An auto-da-fé (also auto da fé and auto de fe) was the ritual of public penance
Penance is repentance of sins as well as the proper name of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Anglican Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation/Confession. It also plays a part in non-sacramental confession among Lutherans and other Protestants...

 of condemned heretics
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

 and apostates that took place when the Spanish Inquisition
Spanish Inquisition
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition , commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition , was a tribunal established in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval...

 or the Portuguese Inquisition
Portuguese Inquisition
The Portuguese Inquisition was formally established in Portugal in 1536 at the request of the King of Portugal, João III. Manuel I had asked for the installation of the Inquisition in 1515 to fulfill the commitment of marriage with Maria of Aragon, but it was only after his death that the Pope...

 had decided their punishment, followed by the execution by the civil authorities of the sentences imposed. Both auto de fe in medieval Spanish and auto da fé in Portuguese mean "act of faith".

As the burning at the stake
Execution by burning
Death by burning is death brought about by combustion. As a form of capital punishment, burning has a long history as a method in crimes such as treason, heresy, and witchcraft....

 for heresy was perhaps the most profound aspect of many autos-da-fé, this particular aspect of it, that is, the act of burning at the stake eventually became the primary meaning of the phrase in popular usage, despite the fact that such was not its original meaning.


The first recorded auto-da-fé was held in Paris in 1242, under Louis IX
Louis IX of France
Louis IX , commonly Saint Louis, was King of France from 1226 until his death. He was also styled Louis II, Count of Artois from 1226 to 1237. Born at Poissy, near Paris, he was an eighth-generation descendant of Hugh Capet, and thus a member of the House of Capet, and the son of Louis VIII and...

. The first Spanish auto-da-fé took place in Seville
Seville is the artistic, historic, cultural, and financial capital of southern Spain. It is the capital of the autonomous community of Andalusia and of the province of Seville. It is situated on the plain of the River Guadalquivir, with an average elevation of above sea level...

, Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 in 1481; six of the men and women who participated in this first religious ritual were later executed.

In 1478 King Ferdinand
Ferdinand II of Aragon
Ferdinand the Catholic was King of Aragon , Sicily , Naples , Valencia, Sardinia, and Navarre, Count of Barcelona, jure uxoris King of Castile and then regent of that country also from 1508 to his death, in the name of...

 and Queen Isabella had received permission from Pope Sixtus IV
Pope Sixtus IV
Pope Sixtus IV , born Francesco della Rovere, was Pope from 1471 to 1484. His accomplishments as Pope included the establishment of the Sistine Chapel; the group of artists that he brought together introduced the Early Renaissance into Rome with the first masterpiece of the city's new artistic age,...

 to name Inquisitors
Spanish Inquisition
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition , commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition , was a tribunal established in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval...

 throughout their domain, to protect Catholicism as the true faith. They immediately began establishing permanent trials and developing bureaucracies to carry out investigations in most cities and communities in their empire. Later Franciscan missionaries brought the Inquisition to the New World where it clashed with Iberian Catholicism and Native religious beliefs. Inquisitors were required to hear and record all testimonies. A major aspect of the tribunals was the auto-da-fé.

The auto-da-fé involved a Catholic Mass
Mass (liturgy)
"Mass" is one of the names by which the sacrament of the Eucharist is called in the Roman Catholic Church: others are "Eucharist", the "Lord's Supper", the "Breaking of Bread", the "Eucharistic assembly ", the "memorial of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection", the "Holy Sacrifice", the "Holy and...

; prayer; a public procession of those found guilty; and a reading of their sentences. The ritual took place in public squares or esplanades and lasted several hours with ecclesiastical and civil authorities in attendance. Artistic representations of the auto-da-fé usually depict torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

 and the burning at the stake
Execution by burning
Death by burning is death brought about by combustion. As a form of capital punishment, burning has a long history as a method in crimes such as treason, heresy, and witchcraft....

. The defendant at the trial did not know what witnesses would be called against him.

The exact number of people executed by the Inquisition is not known. Juan Antonio Llorente
Juan Antonio Llorente
Juan Antonio Llorente was a Spanish historian and liberal activist....

, the ex-secretary of the Holy Office, gave the following numbers for the Spanish Inquisition excluding the American colonies, Sicily and Sardinia: 31,912 burnt, 17,696 burned in effigy, and those reconciled de vehementi 291,450. José Amador de los Ríos
José Amador de los Ríos
José Amador de los Ríos y Serrano was a Spanish intellectual, primarily a historian and archaeologist of art and literature. He was a graduate in history of the Complutense University of Madrid....

 gave even higher numbers, stating that only between 1484 and 1525, 28,540 were burned in person, 16,520 burned in effigy and 303,847 penanced. However, modern scholars provide more moderate estimates, indicating that fewer than 10,000 were actually executed during the whole operation of the Spanish Inquisition, perhaps only around 3,000.

The Portuguese Inquisition was established in 1536 and lasted officially until 1821. Its influence was much weakened by the late 18th century under the government of the Marquês of Pombal. Autos-da-fé also took place in Mexico, Brazil, and Peru. Contemporary historians of the Conquistador
Conquistadors were Spanish soldiers, explorers, and adventurers who brought much of the Americas under the control of Spain in the 15th to 16th centuries, following Europe's discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492...

s, such as Bernal Díaz del Castillo
Bernal Díaz del Castillo
Bernal Díaz del Castillo was a conquistador, who wrote an eyewitness account of the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards for Hernán Cortés, himself serving as a rodelero under Cortés.-Early life:...

, recorded them. They were also held in the Portuguese colony of Goa
Goa , a former Portuguese colony, is India's smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Located in South West India in the region known as the Konkan, it is bounded by the state of Maharashtra to the north, and by Karnataka to the east and south, while the Arabian Sea forms its...

, India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, following the establishment of the Inquisition
Goa Inquisition
The Goa Inquisition was the office of the Inquisition acting in the Indian state of Goa and the rest of the Portuguese empire in Asia. It was established in 1560, briefly suppressed from 1774–1778, and finally abolished in 1812. The Goan Inquisition is considered a blot on the history of...

 there in 1562-1563.


The auto-da-fé usually began with the public proclamation of a grace period of 40 days. Anyone who was guilty or knew of someone who was guilty was urged to confess. If they were approached and charged they were then presumed guilty, and since the suspects were not allowed to look at the evidence against them, they could only assume the worst. The auto-da-fé was not an impromptu event, but one which was thoroughly orchestrated. Preparations began a month in advance and only occurred when the inquisition authorities believed there were enough prisoners in a given community or city. Bordering the city's plaza, an all-night vigil would be held with prayers, ending in Mass at daybreak and a breakfast feast prepared for all who joined in.
The trial then officially began with a procession of prisoners, who bore elaborate visual symbols on their garments and bodies. These symbols were called sanbenito, and were made of yellow sackcloth. They served to identify the specific acts of treason of the accused, whose identities were kept secret until the very last moment. In addition, most of the time the prisoners had no idea what the outcome of their trial was going to be. The auto-da-fé was also a form of penitence for the public viewers, because they too were engaging in a process of reconciliation and by being involved were given the chance to confront their sins and be forgiven by the Church. The trials concluded when the prisoners were taken outside the city walls to a place called the quemadero or burning place. There the prisoners who were forgiven would fall on their knees in thanksgiving.

In popular culture

The auto-da-fé, usually represented as a heretic being burned at the stake, is a symbol used widely in the arts, especially in Europe.
  • Voltaire
    François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

     featured an auto-da-fé held by the people of Lisbon after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake
    1755 Lisbon earthquake
    The 1755 Lisbon earthquake, also known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake, was a megathrust earthquake that took place on Saturday 1 November 1755, at around 9:40 in the morning. The earthquake was followed by fires and a tsunami, which almost totally destroyed Lisbon in the Kingdom of Portugal, and...

     in chapter six of his satire Candide
    Candide, ou l'Optimisme is a French satire first published in 1759 by Voltaire, a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment. The novella has been widely translated, with English versions titled Candide: or, All for the Best ; Candide: or, The Optimist ; and Candide: or, Optimism...

    (1759). The people of Lisbon believed that this "great ceremony was an infalliable means of preventing the earth from quaking."

  • Edgar Allan Poe
    Edgar Allan Poe
    Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

     - In "The Pit and the Pendulum
    The Pit and the Pendulum
    "The Pit and the Pendulum" is a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe and first published in 1842 in the literary annual The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present for 1843. The story is about the torments endured by a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, though Poe skews historical facts. The...

    ", Poe uses the auto-da-fé as a reference point for the narrator as he tries to determine what is happening to him.

  • Giuseppe Verdi
    Giuseppe Verdi
    Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century...

     - In his 1866 opera Don Carlos
    Don Carlos
    Don Carlos is a five-act grand opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi to a French language libretto by Camille du Locle and Joseph Méry, based on the dramatic play Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien by Friedrich Schiller...

    , Verdi includes a pivotal scene in the third act that depicts the beginning of an auto-da-fé in front of the Cathedral of Valladolid in Spain where heretics are about to be burned at the stake.

  • Herman Melville
    Herman Melville
    Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

     - In Moby Dick, near the end of Chapter 54, mentions auto-da-fe in passing: " 'Though there are no Auto-da-Fe's in Lima now,' said one of the company to another; 'I fear our sailor friend runs risk of the archiepiscopacy. Let us withdraw more out of the moonlight. I see no need of this.' "

  • Leonard Bernstein
    Leonard Bernstein
    Leonard Bernstein August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim...

     composed and produced a musical adaptation of Voltaire's Candide in 1956, featuring a song called Auto-da-Fé which included the chorus line "It's a lovely day for drinking and for watching people fry", referring to the spectacle of public executions.

  • Elias Canetti
    Elias Canetti
    Elias Canetti was a Bulgarian-born modernist novelist, playwright, memoirist, and non-fiction writer. He wrote in German and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981, "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power".-Life:...

     was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature
    Nobel Prize in Literature
    Since 1901, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded annually to an author from any country who has, in the words from the will of Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction"...

     in 1981 for his work, especially his novel Die Blendung (1935), literally "The Glare," translated into English as Auto-da-Fé
    Auto da Fé is a 1935 novel by Elias Canetti; the title of the English translation refers to the burning of heretics by the Inquisition.-Publication History:...


  • Fyodor Dostoevsky
    Fyodor Dostoevsky
    Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky was a Russian writer of novels, short stories and essays. He is best known for his novels Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov....

     begins a chapter of The Brothers Karamazov
    The Brothers Karamazov
    The Brothers Karamazov is the final novel by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky spent nearly two years writing The Brothers Karamazov, which was published as a serial in The Russian Messenger and completed in November 1880...

    with a "splendid Auto-da-Fé". The chapter is famously called "The Grand Inquisitor
    The Grand Inquisitor
    The Grand Inquisitor is a parable told by Ivan to Alyosha in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov . Ivan and Alyosha are brothers; Ivan questions the possibility of a personal, benevolent God and Alyosha is a novice monk....


  • Tennessee Williams
    Tennessee Williams
    Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams III was an American writer who worked principally as a playwright in the American theater. He also wrote short stories, novels, poetry, essays, screenplays and a volume of memoirs...

     wrote a one-act play entitled Auto-da-Fé. (1938)

  • Roger Zelazny
    Roger Zelazny
    Roger Joseph Zelazny was an American writer of fantasy and science fiction short stories and novels, best known for his The Chronicles of Amber series...

     wrote "Auto-da-Fé
    Auto-da-Fé (short story)
    "Auto-da-Fé" is a short story by Roger Zelazny from Harlan Ellison's science fiction anthology Dangerous Visions.The title is a play on words involving the phrases auto-da-fé and automobile....

    ", a short story which appeared in Dangerous Visions
    Dangerous Visions
    Dangerous Visions is a science fiction short story anthology edited by Harlan Ellison, published in 1967.A path-breaking collection, Dangerous Visions helped define the New Wave science fiction movement, particularly in its depiction of sex in science fiction...

    , 1967.

  • In Dai Sijie
    Dai Sijie
    Dai Sijie is a French author and filmmaker of Chinese ancestry.-Biography:Dai Sijie was born in China in 1954. Because he came from an educated middle-class family, the Maoist government sent him to a reeducation camp in rural Sichuan from 1971 to 1974, during the Cultural Revolution. After his...

    's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
    Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
    Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a semi-autobiographical novel written by Dai Sijie, and published in 2000 in French and in English in 2001. It is the author's first published novel. Its original French title is Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise...

    , the final climactic book burning is repeatedly referred to as auto-da-fé.

  • Autodafé is a song of Italian rapper Frankie Hi-NRG MC
    Frankie Hi-NRG MC
    Frankie HI-NRG MC, born Francesco Di Gesù , is an Italian rapper of Sicilian origins. Frankie HI-NRG has been active since the early stages of the Italian hip hop movement in the early 1990s, and predominantly discusses Politics and Society in his music.- Biography :Born in Turin, Italy, he...

     from his album "La morte dei miracoli".

  • SPK
    SPK (band)
    SPK, formed in 1978 in Sydney, Australia, was a 1980s and early 1990s industrial music and noise music group. One member, Graeme Revell, would later go on to become a successful Hollywood movie composer.-History:...

    , the Australian Industrial band, released a compilation album entitled, "Auto-Da-Fé", (1983).

  • José Saramago
    José Saramago
    José de Sousa Saramago, GColSE was a Nobel-laureate Portuguese novelist, poet, playwright and journalist. His works, some of which can be seen as allegories, commonly present subversive perspectives on historic events, emphasizing the human factor. Harold Bloom has described Saramago as "a...

     goes into detail about an Auto-da-fé in Baltasar and Blimunda
    Baltasar and Blimunda
    Baltasar and Blimunda is a novel by the Portuguese author José Saramago.It is a love story set in the 18th century with the construction of the Convent of Mafra, now one of Portugal's chief tourist attractions, as a background...


External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.