Portuguese form of the Spanish "auto de fé" (in French, "acte de foi," from the Latin "actus fidei"), the solemn proclamation and subsequent execution of a judgment rendered by the Court of the Inquisition on "reos," or persons condemned by it; though in the ordinary acceptance of the term it is applied to the carrying out of the sentence only. The expression is also erroneously, or perhaps metaphorically, applied to the burning of books (the Talmud, etc.) in the early Middle Ages.

The solemn proclamation was ordinarily made in a church and on the first Sunday in Advent; because on that day the lection from the Gospel (Luke xxi.) deals with the last judgment. Some authorities held that such sentences should not be publicly read in a church because of the death-penalty connected with many of them. Where this view was held, as in Spain, some public place in the city was chosen where a large estrade was erected so that a great concourse of people could gather and witness the ceremony; "for," says Nicolas Eymeric ("Manuel des Inquisiteurs," p. 143), "it is a sight which fills the spectators with terror and is an awful picture of the last judgment. Such fear and such sentiments ought to be inspired, and are fraught with the greatest advantages."

Some time previous to the auto a formal proclamation was made before the public buildings and in the public squares of the city, which proclamation, in the case of the auto held at Madrid in 1680, was worded as follows: "The inhabitants of the town of Madrid are hereby informed that the Holy Office of the Inquisition of the city and kingdom of Toledo will celebrate a general Auto da Fé on Sunday, the 30th of June of the present year, and that all those who shall in any way contribute to the promotion of or be present at the said auto will be made partakers of all the spiritual graces granted by the Roman Pontiff."

An Auto da Fé.(From a painting in The National Gallery, Madrid.)

There were various kinds of autos: the "Auto Publico General," which was surrounded with much pomp and was held in the presence of all the magistrates of the city, often in celebration of the birth or marriage of a prince; the "Auto Particular," at which the inquisitors and the criminal judges alone were present; the "Autillo" (little auto), which was held in the precincts of the palace of the Inquisition in the presence of the ministers of the tribunal and some invited guests; and lastly the "Auto Singular," held in the case of a single individual.

Costume of the Condemned.

After having been immured for months or even years in the dungeons of the Inquisition, and after the trial, the condemned persons whose sentences were to be read were taken out of prison on the night preceding the auto and led to a place where they were prepared for the ceremony. A special dress was given them, consisting of a vest, the sleeves of which came down to the wrists, and a pair of trousers reaching to the heels, both made of black stuff striped with white. Over this was thrown a scapular, called "sanbenito"—usually made, for those accused of some crime against the church, of yellow cotton marked both on breast and back with the St. Andrew cross painted in red. For those, however, who had been convicted and who persisted in their denial, or who had relapsed, the scapular was gray and was called "samarra," and there was figured on it both in front and behind the likeness of the prisoner resting upon burning torches and surrounded by devils. Often the name of the prisoner and the crime for which he was convicted were written beneath the picture. For those who had accused themselves the flames were inverted; and for such as had been convicted of sorcery a bonnet of paper in the form of a sugarloaf was also prescribed, upon which were figured devils and flames of fire. These bonnets were called "carochas." The culprit's feet were bare, and in his hand he carried a taper of yellow wax.

In the solemn procession which was formed, the banner of the Inquisition with its inscription "Justitia et Misericordia" was carried foremost; then came the officers of the Inquisition and other dignitaries. One or two citizens were assigned to each culprit to act as godfathers, whose duty it was to see that those given in their charge were returned safely to the prison. In the procession were also carried the bones of those who had died before sentence could be pronounced upon them; for, says Bernardus Comensis ("Lucerna Inquisitor," p. 52), "Mortui hæretici possunt excommunicari et possunt hæritici accusari post mortem . . . et hoc usque ad quadraginta annos." The procession also included effigies of those who had been condemned in absentia. The reason for this course was because the Inquisition, when it condemned a person, was able to sequester his property. As Bernard Gui expressly states in his "Practica Inquisitionis," "The crime of heresy must be proceeded against not only among the living, but even among the dead, especially when it is necessary to prevent their heirs from inheriting, because of the beliefs of those from whom they inherit" (Molinier, "L'Inquisition dans le Midi de la France," p. 358).

Procession and Ceremony.

In the church elaborate preparations had been made for the ceremony. The great altar was draped with black cloth, and upon it were placed two thrones, one for the Inquisitor-General, the other for the king or for some high dignitary. A large crucifix was also erected: those to whom its face was turned were to be spared; while those to whom its back was shown were to die. Before the actual ceremony took place the secular authorities had solemnly to swear to lend all their aid to the Inquisition and to carry out its behests. A long sermon was then preached for the purpose of exhorting those who still remained obdurate to confess, and of inciting the onlookers to the profession of faith which was made at various intervals. On this account the auto was sometimes called "sermo publicus," or "sermo general de fide "(Molinier, ib. p. 8). A good example of this preaching may be seen in the sermon of Don Diego Annunciazaro Justinianus, at one time archbishop of Craganor (translated by Moses Mocatta, and published in Philadelphia, 1860). A bibliography of such sermons preached at the autos in Portugal is given by I. F. da Silva ("Diccionario Bibliographico Portuguez," Lisbon, 1858 et seq., s.v. "Autos da fé").

A chance was also given to those so inclined to make abjuration of their heresies, this being done at a table on which lay several open missals. Two clerks then read the report of the trial and the punishment meted out, the reading of which often occupied a whole day. As each report was read, the culprit was led out by one of the familiars of the Inquisition into the middle of the gallery, where he remained until the sentence had been pronounced.

The same ceremony was gone through when the service was held in a public square. Here a large amphitheater was erected with all the necessary appurtenances for the service, and with temporary dungeons beneath the platforms for the condemned.


The punishments meted out by the Inquisition were of four kinds according to the official enumeration: (1) Citation before the Inquisition; (2) the performance of pious deeds; (3) public pilgrimages, flagellations, and the wearing of large crosses; and (4) confiscation of goods, perpetual imprisonment, and death. All those found guilty at the trial were led back again in the same solemn procession; the heretic penitent and relapsed, the heretic impenitent and not relapsed, the heretic "impenitent and relapsed," the heretic negative (who denied his crime), and the heretic contumacious, were all delivered over to the secular arm, as the Inquisition itself technically refused to carry out the death-sentence on the principle "ecclesia non sitit sanguinem" (the Church thirsts not for blood). The various sentences of death always ended with some such formula as "For these reasons we declare you relapsed, we cast you out of the forum of the church, we deliver you over to the secular justices; praying them, however, energetically, to moderate the sentence in such wise that there be in your case no shedding of blood nor danger of death."


Bellarmin says expressly, "That heretics deserve the sentence is clearly seen, or at least is referred to in Deut. xiii. 6 et seq." The doctors of the Church were merely divided on the question whether those convicted should be put to death by the sword or by fire (compare Julien Havet, "L'Heresie et le Bras Séculier au Moyen Age," Paris, 1881). Death by fire was preferred as more in keeping with John xv. 6, "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." Simanoas and Roias were even of opinion that the culprits ought to be burned alive; the only precaution necessary being that their tongues be bound, or their mouths stuffed, in order that they do not scandalize the audience. The custom seems to have been that the penitent were first strangled and then burned, while the impenitent were cast into the flames alive. It was also held that the secular arm should not delay too long in carrying out sentences of the Inquisition. Innocent IV., in his bull "ad extirpanda," fixes five days as the longest period of delay. In Spain it was customary to carry out the sentence immediately after its proclamation, which was so timed as to occur upon some feast-day, when the populace would be at liberty to witness the burning.

Execution of Sentence.

The same pomp which marked the public reading of the sentence was observed at its execution; the imposing procession wending its way from the Inquisition dungeons to the "quemadero," the place where the scaffolds were erected. The dignitaries of both Church and state were present; and at the auto of June 30, 1680, in Madrid, which Charles II. held in honor of his newly married bride, the king himself lighted the first brand which set fire to the piles.

During the night preceding the carrying out of the sentence a commission sat continuously to hear the recantations of the prisoners, whenever they were minded to make them. The victims were carried on asses with escorts of soldiers, and accompanied by priests who exhorted them to take the last chance of becoming reconciled to the Church.

A full report—called in Spain "Relacion," in Portugal "Relaçao"—of the auto was drawn up and often printed for the double purpose of inciting the faithful to greater zeal and of bringing order into the process of the ecclesiastical court (E. N. Adler, in "Jewish Quarterly Review," xiii. 395). These reports were sent not only to the central organization of the Inquisition, but to other tribunals as well.

Spain and Portugal.

The earliest record of the execution of Jews at an Auto da fé relates to that held in Troyes (L'Aube) on Saturday, April 24, 1288. Jewish accounts of this event are given in the Hebrew seliḥot (penitential poems) of Jacob ben Judah, Meier ben Eliab, and Solomon Simḥa, as well as in an old Provençal account in verse by the aforementioned Jacob. This execution called forth strenuous protests from Philip le Bel (May 17, 1288), who saw in the actions of the Holy Office an infringement of his own rights (compare A. Darmesteter, in "Romania," iii. 443 et seq.; idem, in "Revue Etudes Juives," ii. 199; Salfeld, "Martyrologium des Nürnberger Memorbuches," p. 162). We have, however, little documentary evidence about the Jews of the Inquisition in countries outside of the Spanish Peninsula. Most of the information relating to the Inquisition in its relation to the Jews refers to Spain and Portugal and their colonies (see below). That Jews suffered, however, from the tribunal in Italy may be seen from the fact that in Venice during the sixteenth century there were 43 persons before the Holy Office for the crime of "Judaismo," and in the seventeenth, 34. Many Jews may even be comprised under those who were charged with "Maomedanismo." The Inquisition worked its greatest havoc in Spain and Portugal, in the Balearic Islands, in Spanish America (Mexico, Brazil, Peru), in Guadelupe, and in Goa (India). In Spain autos were held from the time that Sixtus IV. (1480) issued a bull empowering Catholic kings to appoint inquisitors over all heretics, and in Portugal since 1531, when Clement VII. issued the bull "cum ad nihil magis," which formally established the Inquisition in Portugal (Herculano, "Estab. da Inquisiçao," i. 255). The Holy Office was established in America by letters patent of Philip II. on Feb. 7, 1569. The Inquisition in Venice was abolished in 1794; at Goa, in 1812. The last auto held in Portugal was at Lisbon, Oct. 19, 1739; but as late as Aug. 1, 1826, in a short period of reaction, an auto was celebrated at Valencia, in which one Jew was burned alive ("Revue Etudes Juives," v. 155). The Inquisition was finally abolished in Spain July 15, 1834. In Peru the Holy Office had already been abolished on March 9, 1820, at the earliest moment after the cessation of the connection with Spain.

It is impossible to tell the exact number of Jews who met their death at the many autos da fé in Spain and Portugal. They were usually charged with Judaizing—a charge which might have been made against Moriscos, or even against Christians who were suspected of heresy. This was especially the case with the Maranos or Neo-Christians; and yet, from the documents already published, and from the lists which are now accessible (see below), it is known that many thousands must have met their death in this way. Albert Cansino, ambassador of Ferrara, writes on July 19, 1501: "I passed several days at Seville, and I saw fifty-four persons burned" ("Revue Etudes Juives," xxxvii. 269). According to Llorente, the Inquisition in Spain dealt with 341,021 cases and over 30,000 people were burned (see also Kohut, in "Proceedings Am. Jew. Hist. Soc." iv. 109). According to another authority, during the two hundred and fifty years that the Inquisition existed in America, 129 autos da fé were held.

From the details given by Adler the following numbers can be given of the Jews condemned, not always to death, so far as known. But in many instances, especially during the sixteenth century, no details are given:

Sixteenth"(number of "reos")868

Or in all 6,448 of whom the names and fates can be ascertained from the "relaciones" of 115 out of 464 autos da fé which are known to have taken place from 1481 to 1826.

The following list of autos da fé in which it is positively known that Jews were concerned has been selected from those held by the Inquisition; the thousands of volumes of Inquisition reports in the archives at Madrid, Seville, Simancas, Lisbon, etc.,when published, will doubtless add largely to the number. As a basis the list drawn up by E.N. Adler ("Jewish Quarterly Review," xiii. 392), with the additions made by the writer of this article (ib. xiv. 80) and S. N. Kayserling (ib. 136), has been made use of wherever definite details are given, showing that Jews or Judaism were concerned in the Auto da fé. The authorities are given in the articles mentioned.

  • 1288, April 24, Troyes.
  • 1459, July 8.
  • 1481, Jan. 6, Seville.
  • 1484, Aug. 8, Ciudad Real.
  • 1485, March 16, Ciudad Real.
  • 1485 and 1486 (7 different autos), Guadalupe.
  • 1487, March 14.
  • 1487, Aug. 18.
  • 1488, May 24, Toledo.
  • 1488, July 30, Toledo.
  • 1490, Feb. 11, Huesca.
  • 1490, Valencia.
  • 1491, July 8.
  • 1506, Palma (Majorca).
  • 1507, Las Palmas.
  • 1509, Palma.
  • 1510, Palma.
  • 1511, Palma.
  • 1526, Feb. 24, Las Palmas.
  • 1541, Oct. 23, Lisbon.
  • 1541, Evora.
  • 1543, Porto.
  • 1559, May 21, Valladolid.
  • 1560, Dec. 22, Seville.
  • 1562, March 15, Murcia.
  • 1562, March 20, Murcia.
  • 1574 (first auto in America), Mexico.
  • 1576, Toledo.
  • 1578, Toledo.
  • 1580, Lima.
  • 1582, Lima.
  • 1592, Mexico.
  • 1598, Toledo.
  • 1603, Aug. 3, Lisbon.
  • 1605, March 27, Evora.
  • 1606, March 24, Evora.
  • 1610, Nov. 7, 8, Logrono.
  • 1624, May 5, Lisbon.
  • 1624, Nov. 30, Seville.
  • 1625, Dec. 2, Cordova.
  • 1625, Dec. 14, Seville.
  • 1627, Feb. 28, Seville.
  • 1627, Dec. 21, Cordova.
  • 1627, Dec. 21, Seville.
  • 1628, July 22, Seville.
  • 1629, April 1, Evora.
  • 1629, Sept. 2, Lisbon.
  • 1634, June 29, Cuença.
  • *1636, June 12, Valladolid.
  • 1639, Rio de la Plata.
  • 1639, Jan. 23, Lima.
  • 1642, April 2, Lisbon
  • 1644, April 17, Seville.
  • 1644, Aug. 2, Valladolid.
  • 1645, Mexico.
  • 1647, Mexico.
  • 1647, Dec. 22, Lisbon.
  • 1648, March 13, Mexico.
  • 1648, March 29, Seville.
  • 1651, Jan.—, Toledo.
  • 1652, Lisbon.
  • 1654, June 29, Cuença
  • 1654, Dec. 6, Granada.
  • 1655, March, S. Iago de Compostella.
  • 1655, May 3, Cordova.
  • 1658, Dec. 15, Porto.
  • 1660, April 11,Seville.
  • 1660, April 13, Seville.
  • 1660, Oct. 17, Lisbon.
  • 1661, Nov. 30, Toledo.
  • 1662, Feb. 24, Cordova.
  • 1663, May 6, Cordova.
  • 1664, Oct. 26, Coimbra.
  • 1665, June 29, Cordova.
  • 1666, Toledo.
  • 1666, June 7, Cordova.
  • 1666, July 6, Cordova.
  • 1667, July 9, Cordova.
  • 1669, Cordova.
  • 1669, Toledo ?
  • 1670, July 20, Cordova.
  • 1673, Coimbra.
  • 1675, Jan. 13, Palma.
  • 1679, April 6, Palma.
  • 1679, April 23, Palma.
  • 1679, April 30, Palma.
  • 1679, May 3, Palma.
  • 1679, May 28, Palma.
  • 1680, June 30, Madrid.
  • 1680, Oct. 28, Madrid.
  • 1682, May 10, Lisbon.
  • 1683, Lisbon.
  • 1684, Granada.
  • 1689, Granada.
  • 1691, Majorca.
  • 1691, March 7, Palma.
  • 1691, March 11, Seville.
  • 1691, May 1, Palma.
  • 1691, May 6, Palma.
  • 1691, June 2, Palma.
  • 1699, Nov. 29, Valladolid.
  • 1700, Seville.
  • 1701, Aug. (two), Lisbon.
  • 1703, Oct. 28, Seville.
  • 1704, March 2, Coimbra.
  • 1705, Sept. 6, Lisbon.
  • 1705, Dec. 6, Lisbon.
  • 1706, July 25, Evora.
  • 1706, Dec. 31, Valladolid.
  • 1707, June 30, Lisbon.
  • 1713, July 9, Lisbon.
  • 1718, April 4, Cordova.
  • 1718, June 17, Coimbra.
  • 1718, June 29, Seville.
  • 1721, May 18, Madrid.
  • 1721, May 18, Seville.
  • 1721, Sept. 15, Palma.
  • 1721, Nov. 30, Granada.
  • 1721, Dec. 14, Seville.
  • 1722, Feb. 22, Madrid.
  • 1722, Feb. 24, Seville.
  • 1722, March 15, Toledo.
  • 1722, April 12, Cordova.
  • 1722, May 17, Murcia.
  • 1722, May 31, Palma.
  • 1722, June 29, Cuença.
  • 1722, July 5, Seville.
  • 1722, Nov. 22, Cuença.
  • 1722, Nov. 30, Seville.
  • 1722, Nov. 30, Llerena.
  • 1723, Jan. 31, Seville.
  • 1723, Feb. 24, Valencia.
  • 1723, March 14, Coimbra.
  • 1723, March 31, Granada.
  • 1723, March 31, Barcelona.
  • 1723, May 9, Cuença
  • 1723, May 13, Murcia.
  • 1723, June 6, Seville.
  • 1723, June 6, Valladolid.
  • 1723, June 6, Saragossa.
  • 1723, June 13, Cordova.
  • 1723, June 20, Granada.
  • 1723, Oct. 10, Lisbon.
  • 1723, Oct. 24, Granada.
  • 1723, July 26, Llerena.
  • 1724, Feb. 20, Madrid.
  • 1724, March 12, Valladolid.
  • 1724, April 2, Valencia.
  • 1724, April 23, Cordova.
  • 1724, June 11, Seville.
  • 1724, June 25, Granada.
  • 1724, July 2, Cordova.
  • 1724, July 2, Palma.
  • 1724, July 23, Cuencça.
  • 1724, Nov. 30, Murcia.
  • 1724, Dec. 21, Seville.
  • 1725, Jan. 14, Cuencça.
  • 1725, Feb. 4, Llerena.
  • 1725, March 4, Cuencça.
  • 1725, May 13, Granada.
  • 1725, July 1, Toledo.
  • 1725, July 1, Valencia.
  • 1725, July 8, Valladolid.
  • 1725, Aug. 24, Granada.
  • 1725, Aug. 26, Llerena.
  • 1725, Sept. 9, Barcelona.
  • 1725, Oct. 21, Murcia.
  • 1725, Nov. 30, Seville.
  • 1725, Dec. 16, Granada.
  • 1726, March 31, Valladolid.
  • 1726, March 31, Murcia.
  • 1726, May 12, Cordova.
  • 1726, Aug. 18, Granada.
  • 1726, Sept. 1, Barcelona.
  • 1726, Sept. 17, Valencia.
  • 1726, Oct. 13, Lisbon.
  • 1727, Jan. 26, Valladolid.
  • 1728, May 9, Granada.
  • 1728, May 15, Cordova.
  • 1730, May 3, Cordova.
  • 1731, March 4, Cordova.
  • 1736, Dec. 23, Lima.
  • 1738, March 21, Toledo.
  • 1739, Sept. 1, Lisbon.
  • 1739, Oct. 18, Lisbon.
  • 1745, June 15, Valladolid.
  • 1745, Dec. 5, Cordova.
  • 1781, Seville.
  • 1799, Aug. 26, Seville.
  • 1826, Aug. 1, Valencia.

Several paintings of autos da fé are in existence. Two of these are in the National Gallery at Madrid. The older, attributed to Berruguete (fifteenth century), depicts one over which San Domingo de Guzman presided, and represents the actual burning at the stake. The other pictures the celebrated auto held at Madrid in 1680 before Charles II., his wife, and his mother. Of this a "relacion" was published by Joseph del Olmo (Madrid, 1680, 1820). An abstract in German was published by Kayserling, "Ein Feiertag in Madrid," and another in English by J. Rivas Puigcerner, in "Menorah Monthly," xxx. 72. A painting of an Auto da fé by Robert Fleury was exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1845. See also Inquisition.

  • As regards the authority and procedure, see Bernard Guidonis, Practica Inquisitionis, ed. Donais, Paris, 1886;
  • Nicolas Eymeric, Directorium Inquisitorum, composed in 1358, of which an abstract was published with the title Le Manuel des Inquisiteurs . . . d'Espagne et de Portugal, Lisbon, 1762;
  • Henner, Beiträge z. Organismus und z. Kompetenz der Päpstl. Ketzergerichte, Leipsic, 1890;
  • Molinier, L'Inquisition dans le Midi de la France, au Treizième et au Quatorzième Siècle, Paris, 1880;
  • Sachsse, Ein Ketzergericht, Berlin, 1891;
  • and the general histories of the Inquisition by Llorente Paramo, Limborch, and Lea (Philadelphia, 1890; French transl. by S. Reinach, Paris, 1900);
  • Pierre Zaccone, Histoire de l'Inquisition (ill.), Paris, 1852. The various proclamations used in connection with the auto will be found in full in Pablo Garcia, Orden que Comunmente se Guarda en el Santo Oficio, Madrid, 1622;
  • Cordova, 1843;
  • compare, also, Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, passim;
  • Kayserling, Sephardim, pp. 94 et seq.;
  • idem, Gesch. der Juden in Spanien und Portugal, i. 178 et seq.;
  • Herculano, Historia da Origem e Estabelecimento da Inquisição em Portugal, Lisbon, 1897;
  • Carlos José de Menezes, A Inquisição em Portugal (ill.), Porto, 1893;
  • J. T. Betts, A Glance at the Italian Inquisition (ill.), London, 1885;
  • Van der Aa. Beschryving van Spanien en Portugal (ill.), Leyden, 1707;
  • and especially the authorities cited by E. N. Adler, Auto da Fé and Jew, in Jewish Quarterly Review, xiii. 392-437;
  • R. Gottheil, Gleanings from Spanish and Portuguese Archives, ib. xiv. 80;
  • Kayserling, Autos da, Fé and Jews, ib. 136.
  • Descriptions of autos da fé will also be found in Kayserling, Ein Feiertag in Madrid, Berlin, 1859;
  • [Claude Dellon] Relation de, l'Inquisition de Goa, Paris, 1688 (English transl., The History of the Inquisition . . . at Goa, London, 1688);
  • Kohut, Martyrs of the Inquisition in South America, in Publications American Jewish Historical Society, iv. 101 et seq.;
  • Fergusson, Trial of Gabriel de Granada, ib. vii.;
  • Léonard Gallois, Hist. Abrégée de l'Inquisition d'Espagne, i. 108, Brussels, 1823.
  • Compare, also, the literature at the head of the article Inquisition, in Herzog-Plitt, Real-Encycl. für Protest. Theologie, ix. 152.