Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

A Curious Relación: Event and Account of the Auto De Fe

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

A Curious Relación: Event and Account of the Auto De Fe

Article excerpt


This article examines the Baroque genre of the relación del auto defe. Previous studies have used the relaciones as reliable accounts of the events and reception of the auto, have considered them as memorial supplements to the events, or have rejected them as useless propaganda. I argue that we should read the relaciones not for what they tell us about the auto, but for what they tell us about the Inquisition's strategies for representing power during the period of its decline. I argue that it is precisely when we read these relaciones as 'literature' - that is, when we pay atten- tion to the use of language and symbol, the construction of narrative arc, and the creation of 'characters' - that they become useful historical documents, revealing both the Inquisition's idealized view of its own power and position, and the increas- ingly fictive nature of that power.


En este artículo examino el género barroco de la relación del auto de fe. En estudios anteriores se han utilizado estas relaciones como testimonios fiables del auto, se las ha considerado suplementos conmemorativos del mismo, o han sido rechazadas como propaganda sin utilidad para el historiador. Propongo leer las relaciones no por lo que nos pueden decir sobre los autos, sino por lo que nos dicen sobre las estrategias empleadas por la Inquisición para representar su poder en el periodo de su decadencia. Arguyo que es precisamente cuando leemos estas relaciones como literatura -es decir, con atención al uso del lenguaje y de los símbolos, la construc- ción de narrativas, y la creación de 'personajes'- que se convierten en documentos históricos útiles, puesto que revelan a la vez la visión idealizada de la Inquisición en cuanto a su propio poder y la naturaleza cada vez más ficticia de ese poder.

Facts and statistics: the period of greatest and most violent Inquisitional activity (the greatest number of victims sentenced to death) spans the years 1483 and 1530. Exact numbers of procesos and relajados are debated, but the massive scale and severity of inquisitional activity in these years is undeniable.1

Facts and statistics: the first autos (the ceremonies in which heretics' senten- ces were read and punishments proportioned) were procedural affairs. The Inquisition's Instrucciones specified very little about them and into the sixteenth century, Inquisition correspondence does not suggest particular preoccupation with the ritual in itself. Autos were held whenever and wherever a sufficient number of cases had built up, and as Francisco Bethencourt describes it, 'the rite was fairly simple, with the execution as its main focus' (2007: 248). It was only in the sixteenth century that the autos became a formalized event, held more or less annually and in the centre of each Tribunal district, and that there developed a marked distinction between private and public autos, these latter having as their principal aim not to punish or save the souls of the accused, but rather, as Francisco Peña stated in the 1578 Manual de Inquisidores, 'curar el bien público y atemorizar al pueblo [...] instruir y también para infundir terror'2 (quoted in Pérez 2005: 341). It was principally after the 1559 auto in Valladolid that the ritual became a public spectacle of terror, essential in the Inquisition's 'pedagogy of fear' (Bennassar 1981). From that point onward, the Inquisition used the ceremony to 'despleg[ar] todo el aparato que le e[ra] posible para aparecer como poder supremo' (Maqueda Abreu 1992: 299)3 and increasingly, this 'aparato' took the form of a carefully crafted symbolic narrative, drawing on and manipulating a common symbolic vocabulary to create 'a homogeneous and coherent struc- ture which made a constant reference to the system of mythical representations which had inspired it: the Catholic world view' (Bethencourt 2009: 303).

Each detail of the auto - the sequence of events, the spatial configuration of the scaffold, the language of the ritual, the visual iconography on the clothing and ornamentation - evoked the Christian narrative of sin and redemption and, particularly, the narrative of the Last Judgment. …

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