Goya Tribunal.Flammenhut

Convicted heretic before the Inquisition wearing a sambenito (Francisco de Goya).

Sanbenito (gramalleta or sambenet in Catalan) was a penitential garment, especially during the Spanish Inquisition, similar to a scapular either yellow with red St. Andrew's crosses for penitent heretics or black and decorated with friars, dragons and devils for impenitent heretics to wear at an auto de fé (meaning acts of faith) – burning at the stake.

The heretics, found guilty by the inquisitors, had to walk in the procession wearing the sambenito, the coroza, the rope around the neck, and in their hands a yellow wax candle. The tunic of yellow cloth reaching down to the knees of the wearer, with figures of monks, dragons and demons in the act of augmenting flames, signifies that the heretic is impenitent and is condemned to burn at the stakes. If an impenitent is converted just before the procession, then the sambenito is painted with the flames downward, which is called fuego repolto, and it means that the heretic is not to be burnt alive at the stake, but to have the sympathy of being strangled before the fire is applied to the stake.

The third type of penitential garment was for those who repented before they were sentenced. It was a simple yellow scapulary with a red cross, and a conical cap, dominated coroza, which was formed of the same material as the sambenito, and decorated with similar crosses but no paintings, figures or flames and the wearer is only to do penance.

The sambenito should not be confused with the yellow robes worn by some monks; which are also garments related to penitence and which is one reason that made the Inquisition to prefer common woolen dyed yellow with red crosses for the sambenito. Such were the penitential robes in 1514, when Cardinal Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros transformed the common crosses for those of Saint Andrew. The inquisitors afterwards designated a different tunic for each class of penitents.

Originally the penitential garments were hung up in the churches as mementos of disgrace to their wearers, and as the trophies of the Holy Inquisition. The lists of the punished were also called sambenitos. The bearers of the surnames of those listed in the church of Santo Domingo in Palma de Mallorca were discriminated against as xuetas (the local name for Converso Jews), even when those surnames were also born by Old Christians and the surnames of other Majorcan Judaizers were not preserved at the cathedral.


In Spanish, San Benito means "Saint Benedict" An alternative etymology by Covarrubias and former editions of DRAE has it from saco bendito ("blessed sack"). Américo Castro "proved that it does not come from saco bendito"[1].

In the 1945 edition of México Viejo, Luis González Obregón shows images from Felipe A. Limborch's Historia Inquisitionis, dated 1692, which were images of Sambenitos used in the Inquisition.

González Obregon describes the three basic types of tunics used to distinguish those being punished by the Inquisition. These were the Samarra, Fuego revolto, and the Sambenito. The Samarra was used by those comdemned to death, frequently through the burning at the stake; it featured painted dragons, devils, and flames amongst which the image of the prisoner could be distinguished. The Fuego revolto was used for those who had repented. The flames would be painted downwards, thus indicating that they had escaped death through fire. Finally there was the Sambenito used commonly by those in penitence and which featured the cross of Saint Andrew, eventually became known to designate all three types.

Other garments worn by the prisoners included pointed hats, rosaries, and green or yellow candles.

In popular culture

In the television series Millennium, created by Chris Carter, (episode "Kingdom Come"), a serial killer use a sambenito on a Catholic priest he burns at the stake outside his church.


  • González Obregon, Luis. Època Colonial, México Viejo, Noticias Históricas, Tradiciones, Leyendas y Costumbres, Editorial Patria, S.A. 1945, 107-108.
  1. Américo Castro, Revista de Filología Española, XV, 179-80. Quoted in santo, Diccionario Crítico Etimológico Castellano e Hispánico, volume 5, page 155, Joan Corominas and José A. Pascual, Editorial Gredos, 1991, ISBN 84-249-0879-1.
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Sanbenito. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.