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Auto de fe

Spanish for "act of faith", the auto de fe was the ritual public execution by fire or humiliation of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Spanish Inquisition "relaxed", that is, released, the condemned to the secular arm. Obdurate prisoners were burned alive, but if they were reconciled to the church, they would be strangled at the stake before the faggots were lit. The phrase is also common in English in its Portuguese form auto da fe (or auto da fé).

Autos de fe were celebrated in public squares or esplanades. They lasted several hours and were attended by ecclesiastical and civil authorities and drew more general public than other public executions.

In Lisbon, the Rossio square was the burning place.

Prisoners were brought in carriages among the insults of the populace. They were clothed with the infamous sambenito. If some prisoners arose the compassion of the public, goodwill bystanders would try to persuade them to repent to spare them of being burned alive.

The first auto de fe took place in Seville, Spain, in 1481, when six men and women were executed. The Inquisition enjoyed only limited power in Portugal, lasting only four years, with only one act of auto da fe in Porto (Really? What about Rossio then?. Autos de fe also took place in Mexico, Brazil, and Peru, and are recorded by contemporary historians of the Conquistadors such as Bernal Diaz. The last case of an execution by the Spanish Inquisition was a schoolmaster, Cayetano Ripoll, July 26, 1826. His trial lasted nearly two years. He was accused of being a deist, and substituting in his school the words "Praise be to God" for "Ave Maria purissima." He died calmly on the gibbet after repeating the words, "I die reconciled to God and to man." This was the last auto de fe.


Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision. (Yale University Press, 1999). ISBN 0300078803
---This revised edition of his 1965 original contributes to the understanding of the Spanish Inquisition in its local context.

Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain (4 volumes), (New York and London, 1906-1907)

Simon Whitechapel, Flesh Inferno: Atrocities of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition (Creation Books, 2003). ISBN 1840681055