The tortures of the Spanish Inquisition hold dark lessons for our time

July 31, 2022

In the catacombs of the Bancroft Library, in a chilled, climate-controlled vault, is a 1,300-page document that tells the horrors of Manuel de Lucena’s life and death as a clandestine Jew during the Spanish Inquisition. In black ink on old parchment, scribes some 400 years ago penned the details of his lengthy imprisonment and his coerced testimony, along with the interrogation and torture of other Jews implicated in the investigation.

In the end, de Lucena and members of his family, and countless others, admitted their guilt and incriminated those they loved, and were then burned at the stake.

This grim account is a central exhibit in a powerful new book by Ron E. Hassner, a UC Berkeley political scientist and scholar of the history of war. Anatomy of Torture (Cornell University Press, May 2022) is, in part, a telling of how the Roman Catholic Church, backed by Spanish King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I, used physical and psychological torture systematically to crush communities of Jews, Muslims, Protestants and others seen as heretics.

Berkeley News