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Portuguese Inquisition

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The Portuguese Inquisition was formally established in Portugal in 1536 at the request of the King of Portugal, João III. Manuel I had asked for the installation of the Inquisition in 1515 to fulfill the commitment of marriage with Maria of Aragon, but it was only after his death that the pope acquiesced. This inquisition was a Portuguese analogue of the more famous Spanish Inquisition.


Many place the true beginning of the Portuguese Inquisition at 1497, when many Jews were expelled from Portugal and others were forcibly converted to Catholicism. As in Spain, the major target of the Portuguese Inquisition was the Sephardic Jews who had been expelled from Spain in 1492 (see the Alhambra decree); after 1492, many of these Spanish Jews left Spain for Portugal, but they were eventually targeted there as well.

As in Spain, the Inquisition was subject to the authority of the King. It was headed by a Grand Inquisitor, or General Inquisitor, named by the Pope but selected by the king, always from within the royal family. The Grand Inquisitor would later nominate other inquisitors. In Portugal, the first Grand Inquisitor was Cardinal Henry, who would later become king. There were Courts of the Inquisition in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, and Évora.

It held its first auto de fé in Portugal in 1540. Like the Spanish Inquisition, it concentrated its efforts on rooting out those who had converted from other faiths (overwhelmingly Judaism) who did not adhere to the strictures of Catholic orthodoxy; as in Spain, the Portuguese inquisitors mostly targeted the Jewish "New Christians," conversos, or marranos.

The Portuguese Inquisition expanded its scope of operations from Portugal to Portugal's colonial possessions, including Brazil, Cape Verde, and Goa, where it continued investigating and trying cases based on supposed breaches of orthodox Roman Catholicism until 1821.

Under João III, the activity of the courts was extended to the censure of books, as well as undertaking cases of divination, witchcraft and bigamy. Censuring books proved to have a strong influence on Portugal's cultural evolution, keeping the population uninformed and culturally backward . Originally aimed at religious matters, the Inquisition had an influence on almost every aspect of Portuguese life, —— political, cultural, and social.

The Goa Inquisition, another campaign rife with antisemitism and anti-Hinduism predictably targeted Jews and Hindus. It was established in Goa in 1560 by Aleixo Dias Falcão and Francisco Marques, who occupied the palace of the Sabaio Adil Khan.

According to Henry Charles Lea,[1] between 1540 and 1794, tribunals in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and Évora resulted in the burning of 1,175 persons, the burning of another 633 in effigy, and the imposition of penance on 29,590. However, documentation of fifteen out of 689[2] Autos-da-fé has disappeared, so these numbers may slightly understate the activity.

Between 1674 and 1681 Inquisition was suspended in Portugal; Autos de fé were suspended and inquisitors were instructed to not to inflict sentences of relaxation, confiscation, or perpetual galleys between 1674 and 1681, much of this by the action of António Vieira in Rome, in order to put an end to the Inquisition in the Portuguese Empire. Vieira had earned the name of the Apostle of Brazil. At the request of the pope he drew up a report of two hundred pages on the Inquisition in Portugal, with the result that after a judicial inquiry Pope Innocent XI suspended it for five years (1676–81). António Vieira had long regarded the New Christians with compassion and had urged João IV not only to abolish confiscation but to remove the distinctions between them and the Old Christians. He had made enemies and the Inquisition readily undertook his punishment; his writings in favor of the oppressed were condemned as rash, scandalous, erroneous, savoring of heresy and well adapted to pervert the ignorant. After three years of incarceration, he was penanced in the audience-chamber of Coimbra, December 23, 1667, and his sympathy for the victims of the Holy Office was sharpened by his experience of its unwholesome prisons, where he tells us that five unfortunates were not uncommonly herded in a cell nine feet by eleven, where the only light came from a narrow opening near the ceiling, where the vessels were changed only once a week, and all spiritual consolation was denied. Then, in the safe refuge of Rome, he raised his voice for the relief of the oppressed, in numerous writings in which he characterized the Holy Office of Portugal as a tribunal which served only to deprive men of their fortunes, their honor and their lives, while unable to discriminate between guilt and innocence; it was known to be holy only in name, while its works were cruelty and injustice, unworthy of rational beings, although it was always proclaiming its superior piety.

In 1773 and 1774 Pombaline Reforms abolished Autos de fe and ended the Limpeza de Sangue (cleanliness of blood) statutes and their discrimination against New Christians, the Jews that had converted to Christianity, and their descendants regardless of genealogical distance, in order to escape the Portuguese Inquisition.

The Portuguese inquisition was extinguished in 1821 by the "General Extraordinary and Constituent Courts of the Portuguese Nation" .

In 2007, the Portuguese Government initiated a project to make available online by 2010 a significant part of the archives of the Portuguese Inquisition currently deposited in the Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, the Portuguese National Archives.[3]

Pedro Berruguete Saint Dominic Presiding over an Auto-da-fe 1495

A 1495 represention of an Auto-da-fe in Southern France[4].

In December 2008, the Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE) published the Lists of the Portuguese Inquisition, in two volumes: Volume I Lisbon 1540-1778; Volume II Évora 1542-1763 and Goa 1650-1653. The original manuscripts, assembled in 1784 and entitled Collecção das Noticias, were once in the Library of the Dukes of Palmela and are now in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. The texts are published in the original Portuguese, transcribed and indexed by Joy L. Oakley. They represent a unique picture of the whole range of the Inquisition's activities and a primary source for Jewish, Portuguese, and Brazilian historians and genealogists.

See also


  1. Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain, vol. 3, Book 8.
  2. António José Saraiva, Herman Prins Salomon, I. S. D. Sassoon, The Marrano Factory: The Portuguese Inquisition and Its New Christians 1536-1765, 2001, p. 102
  3. Archives of the Inquisition will be available online - in Portuguese
  4. *Page of the painting at Prado Museum.


  • Alexandre Herculano, História da Origem e Estabelecimento da Inquisição em Portugal (English: History of the Origin and Establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal, translation of 1926).

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

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