The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition

The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition
The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition

The Horrors of the Church and its Holy Inquisition

It is hard to fathom the horrors committed during the holy inquisition. Especially as they were committed by the church. The church supposedly preaches love and charity. There was no love or charity in those horrors!

The Middle Ages are remembered for the fall of the Roman Empire, the emergence of long-distance trade, the Renaissance – advancements in art, architecture, literature and experimental science, … and violence.



Specifically, the horrors of the Holy Inquisition, a terrifying time for anyone who didn’t abide by, or spoke against the Roman Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church wielded immense power, and took it upon themselves to be the final authority on who was righteous and who was “working with the devil“.

If you were a rationalist, practiced a religion other than Catholicism or were found incanting even a harmless love spell, you could get into a lot of trouble – even pay with your life.

What exactly was the Holy Inquisition?

The Inquisition started out as a judicial process under the Roman Catholic Church for identifying and punishing heresy. It was originally established by Pope Innocent III in Rome, and in 1233, by Pope Gregory IX in France.

The Inquisition expanded to other European countries, leading to the Portuguese Inquisition and Spanish Inquisition, and the respective countries instituted it across the territories they were ruling, including Asia, Africa, and the Americas.


The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition - What exactly was the Holy Inquisition
The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition – What exactly was the Holy Inquisition


Enforcing orthodoxy may have seemed like a “noble” cause for participating clergymen, but it was nothing short of horrifying for the victims. Those considered heretics included Protestants, Jews, Muslims and even rationalists.

It was a brutal war waged on people for subscribing to beliefs that were in opposition to what the Church believed to be right.



Why did it horrify non-believers? Four reasons why the Inquisition was a scary time in the history of the Middle Ages


The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition - Why did it horrify non-believers
The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition – Why did it horrify non-believers


An Inquisition tribunal initially gave heretics some time to confess, and then following a grace period, they were handed out punishments at an “auto-da-fe” or “Act of Faith”, by the presiding clergymen.

The punishments included physical torture and confinement in dungeons. The few who did manage to escape harsh punishment were stripped of their property and ostracized from public life.

Those who did not confess were burned at the stake, and those who confessed were first strangled and then lifted on the stake to be burned.





Methods to Force Confession

  • This tactic had a psychological effect on “offenders” because it wasn’t an entirely transparent process. When inquisitors visited an area, they would request reports about anyone suspected of heresy, including offering rewards to those who reported heretics. Trials of suspected heretics sometimes occurred in secrecy, where the inquisitors wielded full control over the process – both prosecuting and handing down judgment. The accused did not have the luxury of hiring anyone to litigate on their behalf, – they were at the mercy of the representatives of the Roman Catholic Church.
  • As suspected heretics had no choice but to defend themselves at trial, most preferred to confess. Those who didn’t were tortured into confessing, making the trial a farce, and further exposing the violent ways of the Church.



The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition - Shocking torture techniques

The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition – Shocking torture techniques

  • Back then, there was no separation of the Church and State, which created more problems for heretics. The church could, at will, request that the government punish convicted heretics. If the few who were pardoned returned to their heretic ways, they could be condemned to death. While many among them were burned to death, others were either drowned or beaten till their last breath.
  • Torture was integral to the confession process. The Church felt it was their “duty” to extract confessions of heresy and non-conformity to the doctrine. Impassioned by the desire to torture however much as they possibly could – inquisitors were infamous for subjecting suspects to inhuman



Shocking torture techniques

The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition - Shocking torture techniques
The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition – Shocking torture techniques
  • Waterboarding, which inquisitors deemed an effective form of torture, in contrast to what the Justice Department in the United States today believes. According to the Department, waterboarding qualifies as torture only if it is performed in a way that poses a grave risk of death, organ failure or irreversible impairment.
  • Starvation, making suspects go without food and water for long periods of time, until their bodies gave up, was yet another example of the Holy Inquisition horrors.
  • Force feeding the accused with just water or other liquids, and forcing them to hold it in.
  • Strappado, where the suspect’s hands were tied behind his back, a rope tied around his wrists, which was then affixed to a pulley, for the purpose of lifting him up until he was hanging from his arms. Those who were subjected to this form of torture for extended periods of time suffered shoulder dislocation. Sometimes, weights could also be added to the hanging man’s feet or ankles for an even more painful
  • In another type of torture, the suspect’s hands and feet were chained to rollers on one end of a metal frame. The rollers were turned to tighten the grip of the chains, resulting in a dislocation of the person’s joints. In a worst case scenario, the person’s arms or legs cracked under the intense force.






Shocking torture techniques - The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition
Shocking torture techniques – The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition

More Vile Methods of Torture

  • Piling burning coal onto different parts of the prisoner’s body.
  • The use of torture instruments like thumbscrews and pinchers to mutilate various parts of the body.
  • A head crushing apparatus was a favorite among inquisitors. It was designed to compress the prisoner’s head, first smashing his teeth and then slowly crushing his cranial and facial bones. Some came with small containers to catch eyeballs that fell out of victims’ sockets during the procedure!
  • The knee splitter was particularly painful for suspects. It consisted of pointed spikes on both sides of a grip operated by screws. As the torturer turned the handle, the spikes penetrated the knee and pierced the bones, effectively maiming suspects for life.
  • Roasting suspects over fire as if they were barbecue meat
  • Making suspects kneel on boards with sharp spikes
  • Dunking suspects in scalding water mixed with lime



Shocking torture techniques - The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition
Shocking torture techniques – The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition


Though shedding of blood was forbidden. However, there wasn’t any stringent supervision of the torture methods or devices used. So it is possible that some inquisitors may have disobeyed this technical ban.


Women were abused in ingenious ways

The possible persecution of female penitents is a less discussed aspect of the holy Inquisition horrors. There are reports of female penitents being threatened in the confessional that they would be subject to Inquisition proceedings unless they had sex with priests.

Condemned female penitents were sometimes flung off high places.  They could be stripped naked and hung off the ground at a height for everyone to see.

Clergymen also made light of tearing the flesh off female suspects’ bodies. They believed that the human body would perish after all the skin had been ripped off to the waist. This led them to use burning hot flesh ripping devices on women’s breasts to peel their skin off until they died.


The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition - Inquisition tribunal
The Horrors of the Holy Inquisition – Inquisition tribunal


Believing the Inquisition to be worthy of praise, the Church called it the “sanctum officium” or Holy Office! Thousands were put to death during various phases of the Inquisition.

It wasn’t until the late 18th century that many heretics were spared their lives. Eventually they were granted the opportunity to make penance.

The system was officially abolished only during the early 19th century. Finally a truly terrible time in the history of mankind came to an end. Nevertheless, the horrors of the Holy Inquisition continue to shock us to this day.

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