What was the Inquisition?

In simple terms, the Inquisition was a formal court set up by the Church to try people accused of not following the teachings of the Church. It had the power to torture the accused, who had no rights to a fair trial (assuming that one should ever be tried for not following mainstream beliefs), and could hand the accused over for execution.


The medieval Inquisition began in 1184 when Pope Lucius III sent a list of heresies to Europe's bishops and commanded them to take an active role in determining whether those accused of heresy were, in fact, guilty. Rather than relying on secular courts, local lords, or just mobs, bishops were to see to it that accused heretics in their dioceses were examined by knowledgeable churchmen using Roman laws of evidence. In other words, they were to "inquire"-thus, the term "inquisition."

From the perspective of secular authorities, heretics were traitors to God and king and therefore deserved death. From the perspective of the Church, however, heretics were lost sheep that had strayed from the flock, and the pope and bishops had a duty to bring those sheep back into the fold. The Inquisition provided a means for heretics to escape death and return to the community. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to Christianity. However, unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to the secular authorities to be punished.

Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull on November 1, 1478, allowing the Spanish crown to form an inquisitorial tribunal. As was now the custom, the monarchs would have complete authority over the inquisitors and the inquisition. The purpose of the Spanish Inquisition was to identify the conversos who had publicly converted to Christianity but continued secretly to practise Judaism or Islam.


The Inquisition was a group if institutions within the government system of the Catholic Church, whose aim was to combat heresy. It started in 12th century France and spread to other European countries resulting in the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Minor religions were more numerous in these countries