A 'Price One Penny' Edition

July 12, 1845

Up: The Mysteries of the Inquisition. Previous: July 5, 1845 Next: July 19, 1845

The Chamber of Pity

The prison of the Holy Office of Seville was situate in a street that is now called Constitution Place: it was then denominated Inquisition Way.93

In all the great cities of Spain at that epoch there was a street bearing this name, which was derived from the existence of those awful tribunals.

At Seville the palace of the Inquisition was a large square edifice, with four little towers, the whole being built of red bricks and covered with slates. On the exterior facade, or front, there were numerous windows arranged in regular order. These windows had no shutters outside; but, within, every one of those casements was covered with a strong sloping wood-work reaching nearly up to the top; so that the inhabitants of the opposite houses could not see into the chambers, nor could the eyes of the inmates of those rooms obtain a glimpse of what was passing without.

In the palace of the Inquisition were the judgment hall, the dungeons of torture, the chambers of pity, the chambers of penitence, and the prisons,—a gradient scale of horrible abodes, in which the victims were classified according to the hopes entertained of them, or the fate that was reserved for them.

A prisoner who was very rich, was usually sent in the first instance to the chamber of pity. The Inquisition would endeavour to extort the victim’s wealth, under the semblance of a voluntary grant; and the miserable wretch was then allowed to return to freedom, poor as Job in respect to coin, but rich in the gifts of grace!

Sometimes prisoners were taken at once to the chamber of penitence, which we shall describe hereafter; and if a residence there did not produce the desired effect, a transition took place to the torture rooms, the dungeons, and the auto-de fa.

The chambers of penitence were constructed beneath the roofs of the towers: the chambers of pity occupied the middle story; and so the ground floor were the judgment-hall, the offices, and the dwellings of the subalterns of the Inquisition.

The dungeons and torture-rooms were underground, as the reader is already aware.

It was two o’clock in the morning. The illuminations of the festival of the preceding day were gradually extinguished, and a profound silence had at length succeeded the shouts, the songs, and the rejoicings of the holiday. The streets were entirely deserted; and even the alleys of the Triana quarter were empty. The population of Seville, wearied with rejoicing, had retired to rest.

Suddenly the door of the palace of the Count of Mondejar opened; and a litter, carefully closed with curtains, was borne forth on the shoulders of four familiars of the Inquisition. They proceeded towards the inquisitorial palace, at the gate of which they stopped. The turnkey answered the summons of a valet who accompanied the litter, and who whispered a few words in the ears of that functionary. These two men then approached the litter, and, lifting out a young female who was plunged into a profound state of insensibility, carried her up a narrow stair-case to one of the Chambers of Pity. There they placed her upon a bed; and the valet withdrew.

The turnkey then closed the door carefully, and descended the stairs.

“Theresa,” he said, “go up and see what ails that young lady, who is more dead than alive.”

The wife of the turnkey,—for such was the woman who was thus addressed,—was an old hag, blind of one eye, and nearly in her dotage.94 She hobbled up the stairs, and entered the room, where the young lady still lay upon the bed without giving any signs of life. The old woman seated herself in a chair near the bed, until it should please heaven to restore the insensible girl to life.

At length, that spasm which had already lasted three hours, came to a crisis: the prisoner made a movement and stretched out her arms as if she were awaking from a profound trance; her eyes then opened slowly; and, raising herself upon her elbow, she glanced around the chamber with the most profound astonishment.

The bed on which she was lying, was partially covered with white curtains: an ivory crucifix hung against the wall: a few chairs, a washing-stand, a table, and a mat completed the furniture of the room, if we except a shelf of books, and a vase of flowers. The chamber was comfortable; but its general appearance—especially the singular aspect of the windows—struck her with alarm.

“Juanna,” exclaimed the young lady, in a soft and mournful tone.

“My name is not Juanna, but Theresa,” replied the semi-idiot, who was seated near the bed. The young lady regarded the woman with attention; and, not recognizing her countenance, she uttered a cry of horror.

“Oh! where am I?” she exclaimed in a tone expressive of deep agony.

“In prison,” was the blunt reply.

“In prison! But what have I done that I should be immured in a prison?”

“I am sure I cannot tell you: all that does not regard me!”

“Oh! heavens,” ejaculated the young lady, pressing her hands upon her brow like one who endeavours to collect scattered thoughts: “what has happened? and why am I here? Oh!—now—now—I recollect all! I left Juanna’s house in the evening—the people were dancing in the streets—I alone was plunged into despair! I remembered that my father was dying—and I could do nothing for him! nothing!” she repeated in a tone of despair. “And yet I was resolved to exert myself; I presented myself to his friends—to those who were once his friends: I surprised them in the midst of a banquet—at a festival! I appeared amongst them with my mourning and my sorrow. I wept and prayed, and implored them to restore my father to me.—And there—concealed like a traitor—the Grand Inquisidor listened to all said—drank in my words that they might distil poison against me—and then delivered me up to the power of Count of Mondejar’s myrmidons; so that, even in the palace of my father’s former friend, I received not the rights of hospitality.”

She paused, and became convulsed with the deepest anguish.

“Yes—yes!” she exclaimed, once more, “I see it all—I know it all! The Count of Mondejar has paid with my life a smile from Peter Arbuez!”

Again she paused.

“What o’clock is it?” she enquired, after a long silence.

“I do not know, senora; but it has been night a long—long time. I was asleep when you arrived, for I was very tired; to-day was a festival, and we therefore received so many prisoners!”

“A festival indeed!” exclaimed the young lady, with bitter irony;—“a memorable festival, gloriously terminated by an infamous deed of treachery! Dolorez Argoso was a victim worthy of the God who presided at that solemnity!”

Dolorez was not deceived; the most shameless perfidy had delivered her up to the Grand Inquisidor. The Count of Mondejar had indeed purchased the favour of the infamous Arbuez by consigning to the inquisitorial power the young lady who had claimed his protection! And yet the Count of Mondejar carried his head high, and was neither a recreant knight nor a cowardly soldier: he was simply a man who, like most other Spaniards, trembled at the mere name of the Inquisition!

But what pen can express the profound horror of the affianced bride of Don Stephen de Vargas,—that generous-hearted and high-minded damsel, who would have devoted herself to martyrdom sooner than betray a friend,—who could paint her bitter, profound, and burning anguish, when she found herself the object of such a hateful treachery?

Her first movement was a generous indignation—a haughty rage: in the nobility and gentleness of her soul, she abhorred everything savouring of injustice and perfidy;—but, by decrees, that excitement gave way; and all her feminine sensibilities were agitated by the horrible position in which she now found herself.

The old woman slumbered in her chair: she had no compassion for mortal anguish—she, who had grown old in an establishment which echoed with the shrieks and yells of physical torture!

Reduced to despair, her head hanging upon her breast, Dolorez was lost in profound thought, and then she suddenly gave vent to piercing hysterical screams. The old woman started up, and gazed vacantly around.

“Senora,” she said, “you most not cry so loud. You are not so unhappy after all: you have the best room in this part of the palace of the Inquisition.”

At that terrible word, the young lady started convulsively upon the couch; and her sobs were suddenly silenced. Her terror became so great—so overwhelming—so absorbing, that she neither had force to moan nor complain.

The remembrance of her father, whom she had seen two days previously, now occupied her thoughts; for she saw him in all the agony of the sufferings which he had endured! Perhaps the same torture was reserved for her; and death would be the end of her sufferings!

In the midst of these cruel apprehensions, one single idea seemed to console her: she should die a martyr to her filial devotion!

“Senora,” said the old woman, “since you are not dead, I am sure you will recover; and so I will retire to my own bed-room. I will see you again in the morning.”

With these words, Theresa left the apartment.

Dolorez had not heard one word of this last sentence which the hag uttered: the poor girl had suddenly sought consolation in prayer; and her attention was now concentrated in the hope—the fervent hope that, since man had abandoned her father and herself, God would protect them both!

The Initiation

Joyfully rang the bells of the ancient cathedral of Seville to warn the inhabitants of the Andalusian capital that high mass was about to commence. This ceremony, at which his lordship the Archbishop of Seville was to be present, was one of the numerous episodes of the grand festival given in honour of the approaching auto-de-fa, and of the arrival of the Duke of Medina-Cœli at Seville.

It was a brilliant religious ceremony; for, acceding to promise, his lordship Peter Arbuez was about to enrol a number of persons in the ranks of the militia of the Holy Office.

The old basilisk had assumed its most gorgeous ornaments. Thousands and thousands of wax-candles were arranged in order around the altar: the gigantic shade of the columns threw large black lines upon the large marble flag-stones; and the light penetrated feebly through the windows, from whose tinted glass the rays borrowed a thousand dyes.

In the choir, behind the grand altar-piece, the large oaken stalls richly sculptured and carefully polished, were already occupied by the canons of the cathedral. Gold, diamonds, and crystal were everywhere apparent! The candlesticks were of massive gold; the tabernacle also was of gold; and the cups and salvers were of the same costly metal. It was altogether a fairy scene of surpassing splendour.

Into the holy edifice thousands and thousands of persons, of all ranks, were crowding;—the lordly hidalgo, and the humble peasant; the brilliant lady, and the coarsely-clad daughter of the people; monk and layman, nun and serena; familiars and sbirri, soldiers and alguazils;—all, all, sought that scene of Catholic gorgeousness.

And now advanced the Archbishop of Seville. On the right hand of the altar Peter Arbuez sate upon a throne, clad in his violet robe; and another seat was raised on the same platform for the Archbishop. Don Joseph, almoner and favourite of the Grand Inquisidor, occupied a chair near his master.

Presently there arose throughout the mighty edifice the sounds of the grand organ, playing a symphony to the morning hymn: then there was a sudden pause: and, at the expiration of a moment, the organ burst forth in a long, loud, majestic swell, but with a rich and exciting harmony, accompanied by the sonorous voices of the priests.

The Gospel was read when the hymn terminated; and then the crowd opened to make way for a procession of young men, of all ranks, who aspired to the honour of serving the Holy Office. This line of votaries advanced to the foot of the thrones on which the Archbishop and the Grand Inquisidor were seated.

“Holy Virgin!” whispered an old long-bearded gipsey to his comrade, “do you see that villain Juanito? How boldly he steps forward! The Garduna would not have him for even a servant; and, behold! he is about to be enrolled in the militia of the Holy Office.”

“Yes: Juanito is going to receive the honour of initiation, together with all those young nobles,” answered a dancing girl, as brown as an olive in November.

“There! and now behold Ramon Zocato,” said the gipsey. “He seems to forget that he was once hangman at Cordova, and that he was burnt in the hand for stealing a pig.”

“Where is he?” asked the dancing girl.

“There—next to the Marquis of Ronca, who is also going to take the oath of initiation.”

“How many aspirants are there?”

“Oh! they are too numerous to count.”

“What a horde—eh?”

“A horde indeed! And these are recruits—”

“For the militia of the Pope.”

“Who is the Pope?”

“Why, the major-domo of my lord Arbuez, to be sure.”

“Silence, gossips,” said a soldier; “or you’ll know better who the Pope is before you are a day older.”

The votaries advanced, as we before said, to the steps of the platform whereon the two thrones were raised.

In the gallery set apart for the Duke of Medina-Cœli, were, besides his Grace, the Count of Mondejar, Isabella (the Count’s daughter), and Don Carlos de Herrara. This last mentioned personage was constrained and embarrassed,—anxious to please Isabella’s father, but entertaining an abhorrence for the office on which he was to enter.

Peter Arbuez glanced rapidly along the line of votaries, and, not perceiving Don Carlos, looked up towards the gallery, where he taught the eye of the Count of Mondejar.

At that moment the Duke of Medina-Cœli said to Don Carlo; “Is this the way, young man, in which you exhibit your zeal for the true faith? Will you be the last to present yourself before his lordship the Grand Inquisidor?”

“My lord,” said the young chevalier, trembling. “I know not if I be worthy—”

“What an extraordinary scruple! Is it thus that you would reward my kindness towards you?” added the duke in a low tone.

“And will you do nothing for me?” whispered Isabella, in a tender tone.

Don Carlos shuddered with shame, irresolution, and anger. In spite of the love which filled his heart, he cursed himself internally for having yielded to the demand of the Count of Mondejar in the instance.

Nevertheless, moved by the appealing glance of Isabella, he rushed from the gallery. Peter Arbuez had divined all; and his eyes glistened with joy and triumph when he saw Don Carlos proceed to take his place at the end of the line of votaries.

Then Joseph, in his capacity of Almoner to the Grand Inquisidor, rose from his seat, and received from the hands of a deacon, a packet of written papers, and a box containing a number of metal plates, on which was engraved the portrait of the Saviour, reversed, and surrounded by sun-light.

Then, one after another the votaries advanced, and, kneeling at the feet of the Grand Inquisidor, received from the hands of Joseph each a paper and a metal plate. Those papers contained the instructions necessary for the guidance of the servitors of the Holy Office. The metal plates were distinguishing marks, which, like free-masonic signs, enabled the members of the Holy Office to know each other under any circumstances.

At length Don Carlos prostrated himself at the feet of the Grand Inquisidor, Peter Arbuez, and received the insignia of office.

“Don Carlos de Herrara,” said the Grand Inquisidor, in a low tone, “have you wherewith to reproach yourself?”

Don Carlos bowed without uttering any reply; he would have given worlds to have been a hundred leagues distant at that moment. Slowly descending the steps, he took his place amongst the new familiars of the Holy Office, who now formed a circle round the altar.

The Lord Arbuez, with his accustomed grace and majesty, rose from his gilded throne, and proudly descended the steps. Followed by Joseph, he walked calmly along the circle. At length stopping opposite to Don Carlos, he said, “Do you swear to consecrate yourself, body and soul, to the most holy Catholic religion?”

“I swear,” was the reply.

“Do you swear never to lend an ear to the corrupt and impious doctrines of the heresy which is denominated the Reformation?”

“I swear,” answered Don Carlos, still calm and collected.

“Do you swear never to grant an asylum to a heretic, nor to a person so considered by the Holy Tribunal of the Inquisition?”

Don Carlos rose from his knees, and gave no reply; but his eyes were fixed with mingled dread and surprise upon the countenance of the Grand Inquisitor. This third oath seemed to him to be most atrocious. Arbuez knit his brows like the Olympic Jupiter;95 and the young man, overawed by that proud expression of despotism and authority, murmured, “I swear!”

“Do you swear,” continued the Grand Inquisidor, “to denounce all heretics to the Holy Office,—whether friends or foes,—whether you possess a certainty, or only entertain a suspicion of their crime,—whether you observe that they neglect their religious duties, or that they utter an unguarded word in your presence.”

“My lord, my lord,” faltered Don Carlos, “this is the horrible duty of a spy.”

Peter Arbuez darted a terrific glance upon the young man, and then exclaimed, as if he had not overheard these words:—

“Do you swear to sacrifice everything to the Holy Office—even your mother, were she on her death-bed?”

“Mercy, mercy, my lord!” murmured Don Carlos, horror-struck.

Peter Arbuez and Joseph both heard those words; but the former affected not to have noticed them.

“Do you swear to denounce to the Inquisition every one whom you believe to be united with heresy—even to your wife and children?”

“My lord,” answered Don Carlos, raising his head proudly, though still kneeling, “I cannot swear to perform that vow. Here, my lord, take back your insignia and your instructions; I am not worthy of the Holy Office!”

At the same moment he rose from his knees, rushed from the altar, and forced his way through the astonished multitude.

The Duke of Medina-Cœli and the Count of Mondejar were thunder-struck: Isabella burst into tears. Joseph’s lips were for a moment curled with an expression diabolically ironical.

The Lord Arbuez raised his eyes to heaven, and exclaimed, “Brethren, that young man is in a state of mortal sin. Let us pray for him!”

The Grand Inquisidor knelt: everyone followed his example; and a canon read a prayer, the time occupied in which gave Peter Arbuez an opportunity of composing his countenance, which had for a few moments been convulsed with rage.

When he rose, he was again calm and composed.

The Grand Inquisidor then recommenced the formula of the oath, to which every one of the votaries replied with an unrestricted joy.

On that day the militia of the Holy Office received an addition of two hundred members.

On the night that followed, the prisons of the Holy Office contained another victim!

prison of the Holy Office of Seville For the most part, the Inquisition in Seville was located in Triana’s Castillo de San Jorge. Following heavy damage during the 1626 flood, it retreated for thirteen years to the palace of the Tello Talaveras, in the San Marcos parish. Today’s Calle Bustos Tavera was named Calle de la Inquisición Vieja in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century.

Finally, it was moved to the Jesuit college of las Becas, sitting on the north-west end of the Alameda de Hércules in 1778. This latter inquisitorial palace is mentioned and described in multiple nineteenth-century travel guides and memoirs. It is claimed it was bought by a Monsieur Turcan during the Peninsular War (Spanish War of Independence) and rented out to a Lodge of the French Free Masons known as Saint-Joseph d’Italica (or San José de Itálica in Spanish).

However, none of these three locations are situated on a street renamed Constitution (the French text reads ‘rue’, street, instead of ‘Place’).

dotage Senility.
knit his brows like the Olympic Jupiter Following Homer’s Iliad:
‘He spoke, the son of Kronos, and nodded his head with the dark brows,
and the immortally anointed hair of the great god
swept from his divine head, and all Olympos was shaken.’

The English translation is different from the French. Jupiter’s frowning brows became proverbial in French, e.g. ‘La contraction jupitérienne de ses sourcils, son regard de lion’ (Balzac, Histoire des Treize). The Greek god was customarily referred to with his Latin name, the Greek name Zeus only starting to gain currency in the mid-nineteenth century.

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Victorine Subervic and Manuel de Cuendías. Date: 1 July 2013