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An Auto DE Fe in Spain
The Condemned Going to the Stake

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Auto De Fe, or Public Burning of Martyrs in Spain

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   The following account of an auto de fe, in Seville, held during the reign of Philip II, 1559, is taken from ancient records describing the event, by Prescott, the celebrated historian.

    A great square in the center of the city was the place where the ceremonies were held which always preceded the burning of "heretics." At one end of this square a platform was raised, covered with rich carpeting, on which were ranged the seats of the inquisitors. Near to this platform was built a high stand or gallery for the king and royal family, and opposite to this a large scaffold for the unhappy martyrs was placed so as to be plainly visible from all parts of the square

   At six o'clock in the morning all the bells in the city began to toll and a solemn procession was seen to move from the gloomy prison of the Inquisition. In front marched a body of troops to secure free passage for the procession. Then came the condemned, each attended by two familiars, or monks, of the Holy Office. Those who were to suffer at the stake were accompanied by two friars, in addition, who constantly exhorted the "heretic" to renounce his errors. These unfortunates destined for the fire were each enveloped in a loose sack of yellow cloth--called the san benito--and each wore upon his head a pointed pasteboard cap. Both the sack and the cap were covered with hideous pictures of flames, and of devils fanning and feeding them; to show the supposed fate of the "heretic's" soul in the world to come, as well as of his body in the present. Then came magistrates, judges of the courts, and nobles on horseback. These were followed by members of the dread Inquisition; and the rear was brought up by an immense concourse of the people of the city.

    As the procession filed into the square the inquisitors took their seats on the platform prepared for them; and the king and his attendants were admitted by a private staircase to their gallery. The ceremonies began with a sermon by the bishop; when he had ended, the grand inquisitor administered the oath to the assembled multitude, who on their knees solemnly swore to defend the Inquisition, to maintain the purity of the faith, and to inform against any one who departed from it. As king Philip repeated the oath he suited the action to the word, and rising from his seat, drew his sword from its scabbard, as if to announce himself as the champion of the so-called Holy Office. After this the secretary of the tribunal read the charge against each of the prisoners, and the sentence pronounced against them. Those who had recanted, each, as his name was spoken, knelt down, and with his hands on the prayer-book solemnly abjured his errors, and was absolved by the grand inquisitor. These, however, were not to be entirely relieved from punishment for their transgression. Some were doomed to imprisonment for life in the dungeons of the Inquisition, others to lighter sentences, but all had their property confiscated--a part of the sentence too profitable to the tribunal ever to be omitted. Besides this, they, as well as their immediate descendants, were, in many cases, pronounced unfit to hold public office of any kind, and their names were branded with perceptual infamy. Thus blighted in fortune and in character, they were said--in the hypocritical and malevolent language used by the Inquisition--to be reconciled.








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