preload preload preload preload preload preload
0 Comments | Nov 19, 2014

Outrun the Devil – Chapter One (draft)

inquisition1Seville – May 14, 1483

By his own authority,[1]

To the distinguished, respectable, noble, magnificent councilors and all our beloved; and to the deputies, generals, viceroys, spokesmen of our central government, general justices, royal officials, bailiffs, justices, judges, municipal councilors, town magistrates, justices of the peace, prison wardens, and any other of our officials and subjects who exercise any office and jurisdiction, presently and henceforth, in any of our kingdoms and lands now and henceforth so constituted, and the deputies of those officials, and any other person to whom these letters shall come: greetings and affection.

Inasmuch as the Holy Father has been informed that there are many people in our kingdoms who have forgotten the proper health of their souls and follow Jewish and Muslim rituals and other actions deviating from the Faith, our Holy Father has ordered, with our consent and volition, that an inquisition be carried out in all our kingdoms to correct and regulate those who have committed the crime of heretical depravity.

Therefore we say, charge, and order you—under the risk of incurring our anger, indignation, a penalty of 10,000 gold florins, and the deprivation of your office if the contrary is done by you or any of your retinue—that you honor and recognize each one of the inquisitors and other inquisitorial officials and agents, according to their rank, estate, and condition. We further order you to give them all the help and assistance they need and request whenever they require it, when their need relates to the conduct of their office and to the carrying out of all the business that has to be done in that inquisition. Refrain from doing the opposite in any way, and do not consent or allow the opposite to be done, to the extent that my favor is dear to you, and that you do not wish to incur my anger, indignation, and the aforesaid penalty.

Given in Seville, May 14, in the year of our Lord 1483

I the King


October 17, 1483

It is a Friday morning, one like Seville has not seen since the spring. The sky above the town pulsates with a brilliant cloudless blue. The day is beauty almost painful to look upon, partly for its intensity, partly for the sadness of knowing that such a sky cannot possibly happen again in a lifetime. It is difficult to envision that on a day such as this, Lope de Triana might well be responsible for the torture and execution of his wife Catalina.

Not that it will happen today, to give the man his due. These tragic events won’t actually come to fruition for another few weeks, as the Inquisition’s processes grind slowly if inexorably. But the groundwork, irreversible as time itself, is being laid this very morning in a cool gray basement chapel beneath Triana Castle. It is but two years since the officials of the Inquisition took control of the castle, almost immediately filling it to beyond capacity with supposed heretics and apostates, including in recent weeks both Lope and Catalina. With the papal edicts and subsequent royal appointments of 1480, the first two official inquisitors, the Dominican Friars Juan de San Martin and Miguel de Morillo, had wasted no time in getting down to the business of identifying, arresting, and questioning as many conversos as they could lay hands on. These conversos, crypto-Jews, were a real and present threat to the provinces that had only in recent years been drawn together with the joining of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile and Leon. The queen’s personal confessor, the Dominican Friar Tomas Torquemada, prior of the convent of Santa Cruz, had done a thorough job of convincing the royals of this threat, and had been instrumental in convincing His Holiness Pope Sixtus IV of the need to undertake desperate measures to mitigate the threat, a state of affairs that threatened the newly merged state and, ultimately, the Holy See itself.

Morillo was no friend of Torquemada, seeing the prior as ambitious and overbearing, but he was politically astute and realized all too well that he owed his new position to the prior’s good graces. There was talk even that His Holiness might go so far as to appoint a single Inquisitor General to supervise all the kingdoms of Spain. With two years of experience and a successful track record of finding and prosecuting these false Christians, these apostates, Morillo himself aspired to just such a position, but he would require Torquemada’s support if that were to come to pass. So far he had done an excellent job of identifying the conversos, and an even better one of securing confessions. His only source of frustration was that they were all small fish—merchants, craftsmen—no truly prominent citizens who would have been in position to draw together the entire converso community of Seville. Surely such individuals existed. These families could not be carrying out their heretical rituals and practices independently. There was organization and Morillo was determined to unearth it. It was only a matter of time and determination, for the inquisition had hundreds of suspected heretics jailed here in the castle and elsewhere around Seville.

The man before him seemed a particularly promising start. After six weeks in the cold and damp of Triana Castle’s deepest cells, the suspect, haggard and weak, appeared ready to speak at last. The man, Lope de Triana, was a fabric dealer with a shop not ten minutes’ walk from the castle that coincidentally bore his family name. Both the man and his wife Catalina had been in Inquisition custody for a month and a half, having been named by numerous acquaintances under the duress of their own questioning, secure in the knowledge that their testimony would not be associated with their names. And this was a critical element of the process that Morillo and San Martin had employed to such good effect in their work of these past weeks. No one who came before them had knowledge of who had testified against them, nor what specifically had been said. It was a chain reaction that had made Seville a city under siege these past two years, a place in which everyone watched everyone else, a place where the slightest grievance or offense was met with the threat of being turned over to the officials of the Inquisition. It had worked so well that the capacious prison cells of the Castle Triana had overflowed in less than three months and accommodations had had to be found elsewhere. For while the list of potential suspects was endless, the officials equipped to conduct the interrogations were few and their time limited. In order to speed things along, Morillo and San Martin have trained numerous secretaries, officers, and deputies to help oversee the various proceedings, and provide all of the necessary transcriptions and documents attending each prosecution. Two of these individuals now sat on either side of Morillo as lifted his eyes from the pages before him to gaze in what he hoped was suitably intimidating fashion on the wretched figure seated before him.

“First things first, Senor Triana,” he said, rising slowly, pressing his small hands upon the long wooden table that separated the two men. <Describe Morillo and his clothing in greater detail> The scribe to Morillo’s right noted every word with great diligence. “As we have been through this before, you will know as well as I how things proceed.”

Except that Lope Triana, though he had been here twice before, had provided precious little direct information of value to Morillo, either concerning his own accusations or those of his relatives and neighbors. As it had become common practice for the accused to seek leniency by accusing their neighbors, Triana’s reticence had been discomfiting to the friar. In past sessions, the man had listened quietly, offered only laconic responses to Morillo’s questions and accusations, even maintained eye contact much of the time, which the priest had found almost unnerving, given the complete deference and fear shown him by nearly all suspects to this point. It was as if the man had no concern whatever for his fate. After two day-long interrogations and two additional sessions of repeated water torture, Triana had admitted nothing, almost dared Morillo to convict him and send him to the secular authorities for execution. Morillo was increasingly convinced, with each session, that this was a man with something to disclose, a man who could lead them to the real converso leadership in Seville. Morillo needed another approach and he had hit upon it while conferring with his colleagues the previous evening. Each interrogation began with the reading of the accusations against the prisoner. Since most were interrogated multiple times, they had heard the accusations often as well. Morillo turned to the notary on his right and nodded slowly and somberly. The man rose and read.

“Very Reverend Lords, I, bachiller Miguel de Morillo, chief prosecutor of the Holy Inquisition in the very noble city of Seville and its diocese, appear before your reverences to accuse Catalina de Triana, wife of Lope de Triana, fabric merchant, of Seville. She has received the holy sacrament of baptism, lives with the name and reputation of a Christian woman and calls herself such, and enjoys the privileges and liberties that Christians enjoy. But with contempt for the Holy Mother Church, with disdain for the Christian religion, and in great offense toward Our Redeemer Jesus and condemnation of her soul, she has heretically and apostatically followed the Law of Moses and its rites and ceremonies. Once before she pretended to confess some things to your lordships and was reconciled to the Church; she publicly abjured those errors and heresy, especially the observance of Mosaic Law. Then, postponing the fear of God, in condemnation of her soul, she returned, like a dog to its vomit, to commit the very errors she had previously abjured.”[2]

The notary paused at this point, as he had been advised by Morillo prior to Triana being brought into the interrogation room. The Chief Prosecutor was keen to see what reaction he could elicit from this man when he heard his wife’s arraignment transcript read aloud rather than his own. Perhaps if he would not contribute to the process to save his own immortal soul, he might do so in the service of his spouse’s. What followed was fifteen seconds of utter silence that reverberated from the heavy stone walls. Triana made no sound, but kept his eyes riveted to those of the clerk, who, following but five seconds, shifted his gaze to Morillo’s questioningly. The prosecutor nodded without satisfaction and the clerk continued, reading for another five minutes the litany of heretical charges against Catalina de Triana, a list that bore a striking resemblance to that of Lope himself, and, for that matter, to the great majority of defendants brought before the Inquisition.

In every case the accused were former Jews who, having been forced into baptism at some earlier date, thus making them conversos in the eyes of the church, were deemed to have never sincerely converted and to be continuing their adherence to Mosaic laws and traditions. In nearly every case, the evidence against the accused had come from close friends, neighbors and family members who had been intimidated or tortured into making accusations against the people they knew and lived with. And in no case would the accused know who had spoken against them, though many reasonably and correctly inferred that their case had been brought by any associate they had crossed in some way in the past. Some accused close associates out of fear, others out of hatred or vindictiveness. In either case, the result was the same. Once the charges had been levied, they were taken as fact and it was up to the accused to refute them convincingly. The choice for the accused was a grim one—confess to the accusations and put yourself at the mercy of the prosecution, which for the lucky ones meant reconciliation to the church and likely loss of some or all of one’s possessions, or refute the accusations and risk torture, conviction, and relaxation to the secular authorities, relaxation being a euphemistic term employed by the church to signify guilt and physical punishment, most frequently excommunication and burning in public ceremonies known as autos’ da fe. Occasionally, in cases where the condemned broke down in their final moments and confessed their sins, they were shown mercy through the expedient of being strangled to death before their bodies were burnt in the same ceremonies.

“Senor Triana,” Morillo began, rising again from his seat and walking around to the front of the table, “you have no doubt heard from your relatives and associates that the majority of those we … interview in these sessions are women. Do you know why that is?”

“It is entirely clear, Lord Prosecutor.” Lope Triana spoke quietly but firmly, mustering all of the dignity he could from his low straight-back chair. He had to raise his head toward Morillo in order to look him in the eye, but he made a point of doing so. This man is afraid, Lope told himself. He is afraid and he does not entirely believe in the cause he pursues. If my case is lost, I can help my friends by making this man less sure of himself. And yet he is crafty as well. He seeks to get to me through Catalina, and to her through me.

“Of course I know. You may think us heretics and infidels, but never think we are idiots. You believe that you are clever to target the women because your list of heretical Judaizing behaviors is largely built upon matters of the home, domestic actions or inactions—how the home is decorated, what is cooked and eaten there, what work is performed on Fridays and Saturdays, the things that you believe distinguish a genuine Christian from one of your heretics. This is your cleverness.”

“You are entirely correct, Senor Triana,” Morillo replied. “You are correct indeed and an intelligent man. Yet you speak as though you do not believe in the irrefutable logic of this approach. Since you are feeling so candid today, is there another reason why you believe we focus on the women?”

Lope inhaled quietly and thought for a second about the wisdom of his course. By antagonizing these men he made his case worse. Yet if he also weakened their resolve, what was his own fate against that of his city, his state?

“Can you not guess it yourself, Lord Prosecutor?” he paused a moment looking for a spark of recognition in the prosecutor’s eyes. “You target the women because they are the weaker among us. And when your cause is a weak one, it is only weakness over which you can be victorious.”

Lope did not know what to expect from such a man. Morillo was not especially effusive. Yet he was clearly dangerous and had already left many of Seville’s citizens dead and imprisoned in the two years he had been here. But what can this man do to me that he hasn’t already done or decided to do? My property is gone, but that is no surprise. It is, after all, the principal reason behind this entire campaign and has been since the appointment of the very first inquisitors. Seek out the Jews, the conversos. Persecute them. Pilfer their wealth for the state’s coffers. Use persecution as an excuse to abrogate all debts owed to them. All that remains is the complete expulsion of non-Christians from the state, and that is only a matter of time. There is no shame in this for me, for is not everyone in my family, everyone I know, already locked away in the same prison, subject to the same humiliation? What do I lose by returning a bit of the humiliation? My life? What does life mean in such a place as this? Lope, despite his tiredness, pain, and hunger, struggled and managed an almost cynical smile for Morillo, in response to which the prosecutor smiled back, lifting a finger and wagging it admonishingly in Lope’s face.

“You are a brave man, Senor Triana. You make this sad job almost interesting. It is as though you care nothing for yourself or your wife and son. Were you not an apostate, were you an honest adherent of our Holy Mother Church, we might almost be friends, Senor.”

“I generally do not make a habit of taking murderers as friends, Lord Prosecutor. And despite your assertions to the contrary, I am more of a Christian than you and your associates will ever be. Do you honestly think because you wear a robe and a crucifix, this makes you a Christian? Do you believe—”

“I BELIEVE,” Morillo shouted suddenly, almost leaping away from the table and putting his right index finger an inch from Lope’s unflinching face, “I believe you weaken your case with your loose tongue. I believe…” Morillo stopped for a moment, composed himself, stepped back around behind the table, whispering something quietly to the scribe and pointing at the last entry in the transcript. Moving his head subtly from side to side, the scribe made a gesture as though marking out some of what he had written. Morillo flipped one page and then another in the transcript of Triana’s previous testimony.

“I believe, Senor Triana, that you have a lot to say today. And because I am a generous man, an honest man, I am prepared to give you one final opportunity to be honest with me. I have no desire to see your son orphaned, either because his parents are imprisoned or worse. Both you and your wife have provided extensive answers to our questions in past interviews, and we have, of course, compared your answers to establish their veracity. I would like to review some of your answers and endeavor, honestly endeavor, to find cause to release you. If, as you insist, you are a genuine Christian—converso, but Christian nonetheless—then all we ask is your cooperation in these efforts. We all have the same goal here, do we not? Do we not seek to arrive at the truth? And to eradicate the heretics and the apostates from our midst? Surely if you are as Christian as you say, this can be your only objective as well—you and Catalina.”

“Of course, Lord Prosecutor. Those are indeed laudable goals.” Lope adjusted his position in the chair, trying in vain to gain a bit of comfort. “But you waste your time in again asking me questions I have already forthrightly answered. Like you, I am an honest man, and there is no likelihood of me changing my answers.”

“True enough, Senor Triana. True enough. But if, as you say, you are indeed an honest man—and why would I have reason to doubt you?—then you will not mind corroborating your earlier responses. It is always possible that you have forgotten some detail. I’m sure you will agree that even what seems like minutia can be of vast importance in arriving at the truth of these matters. It will also help us to compare your views on these matters with those of your wife. As I’m sure you can understand, we would like to get to the truth of your situation so that we can move onto other cases. The list of those waiting is a long one.”

“I have no doubt that it is, Excellency, as your efficiency in imprisoning all of Seville is well known and much feared.”

“None in Seville have anything to fear from our office save those who have faltered in their holy Christian vows, those who continue to pursue the Mosaic path. And there are many, Senor. Many indeed.”

“That may be,” Lope said, taking his eyes from Morillo’s for the first time in minutes. “But there is nothing else I can tell you that will aid your cause, except that I am a loyal and law-abiding Christian. You waste your valuable time speaking further with me.”

Morillo rose again from his seat, returning back to the front of the table, gesturing again to the notary as he walked.

“It troubles me to hear your lack of cooperation with the efforts of this office. But as you wish. You force us to employ other methods to get our questions answered.” He nodded to the notary who proceeded to read from a new declaration, his voice echoing with authority from the stone walls.

“Given the circumstantial evidence and suspicions that result from the trial against Catalina de Triana, and the fact that she has been silent about the people who participated with her in the crimes of heresy which she has confessed, and because of other reasons that move us to ascertain the truth, as we are obliged to do for God and our consciences, we find that we must order her put to the question of torture. The torture shall be given according to our will until such time as she declares the truth about accomplices and participants in the said crimes. As well, let it be understood that if the prisoner should die or be injured or suffer heavy bleeding or have a limb mutilated during the torture, this will be their fault and responsibility, and not ours, because they have refused to tell the truth. And so we pronounce and order by these writings.”

Lope turned his gaze back to Morillo, making no attempt to disguise his contempt, though he feared that his sudden fear would be the more apparent emotion. He had not seen his wife for the six weeks of his incarceration. He did not know for certain whether she too had been jailed before her questioning, though that now seemed certain.

“I said as much earlier. I say it yet again,” Triana raised his voice in a vain attempt to sound certain, authoritative. “You prey on the weak because both you and your cause are weak. Ask me your questions. Ask me one thousand times. As I have said, my answers will not change, for they are the truth. But ask if you have no more important use of your time. ASK, damn you!”

At this last exclamation, Lope actually endeavored to rise, but was immediately returned to his seat by the firm hand of a bailiff standing on duty behind him.

“A wise man after all,” Morillo offered with a sardonic smile. He reached behind him to receive a page from the notary containing responses to the standard collection of questions the inquisition was employing to convict all of its suspects.

“Tell me again, Senor Triana, when were you and your wife baptized?”

“It has been nearly two years, Lord Prosecutor. Catalina and I were baptized on the same day at the church of St. Anthony. It was just before Christmas, so yes, nearly two years.”

“And what of the boy?” he said, turning to glance at the records on the table, “Rodrigo. He was baptized as well, I expect.”

“Of course. During the same ceremony.”

Morillo studied the page before him for a moment, nodding to himself before continuing.

“Senor, tell me if you would, about the decoration of your home.”

“I’m sorry, Lord Prosecutor. Decoration?”

“Religious artifacts, images, that sort of thing. Your…others…have noted a dearth of Christian icons—crosses, images of the saints. Do you not consider these worthy of display in your home, Senor?”

<mention absence of chimney smoke on Saturdays as another sign of converso>

“Of course, Excellency. Without question. But our home is a humble one. We are not given to ostentatious displays. What we have…the cross of Saint Anthony and the cross of Christ…and, and others…we keep them in the bedroom where only my wife and I can see and take inspiration from them. And, as you know, there is much theft in the city. It doesn’t do to have such important things out where anyone can see them. I’m sure you can understand this.”

“Indeed, Senor. You wouldn’t want icons so valued by your family to be stolen.” Morillo grinned very subtly, lowered his head a moment, turned briefly and said something unheard to the scribe, who added an additional note to what he was taking down.

“And what of your workdays. I am most curious how you spend your Saturdays. You are a busy man, yes?”

Having been through the interrogation more than once, Triana knew well the lines of questioning that the inquisitors used to determine evidence of reversion to Mosaic practices. This man was clever though, deliberative in his interrogatories. It was not sufficient to know the right answers. There would be checks for consistency as well, both in his own answers and with respect to whatever Catalina might have told them, something he had no way of knowing.

“For the most part, yes of course. I am a busy man. I trade fabrics, as you are aware. Mine is a small shop. My wife and my son help me during the week.”

“And what of Saturdays? It is said that you are not much for working on Saturdays.”

“Not true, Excellency. Not true at all. In my business there is always something to do. Even if the customers are not coming, there is plenty to keep us busy. But much of this takes place at home. Simply seeing no one in the shop means nothing. My Saturdays are for catching up, organizing things…the books, you know, financial considerations, orders to be made. It is all the two of us can do to keep up with it in truth, Excellency.”

And so it continued for the remainder of the morning. More questions, attempts to trip Lope up, on matters of home decoration, adherence to Sabbath days, observance of Christian versus Mosaic holy days. There was lengthy discussion about the family’s diet, pork, pheasant, leavened bread, what was or was not eaten on holy days. They talked of attending mass, knowledge of various prayers and sacraments. Hour after interminable hour it continued, all the while Lope having no idea what Catalina might have said in response to these same questions. All the while he imagining the worst, his Catalina, his son’s mother, tortured to elicit the answers they wanted to hear, to elicit a confession of heresy, apostasy. And what of Rodrigo himself? Might the fiends come after him as well? If that happened, what then? This thing, this persecution, went potentially in many directions. There were some who said confess to anything they ask. They said doing so meant being reconciled back into the church. And whatever that meant in practice, whatever humiliation attended such a thing, surely it was preferable to the alternative, the one they had all by now either seen in person or at least heard of. The auto’ da fe, the burning. Lope pressed his eyes tightly closed for a moment, only half hearing the next question coming from Morillo.

No sense of time was possible during such questioning. Indeed, Lope had not seen the sky or the sun even once during the six weeks since he had been detained. If he wasn’t here being questioned by one of the prosecutors, he was back in the large cell that he shared with twenty or twenty-one (he’d lost count with new ones being added and old ones vanishing as quickly) of his fellow Sevillians.  But this day’s interrogation session had certainly lasted for many hours and Lope was exhausted, from the incessant questions, the discomfort of his position in the straight rigid chair, the near complete lack of sleep possible in the cell, the even more complete lack of nutrition provided to the prisoners. But say what you like about Morillo, the man had stamina <perhaps he offers Lupe food and water as inducements>. He had only just returned, for the fourth time that day, to the unceasingly interesting subject of Christian versus Mosaic dietary strictures, when there came an abrupt strident rapping on the door of the chamber. Lope started from his slumped position. Morillo stopped in mid-sentence, gesturing with great annoyance to the notary to attend to whomever it was that had the temerity to interrupt an interrogation of the Holy Inquisition. The man moved briskly to the door, opened it and whispered in what he hoped was a condescending tone to the interrupter. He then paused to listen to the faint voice that came from outside the door. As the faint voice continued, the notary turned slowly and gazed in Morillo’s direction. Nodding slightly, he pushed the door open fully and allowed the new man inside. He was dressed like a messenger and had more than enough sweat on his brow to show that he had been diligent in getting to Morillo as fast as he could manage.

“Excellency,” he blurted out, not caring to notice the prisoner seated in the center of the room. He stepped inside, paused to take a breath. “Excellency, you said to bring news the moment anything was heard. The appointment, it has been received in Seville. It arrived only just now, written and attested by her majesty’s own hand.”

Morillo forgot entirely about his prisoner for a moment and turned to fully face the messenger.

“Yes, and what does it say?” Visions of grandeur immediately sprang unbidden into Morillo’s head as he imagined what he might do with the power to take the inquisition throughout the Spanish territories without hindrance.

“It is Torquemada the Dominican, Lord Prosecutor.”

“Yes, of course it is,” he replied with agitation, not yet getting what the messenger was trying obtusely to say. “Lord Torquemada is instrumental in recommending an Inquisitor General to his Holiness and to the Queen.”

“No, no,” the messenger replied, almost afraid to say the words, for he knew well of Morillo’s aspiration. “Lord Torquemada is the Pontiff’s choice for Inquisitor General. The mandate is his and his alone, Excellency.”

The messenger stood, unsure what to do next, waiting to be dismissed or chastised, something, anything. Morillo stood, saying nothing, for what felt an eternity before turning and returning to take his seat behind the long table. He slid the notary’s book of inscriptions in front of him and pretended to page through it for a few seconds, unsure how to react. He looked again for a moment in Triana’s direction and no one in the room said anything. After a minute of this uncomfortable silence, the prosecutor rose without comment, walked from behind the table, past the messenger and out the door without a word. Lope did not know what to make of the messenger’s words, but they did not sound like a positive development.


[1] Paraphrase of transcript of letter authorizing the inquisition in Tarazona, 1484 (Lu Ann Homza book)

[2] Paraphrase of transcript of arraignment from the Inquisition Trial of Marina Gonzalez, 1494. Source – Homza.

Leave a Reply

* Required
** Your Email is never shared