The Span­ish Inquisition


His fel­low in­quisi­tors had been con­vinced of a mass witch­craft epi­demic be­cause so many con­fes­sions shared the same de­tails. But this was what made Salazar sus­pi­cious — might it not just as eas­ily sig­nal mass delu­sion?

Cru­cially, the re­forms and cod­i­fi­ca­tions en­acted by the Suprema — and in­spired by Salazar’s re­ports — had a trans­for­ma­tive ef­fect. It now be­came nec­es­sary to cor­rob­o­rate any ac­cu­sa­tions of witch­craft, and all tes­ti­monies had to be recorded in their en­tirety rather than sim­ply be­ing sum­marised. As a re­sult, in­con­sis­ten­cies and con­tra­dic­tions be­came much eas­ier to spot, along with what Salazar de­scribed as “claims that go be­yond all hu­man rea­son.”

To his great credit, Salazar also re­alised that he had played his own part in fan­ning the flames of para­noia and, for the re­main­der of his ca­reer, he would do much to pre­vent a rep­e­ti­tion of the panic that had en­gulfed the Basque re­gion. As his rep­u­ta­tion blos­somed within the Inquisition, he mon­i­tored the ac­tiv­i­ties of lo­cal tri­bunals and, on oc­ca­sion, di­rectly in­ter­vened when the sec­u­lar au­thor­i­ties’ zeal reached fever pitch.

Be­tween 1424 and 1782, as many as 60,000 Euro­pean peo­ple were legally put to death for witch­craft. His­to­ri­ans have, how­ever, talked of a so-called “Mediter­ranean mild­ness” in this con­text. Spain cer­tainly had its share of per­se­cu­tions but, by com­par­i­son with other parts of Europe, it be­haved with rel­a­tive re­straint.

The great sur­prise is that the Span­ish Inquisition, for all its in­fa­mous no­to­ri­ety, was one of the key fac­tors in lim­it­ing the car­nage. One of its agents, Alonso de Salazar y Frías, was a cru­cial part of this tra­di­tion and well de­serves his rep­u­ta­tion as the “witches’ ad­vo­cate”.

The Span­ish Inquisition tried 5,000 peo­ple for us­ing magic be­tween 1610 and 1700. None of them were burned

The ti­tle page of the Malleus Malefi­carum, the late 15th-cen­tury book that set the tone for at­ti­tudes to­wards witch­craft

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