Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/July 1893/The Spanish Inquisition as an Alienist
By HENRY CHARLES LEA.
THE degree of responsibility attaching to insane criminals has in all ages been a difficult problem for the dispenser of justice. I am not aware that the contributions made to its elucidation by the Spanish Inquisition have ever received attention, and the history of a few cases which throw light upon this phase of the subject may not be without interest.
On September 20, 1621, Madrid was startled by the report of a shocking sacrilege committed in the chapel of the archiepiscopal prison. A vagrant Catalan, named Benito Ferrer, had been arrested as an impostor for begging in clerical garments without being in orders. The offense was not serious, and after a month's detention he was about to be discharged, when, at the morning mass, as the bell tinkled to announce the elevation of the Host, Benito, who was praying with a rosary in an upper chamber, rushed down like a madman to the chapel, seized the Host, which had been deposited on the communion cloth, broke it, flung the fragments on the floor and trampled on them, exclaiming, "O traitor God of darkness, now you shall pay me!" He was promptly seized and carried to the courtyard, where he was stripped of his cassock, and when some fragments which had lodged in it fell to the ground he endeavored to stamp on them with similar ejaculations. The first care of those present was to gather reverently the pieces of the body of the Lord; the soles of Benito's shoes were carefully scraped, and the dust and sand of the courtyard were swept up into a white cloth. He was chained hand and foot, maintaining a sullen silence and refusing to answer questions.
The affair, of course, excited the utmost horror. The young king, Philip IV, then only five months on the throne, sent his favorite, Count Olivares, to ascertain for him the facts, and the papal nuncio eagerly sought the details to report them to Rome. The archiepiscopal vicar, Diego Vela, was at first disposed to take a rationalistic view of the matter: he asserted the insanity of his prisoner, and proposed to discharge him, doubtless thinking it wiser to assume that no Spaniard in his senses could be capable of an offence so heinous. He was soon, however, made to understand that this would not be allowed, and it came near bringing him into trouble. The Holy Office asserted its jurisdiction over a case of heresy so flagrant; on the 23d Vela surrendered Benito to the Supreme Council of the Inquisition, and he was sent to the tribunal of Toledo (for as yet there was none in Madrid), with orders that his trial should be pushed with all expedition—an urgency that was soon after twice repeated, with the significant addition that the king took special interest in the matter and desired to know its progress.
The Toledan inquisitors were prompt and zealous. The dilatory and cumbersome forms of procedure were hurried as rapidly as the traditions of the tribunal would permit, and in exactly two months, on November 33d, they were ready to pronounce sentence. Yet the end was still far off. In his examinations Benito had been made to give the details of his life. He was forty-three years old, born at Camprodon of an Old Christian father and a mother who had Jewish blood in her veins—a fact which told heavily against him. His father, who was a cloth-shearer, took him, at the age of thirteen, to Montserrat and placed him with an uncle, a chaplain in the monastery, who in six months sent him back to his father in Barcelona. For some time he served as page to persons of quality, and finally Don Bernardo Terres took him to Flanders, when the Cardinal Archduke, Albert of Austria, went thither in 1595. There he had a succession of masters, with one of whom he returned through France to Catalonia. Filled with desire for a religious life, in 1603 he entered the Barefooted Carmelite convent of Mataron as a novice, but was expelled in about six months. After vainly seeking to join the Carthusians of Monte Alegre and the Jeronymites of Murta, at last the Observantine Franciscans of Barcelona gave him the habit, but deprived him of it in about eight months. Then two years were spent in study at Tarragona, which he left in 1606, and since then he had led a wandering life in pious pilgrimages. He had offered his devotions at the shrine of his namesake, San Vicente Ferrer, at Vannes; twice he had been to Rome and once to Monte Cassino and Sicily, besides traversing Spain and Portugal in all directions. About 1609 came the shadow which darkened his subsequent life. Fray Francisco de la Virgen, the master of the novices at Mataron, was Antichrist, and had bewitched him, since when all men whom he met were demons. He had ceased to attend mass or to confess and take communion, for he could find no priest who was not a demon. When, in the upper room of the prison, he was praying and heard the bell that told of the elevation of the Host, it was revealed to him that the officiating priest was a demon and the Host was another. In doing what he did he performed a service to God, and he would repeat it fifty millions of times if the occasion required. This Carmelite Antichrist, moreover, had in 1606 killed Philip III and his three children, and their places had since then been filled by demons. There was also some wild talk about Toledo being no longer Toledo, nor Madrid Madrid, for Saint Joseph had changed them all. Barcelona is now La Imperial de Santa Ana, and is on the Straits of Gibraltar, for Catalonia has grown so that it is now larger than all Spain was formerly. The emperor of La Imperial is Don Dalman de Queralt, who daily sends him food in prison, so that he has not to accept it from the demon alcaide and his attendants. The inquisitors have no power to burn him, for they are all demons and he is in the hands of God. With all this he was strictly orthodox in his replies to the searching questions of the inquisitors as to his belief in transubstantiation and other points, except that he attributed five persons to the Godhead—Michael and Gabriel being added to the Trinity. Throughout the course of his prolonged trial nothing could make him swerve from these hallucinations or modify his story. He defied the inquisitors, for he had a revelation in prison that they were demons and had no power to harm him.
Anxious as were the inquisitors to push the trial to a conclusion, they felt that evidence of his sanity was necessary. For this they examined the alcaide of the prison and his assistant and three fellow-prisoners confined in the same cell. All testified to Benito's soundness of mind as evinced in his daily actions, though he was silent and reserved and spent most of his time in prayer or in reading his breviary. Then three physicians were made to visit him several times, who reported that he talked sanely on most subjects but wildly on others; the insanity seemed feigned, and according to the rules of the medical art he was sane. Thus fortified, on November 23d, the inquisitors called together the regular consulta, an assembly of experts, to decide on the case. There were nine of them in all—the three inquisitors, the Vicar General as representative of the Archbishop of Toledo, and five consultores or assessors. Opinions were not harmonious. Four voted to put Benito to the torture to verify his sanity, and if this failed then to make inquiry into his antecedents, Three voted to relax him to the secular arm for burning, first employing learned theologians to convince him of his heresy. Two were in favor of the common-sense plan of endeavoring to ascertain his sanity without torturing him.
When, in the customary routine, these diverse views were submitted to the Inquisitor General and Supreme Council, that body considered the case maturely. Statements of the leading points involved were laid before three skilled theologians, two of whom pronounced Benito to be a sacrilegious heretic whose delusions were feigned. The third opined that he might be subject to demoniacal possession, for which he should be exorcised and subsequently tortured to ascertain the truth. On January 12, 1623, the Council sent these calificaciones or opinions to Toledo, with instructions to get similar ones from learned men there; also, to examine more carefully into Benito's sanity and to investigate the causes of his expulsion from the convents which he had sought to enter. Accordingly, on January 15th, the Toledo tribunal assembled four Dominican masters of theology, who unanimously pronounced Benito a heretic and an impostor. To ascertain details about an insignificant novice who some twenty years before had passed a few months in a convent might seem impossible, but the perfected organization of the Inquisition was equal to it. The tribunals of Barcelona and Valencia were called upon; the frailes who had been novices in Benito's time were hunted up in the convents to which they had scattered, and four were found who entertained some recollection of him. Three of these described him as mentally deficient, and one of these remembered his having revelations; the fourth spoke of him as "melancholy" and like one possessed by the devil.
May was drawing to an end when the result of these investigations reached Toledo, and the summer was spent in fresh examinations of those in the prison who had access to Benito, and in getting opinions from theologians and physicians. That he showed signs of insanity was evident, but the experts held that the proof of soundness of mind was infallible and the madness feigned. So when, on September 10th, another consulta was held, the vote to burn him was unanimous—the two assessors who had previously advocated simple investigation having been discreetly omitted from the meeting. On this decision being submitted to the Supreme Council, it met with no greater acceptance than the former one, and it was sent back September 17th, with orders to torture Benito to ascertain his intention in the sacrilege and the fiction of his insanity.
In the proceedings of the Inquisition torture was so universal a resource in cases of doubt, that its use for the diagnosis of insanity need not be a matter of surprise. On October 13th it was duly applied. Benito was brought in and told that if he would not confess the truth he would be tortured, to which he replied quietly and earnestly that he had told the truth and was not mad; he had acted only as a faithful Christian and at the command of the Eternal Father. In the administration of torture the nerve of the patient was tested at every step with adjurations to tell the truth and with promises of mercy—lying promises, for confession would only secure the boon of being garroted before burning. So in this case, at the making out of the sentence of torture, its formal signing, the adjournment to the torture chamber, the stripping of the prisoner, the tying him to the banquillo or trestle, the adjusting of the cordeles or sharp cords around each thigh and each upper arm—at every stage he was entreated affectionately (con mucho amor) to tell the truth and save his soul. Benito's resolution was immovable; to every adjuration his reply was the same—he had told the truth, and the inquisitors were demons. Then the torture began, scientifically graduated, and at every interval came the adjuration and the response. First a single cord around each member, successively tightened and twisted into the flesh, then another and another, until there were six on each limb and the blood was dripping from them all—in spite of the universal rule that torture was never to be carried so far as to cause effusion of blood. The official report of the examination minutely records his shrieks and groans and writhings, his fruitless prayer for water, his despairing appeals to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, his cries that he is dying, and through it all his unvarying response that he had told the truth and that the inquisitors were demons an assertion which he once offered to prove if they would give him a Bible. When the capacity of the cordeles to inflict increased torment was exhausted he was threatened with the rack, but to no purpose. It was made ready and he was stretched on it, but this augmentation of agony was fruitless. His resolution was unconquerable, and at last his wearied judges ordered him to be untied, still threatening him with a continuation of the infliction if he would not tell the truth. Exhausted nature could do no more; with a final ejaculation that he had told the truth, for they were demons, he sank motionless and remained silent.
For three unbroken hours the torture had lasted, and the inquisitors said that it was too late for more that day, so they suspended it, warning him that they were not satisfied, and that it would be resumed if he did not tell the truth. He was carried back to his cell, and two days later was brought before the tribunal again. Even in the pitiless secular criminal legislation of the period the endurance of torture without confession was held to purge away the evidence against the accused and to entitle him to an acquittal, but it was otherwise in the Inquisition. The torture had been merely to gratify the curiosity of the judges and to justify the foregone conclusion of his burning. Therefore, when they now examined him and adjured him to tell the truth, and he answered by referring to his previous statements as the truth, they had him carried back to his cell, and coolly assembled their consultores to pronounce on him a second sentence of relaxation to the secular arm for burning. This was duly submitted to the Supreme Council, which postponed its answer until November 24th. Then it said that it held him to be insufficiently tortured, but that for the present he should be kept in prison and carefully watched to determine his sanity. He was to be confined with persons who could be relied upon and sworn to secrecy, who should observe him and report.
Another cell was accordingly selected for him, in which were two friars and a physician awaiting trial, who were duly sworn and instructed. So matters continued for a year, with occasional examinations of his fellow-prisoners. The friars pronounced him a heretic and an impostor; the physician a sane man subject to delusions. Finally, in November, 1623, another consultation was held to vote upon his case, and he was unanimously sentenced to burning. To this at last the Supreme Council assented, but desired the execution to take place in Madrid, where the sacrilege had been committed. He was to be sedulously kept in ignorance, and to be secretly conveyed to the capital. There, on the Plaza Mayor, January 21, 1624, there was a solemn auto da fé celebrated, and he was burned alive as an impenitente negativo.
If this was expected to strike salutary terror into the hearts of sacrilegious heretics and to instill respect for the Venerable Sacrament, it signally failed of its purpose. In less than six months, on Friday, July 5, 1624, Madrid was again thrown into excitement by a double sacrilege that had every appearance of organized premeditation. During the celebration of morning mass in the church of San Felipe, a man named René Perrault, who was kneeling near the altar, suddenly leaped forward at the elevation of the Host, and crying out, "Why do you elevate this idol of Christ, so that the people commit idolatry and offend God?" he snatched it from the hand of the priest and scattered it in fragments on the floor, while with a sweep of his arm he overturned the cup that was standing on the altar. At the same moment a similar scene was enacted at the church of Santa Barbara, by a man named Gabriel de Guevara. It was with difficulty that the offenders were rescued from the summary vengeance of the worshipers, and they were forthwith brought before the Inquisitor General, Andrés Pacheco. Apparently his experience of the Toledo Inquisition in the previous affair had not been satisfactory, for he at once himself undertook the preliminaries of the case, and hastily organized for its trial in Madrid a tribunal which sat in extemporized quarters in the convent of the Barefooted Carmelites. The documents concerning Guevara are not accessible, but those of the trial of Perrault present to us another aspect of the dealings of the Inquisition with insanity.
Friday was busily occupied with the examination of witnesses, and at 10 p. m. Perrault was brought before the inquisitor. He was still defiant, and told his story without hesitation or concealment. He was about forty years old, born at Angers, of Catholic parents. Brought up in strict orthodoxy, he had, until within a fortnight, always been a good Catholic, regular in his attendance on confession, communion, and mass. For twelve years he had wandered around Spain as a peddler of needles, thimbles, and such small wares, till a fortnight before at Talavera, while in the street seeking customers, a sudden revelation from God showed him that there was only one God, the Creator; that Christ was an impostor, who had properly expiated on the cross the blasphemy of calling himself the Son of God, and that what the people adored was idolatry and an offence to the Almighty. From that time this idea was ever present to him, on the road and in the house. God impelled him to do what he had done, and to come to Madrid for the purpose, so that the act should be more conspicuous. He had left his saddle-bags at Getafé, a village a few leagues distant, on Tuesday, July 2d, and had come with his mule to Madrid. There he first looked up a French paper and fruit seller named Domingo Diaz, of whom he inquired the address of his brother, Pierre Perrault, an embroiderer living in Madrid. He found him, and told him of the revelation and his consequent intention, when Pierre earnestly reasoned with him, telling him that it was a suggestion of the devil, and that he would denounce him to the Inquisition if he were not his brother. The next morning Pierre came to him with an Italian, a tailor; they bought some food, crossed the bridge of Toledo, breakfasted by the road-side, and René agreed to return to Getafé. After parting he traveled half a league on his mule; he chanced to overtake a man going thither, by whom he sent word to his host to forward his saddle-bags to Madrid, and he turned back to the city. To render his act more symbolical, he resolved to postpone it until Friday, so he had a day and a half on his hands. These he spent in seeing the sights of the capital, and he mentioned his disappointment on going to the theatre and finding there was no performance. On Friday morning, at breakfast, he abstained from his customary flask of wine, in order that it might not be said that he was drunk. Ho went to San Felipe and committed the sacrilege.
The next day, when brought again before the tribunal, his enthusiasm had evaporated. Excitement had been followed by reaction; he realized the terrible fate in store for him, and was eager to avert it in any way he could. He had been drunk, he said, the day before, and had stumbled against the priest; he was crazy; people had given him food which rendered him insane, and the ill-treatment to which he had been exposed habitually on the road had driven him mad. At Consuegra he had been beaten; at Medellin, beaten, imprisoned, and his goods confiscated; he was a good Catholic, and believed all that the Church believed, and he remembered nothing of the confession of yesterday; or, if he had said such things, he must have been out of his senses. When, later in the day, his formal defense was drawn up and presented by his advocate, it was that he had been drunk, and he now supplicated mercy and penance.
Probably no trial before the Inquisition, since the abounding harvest of its early days', was ever conducted so speedily. Though all the formalities were observed, on Sunday, July 7th, the consultation was held to determine the sentence. The opinion was unanimous that he should be relaxed to the secular arm for burning, but on the question of preliminary torture a difference arose. The Inquisition was naturally desirous to know whether he had accomplices; the simultaneous crime of Gabriel de Guevara pointed to concerted action; besides, one of the witnesses had testified that Rend entered San Felipe with two men clad in the French fashion, who departed at the commencement of the mass. Rend had consistently denied this, asserting his independence of action and sole responsibility; but heretic plots were always floating before the inquisitorial imagination, and it was manifestly impolitic to burn Rend without utilizing him for the conviction of his possible confederates. While, therefore, all the consulters agreed that he should be subjected to unlimited torture, some held that it should be in caput alienum, to discover his associates; while others, in view of his varying confessions, humanely urged that it should be employed for the benefit of his soul, and to confirm him in the faith. The next day the Supreme Council, in approving the sentence, decided that the torture should be in caput alienum.
At ten o'clock that night Rend was brought before his judges and questioned as to accomplices, but he only repeated his story, with a few additional details. In the torture which followed he manifested a curious mingling of strength and weakness. Before it commenced he flung himself on his knees and begged piteously for mercy, but refused to forfeit his soul by perjury, for he had no associates, and no Frenchmen entered San Felipe with him. During all the stages of graduated torment he screamed and struggled desperately, but he adhered resolutely to this, and refused to incriminate any one; he had never breathed his intention to any save his brother, who threatened to denounce him to the Inquisition. This continued till half past one o'clock, when the inquisitors, finding the torture fruitless, announced its discontinuance; but next morning they commenced proceedings against Pierre Perrault and Domingo Diaz. What was the result of these we do not know; but had anything been extracted from them further compromising René, it would have appeared in the records of his trial.
If the torture thus was useless in caput alienum, it at all events served the more humane purpose of confirming the sufferer in the faith. On July 12th word was brought to the inquisitor Chacon that René desired to return to the Church: he hastened to the temporary prison where the culprit was confined and found this to be the case. Now that he had nothing further to hope, Rend said that his first statement was true. He had been misled and tempted by Satan for fifteen days before the crime, and had believed that he was rendering a service to God; but now God had enlightened him, and he reverted to his former belief in the Trinity, in the passion of Christ, and the transubstantiation of the sacrament, and he desired to be reconciled to the Church.
On the following Sunday, July 11th, Madrid enjoyed the religious spectacle of an auto da fé, in which Rene Perrault was burned, but doubtless his recantation obtained for him the privilege of being garroted before the pile was lighted. Thus, if Spain furnished to Geneva the Unitarian Miguel Servet, France returned the favor with Rene Perrault.
Another case, less tragic in its issue, illustrates a different phase of the subject. At Cobeña, a village not far from Alcalá, de Henares, a poor carpenter of plows named Benito Peñas, or de Valdepeñas, created scandal by denying that Christ had died on the cross. He was wholly illiterate but devout, and once, when visiting Madrid with a load of corn, he had heard in the church of San Felipe a sermon by a fraile, who spoke of the passion and resurrection as metaphorical. The idea took possession of his brain and played havoc with the anthropomorphic conceptions of orthodox theology, including the humanity of Christ. This had been going on for several years, when early in 1640 the attention of the archiepiscopal visitor, Bernardo Garcia de San Pedro, was called to it on his reaching Cobeña. He promptly threw Benito into the village jail, whore many priests and friars visited him and labored fruitlessly to convince him of his error. Then, in July, Dr. Buendia, the physician of Cobeña, denounced him to the nearest commissioner of the Inquisition, Juan Burgalez Diaz, at Fuente el Saz. The affair was now fully in train. Diaz hastened to Cobeña, took testimony of some of the chief inhabitants, and forwarded the papers to the tribunal of Toledo. The inquisitors submitted to calificadores the propositions contained in the reports of Benito's talk, and they were duly condemned as heretical and Manichæan. The Inquisition, however, appears to have thought little of the matter, and it would probably have gone no further, had not a zealous cleric of Cobeña, toward the end of the year, written that the people were scandalized at the delay in acting in an affair so notorious. Thus stimulated, on January 25, 1041, the inquisitors issued an order to bring Benito to Toledo, and to sequestrate his property—the latter being the customary precaution for the event of a sentence of confiscation.
It was the invariable practice of the Inquisition, whenever possible, to make the accused, whether innocent or guilty, pay all the expenses attending his trial. The familiar to whom the order was sent was therefore required, in sequestrating Benito's property and placing it in the hands of a receiver, to keep thirty ducats for expenses; if there was no money or grain, then he was to sell at auction enough to realize this amount, and he was also to reserve a bed and bring it with him for Benito's use in prison. These customary instructions were rigidly carried out as far as practicable. A reversionary interest in some money left by a dead brother was garnisheed, and security taken to await the result of the trial. The only ready money in Benito's possession amounted to nineteen copper coins or cuartos, worth in all about two reales and a half; so on Sunday, February 10th, his pitiful store of furniture, tools, and clothing was sold by auction in the public square after high mass, reserving only the garments on his back and one of two old shirts for him to wear; even the rosary in his hands was taken and sold. The total proceeds amounted only to two hundred and forty and a half reales, or less than twenty-two ducats, and, after deducting costs, the commissioner handed over to the familiar twenty ducats. The expenses of guards and the journey to Toledo consumed more than half of this; and when Benito was delivered on February 16th at the carceles secretas, there were but one hundred and five and a half reales left, which were duly entered on the prison books. The timid suggestion of the familiar of some remuneration for his time was left unnoticed.
When on February 18th Benito was examined, he willingly repeated all the articles of the creed except "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, and on the third day arose from the dead," which, he obstinately refused to utter. It was easy to entangle him in a theological discussion in which he was led to deny the incarnation and conception by virtue of the Holy Ghost, the birth and death, and the second advent. The efforts made to convince him of his error of course only hardened him in his belief, and he resolutely accepted the inferences drawn from it until he came virtually to deny the Trinity—the three names were but three different designations for the one God. He was ready, he declared, to die in defense of his belief, and all the theologians in France and Spain could not convert him. When the counsel assigned to him by the Inquisition found him immovable, he formally withdrew from the defense in order not to incur the penalties decreed against advocates who undertook to defend heretics.
In March the inquisitors began to entertain doubts as to Benito's sanity, and sent to Cobeña to obtain testimony respecting it. The evidence was emphatic as to his soundness of mind. The cura had known him for forty years, and had never entertained a doubt of it; the alcalde and others who knew him said the same. It was true that for a year or more prior to his arrest he had grown very devout, praying much and frequenting the church; moreover, on one occasion he had remained shut up in his house for some days, until the alcalde and cura broke in and found him lying with a rosary in his hand in a trance, from which they aroused him with a rope's end, and he had repeated this in a hermitage near the town, but in all the relations of life he had shown himself in full posession of his faculties.
Thus the case went on with the deliberation customary in the Inquisition, until in July it was resolved to make a more thorough investigation as to his sanity. Two learned theologians were deputed to examine him, who reported him to be crazy: his answers bore no relation to the questions put to him; he talked of the omnipotent God and the sweet name of Jesus; the Virgin was created without father and mother, and was anterior to Eve; when we die our bodies are not converted into dust; in fine, he was not a case for the Inquisition, but for a madhouse. Then two more theologians were called in, and their opinions were the same. Evidently under the paternal care of the Inquisition his insanity was developing rapidly.
In August the three physicians of the Holy Office were summoned to examine him. Two of them questioned and cross-questioned him, and were prepared to pronounce him sane when the third arrived, and in the course of examination chanced to ask him what signs he had of his own salvation, to which he replied that when he commended himself to God he saw lights like stars descend from heaven to him. This convinced them, and they reported that he was insane or was subject to diabolic illusions. The alcaide of the prison and his assistant were then interrogated; they had no doubt of his insanity from his disordered talk and from the fact that they always found him kneeling in prayer. Then as a last effort two more distinguished theologians were deputed to convince him of his errors, but they found their labors hopeless, and declared that he was crazy.
It was impossible to resist this cumulative evidence, and when, on August 29th, the customary consultation was held to decide upon his fate, the opinion was unanimous that he was irresponsible. It was agreed to write to the authorities of Cobeña to that effect; his relatives must send for him and take care of him; he was never to be allowed to leave the town, and must henceforth wear a doublet half gray and half green. To this the response was that he had no kindred, but Juan de San Pedro was sent to bring him home, while a plaintive allusion to the expense of the journey and the absence of all property from which to defray it received no attention.
Thus the poor wretch was beggared, deprived of all means of livelihood, and condemned to the disgrace of exhibiting his shame in a party-colored garment at a time when such insignia had a peculiarly sinister significance. According to the convictions of the period, it was all for the greater glory of God; but as an alienist, the Inquisition was clearly not a success.
In his ascent of Mount Dnlit in Borneo, 5,090 feet high, Mr. Charles Hose found a cave above four thousand foot, with wild tobacco growing at its mouth and several remarkable ferns, of one of which the fronds were fourteen feet long. The fauna illustrated the widespread distribution in the highlands of Borneo of Hinalayan forms. A magnificent view was had from the moss-clad summit of the mountain of distant ranges. Some natives reported having heard a tiger roaring in the neighborhood, but Mr. Hose found that the sound proceeded from a gigantic toad, which measured fourteen inches and a half round the body.