Although it was not the first Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition* was unique from its very inception on November 1, 1478, because it was controlled by the monarchy rather than the church. While the organization of the Office of the Inquisition was slow moving, taking almost two full years before the first two inquisitors were named, it wasted no time in creating a reign of terror.
Rarely does one hear stories of conversos (Jews who converted in name only) rebelling against the Inquisition. However, the victims of the very first auto-de-fe (burning at the stake – the favored execution method of the Inquisition) were actually brought to trial for preparing defensive measures.
When the Inquisition arrived in Seville in September 1480, Diego de Susan knew that protective measures had to be taken. De Susan, a wealthy banker, gathered other powerful conversos and began to form a plan of action that included assembling troops for their own defense. Many of the conversos in Seville were among the city’s esteemed citizens – bankers, ministers and even men of the cloth who feared the repercussions of their Jewish heritage. Their plans, however, were undone, when de Susan’s daughter, Susanna (who was renowned for her beauty), revealed the plans to her secret beau, who was not a converso and informed upon de Susan.
On February 6, 1481, six of the ring leaders were burned at the stake. De Susan was executed three days later. It is said that Susanna, who had revealed the secret, briefly entered a convent to hide from the world, but ended her days on the streets overcome by shame at what her actions had wrought.
*It should be noted that the Inquisition’s purpose was not to persecute Jews. Rather it was to purify the Christian masses and to extirpate any Jewish practice or belief held by those who had undergone baptism, many of whom did so purely to save their lives. After the expulsion in 1492, it was assumed that anyone remaining in Spain was a faithful Catholic.
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