Tomas de Torquemada

Who was Tomas de Torquemada?

Tomás de Torquemada (1420 –1498) was a 15th-century Spanish Dominican friar and the first Grand Inquisitor in Spain's movement to restore Christianity among its populace in the late 15th century. As well as being Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada was also the confessor to Isabella I of Castile. He is notorious for his zealous campaign against the crypto-Jews and crypto-Muslims of Spain. He was one of the chief supporters of the Alhambra Decree, which expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492. About 2,000 people were burned at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition between 1480 and 1530.

Torquemáda's manual of instructions to the Inquisition (Copilación de las Instruciónes del Offico de la Sancta Inquisición) did not appear in print publicly until 1576, when it was published in Madrid. In modern times, his name has become synonymous with the Spanish Inquisition’s horror, religious bigotry, and cruel fanaticism.

Torquemada was born in Valladolid, Castile-León, Spain. He was the nephew of a celebrated theologian and cardinal, Juan de Torquemada, who was the grandson of a converso (someone who had converted to Christianity from Islam or Judaism); the contemporary historian Hernando del Pulgar (himself a converso ) recorded that his uncle, Juan de Torquemada, had an ancestor Álvar Fernández de Torquemada married to a first-generation Jewish conversa:

"Sus abuelos fueron de linage de los convertidos a nuestra santa fe católica" (translates as "His grandparents were among those converted to our Holy Catholic faith").

Tomás entered the local San Pablo Dominican monastery at a very young age. As a zealous advocate of church orthodoxy, he earned a solid reputation for the triple virtues of learning, piety and austerity. As a result, he was promoted to prior of the monastery of Santa Cruz at Segovia. Around this time, he met the young Princess Isabella I and the two immediately established religious and ideological rapport.


For a number of years, Torquemáda served as her regular confessor and personal advisor. He was present at Isabella’s coronation in 1474, and remained her closest ally and supporter. He had even advised her to marry King Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469, in order to consolidate their kingdoms and form a power base he could draw on for his own purposes.

Establishment of the Holy Office of the Inquisition

Torquemada's concern towards Spanish Jews grew as he perceived them as gaining increasing religious influence on, and economic domination of, Spain; he became convinced they were trying to undermine the sovereign couple’s power and, even more importantly, Roman Catholicism.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella concurred, and soon after their accession to power petitioned the Pope to grant their request for a Holy Office to administer an inquisition in Spain. The pope granted their request, and established the Holy Office for the Propagation of the Faith in late 1478.

Grand Inquisitor

The Gothic entry way of IE University, Segovia, was formerly at the Dominican convent of la Santa Cruz (the Holy Cross), where de Torquemada served as a prior. The Pope went on to appoint a number of inquisitors for the Spanish Kingdoms in early 1482, including Torquemáda. A year later he was named Grand Inquisitor of Spain, which he remained until his death in 1498. In the fifteen years under his direction, the Spanish Inquisition grew from the single tribunal at Seville to a network of two dozen 'Holy Offices'.

As Grand Inquisitor, Torquemáda reorganized the Spanish Inquisition (originally based in Castile in 1478), establishing tribunals in Sevilla, Jaén, Córdoba, Ciudad Real and (later) Saragossa. His quest was to rid Spain of all heresy. Jewish conversos and marranos (Jews who had converted to Christianity but continued practicing their religion in secret) fell prey to his fanatical hunt for heretics. Torquemada and his followers accused the marranos of proselytizing to Christian communities, and he urged all Catholics to spy on them. The Spanish chronicler Sebastián de Olmedo called him "the hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the savior of his country, the honor of his order".

In 1484, he promulgated 28 articles for the guidance of inquisitors, whose competence was extended to include not only crimes of heresy and apostasy but also sorcery, sodomy, polygamy, blasphemy, usury and other offenses; torture was authorized in order to obtain evidence. These articles were supplemented by others promulgated between 1484 and 1498. Torquemáda headed an organization which imprisoned, tortured and burned even suspected nonbelievers at the stake, in numbers estimated at about 2,000.

Torquemada’s hostility to Jews probably exercised an influence on the decision of Ferdinand and Isabella to expel from their dominions all Jews who had not embraced Christianity.[citation needed] Under the edict of March 31, 1492, known as the Alhambra Decree, more than 40,000 Jews left Spain. Accusations against the Spanish Inquisition for its extremism are supported by a papal bull of Pope Sixtus IV dating from early 1482 (even before Torquemáda's appointment as Grand Inquisitor), affirming that

Many true and faithful Christians, because of the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves and other low people — and even less respectable accusers — without tests of any kind, have been locked up in secular prisons, tortured and condemned like relapsed heretics, deprived of their goods and properties, and given over to the secular arm to be executed, at great danger to their souls, giving a pernicious example and causing scandal to many.

Torquemada made the procedures of prior inquisitions somewhat less brutal by moderating the then-widespread use of torture, limiting its use to suspects denounced by two or more "persons of good nature."[citation needed]; and by cleaning up the Inquisitorial prisons. The use of torture was intensified only if the accused refused to confess, and Torquemáda indeed showed no mercy to those who reappeared before the Inquisition as "relapsos" (relapsed heretics).

Many were sentenced to life imprisonment. However, ringleaders or relapsos were usually publicly beheaded or burned at the stake. The condemned were made to wear a sambeníto, a black cloak that had designs of hell’s flames or sometimes demons, dragons and/or snakes engraved on it. Every Spanish Christian over the age of twelve (for girls) and fourteen (for boys) was accountable to the Inquisition,[citation needed] which at first held jurisdiction over only those who had converted to Christianity from Judaism or Islam but were suspected of secretly practicing their old rites, thus corrupting "the pure doctrine and faithful practice of the Christian faith."

Forced conversions by large numbers, often ordered by Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, took place under significant government pressure. The Treaty of Granada (1491), as negotiated at the final surrender of the Muslim state of Al-Andalus, clearly mandated protection of religious rights,[citation needed] but this was reversed by the Alhambra Decree of 1492.

Anyone who spoke against the Inquisition could fall under suspicion, even Saint Teresa of Ávila and Saint John of the Cross. Although the Inquisition is often viewed as being directed against all Jews and only Jews, it actually had no jurisdiction or authority over unconverted Jews or Muslims and never claimed to have any;[citation needed] only baptized Christians — in other words, persons claiming to be Catholics — faced possible investigation. Furthermore, of those called to appear before the Holy Office, most were released after an initial hearing without any further incident.

There is some disagreement as to the number of victims of the Spanish Inquisition during Torquemada's reign as Grand Inquisitor. Some scholars[specify] believe that he was responsible for the death of 2,000 people. Hernando del Pulgar, Queen Isabella’s secretary, wrote that 2,000 executions took place throughout the entirety of her reign, which extended well beyond Torquemada's death.


During his final years, Torquemáda's failing health, coupled with widespread complaints, caused Pope Alexander VI to appoint four assistant inquisitors in June 1494 to restrain the Spanish Inquisition. After fifteen years as Spain's Grand Inquisitor, Torquemáda died in the monastery of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ávila in 1498 and was interred there. His tomb was ransacked in 1832—two years before the Inquisition was disbanded—by rioters, his bones stolen and ritually incinerated as though an auto-da-fé took place.


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