Thomas de Torquemada
1420 - 16 September 1498

Dominicans and the Spanish Inquisition, click here.

A brief biography.

Thomas de Torquemada (Turrecremata) was born at Valladolid or Torquemada in 1420, joined the Dominicans, and was Master of Theology. He was for 22 years the prior of the Dominican priory Santa Cruz in Segovia and the founder of the priory of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Avila in 1482.

The Spanish Inquisition.

In 1473, Torquemada and Gonzalez de Mendoza, Archbishop of Toledo, approached the Spanish Sovereigns, Isabella and Ferdinand, with their proposal for a new tribunal, independence of the nobility and clergy. With the royal sanction a petition was addressed to Pope Sixtus IV. For the establishment of this new form of Inquisition, and in 1479 a papal bull authorized the appointment by the Spanish Sovereigns of two inquisitors at Seville, under whom the Dominican inquisitions already established elsewhere might serve. In the persecuting activity that ensued the Dominicans took the lead.

In 1481 a tribunal was inaugurated at Seville, where freedom of speech and licence of manner were rife. Torquemada published a declaration offering grace and pardon to all who presented themselves before the tribunal and avowed their fault. Some fled the country, but many offered themselves for reconciliation. The first seat of the Holy Office was in the Dominican priory of San Pablo in Seville. Other tribunals were speedily established in Cordova, Jaen and Toledo.

The Sovereigns obliged Torquemada to take as assessors five persons who would represent them in all matters affecting the royal prerogatives. The final decision was reserved to Torquemada himself, who in 1483 was appointed the sole Inquisitor-General over all the Spanish possessions. In 1484 he ceded to the Dominican Diego de Deza his office of confessor to the Sovereigns, and gave himself up to the congenial work of reducing heretics.
A General Assembly of his inquisitors was convoked at Seville in November 1484; and there Torquemada promulgated a code of twenty-eight articles for the guidance of the ministers of the faith. During the eighteen years that he was Inquisitor-General it is said that he burnt 10.220 persons, condemned 6860 others to be burnt in effigy, and reconciled 97.321.

His last years.

After many affairs Torquemada took up his residence in Avila, where he had built the priory of Thomas Aquinas; and here he resumed the common life of a friar. He left his priory in October 1497 to visit, at Salamanca, the dying infante, Don Juan, and to comfort the Sovereigns in their parental distress.
They often used to visit him at Avila, where in 1498, still in office as Inquisitor-General, he held his last General Assembly to complete his life's work. Soon afterwards he died, on 16 September 1498. He was buried in the chapel of the priory of Saint Thomas in Avila.
In 1832, Torquemada's tomb was ransacked, and his bones stolen and burned.

His uncle was the famous Cardinal Juan de Torquemada (1399-26 September 1468).

Literature: Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, (Yale University Press, 1999). ISBN 0300078803

The Great Inquisitor.

Against the background of the Inquisition, the Russian literator, Fyodor Dostoevsky (Moscow 30 October 1821 – Saint Petersburg  9 February 1881) wrote his poem about the return of Jesus Christ in the streets of Seville where he meets the Great Inquisitor. His famous poem is a part of his last roman 'Bratja Karamazovy'(1881), 'The brothers Karamázow'.

Dostoevsky lets Ivan tell in his poem the Second Coming of Christ on Earth in the Spanish town Seville, (Part  II, Chapter 5).

"My story is laid in Spain, in Seville, in the most terrible time of the Inquisition, when fires were lighted every day to the glory of God, and in the splendid auto da fe the wicked heretics were burnt. Oh, of course, this was not the coming in which He will appear, according to His promise, at the end of time in all His heavenly glory, and which will be sudden 'as lightning flashing from east to west.

No, He visited His children only for a moment, and there where the flames were crackling round the heretics. In His infinite mercy He came once more among men in that human shape in which He walked among men for thirty-three years fifteen centuries ago. He came down to the 'hot pavements' of the southern town in which on the day before almost a hundred heretics had, ad Majorem Gloriam Dei, been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, in a magnificent auto da fe, in the presence of the King, the Court, the Knights, the Cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville.

He (Jesus Christ) came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognised Him. - That might be one of the best passages in the poem. I mean, why they recognised Him.-  The people are irresistibly drawn to Him, they surround Him, they flock around Him, follow Him.

He moves silently in their midst with a gentle smile of infinite compassion. The sun of love burns in His heart, and power shines from His eyes, and their radiance, shed on the people, stirs their hearts with responsive love.

He holds out His hands to them, blesses them, and a healing virtue comes from contact with Him, even with His garments. An old man in the crowd, blind from childhood, cries out, 'O Lord, heal me and I shall see Thee!' and, as it were, scales fall from his eyes and the blind man sees Him. The crowd weeps and kisses the earth under His feet. Children throw flowers before Him, sing, and cry 'hosannah'. 'It is He -- it is He!' repeat. 'It must be He, it can be no one but Him!' 

The dead child  of seven years.

He stops at the steps of the Seville cathedral at the moment when the weeping mourners are bringing in a little open white coffin. In it lies a child of seven, the only daughter of a prominent citizen. The dead child lies hidden in flowers. 'He will raise your child,' the crowd shouts to the weeping mother.

The priest, coming to meet the coffin, looks perplexed, and frowns, but the mother of the dead child throws herself at His feet with a wail. 'If it is Thou, raise my child!' she cries, holding out her hands to Him. The procession halts, the coffin is laid on the steps at His feet. He looks with compassion, and His lips once more softly pronounce, 'Maiden, arise!' and the maiden arises.
The little girl sits up in the coffin and looks round, smiling with wide-open wondering eyes, holding a bunch of white roses they had put in her hand.

The Great Inquisitor passes the Cathedral.

There are cries, sobs, confusion among the people, and at that moment the cardinal himself, the Grand Inquisitor, passes by the cathedral.
He is an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of light. He is not dressed in his gorgeous cardinal's robes, as he was the day before, when he was burning the enemies of the Roman Church- at this moment he is wearing his coarse, old, monk's cassock.

At a distance behind him come his gloomy assistants and slaves and the 'holy guard.' He stops at the sight of the crowd and watches it from a distance. He sees everything; he sees them set the coffin down at His feet, sees the child rise up, and his face darkens. He knits his thick grey brows and his eyes gleam with a sinister fire. He holds out his finger and bids the guards take Him.
And such is his power, so completely are the people cowed into submission and trembling obedience to him, that the crowd immediately makes way for the guards, and in the midst of deathlike silence they lay hands on Him and lead him away. 

Jesus in the prison,
interrogated by the Great Inquisitor.

The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on' The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison -- in the ancient palace of the Holy inquisition and shut him in it.

The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, 'breathless' night of Seville. The air is 'fragrant with laurel and lemon.' In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.

'Is it Thou? Thou?' but receiving no answer, he adds at once. 'Don't answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us? For Thou hast come to hinder us, and Thou knowest that. But dost thou know what will be to-morrow?

I know not who Thou art and care not to know whether it is Thou or only a semblance of Him, but to-morrow I shall condemn Thee and burn Thee at the stake as the worst of heretics. And the very people who have to-day kissed Thy feet, to-morrow at the faintest sign from me will rush to heap up the embers of Thy fire. Knowest Thou that? Yes, maybe Thou knowest it,' he added with thoughtful penetration, never for a moment taking his eyes off the Prisoner.
Didst Thou not often say then, "I will make you free"? But now Thou hast seen these "free" men,' the old man adds suddenly, with a pensive smile. 'Yes, we've paid dearly for it,' he goes on, looking sternly at Him, 'but at last we have completed that work in Thy name. For fifteen centuries we have been wrestling with Thy freedom, but now it is ended and over for good.

Man was created a rebel; and how can rebels be happy? Thou wast warned,' he says to Him. 'Thou hast had no lack of admonitions and warnings, but Thou didst not listen to those warnings; Thou didst reject the only way by which men might be made happy. But, fortunately, departing Thou didst hand on the work to us. Thou hast promised, Thou hast established by Thy word, Thou hast given to us the right to bind and to unbind, and now, of course, Thou canst not think of taking it away. Why, then, hast Thou come to hinder us?'"

-- The narrator calls the Prisoner's attitude in the three temptations by the devil in the desert (the Gospel of Matthew, 4, 1/11). The Prisoner resists the temptations by him (the devil) and that is His mistake. Now it is the assignment of the Great Inquisitor and his Inquisition to lead the man and bring them their wonder, mystery and authority. It was a process of fifteen centuries.
But now men are happy, because they were conducted now, and free from the terrible gift of freedom, that brought so much misery. 

The Inquisitor explains that he had no love for the Prisoner. 'We are not for You, but we are for them (the devil); that is our mystery! Just before eight centuries we accepted the last present, that You refused with great indignation. We have accepted the authority: Rome, and the sword of the Emperor. -----

Text of Dostoevsky:

"'So that, in truth, Thou didst Thyself lay the foundation for the destruction of Thy kingdom, and no one is more to blame for it. Yet what was offered Thee? There are three powers, three powers alone, able to conquer and to hold captive for ever the conscience of these impotent rebels for their happiness those forces are miracle, mystery and authority. Thou hast rejected all three and hast set the example for doing so.
Know that I fear Thee not. Know that I too have been in the wilderness, I too have lived on roots and locusts, I too prized the freedom with which Thou hast blessed men, and I too was striving to stand among Thy elect, among the strong and powerful, thirsting "to make up the number."

But I awakened and would not serve madness. I turned back and joined the ranks of those who have corrected Thy work. I left the proud and went back to the humble, for the happiness of the humble. What I say to Thee will come to pass, and our dominion will be built up. I repeat, to-morrow Thou shalt see that obedient flock who at a sign from me will hasten to heap up the hot cinders about the pile on which I shall burn Thee for coming to hinder us. For if anyone has ever deserved our fires, it is Thou. To-morrow I shall burn Thee. Dixi.'"

When the Inquisitor ceased speaking he waited some time for his Prisoner to answer him. His silence weighed down upon him. He saw that the Prisoner had listened intently all the time, looking gently in his face and evidently not wishing to reply. The old man longed for him to say something, however bitter and terrible. But He suddenly approached the old man in silence and softly kissed him on his bloodless aged lips. That was all his answer. The old man shuddered. His lips moved. He went to the door, opened it, and said to Him: 'Go, and come no more... come not at all, never, never!' And he let Him out into the dark alleys of the town. The Prisoner went away."      End of the poem.  Source: Brothers Karamázow on line.


This altarpiece 'Madonna of the Catholic Kings', (tempera on panel,123x112 cm.,1490-1495) was originally in the St Thomas priory in Avila, founded by Thomas de Torquemada in 1482.

On the right of the Madonna King Ferdinand V is kneeling at the feet of his patron Saint Thomas, who presented the model of the priory's church  in Avila. Beside the King the Infant Don Juan, behind them the Chief Inquisitor Thomas de Torquemada can be seen.

In the opposite group Queen Isabelle is adoring the Madonna with her
patron saint St Dominic, the Italian-Spanish chronicler Peter Martyr of Anghiera or (Latin) de Angleria, and Princess Isabelle.

As painter is named Michel Sittow (Zittoz), 1469-24.12.1525, from Reval (Tallin), pupil of Hans Memling and appointed court painter of the Catholic Kings in 1492 till 1514. But the attribution of this painting is debated. Recently it is assumed that it was created by a follower of Fernando Gallego (+1507 in Salamanca). The painting is now preserved in Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Sources: Web Gallery of Art, and others.

The stamp gives only the right part of the Madonna: Thomas Aquinas
with the model of the church, a glimpse of the face of Thomas de Torquemada, King Ferdinand
V, and the Infant Don Juan.

Grenada 2000, Mi 4455, Sc 3001,a.   Detail.



Also a detail of the painting: at the left of the Madonna:
Queen Isabelle and her patron Saint Dominic.

Guyana 1987, Mi 1830, Sc1789.




500th Anniversary of the expulsion
of the Jews from Spain.

Israel 1992, Mi 439-441; Sc 1114.




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