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Goa Inquisition

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The Goa Inquisition was the office of the Inquisition acting in the Indian state of Goa and the rest of the Portuguese empire in Asia. It was established in 1560, briefly suppressed from 1774-1778, and finally abolished in 1812.[1]

The Inquisition was established to punish relapsed New ChristiansJews and Muslims who converted to Catholicism, as well as their descendants – who were now suspected of practicing their ancestral religion in secret. In Goa, the Inquisition also turned its attention to Indian converts from Hinduism or Islam who were thought to have returned to their original ways. In addition, the Inquisition prosecuted non-converts who broke prohibitions against the observance of Hindu or Muslim rites or interfered with Portuguese attempts to convert non-Christians to Catholicism.[2] While its ostensible aim was to preserve the Catholic faith, the Inquisition was used against Indian Catholics and Hindus as an instrument of social control, as well as a method of confiscating victims' property and enriching the Inquisitors.[3]

Most of the Goa Inquisition's records were destroyed after its abolition in 1812, and it is thus impossible to know the exact number of the Inquisition's victims. Based on the records that survive, H. P. Salomon and I. S. D. Sassoon state that between the Inquisition's beginning in 1561 and its temporary abolition in 1774, some 16,202 persons were brought to trial by the Inquisition. Of this number, it is known that 57 were sentenced to death and executed in person; another 64 were burned in effigy. Others were subjected to lesser punishments or penanced, but the fate of many of the Inquisition's victims is unknown.[2]

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In the 15th century, the Portuguese explored the sea route to India and Pope Nicholas V enacted the Papal bull Romanus Pontifex. This granted the patronage of the propagation of the Christian faith in Asia to the Portuguese and rewarded them with a trade monopoly for newly discovered areas[4].

After Vasco da Gama arrived in India in 1498, the trade became prosperous, but the Portuguese were not interested in proselytization. After four decades, the Catholic Church threatened to open Asia for all Catholics. Now missionaries of the newly founded Society of Jesus were sent to Goa and the Portuguese colonial government supported the mission with incentives for baptized Christians. They offered rice donations for the poor, good positions in the Portuguese colonies for the middle class and military support for local rulers[5].

Many converted Indians were opportunistic Rice Christians, who even practiced their old religion. This was seen as a threat to the immaculateness of the Christian belief. St. Francis Xavier, in a 1545 letter to John III of Portugal, requested an Inquisition to be installed in Goa.

Another point was the persecution of Jews in Portugal by king Manuel I of Portugal since 1497. Jews were forced to become New Christians, who were called Conversos or Marranos. They were apparently subject to harassment. Under the later king John III of Portugal they became targets of the Inquisition. For this reason many New Christians emigrated to the colonies. One of the most famous New Christians was professor Garcia de Orta, who emigrated in 1534 and was posthumously convicted of Judaism[6].


The first inquisitors, Aleixo Dias Falcão and Francisco Marques, established themselves in the palace once occupied by Goa's Islamic sultan, forcing the Portuguese viceroy to relocate to a smaller residence. The inquisitor's first act was to forbid any open practice of the Hindu faith on pain of death. Sephardi Jews living in Goa, many of whom had fled the Iberian Peninsula to escape the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition to begin with, were also persecuted. The narrative of Da Fonseca describes the violence and brutality of the inquisition. The records speak of the necessity for hundreds of prison cells to accommodate fresh victims. Seventy-one "autos da fe" were recorded. In the first few years alone, over 4000 people were arrested, with 121 people burnt alive at the stake[7].

Persecution of Hindus

R.N. Sakshena writes ".. in the name of the religion of peace and love, the tribunal(s) practiced cruelties to the extent that every word of theirs was a sentence of death"[8].

Historical background

The Portuguese colonial administration enacted anti-Hindu laws with the expressed intent to "humiliate Hindus" and encourage conversions to Christianity. Laws were passed banning Christians from keeping Hindus in their employ, and the public worship of Hindus was deemed unlawful[8]. Hindus were forced to assemble periodically in churches to listen to preaching or to refutation of their religion.[9] The viceroy ordered that Hindu pandits and physicians be disallowed from entering the capital city on horseback or palanquins, the violation of which entailed a fine. Successive violations resulted in imprisonment, Christian palaquin-bearers were forbidden from carrying Hindus as passengers. Christian agricultural laborers were forbidden to work in the lands owned by Hindus and Hindus forbidden to employ Christian laborers.[10] The Inquisition guaranteed "protection" to Hindus who converted to Christianity. Thus, they initiated a new wave of baptisms to Hindus who were motivated by social coercion into converting[11].

The adverse effects of the inquisition were tempered somewhat by the fact that Hindus were able to escape Portuguese hegemony by migrating to other parts of the subcontinent[12] including to Muslim territory.[13]

Persecution of Christians

Persecution of Goan Catholics

The main object of the Inquisition was the eradication of heresy. Consequently, the authorities of the Inquisition dealt more severely with the converted Catholics than the Hindus and Muslims. They declared that observance of Hindu customs after conversion was un-Christian and heretical. Many Goan Catholics, however, were tenaciously attached to some of their old Hindu customs. Those who refused to give up these ancient Hindu practices were declared apostates and heretics and condemned to death. Such circumstances forced many to leave Goa and settle in the neighboring kingdoms, of which a minority went to the Deccan and the vast majority went to Canara. The fact that these Catholics who fled the Inquisition did not abandon their Christian faith testifies to the fact that they simply wanted to observe their traditional Hindu customs in conjunction with new found Catholic practises as well.[14]

Persecution of Syrian Christians

In 1599 under Aleixo de Menezes the Synod of Diamper converted the Syriac Saint Thomas Christians (of the Eastern faith) to the Roman Catholic Church under the excuse that they allegedly practiced Nestorian heresy. The synod enforced severe restrictions on their faith and the practice of using Syriac/Aramaic. They were first made politically insignificant and their Metropolitanate status was discontinued by blocking bishops from the East. There were assassination attempts against Archdeacon George so as to subjugate the entire Church under Rome. Even the common prayer book was not spared. Every known item of literature was burnt and any priest professing independence was imprisoned. Some altars were pulled down to make way for altars conforming to Catholic criteria. The St. Thomas Christians resentful over these acts later swore the Coonan Cross Oath, severing relations with the Catholic Church, and later came to be known as Jacobites

In addition, non-Portuguese Christian missionaries who were in competition with the inquisition were often persecuted, even though they were outside of the inquisition's sphere of influence. When the local clergy became jealous of a French priest operating in Madras, they lured him to Goa, then had him arrested and sent to the inquisition. He was saved when the Hindu King of Carnatica (Karnataka) interceded on his behalf, laid siege to St. Thome and demanded the release of the priest.[15]


  1. "'Goa Inquisition was most merciless and cruel'". Rediff. September 14, 2005. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Salomon, H. P. and Sassoon, I. S. D., in Saraiva, Antonio Jose. The Marrano Factory. The Portuguese Inquisition and Its New Christians, 1536-1765 (Brill, 2001), pp. 345-7.
  3. Benton, Lauren. Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900 (Cambridge, 2002), p. 122.
  4. Daus, Ronald (1983). Die Erfindung des Kolonialismus. Wuppertal/Germany: Peter Hammer Verlag. p. 33. ISBN 3-87294-202-6. (German)
  5. Daus, Ronald (1983). Die Erfindung des Kolonialismus. Wuppertal/Germany: Peter Hammer Verlag. pp. 61–66. ISBN 3-87294-202-6. (German)
  6. Daus, Ronald (1983). Die Erfindung des Kolonialismus. Wuppertal/Germany: Peter Hammer Verlag. pp. 81–82. ISBN 3-87294-202-6. (German)
  7. Hunter, William W, The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Trubner & Co, 1886
  8. 8.0 8.1 Sakshena, R.N, Goa: Into the Mainstream (Abhinav Publications, 2003), p. 24
  9. M. D. David (ed.), Western Colonialism in Asia and Christianity, Bombay, 1988, p.17
  10. Priolkar, A. K. The Goa Inquisition. (Bombay, 1961)
  11. Shirodhkar, P. P., Socio-Cultural life in Goa during the 16th century, p. 35
  12. Shirodhkar, P. P., Socio-Cultural life in Goa during the 16th century, p. 123
  13. The Cambridge history of seventeenth-century music, By Tim Carter, John Butt, pg. 105
  14. The Marriage Customs of the Christians in South Canara, India - pp. 4-5, Severine Silva and Stephen Fuchs, 1965, Asian Folklore Studies, Nanzan University (Japan
  15. Benton, Lauren. Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900 (Cambridge, 2002), p. 122.

See also


  • Benton, Lauren. Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900 (Cambridge, 2002).
  • Hunter, William W. The Imperial Gazetteer of India (Trubner & Co, 1886).
  • Priolkar, A. K. The Goa Inquisition (Bombay, 1961).
  • Sakshena, R. N. Goa: Into the Mainstream (Abhinav Publications, 2003).
  • Saraiva, Antonio Jose. The Marrano Factory. The Portuguese Inquisition and Its New Christians, 1536-1765 (Brill, 2001).
  • Shirodhkar, P. P. Socio-Cultural life in Goa during the 16th century.

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Goa Inquisition. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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