Dominicans and
the Peruvian Inquisition
in Lima, 1570-1520

Brief description.

The Spanish King Felipe II founded in  the Vice-Royalty of Peru the Peruvian Inquisition on 9 January 1570 after the model of the Spanish Inquisition.

 For a brief outline of the Spanish Inquisition, click here.

The establishment of the Inquisition in Peru in 1568 was part of a colonial political design by Philip II at the end of 1560, and its purpose was to deal mainly with the political and ideological crisis in the Peruvian viceroyalty. The Tribunal's district ranged from Panama to Chile and Rio de La Plata.

Unlike the Spanish Inquisition and the Medieval Inquisition, in the Peruvian Inquisition both the state and church were dependent of the Crown’s approval to carry out jurisdiction.

Although the Indigenous people were originally subject to the jurisdiction of the inquisitors, they were eventually removed from the control and not seen as fully responsible for deviation from faith. They were still subject to trial and punishment by the Episcopal inquisition[2]. In the eyes of the church the Indigenous were seen as gente sin razón, individuals without reason.

As a result their trials were separate from other inquisition cases. In spite of that, it still did not stop other people that were of non-Indigenous descent from being accused of other crimes that were against the Church. These crimes could range from heresy, sorcery, witchcraft, and other superstitious practices.

People accused of these crimes were generally individuals who came from a lower status of Peruvian society. Among them were individuals of African descent, mestizos, women, and Jewish or Protestant Europeans seeking refuge from religious persecution.

In 1813 it was first abolished by virtue of a Cortes decree. In 1815 it was reconstituted but their target was now the ideas from the French Encyclopedists and similar texts, and most people who were accused of crimes were only given probation.
With the promotion of Freemason José de la Serna e Hinoposa (1770-1832) to the viceroyship (29 January 1821 till December 1824), which coincided with the rise of the nationalist faction (as both factions prepared to fight each other in the Peruvian War of Independence), the Inquisition fell apart of its own volition.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The activities of the Peruvian Inquisition.


One of the activities of the Peruvian Inquisition was, following the Spanish Inquisition, to control the printed books, imported by ships via the harbours of Panama and Peru.

The first Index published in Spain in 1551 was, in reality, a reprinting of the Index published by the University of Louvain in 1550, with an appendix dedicated to Spanish texts. Subsequent Indexes were published in 1559, 1583, 1612, 1632, and 1640. The Indexes included an enormous number of books of all types, though special attention was dedicated to religious works, and, particularly, vernacular translations of the bible.

Despite repeated publication of the Indexes and a large bureaucracy of censors, the activities of the Inquisition did not impede the flowering of Spanish literature's "Siglo de Oro," although almost all of its major authors crossed paths with the Holy Office at one point or another.

Vigilance over the dissemination of forbidden books was one of the most important tasks of the American inquisitorial tribunals. The means that the Inquisition of Lima practised in order to accomplish this task were the same as in Spain. However, their results were far from their purposes. The aim of this text is to comment on the means by which the Inquisition of Lima tried to control the circulation of forbidden books as well as to describe factors which restricted inquisitorial censorship in the Peruvian viceroyalty between 1570 and 1820.

The situation in Peru was not totally under control. By then many aspects of the colonial reality had been analysed and criticised not only by friars but also by jurists and bureaucrats. Also, during this period, the Dominican Bartolome de Las Casas had, like few other writers, a great influence on colonial clergy. In Peru and Mexico
Las Casas's ideas were spread by Dominican friars and other men of letters.

Bartolomé de Las Casas with Bishop's cross after the engraving
(15,2x21,6 cm) by José López Enguidanos of Valencia (1760-1812)
for the collection 'Retratos de Los Espagnoles illustres con un
epitome de sus vidas', Madrid 1795.

Mexico 1966, Mi 1209, Sc 971.


In Peru the Dominicans Tomas de San Martin (7.3.1482-9.3.1452) and Domingo de Santo Tomás (1499-28 February 1570) took on the defence of the Indians and their rights.

Domingo de Santo Tomás arrived in Peru in 1540 and founded the convent and city of Yungay on 4 August 1540. For the purpose of evangelization, he learned the Quechua language spoken along the coast near Lima. In 1545, he was elected prior of the Convento del Santísimo Rosario in Lima. In 1549 he made the "Tasa" of Lima, with Fray Jeronimo de Loayza and Fray Tomás de San Martín.
In 1560 he published his Grammatica o arte de la lengua general de los indios de los Reynos del Perú”’  in Valladolid, the first book printed in Quechua. In the same year appeared his Lexicon, o Vocabulario de la lengua general del PERV.” The coastal dialect of Quechua was significantly different from that of Cuzco, which was described by Diego González Holguín in the early 1600s.


 In the midle of the sixteenth century, several writers criticised the moral situation of the regular and secular clergy in the viceroyalty. According to some ecclesiastical writers, not only was the clergy corrupted but so was colonial society.

Thomas de Saint Martin, O.P. at the left.   Peru 1951, Mi 507, Sc C 109.

For statesmen and ecclesiastics, the Peruvian viceroyalty not only had moral problems but also economic and political problems; the decline of the Indian labour force, the decrease of Indian tributes and mining production, the deterioration of state authority, etc.
In 1568, at a meeting in Madrid, all these problems were analysed. That year, under the direction of the King and other famous statesmen, colonial problems were discussed and several agreements were taken in order to re-establish authority and control in the Peruvian territory.

The agents of the new colonial policy designed by Philip II and the Junta of 1568 were the Viceroy Francisco de Toledo (ca 1520-ca 1583) and the inquisitors. The sphere of action of Toledo was policy, economy and society; the inquisitors had as a main task the ideological and moral control of colonial society.

See for the history of the Peruvian censorship the dissertation of Mark Burkholder, written as doctoral thesis for San Marcos University. To read in Wikipedia.


Museum of the Inquisition / Museo de la Inquisición.

Located on the Plaza Bolívar, which is also home to the Peruvian Congress building, the Inquisition Museum is one of Lima’s most popular and often visited museums. Housed in the building that was home to the Inquisition from 1570 to 1820, the museum has exhibits which explain the impact and importance of the Inquisition in Peru’s history.
Imported from Spain in the late 16th century, the Inquisition was responsible for eliminating heresy and blasphemy in the New World. Some of their targets included Spanish Jews and their descendents, who were often accused of maintaining their practices in secret.

In this museum, you can visit the lightless dungeon cells where those accused awaited judgement or punishment. It was also from this location that the public burning of heretics was ordered.

V!VA User‘s Description




At the right a painting of the Peruvian Inquisition
in Lima, Peru.

Peru 2008, Mi 2338/2339, Sc -.      





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