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The White Horse: False Religion
these hard-to-crack cases . For those incorrigible wretches who per–
sisted in their free thinking, there was only one remedy - the stake .
The inquisitors carried out this ultimate penalty in ceremonies
known as the auto-da-te ("act of faith " ) . They usually took place on
Sunday in order that more people would be around to witness the fi–
nal end of those who dared transgress the dictates of the church.
The night before, the impenitent heretics were led to the scene of the
execution and informed of their fate . However, the inquisitors always
managed to throw in one last sop. If the poor reprobate could muster
up a last-minute confession he would be able to forego the trial by
fire . But the only difference was that he would be strangled to death
just as the flames were lit.
On the following day, the black-hooded inquisitors accompanied
their charges to the ceremony . The dominicans continued their ef–
forts of the previous day in exhorting these unfortunates to make a
last-minute confession - ostensibly to demonstrate to the public the
merciful nature of the inquisition . Mass was celebrated, a sermon
preached, and then the clergy went through the sham of turning their
victims over to the state for execution .
One author painted a poignant picture of what happened as the
flames went up: " The people shout their approval; the Inquisitors sit ,
hands folded , deeply shocked by all the wickedness in the world, se–
rene in their own virtue . in bringing about justice, so clever that - al –
though they have brought those groaning , fainting men and women
to this horror - because they abandoned them in time to the secular
arm, there is no blood on their hands.... ' '
The same author went on to say: " The long ceremony , the
chanting of monks, the tolling of bells, the smell of incense, the holi–
ness of the proceedings has a comforting effect. All has been sancti–
fied by these things " (Jean Plaidy , The Rise of the Spanish
Inquisition ,
p .
The same brutal methods were tried in the Spanish Netherlands
with much the same results . During the height of the Inquisition in
that country , the Emperor Maximillian asked the head of Spain , Phil–
lip II, to put an end to the brutality. Phillip 's reply bears repeating :
" What I have done has been for the repose of the Provinces. and for
the defense of the Catholic Faith . Nor would I do otherwise than I
have done. though I should risk the sovereignty of the Netherlands -
no , though the world should fall around me in ruins" (Piaidy , The
End of the Spanish Inquisition,
p .
21 ) .