Archive for January 2015

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!


What makes genealogy fascinating is not just finding out who your ancestors were but also making discoveries that make you take step back and really think about the times and lives they lived. I made one such discovery not too long ago while expanding the tree on my mother’s side of the family.

What I discovered was that the younger sister Ines of my 8th great grandfather Miguel de la Peña Lillo y Estrada was prosecuted and convicted by the Spanish Inquisition in Lima, Peru! This was totally unexpected.

On Page 56, Article 4 of the “Anales de la Inquisición de Lima” by Ricardo Ricardo Palma we find the following text:

Ines de la Peñalillo, limeña, de 40 años y dueña de una mazamorrería. Era una mujer blanca y que poseía una decente fortuna. Sus criadas la acusaron de hechicera y de que meneaba la mazamorra con una canilla de muerto. La infeliz dió un paseo á medio vestir y pasó á condimentar mazamorras á Valdivia. Abjuró de leví y fueron confiscados sus bienes.

Not much more is known of this 9th great-aunt of mine but, using today’s understanding of the human mind, it appears that she was probably suffering of some sort of mental illness. I am also convinced that there were some in her environs that probably wanted to get hold of her material assets so, why not use the Office of the Holy Inquisition to help? Naturally, all this is pure conjecture on my part.

In any case, let’s focus on some of the interesting tidbits we see in the text above.

I won’t go into the description of the Spanish Inquisition because all of that can be easily found by looking at online resources like Wikipedia or any number of encyclopedias. Just be aware to separate fact from fiction.

Something that will be hard to find, I know it was for me, are the different types of outcomes for those convicted:


The rarest of all outcomes because as opposed to what we are all accustomed to in 21st century modern societies, those taken before the Inquisition were presumed guilty until found innocent.

Suspended process

This was the case when the guilt of the accused could not be unquestionably supported yet the person remained under suspicion. At any time the Inquisition can resume the tribunal against him or her with an eventual conviction. In practice, this was a great loophole for the authorities to get out of prosecuting someone innocent while not admitting error.


This required the convicted to publicly denounce (abjure of) his or her crimes. There were three types:

  1. Abjuración de levi: This was a sentence meted out to those that were convicted of “minor” crimes such as bigamists, blasphemers, or those that under a “light” suspicion of heresy. The typical penalties here would be a fine, forced pilgrimage to a holy site, isolation in a convent, or forced fasting of all solids and rarely of even liquids for a period of time.
  2. Abjuración de vehementi: This was for those for whom there were serious suspicions of guilt or there were only two accusing witnesses or the person refused to confess. Typical penalties here would be exile, public flagellation, become a galley slave, or imprisonment.
  3. Abjuración “en forma”: This was in those cases where guilt was proven and the person had confessed their crimes. This was the typical result for those practicing Judaism, especially those that had made a public conversion to Roman Catholicism but continued being practicing Jews in secret. Like with the type above, the typical penalties here would be exile, public flagellation, becoming a galley slave, or imprisonment.

Subsequent convictions of the first type (levi) did not carry extra penalties. Subsequent convictions of the second and third types would mark the person as having relapsed and may even be condemned to death. If the person confessed his or her sins, then they would be strangled before being burned. If they did not confess, they would be burned alive. It should be noted that the actual execution was not carried out by the Church but by the State’s secular authorities to whom the convict would be transferred over after the sentenced was pronounced.

As one can see, the death penalty was reserved for repeat offenders and only in extreme cases, at least in the American Colonies. Contrary to popular belief, the Spanish Inquisition did not automatically burn at the stake everyone that came before it but rather had a range of penalties. Having said that, torture was commonplace and for the non Roman Catholics in Spain, it was a terrifying time with thousands being burnt at the stake during the Inquisition’s existence. Interestingly, as violent as it was at time (at least by today’s standards), torture was not as frequently applied as in the rest of contemporary Europe since even they were of the opinion that confessions brought about during torture are not dependable.

It should also be noted that the Inquisition in the colonies was not as severe as in Spain.

Links of interest: