The Inquisition was one of the most powerful and polemical institutions used by the Roman Catholic Church to eliminate heresy and protect the unity of Christendom. Established in 1478 at the request of the Catholic monarchs Isabel and Ferdinand, the Inquisition was under the direct control of the Spanish government until it was abolished in 1834. The Spanish Inquisition existed to ensure the Conversos’ and Moriscos’ orthodox practice of Christianity. Since most Jews and Muslims were forcibly converted the Inquisition was established to ensure the authenticity and commitment of the freshly converted Christians. It soon acquired a reputation for being a barbarous, repressive instrument of racial and religious intolerance that regularly employed torture as well as the death penalty as punishments. Although the Inquisition targeted many groups of people including Moriscos, old Christians and Protestants, it was the conversos who were the main victims of the Inquisition.
The Spanish Inquisition was created in 1478 because of a heresy which Church authorities called “judaizing”: judaizers were Christians who allegedly continued to practice Jewish ceremonies and espouse Jewish beliefs. Spain had the largest population of Jews in Western Europe until 1391, when preaching by Dominican friars provoked the forced baptism of Jews and the destruction of their neighborhoods. Almost instantaneously, these “new” Christians, called conversos, generated debate within Spanish society; questions arose as to whether they were sincere in their new beliefs, and whether they should be allowed to hold the public and ecclesiastical ofﬁces that were now open to them because of their baptism. Antagonism toward the conversos was inﬂamed by their social success, since many converso families deftly climbed a social hierarchy that had been off limits before their baptism. Conversos came to occupy 85 percent of the posts on the city council in Cuenca, held prominent positions at the royal court, and could achieve remarkable success in the Church. Historians think the conversos’ social prominence compounded local, urban rivalries and resulted in controversy throughout the ﬁfteenth century. For example, conversos were banned from municipal ofﬁces in 1449 in Toledo and 1467 in Ciudad Real; anti-Jewish polemics were composed by both Old and New Christians; interest in genealogy surged, to prove a lack of converso blood-lines.
The development of tribunals, higher ofﬁcials, and councils was supposed to help the Inquisition function more effectively; between 1480 and 1521, its targets remained basically the same, namely, conversos who might be judaizing heretics. The Inquisition’s focus on conversos quickly affected the lives of Spain’s Jews. The inquisitors believed the task of ferreting out judaizing conversos was gargantuan, and between 1480 and 1492, as they arrested baptized men and women for purportedly following the dietary laws and religious rituals of Judaism, it occurred to them that their suspects were being “contaminated” by Jews. Upon the urging of inquisitors, Ferdinand and Isabella began a process of expelling Jews from various cities and dioceses, in or-der to block their contact with the converso population. At the end of 1482, Jews were expelled from Jerez de la Frontera. In January 1483, they were expelled from the dioceses of Seville, Córdoba, and Cádiz; in 1486, they were expelled by royal order from the dioceses of Zaragoza, Albarracín, and Teruel. Despite these partial expulsions, inquisitors continued to ﬁnd judaizing conversos ten years after starting work in Seville. The Inquisition therefore ultimately recommended the ejection of the entire Jewish population.
Ferdinand and Isabella ﬁnally conquered Granada, the last Islamic kingdom in Spain, in January 1492; that victory seemed to signal the impending triumph of Christianity in the peninsula. Two months later, on March 31, 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella issued…