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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.
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.
Jay Prasad is a playwright and a novelist living in New York City.
Book Publisher: Wings ePress
No. of Pages: 549
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