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September 19, 2017

The Portuguese Inquisition’s first auto-da-fé (“act of faith”) was held in Lisbon on this date in 1540; the last in Portugal took place on this date in 1761. This grim, public ritual consisted of a Catholic Mass, a procession of heretics and apostates (many of them marranos, or secret Jews), and their torture and execution by burning at the stake. Last-minute penitents were garroted to spare the pain of the flames. Auto-da-fés took place in France, Spain, Portugal, Mexico (where the last in the world was held in 1850), Brazil, Peru, and the Ukraine. Nearly five hundred auto-da-fés were “celebrated” by the Church over the course of three centuries, and thousands of Jews met their deaths in this manner, usually after months of suffering in the Inquisition’s prisons and torture chambers.

“After the earthquake had destroyed three-fourths of Lisbon, the sages of that country could think of no means more effectual to prevent utter ruin than to give the people a beautiful auto-da-fé; for it had been decided by the University of Coimbra, that the burning of a few people alive by a slow fire, and with great ceremony, is an infallible secret to hinder the earth from quaking.” —Voltaire, Candide, Chapter 6