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"Vicious, tireless, Matthew Hopkins the Witchfinder General, scourge of the ungodly, flayer of the demented, burst into 1645 like a black-winged merciless Attila, leaving behind him a trail of gibbet-hung corpses and vermin-infested gaols filled with beaten, terrified women – like bloody footprints across the length of Suffolk."--Witchfinder General (1966) by Ronald Bassett, page 139

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The Inquisition, in historical ecclesiastical terminology also referred to as the "Holy Inquisition", was a group of institutions within the Catholic Church whose aim was to combat heresy. Studies of the records have found that the overwhelming majority of sentences consisted of penances, except in cases of repeat unrepentant heretics who were handed over to the secular courts, which generally resulted in execution or a life sentence. The Inquisition started in 12th-century France to combat religious dissent, particularly among the Cathars and the Waldensians. The inquisitorial courts from this time until the mid-15th century are together known as the Medieval Inquisition. Other groups investigated during the Medieval Inquisition, which primarily took place in France and Italy, including the Spiritual Franciscans, the Hussites (followers of Jan Hus), and the Beguines. Beginning in the 1250s, inquisitors were generally chosen from members of the Dominican Order, replacing the earlier practice of using local clergy as judges.

During the Late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the scope of the Inquisition grew significantly in response to the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. It expanded to other European countries, resulting in the Spanish Inquisition and the Portuguese Inquisition. The Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions focused particularly on the anusim (people who were forced to abandon Judaism against their will) and on Muslim converts to Catholicism. The scale of the persecution of converted Muslims and converted Jews in Spain and Portugal was the result of suspicions that they had secretly reverted to their previous religions, although both minority groups were also more numerous on the Iberian Peninsula than in other parts of Europe.

During this time, Spain and Portugal operated inquisitorial courts not only in Europe, but also throughout their empires in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. This resulted in the Goa Inquisition, the Peruvian Inquisition, and the Mexican Inquisition, among others.

With the exception of the Papal States, the institution of the Inquisition was abolished in the early 19th century, after the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and the Spanish American wars of independence in the Americas. The institution survived as part of the Roman Curia, but in 1908 it was renamed the "Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office". In 1965 it became the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.


See also

Documents and works

Notable inquisitors

Notable cases


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Inquisition" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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