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Auto de fe
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Auto de fe

Medieval Spanish for "act of faith", the auto de fe was the ritual of public penance or humiliation of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Spanish Inquisition had decided their punishment. Punishments for those convicted ranged from wearing a special identifying penetential tabard or "sanbenito", through other penances or terms of imprisonment, to the ultimate penalty of being "relaxed", that is, being released to the secular arm.

It was the secular state that performed executions, which were generally carried out for a repeated offense of heresy, following a first conviction. Prisoners in this category who remained obdurate 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.

In Lisbon, the Rossio square was the burning place.

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. Autos de fe also took place in Mexico, Brazil, and Peru, and are recorded by contemporary historians of the Conquistadors such as Bernal Díaz del Castillo. The last execution by the Spanish Inquisition was of schoolmaster, Cayetano Ripoll, July 26, 1826. His trial lasted nearly two years. He was accused of being a deist. He died by garotting 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