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Fabulous Voyage Across The Ocean Sea
by Jay Prasad

Category: History
Description: "The D'Avilas, a family of conversos from the south of Spain, whose lives are intertwined with that of Christopher Columbus, take part in his journeys in order to escape the Inquisition. Their narratives offer vivid impressions of the New World, and the enslavement and genocide of the native population."
eBook Publisher: Wings ePress, Inc., 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: July 2010


Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [641 KB]
Words: 148508
Reading time: 424-594 min.

It was cold in the morning as the coach drove the three of us--Dona Inez Maria Lorca, the familiar, and me--toward the north of Toledo where the auto-da-fe was to be held. A bodyguard wearing armor and carrying arms rode behind us. I was too depressed to pay any attention to my two traveling companions, who seemed to hold lengthy whispered conversations, the tenor of which, as far as I could make out, was the type and variety of punishment to be meted out for the heretics.

The streets were full of carriages, men on horses, and soldiers walking around with pickets and swords. Following our guide's suggestion, we got out of the carriage--I helping Dona Maria Inez, for the sake of courtesy--and we walked through the streets to the public square where the ceremony was going to be held. Following the custom used in public spectacles, balconies from the surrounding houses had been appropriated by the Inquisitors to seat the distinguished citizens of Toledo, of which my father was one. He had one of the best seats in the balcony of the palatial house of the Sanchez family--who were conversos, and one of whose members, a boyhood friend of mine, was a victim to whom punishment was to be meted out that afternoon--and our guide took us there. There were refreshments inside the house, and the guide offered to show me the food stalls. I was not hungry and looked at Dona Maria Inez, who said she was feeling faint from the crowds and the noise. I escorted her inside the house and sat at a table with her, joining a dozen or so others, who were having breakfast. There were large jars of wine on the table, and trays of bread and cheese, and dishes containing olives and walnuts and hazelnuts, and various cold meats, but the hidalgo lady and I were content with drinking a cup of sheep's milk and eating some rolls with honey.

The conversation at the table was about the auto-da-fe and I listened to the words that were tossed around me in all directions.

"Tomas Torquemada is going to be present," said a stout jolly converso, who was eating cold ham.

"Fray Tomas is going to give the sermon," said a beetle-browed individual, drinking wine.

"I heard forty people are going to be burned," said the first speaker.

"Maybe some of them will be forgiven," said a third individual, a kind, distinguished looking man, with grey hair and brown eyes.

"Even then they would be burned. The clemency consists in garroting the victim first. In one case you are burned alive, in the other you are killed first and then burned."

A great tolling of bells took place announcing the beginning of the proceedings, and we went to our assigned seats. The Inquisitors sat on a high platform at the centre of the square, and, facing them a few yards away, was a mound of sorts, on which a green cross, the symbol of the Inquisition, rode high. The doomed prisoners were led toward it in a procession, priests on either side intoning verses from the gospel. Their hands were tied with ropes which were then wrapped around their torsos, and they wore sacks of yellow linen showing their names in black under the words herejia condenado. They were bareheaded and were not allowed to wear shoes, despite the cold weather, and, as last gesture of the power of the Church over them, were gagged to prevent them from bringing attention to their plight, or worse, from uttering blasphemy or profanities.

The proceedings were monotonous--there was a lengthy Mass, followed by an equally lengthy sermon, and then the reading of names of the condemned, their crimes and punishment. The gathered mobs let out howls of rage after the reading of each name, and were it not for the presence of the soldiers, it would have been impossible to control the crowd, which wanted to take justice in its own hands.

After the reading of the names was complete, a Dominican friar read verses from the Bible to justify the burning of heretics. "The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth," he read from St. Matthew's Gospel, and proceeded to strengthen the sentiment contained in it by a verse from St. John, which said "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." He then announced the sequence of events that were to take place at the Plaza Quemadero: the effigies of those who had fled Toledo would be burned, followed by the bodies of those who had died in prison while undergoing interrogation; those who had pleaded for forgiveness and reconverted to Catholicism would be strangled next and their bodies burned, after which would come the punishment for the unrepentant ones: they would be roasted alive over a slow-burning fire.

When the proceedings at the square came to an end, the crowds rose up to make their way to the Quemadero. Our familiar came to our side and told us he would take us there, using little known bystreets and alleys. I followed him, giving my arm to Dona Maria Inez, after taking a last look at the condemned ones--conversos, just like me, who were standing there with vacant, unseeing eyes.

Walking through deserted shortcuts, we reached the Quemadero before the procession, and the familiar found seats for us on raised platforms, close to the stacked piles of wood. Soon, the shouts of the mob reached us and we saw the prisoners being driven to the burning grounds. The crowd was spitting on them, and kicking them, and some even set fire to their beards and hair. After they had been herded to the square, the proceedings began with a representative of the king and queen setting fire to a pile of wood, and burning the effigies of the ones who had fled the persecution. This was followed by the strangling and burning of the repentant ones. And finally, the unrepentant prisoners were gathered in a group and tied to a pile of wood, which was then set on fire by the royal representative. A Dominican friar read from the Bible the admonition of Paul to the Corinthians, to "purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump," and in his instruction to "deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." Most of the victims accepted their fate passively, but some yelled, shouting that they would not go quietly and began singing Jewish hymns or chanting Jewish prayers until they were quieted by blows on the head by the guards who were watching them. The spectacle taking place before me--the penitents plaintively screaming as they were charred by fire until the smoke, fortunately, made them unconscious, the spurts of flame caused by the burning of the fat in their bodies, the crackling of the bones, and the reduction of their humanity to a heap of ashes--was making me sick, but I managed to hold my bile by swallowing repeatedly.

It was at this time I noticed a transformation on the part of Dona Maria. Her face was flushed, her breathing had quickened and her eyes had a dreamy look which I had seen in women when they are sexually aroused. I turned my eyes away from her, because my instinct told me not to get close with her--she was a hidalgo, she probably was my father's mistress, and she was religious.

All things eventually come to an end, and the ordeal I was witnessing came to a close, with smoldering limbs and ashes stirred by the wind strewed on the burning grounds. The familiar appeared again and conducted us to our carriage. I looked for our guard, and finally found him, a little drunk, sitting on the steps of a house around the corner. I asked him to let me have his horse, which was tethered to a nearby tree, for I wanted to ride for a while in that winter afternoon, to clear my head. He saddled it for me, and I told Dona Maria I would be home in a few hours, and to tell my father not to wait for me for dinner.

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