Nobody Expects the Truth About the Spanish Inquisition!

Nobody expects the truth about the Spanish Inquisition

One of my least favorite subjects in high school was history. To me history was something that mainly involved people very different from me, who lived in far-flung places hundreds or thousands of years ago. I used to wonder what possible relevance it could have to me in the here and now, shallow, acne-speckled ratbag that I was. But as I grew older I developed an interest in my genealogy—I’m Irish on my dad’s side and English on my mum’s—which evolved into an obsession with Irish, English, and then ancient history.

Before history became my hobby, I regarded it as something that was pretty much set in stone. While dribs and drabs of it had to be revised occasionally, when new information came to light, it never changed to the point where a major historical event had to undergo a massive rewrite. At least that’s what I thought. But I thought wrong.

Take the Spanish Inquisition. If I were to ask you how many people died in the Spanish Inquisition, what would your answer be? Hundreds of thousands? A million? More than a million? I bet that whatever figure you came up with would be a considerable one.

The Actual Number of Dead

So how many people did die in the Spanish Inquisition?

Try 3000 to 5000.

No, I didn’t leave out a few zeros. The current estimate really is 3000 to 5000 persons.

But how could that be possible? I hear you ask. How could so many historians have grossly overestimated the figures and for so long?

The answer is they had based their conclusions on a legend that over the centuries had grown to immense proportions. That’s not to say that the Spanish Inquisition never happened. It happened, all right, and innocent men and women were tortured to death, but the number of dead and much of what was supposed to have taken place during the 350-year period it covered have been grossly exaggerated.

Toward the end of the 20th century, historians were given access to archival records from the Spanish Inquisition, which revealed that the inquisitors kept exhaustive information on every man and woman who had been executed. To their great surprise, they found that the generally accepted death toll bore no resemblance to reality. Their discoveries were detailed in a 1995 BBC documentary, The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition, which is posted directly below.

The traditional view of the Spanish Inquisition is that it was a witch hunt where huge numbers of accused persons were tortured and burned at the stake at the whims of corrupt, fanatical inquisitors. But the truth is, compared to the secular courts of the period, those of the Inquisition were scrupulously just. Each inquisitor had to abide by a series of strict rules. If he broke one, he was dismissed from office. The accused were considered innocent until proven guilty, and if they suspected a judge of bias, they could have their case heard by a different judge. They could also confer with a lawyer and appeal a conviction. Anyone who falsely accused them was punished severely.

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of people found guilty by an Inquisition court were not sentenced to death. Most received a warning or had to give penance. Some were incarcerated, though incarceration didn’t always involve jail time. Galileo, for example, was placed under house arrest. Such was the Inquisitors’ reputation for fairness and leniency that people preferred to be tried by an Inquisition court than a secular one.

Torture was employed only in a small percentage of cases and for no longer than 15 minutes. Confessions extracted this way were disregarded if the accused didn’t confirm them the next day without the aid of torture. Moreover, the inquisitors tended to doubt the veracity of such confessions.

The Real Torquemada

As for that supposed torture-loving fiend Tomás de Torquemada, anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic propaganda caused his legend to grow with that of the Inquisition itself until he became one of history’s most infamous figures.

Prior to his appointment as an inquisitor, Torquemada was the head of a monastery who was known for his humility and devotion to the Church. Upon commencing his new role, he saw to it that the Inquisition’s prisons were clean and properly ventilated, and that each accused person’s legal rights were protected. He further ensured that the children of executed heretics were provided for and received a proper education.

According to fable, Torquemada’s primary motivation for torturing and executing the innocent was the large sums of money he received from Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand as a reward for his services to Spain and the Catholic Church. However, there is no documentary evidence to support this theory. In fact, historical records reveal that he gave most if not all of his money to charitable and religious works.

Historical Fact or Historical Fiction?

History is only as accurate and as impartial as the people who document it. Considering all the lies that have been disseminated about the Spanish Inquisition, one can’t help but wonder what other important historical events have been misrepresented by people with a vested interest in doing so.

A Sparrow Never Forgets

angry sparrow

Back in the days when I stood shorter than my mother, the boy who lived next door to me trapped a sparrow in his dad’s garage. He didn’t hurt it. He just wanted to see it fly around for a while. After about ten or so minutes of watching it flutter hither and yon, he raised the garage door and let it fly free.

He and I decided to celebrate his amazing feat of bird trapping by stuffing our faces with junk food, so we got on our pushbikes and rode to the neighborhood milk bar. A milk bar is like the Aussie version of an American drugstore, minus the drugs, though you can buy aspirin there, and some of the locally manufactured colas could land you on Mars if you sculled enough of them. Anyway, after purchasing our bounty of teeth-rotting treats, we got on our bikes and headed back home.

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Now, we lived at the top of a road that was so steep the only way you could ride your bike up it was to zigzag all of the way, and even then you could do so only if you were feeling especially energetic. This particular day neither of us could be bothered doing the zigzag thing, so we got off our bikes and started pushing them up the hill. Halfway up, it began to rain. There wouldn’t have been anything unusual about this except for the fact that it was a sparkling summer day without the faintest wisp of a cloud in the sky. To add to the strangeness of the downpour, the raindrops were white and they left almost paintball-sized splats on the bitumen.

When we finally realized what was happening we laughed until tears tumbled from our eyes.

We stood watching the flock of sparrows that had just strafed us with birdie number twos fly into the distance, then noticed that not a single drop had hit its mark.

A sparrow might never forget, but it’s a lousy shot.

Would You Like a Cherry With That?

Would you like a cherry with that?

Coffee and cherries? It’s not the typical combination that springs to mind when you think of the hallowed bean, like coffee and cream, coffee and sugar, or even coffee and donuts. But coffee and cherries have a surprising and intrinsic connection. As a matter of fact, without cherries there would be no coffee.

You see, the coffea plant, from which coffee beans are grown, produces small cherry-like fruit, or coffee cherries as they’re known in the trade, and it’s these cherries that contain coffee beans. Actually, they’re coffee seeds, not coffee beans, and the cherries are more like berries, but who’s arguing?

A Humble Beginning

The coffee cherry is initially a yellow fruit that turns cooking apple green as it slowly matures and then fire-engine red when it’s fully ripe and ready to be picked. Removing the green coffee seeds from the cherries isn’t as easy as you would think, owing to all the sticky gunk inside the fruit. First, the cherries have to be pulped and then washed thoroughly in water. Then they’re left to ferment, a process that eliminates the fruit’s gummy inner layer. Next, the seeds are washed, then dried and, finally, hulled.

A Tasty End

Now comes the part where the green coffee seeds are transformed, as if by magic, into the black coffee beans that coffee drinkers everywhere know and love and consume in copious quantities. This involves roasting the seeds. Raw seeds would make the coffee so tart you’d gag if you drank it, so roasting is a vital step and, understandably, good for sales. As the seeds are being roasted, moisture is drawn from them. This dries the seeds, which expand from the heat. Some of the sugars in the seeds turn into gas, while others liquefy, giving the coffee beans their singular flavor. It is during this last stage that the seeds change from green to black.

So there you have it. Coffee beans start out as sticky green seeds encased in cherry-like berries. Coffee, like life, is just chock-full of surprises. Now for a cup of hot fresh-roasted. Say, would you like a cherry with that?