Sunday, 28 October 2012

Description of Inquisition torture, 1660s

Below is a description of the torture experienced by the eminent doctor and philosopher Isaac Orobio de Castro, also known as Balthasar Orobio de Castro. He later escaped to France where he became a professor at the University of Toulouse and medical consultant to Louis XIV. He eventually settled in Amsterdam where he openly embraced Judaism.

"The Method of Torturing, and the Degree of Tortures now used in the Spanish Inquisition, will be well understood from the History of Isaac Orobio, a Jew, and Doctor of Physick, who was accused to the Inquisition as a Jew, by a certain Moor his Servant, who had by his Order before this been whipped for Thieving; and four Years after this was again accused be a certain Enemy of his for another Fact, whoch would have proved him a Jew. But Orobio obstinately denied that he was one. I will here give the Account of his Torture, as I had it from his own Mouth. After three whole Years which he has been in Jail, and several Examinations, and the Discovery of the Crimes to him of which he was accused, in order to his Confession, and his constant Denial of them, he was at length carried out of his Jail, and thro’ several Turnings brought to the Place of Torture.  This was towards the Evening. It was a large under-ground Room, arched, and the Walls covered with black Hangings. The Candlesticks were fastened to the Wall, and the whole Room enlightened with Candles placed in them. At one End of it there was an inclosed Place like a Closet, where the Inquisitor and Notary sat at a Table; so that the Place seemed to him as the very Mansion of Death, every Thing appearing so terrible and awful. Here the Inquisitor again admonished him to confess the Truth, before his Torments began. When he answered he had told the Truth, the Inquisitor gravely protested, that since he was so obstinate as to suffer the Torture, the holy Office would be innocent, if he should shed his Blood, or even expire in his Torments. When he had said this, they put a Linnen Garment over his Body, and drew it so very close on each Side, as almost squeezed him to Death. When he  was almost dying, they slackned at once the Sides of the Garment; and after he began to breathe again, the sudden Alteration put him to the most grievous Anguish and Pain. When he had overcome this Torture the same Admonition was repeated, that he would confess the Truth, in order to prevent farther Torment . And as he persisted in his Denial, they tied his Thumbs so very tite with small Cords, as made the Extremities of them greatly swell, and caused the Blood to spurt out from under his Nails. After this he was placed with his Back against the Wall, and fixed upon a little Bench. Into the Wall were fastened little Iron Pullies, thro’ which there were Ropes drawn, and tied round his Body in several Places, and especially his Arms and Legs. The Executioner drawing these Ropes with great Violence, fastened his Body with them to the Wall; so that his Hands and Feet, and especially his Fingers and Toes being bound so straitly with them, put him to the most exquisite Pain, and seem to him just as though he had been dissolving in Flames. In the midst of these Torments the Torturer, of a sudden, drew the Bench from under him, so that the miserable Wretch hung by the Cords without the any Thing to support him, and but the Weight of his Body drew the Knots yet much closer. After this a new kind of Torture succeeded.  There was an Instrument like a small Ladder, made up of two upright Pieces of Wood, and five cross ones sharpned before. This the Torturer placed over against him, and by a certain proper Motion struck it with great Violence against both his Shins; so that he received upon each of them at once five violent Strokes, which put him to such intolerable Anguish that he fainted away. After he came to himself, they inflicted on him the last Torture. The Torturer tied Ropes about Orobio’s Wrists, and then put those Ropes about his own Back, which was covered with Leather, to prevent his hurting himself. Then falling backwards, and putting his Feet up against the Wall, he drew them with all his Might, till they cut thro’ Orobio’s Flesh, even to the very Bones, and this Torture was repeated thrice, the Ropes being tied about his Arms about the Distance of two Fingers Breadth from the former Wound, and drawn with the same Violence. But it happen’d that as the Ropes were drawing the second Time, they slid into the first Wound; which caused so great an Effusion of Blood, that he seemed to be dying. Upon this the Physician and Surgeon, who are always ready, were sent for out of a neighbouring Apartment, to ask their Advice, whether the Torture could be continued without danger of Death, lest the Ecclesiastical Judges should be guilty of an Irregularity, if the Criminal should die in his Torments. They, who were far from being Enemies to Orobio, answered, that he had Strength enough to endure the rest of the Torture, and hereby preserved him from having the Tortures he had already endured repeated on him, because his Sentence was, that he should suffer them all at one Time, one after another. So that if at any time they are forced to leave off thro’ fear of Death, all the Tortures, even those already suffered, must be successively inflicted, to satisfy the Sentence. Upon this the Torture was repeated the third Time, and then it ended. After this he was bound up in his own Clothes, and carried back to his Prison and was scarce healed of his Wounds in seventy Days. And inasmuch as he made no Confession under his Torture, but he was condemned, not as one convicted, but suspected of Judaism, to wear for two whole Years the infamous Habit called Sambenito, and after that Term to perpetual Banishment from the Kingdom of Seville."

Samuel Chandler. The History of Persecution. 1736. Page 242-246

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