pain as the victim's joints slowly dislocate. Once muscle fibers had been stretched past a certain point they lost their ability to contract, and the victims who were released had ineffective muscles as well as problems arising from dislocation.

Because of its mechanically precise, graded operation, the rack was well-suited for hard interrogation, and led to many "confessions."

One gruesome aspect of being stretched too far on the rack is the loud popping noises made by snapping cartilage, ligaments, or bones. Eventually, if the application of the rack is continued, the victim's limbs were ripped right off.


3. The Judas Chair

This method is particularly brutal. Just reading about the Judas Chair is enough to make one clench. So if you have a weak tummy (or other soft, vulnerable body parts), I suggest that you skip past it.

The Judas Chair was a pyramid-shaped seat (see right). The person being asked to confess his sins against Christ was placed on top of it, with the point inserted into the anus or vagina. Then, as the questioning advanced, the Inquisitor very slowly lowered the defendant further and further onto the point by overhead ropes.

Some theories suggest that the intended effect was to stretch the orifice over a long period of time or to slowly impale. The victim was usually naked, adding to the humiliation already endured.

Many Other Forms of Torture

There were many other forms of torture used during the Inquisition. These included the Boot (a wooden framed shoe that was placed on the foot of a witness and was tightened slowly and methodically to crush the bones of the feet and the lower leg), the Thumbscrew (which slowly and methodically crushed the fingers of the alleged non-believers), the Whip and the Breast Ripper.

Perhaps the cruelest aspect of the torture process was that after the victim recanted his alleged sins, he was then punished for them. The Inquisition was just a trial to extract a confession. The ensuing punishment ranged from forfeiture of all assets to the Crown and the Cross to, you guessed it, death by torture.

One must keep in mind that the Spanish Government could not have carried out the Inquisition without the active assistance of the Church. This type of mass trial by ordeal, bloody torture, and confiscation of the assets of the accused probably could not have taken place for merely secular reasons.

By including the Church as an arm of the government, however, the King and Queen were able to eliminate their political opponents without very much resistance from the Spanish people, who were told that the Inquisition was something aimed to get everyone to believe the one great truth of Christianity. It was a way to root out evil bogeymen and either kill them or, at the very least, force them to confess their alleged sins against Christ and repent.

All told, Spanish Inquisitors tortured or killed as many as 150,000 people between the years of 1480 and 1530. Most of the victims were Jewish or Muslim. Then, as Protestantism began to rise, the Church turned its ire towards those followers of Martin Luther, a group who claimed to be true Christians but according to the Church, were heretics. Persecution of Protestants continued for another 150 years.

Torquemada: The Grand Inquisitor

Torquemada: The Grand Inquisitor

Remember the Inquisition

There is a lesson to be learned here. Well, there are many lessons. One is that a sharp pyramid shoved up the ass can convince a person to admit anything. Another is that when stretched beyond capacity, connective tissue will tear, rip, pop and eventually kill its owner.

But the most important lesson here, perhaps, is the dangers that can be created by a government that uses religion and religious institutions to justify its politically motivated persecution of those who may challenge the government's power. Because if you kill simply in the name of government, you are going to face a lot of resistance. But if you kill in the name of God, it gets much, much easier for the people to accept. Especially for those who belong to the dominant religion.

Watch out. Keep religion and government apart.


Ronald Schlager on August 20, 2019:

Be advised! May 21, 2011 began the first part of a 2 part judgement upon Babylon (the world and ALL churches). On that date, Jesus Christ came to earth (invisibly and spiritually) to withdraw His salvation from the entire world. That means that anyone that was not already a true elect of the elect Christian, on or before that date, cannot now be forgiven for their sins. This means that mankind is now left to harden in their sins, as a judgement by Yaweh. Therefore, the world will become increasingly sinful and evil. No matter what the world powers say, that they can bring peace to the world, it will not happen! You would like me to tell you that I must be kidding, but Gods word, alone and in its entirely, is not! From August 1970, until about 2 to 3 years ago, my understanding of Scripture was that I must continue to preach the hope of eternal salvation and life. Now, in August 2019, I must relay to the world (and ALL churches) that Babylon has been taken (Revelation 18:2) Babylon is the world system of all sinners (unsaved) along with ALL churches (unsaved). My direction from Gods word (the Bible) is from the Book of Jeremiah Ch.50:2. Is says that we true believers are not to hide the fact that the world has been judged for its sin. On the soon to come LAST DAY of judgement day that we are now in, the whole world will see Jesus Christ with their physical eyes. At that time, every head will bow, and knee will bend, and mouth will confess that He is Lord to the Glory of God! Those who are true elect believers, will do it willingly, and those who are not truly saved, will be forced to do it. Nevertheless, all will confess that Christ is Lord, to the Glory of Yaweh! If you really care (which you probably do not) go to this website:, or Google Brother Mike MInistries, and click on the first reference at the top. On the last day, the righteous in Christ will be taken to heaven for eternity, and the lost sinners will be cast into a lake of fire, to be completely expunged in body soul and spirit. This means that there will be no trace forevermore of these sinners. The true payment for lost sinners, is not eternal Hell Fire, but just what was mentioned above. Afterwards, according to 1Peter3:1-3, a new heaven and new earth will be created, where the righteous will dwell and rule with Christ, forevermore. Many of you possibly reading this now, have for a time, suspected that the world is not and will not be getting better, and your suspicions are correct!

Matthew on April 01, 2019:

Ferdinand and Isabella used to be so violent during the Inquisition

mme alsford on March 14, 2019:

tanks @jamesRay thisrelly as inpired my and led my to becum teacher

bob on February 27, 2018:

nice work harry...nice work...

hi on March 04, 2014:

why were you looking at medieval torture devices...?

.secular radio on February 21, 2014:

Catholics deflect the sin of torture and deaths of the Inquisition to protestants and othe rsecular elements.Very few catholics were responsible, the protetants and securlarists were to blame for the inquisition.How does these comments excuse what went on is beyound be.Even if the church's claims were true and fewer than a thousand died at the inquisition, does this fact make the Catholic church less culpable for what it organixed ? I thik not. Because when 10,000 people came to the inquisition and were tortured, 900 confesed after torture or while bring torture. The other 900 repented and addmitted their sins after bieng grievioustortures, andd mained for life. Proof of a loving and caring church.

Bonnie K on May 16, 2013:

Interesting article. Well said.

The fact that so many of you are bringing modern day politics into this..scares me. This has nothing to do with politics. Rather, it is human nature. Fear leads to panic which leads many to finding ways to control it. As we see in history, that means getting rid of what we 'think' is causing our fear. The king and queen were fearful of losing their power, so they devised a way to control that fear. And don't forget that sociopaths have no true empathy or feeling...Choosing sociopathic leaders to lead their mission only made those who followed such a leader fear them even more. Then, the cycle continues.

Alexandr on April 23, 2013:

BekaS1974 on April 17, 2013:

Anders G on March 20, 2013:

And people say I'm a bad person for being an atheist...

Schrodinger's Cat on September 04, 2012:

I agree that government should be secular - but the implication that a secular government is unable to inflict the kind of repression on its populace without religious involvement is mere nonsense.

philly on September 02, 2012:

Sounds like what the Jews have been doing to the Palestinians for the last 75 years right under the nose of the left-wingers.

Flo on August 18, 2012:

The king & queen used christanity for their own selfish goals. True Christ followers have been persecuted since the roman time when they were thrown in the lions den if they didn't renounce their faith, to this day Christ followers are still persecuted in a different way.

Max on July 03, 2012:

The inquisiiiiition, what a show!

bobby grare on May 30, 2012:

omg i dont wana be on the receving end of the pear of anguish

Amber on May 20, 2012:

'you never expect the Spanish inquisition' month python, actually people got thirty days to prepare a defence.......

Unknown on May 04, 2012:

That sounded very inteligent what ralph Deeds said up there about shoving things up presidents asses, libral jerk.

RnBram on February 19, 2012:

And now the Republicans are liking Santorum... another religious twit. I hate politicians on both sides, as both are destroying everything that made America great... between the end of slavery and Hoover. When a businessman does wrong, by violating someone's individual rights (including fraud) then let the courts handle it, not the politicians. Bad businessman and even outright criminals have fewer victims, and are not as evil as, politicians and religious leaders.

NS on November 08, 2011:

This is a deadly, dangerous dance in the sphere.

Nervous does not look! To view this video you will need to click on the link:

SpanishWoman. on September 29, 2011:

Hi, just wanted to say: This is NOT only about the Spanish Inquisition, you americans have forgotten about the British, French and Italian inquisition. Actually, ours wasn't as bad as the British.

If you can, go visit Cordoba, there're a billion museums there, where you can check what I am saying.

ScRuTTy on August 18, 2011:

torture, slavery, bad religious practice only gets worse with time. but most people are unaware because they do not expect it.

very interesting hub :)

Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD from Tumkur on August 04, 2011:

My god! how many inhuman acts are done against humans by human beings!

deep dhaliwal on July 26, 2011:

this still goes in a lot of asain countries.. india is a good example. worst torture techniques that people are put through :(

proton66 from Southern California on February 03, 2011:

Seems like you wanted to address two things, (1) how messed up the Catholic church is during the 15th century and (2) how govts use religion to soften the people to push their evil agenda forward.

I think Steve has it right. There is a fundamentalist Christian group of politicians who profess to love God yet, 'torture' the common people by imposing rules and regulations, overturning decisions made by the people e.g. Prop 8, or giving in to whining atheists.

Such evils imposed on the people will persist unless those who oppose collectively stand against it. Shall we ask the 2011 people of Egypt how to do it?

Steve on January 31, 2011:

I find it funny that you consider the USA to have separation of church and state. Perhaps it was intended that way, but you only have to look at the members of both houses to see that in reality the USA is run by fundamentalist Christians (certainly by European standards). You also have "In god we trust" emblazoned on your money. Separation of church and state? I think not.

LeeGirl on November 07, 2010:

The third one is just plain gross! I didn't listen to the side comment and read it anyways, and my stomach went weak. Eww! The others were interesting to read about but just massively disgusting to read about what happen to the victim after the procedure was finished.. I'm 13 years old.. Thank you for the information. It helped me greatly on my project. :) Thank you very much :)

JamesRay (author) from Philadelphia on July 25, 2008:

Oh come on. You can do better than that. Oh wait, maybe you can't. Anyway, while you keep talking about liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, Christian and Muslim. Go ahead, keep thinking that way. You will get left behind. Based on your bitterness, it sounds like you already have. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.

chuck on July 24, 2008:

They should use these techniques against you liberal dipshits

mike king from california on February 24, 2008:

Your piece reminds me of the Torture devises I saw on display at the London museum. I can't imagine the minds of men so horribly twisted they design and implement such devises. there is never any shortage of willing jailers, which explains the eagerness of designers and proponents to do the work of evil.

As other countries gain voice in the world, there will be some who remember that there was a dark side in American politics that allowed for creative kinds of torture, humiliation, and deprivation not seen since Viet Nam or WWII.

The same empty law that gave Hitler the power he needed to mastermind horror was used to justify implemention of an enabling law in the US. This, despite the fact men at Nuremberg were hung or put into prison for allowing torture and the orderly killing of the Jewish people and other innocents.

Whether they are brought to book for atrocities approved by Cheney , Rivera, and Bush, the top three architects of torture will answer to the law in good time. I don't know when or how it will happen but the law is universal and applies to all men, whether they believe it or not.

Power has a price. But power abused will extract a price from the dammed that will be paid in nightmares, long after midnight, and long after the perpetrator is forgotten.

purple flower on January 19, 2008:

The devil was using God's own medicine to poison

djtphn1 from Riverside County, California on January 18, 2008:

Oh my God, all of those methods just made my skin crawl and my mouth drop open.....I just can't believe that people did this to other human beings and yes, Like xoriant says, torture still exists in the world, although America and other countries would like to deny it....they really can't when people film it and then put it on you MISR Digital for one....anyways, that is a whole other Oprah, nice hub James....

xoriant from Newton Abbot on January 15, 2008:

Wow, blows the mind. The thing is this stuff is still going on...

Adventure on January 12, 2008:

First people seek money, then they seek power, then they seek mind control. However, I have to ask thooghun a question. Have you ever read or heard about the horrible atrocities of living in a communist country. Those are people who were controlled, oppressed, forced to live for the state. You have more freedom in America than you know. We are far from perfect, but please. You can do almost anything you want in America. Work hard, make money. Openly practice your religion/belief. Badmouth our leaders. Come and go as you please. Make your own decisions. Try that in a state/country that REALLY has "almost complete control over all aspects of society".

AuraGem from Victoria, Australia on January 07, 2008:

An absolutely fascinating hub + the comments that follow are great reading too. I am a history buff of many years, but have never really explored all the torture techniques over time. I guess my stomach and sense of decency just can't deal with it. But your hub keeps just enough distance from the details to be bearable. Shocking but bearable! The persecution of the Jews by Hitler's henchmen is well documented, but the Spanish Inquisition seems to have melted in time.

A great reminder of how barbaric humanity can be in the name of righteousness and avarice.

Smiles and Light

Wendy Iturrizaga from France on January 05, 2008:

Auch! Spanish still torture us, but on this day and age they use bureocracy for that!

Isabella Snow on January 04, 2008:

Have you seen Goya's Ghosts, James?

MrMarmalade from Sydney on January 04, 2008:

James I told you were the nominated one.

Here is my vote!

I have read a lot on the Spanish Inquisition when I was young.

When you look at these suicide bombers, they all appear to scorched with the same fire. Religion. Mankind has had tremendous hurt over the centuries from those who disguise everything as religion.

JamesRay (author) from Philadelphia on January 04, 2008:

Thanks for the insightful comments, Jackilyn and William. I believe that a good citizen must keep a close eye on the government, monitor its behavior, and speak out when injustices are occurring. Unfortunately this current cast of ass clowns has keept me very busy over the past seven years. And yes, things like torture and the dangers of church-state partnerships are still alive and well today. That's why I am running for President. I need to get closer to some of these cats to keep them from finishing their job of replacing the USA with the Fascist States of America. That last bit might sound a bit far-fetched, but as it's been said before: Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Jackilyn on January 04, 2008:

It's an amazing how cruel people can be, and yet we torture thousandths of people in Iraq.

I read a thing about what we do to them and it was shocking, like they'll put a sack over someone's head and they'll tie them up that way they can't move and then they'll get  a bucket of water or something of the sort and will pour it over them. And the people that have lived through it have said " It felt like I was drowning, I couldn't breathe . And they kept saying things to me like I'm going to go and kill your family if you don't let me do this. And some of them would run around the streets putting womens hair on fire. And I saw a soldier shoot a little boy running to his mom trying to get away from it all. But there is no escaping." A father said that from some bbc website. But the thing that gets me is that people just don't talk about it, you never hear the news say anything except for the bbc news and they just cover a little bit of the torture that they do to them. William you are right.People have to start saying stuff but the trouble is no one will listen.

William F Torpey from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on January 04, 2008:

Too many people go blithely along thinking all those horrible things that took place in history couldn't happen today. I remember watching war movies during WW II in which our soldiers were tortured by the Japanese. We thought that could never happen here, but our government today thinks torture is OK. Decent people must speak out against torture -- and other wrong-headed thinking by our leaders.

mrpajamasharkman from Texas on January 03, 2008:

"Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" - Monty Python

Ahh, one of the funniest shows of all time... The Comfy Chair was so funny!

Tony Sky from London UK on January 03, 2008:

It amazes me how even today people are being tortured all around the world with far more sophisticated techniques..It's very sad.!!

Hoodala from Mesa on January 02, 2008:

I couldn't even begin to express my disdain for religious institutions in this comment section, but you are very point on with this hub as to the cruelty that has been imposed on people over the years in the name of “religion”.

Unfortunately we don’t always learn from past mistakes.

Rapidwriter from UK on January 02, 2008:

Like Thooghun, I was amazed at the roughly contemperaneous goings on of the witch persecutions or, 'burning times'. I, too, have a copy of the Malleus Maleficarum along with other similar books studied when I was reseracjing my antholgy The Virago Book of witches (Daughters of the Moon in the US) and when you think of the ridiculous 'signs' on which they convicted these poor people and the suffering that was inflicted on them for eg. having a mole or scar and the damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't nature of their convictions it makes my blood boil. Gripping hub, James, thanks.

Mark Knowles on January 02, 2008:

Nice informative piece of information. It's a shame we have learned nothing from the past and still do exactly the same things today. It's all about money and control.

James Nelmondo from Genova, Italy on January 02, 2008:

At least they cared about public opinion back then eh? Ah, the good old days... *laughs*

Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on January 02, 2008:

Their current behavior is even more amazing.

Rudra on January 02, 2008:

Its amazing how people behaved in those medieval days.

James Nelmondo from Genova, Italy on January 02, 2008:

*laughs* well said Ralph!

Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on January 02, 2008:

Somebody should shove a sharp pyramid up George Bush's ass!

JamesRay (author) from Philadelphia on January 02, 2008:

I think fear is at the center of everything that is ugly, cruel, stupid and inhuman. Since we are all afraid, we all have the capacity to become any of those things, at any time. I think the trick is to confont and learn about that which is so scary. The more you know, the smaller the Unknown, and the lesser the fear.

James Nelmondo from Genova, Italy on January 02, 2008:

I had similar thoughts after ordering a copy of the Malleus Maleficarum (I didn't ask!).

"One is that a sharp pyramid shoved up the ass can convince a person to admit anything" *laughs*

Yes, I find myself asking myself how much we have changed 500 years on. Not much apparently. It seems that the inquisition served as tool to regulate dissention(?). Whereas today, with states with almost complete control over all aspects of society, regulating dissention doesn't seem as important anymore.

Although the fear card seems to work quite well.