Cullen Murphy, author of a recent book on the Inquisitions, Spanish and otherwise, answers 10 questions for the Huffington Post. Number 2 is arresting:
How many people were burned at the stake?
No one really knows. The inquisitors were excellent record-keepers — at times truly superb. One surviving document gives the expenses for an execution down to the price of the rope used to tie the victims’ hands. But a lot of the records have been lost. An estimate that has wide credibility among historians is that about 2 percent of those who came before Inquisition tribunals were burned at the stake, which would mean several tens of thousands of people. The rest suffered lesser punishments.
As is #7
7. When I think “Inquisition,” I think “torture” — is that real or is it a myth?
Torture was an integral part of the inquisitorial process, mainly to extract confessions — just as it was part of the systems used by secular courts of the time. Modern historians explain that the Church tried to regulate torture, establishing clear guidelines for its use. Unfortunately, limitations on torture never really work — that’s one lesson from the Inquisition, and from the recent American experience. It’s never hard to justify applying a little more physical coercion once you’ve decided that physical coercion is fine to begin with. Medieval inquisitors, limited to one session of torture per person, sometimes conducted a second or third or fourth, arguing that it was just a “continuance” of the first.