A 'Price One Penny' Edition

September 27, 1845

Up: The Mysteries of the Inquisition. Previous: September 20, 1845 Next: October 4, 1845

The Justice of God

In Juanna’s little house, in the small parlour where Joseph’s nurse had been accustomed to pass her long and solitary days, the young monk was now alone.

Seated on a sofa embroidered by the hands of Juanna, Joseph, pale and agitated, supported his head on his left arm: in his right hand he held a long dagger.

A sombre excitement—a profound and sole idea—gave a terrific fixity to his large dark eyes, while an extreme physical depression reigned throughout his frame.

Since the departure of Dolorez and Stephen—three days previously—Joseph had remained alone in that deserted dwelling; and for two days he had eaten nothing.

And yet this abstinence had not arisen from an extreme asceticism nor from a stupid fanaticism: during those two days and two nights Joseph had not uttered a word.

For a long time he had ceased to pray!

An immense chaos of ideas, over which one was predominant, agitated in his brain without order and without connexion,—a monster with a thousand heads, a devouring hydra which put out its myriad fiery tongues to overwhelm him with the fatigues of constant hallucinations.

During those two mortal days, the Dominican saw terrible and incredible things passing before him—impossible phantasmagorian sights which made him afraid—angels and demons mingled together!

Then Joseph seemed to converse with an invisible and charming being who called him gently by his name, and said “Come!” But when he attempted to rise and follow this invisible being, an iron hand seemed to press rudely upon him, while a rough voice cried in his ears, “Not yet!”

Then the young monk concealed his head entirely in the velvet cushions, in order to escape from that cruel vision. But at the expiration of a few minutes, he would look up again; and then a fearful joy burnt in his eyes, his white and brilliant teeth were gnashed convulsively, and his hand clutched with furious triumph that long dagger!

At length, for the last time, he turned the hourglass which had enabled him to measure a night of mortal length!

It was now nine o’clock in the morning.

And Joseph then broke silence!

“Oh! that Juanna were here—here to console me in this last hour of my patience!” he exclaimed, in a tone expressive of deep anguish, while he threw a terrified glance around the room. “And yet I did well to remove her from this scene of peril! She is now free: my sorrowful existence will no longer be a burden to her! O Juanna, how thou wilt weep when thou shalt learn that we are to meet no more in this life!”

Joseph regarded the hour-glass: there was but a small quantity of sand remaining in the upper department.

“Oh! Time bears every thing on its wing—grief and joy—beauty and youth—grandeur and glory: one only sentiment resists its efforts and does not wear out—and that is hatred! Now,” he exclaimed, with a profound sigh, as if he were making a powerful effort to break the last band which enchained him to this life: “all is now over for me! Another world claims me—the last hour sounds! I must go!”

With these words the young monk arranged his tunic, which was in disorder, and covered his shoulders with his mantel; then, approaching a shelf whereon stood several bottles containing choice liqueurs, he selected one and drank it off.

It was a precious elixir, composed by Juanna.

Scarcely had Joseph drunk it, when his pale forehead became tinged with a roseate hue; his eyes resumed an expression of brilliancy; his hand ceased to tremble; he walked with a firmer and more assured step;—he was now ready for the struggle!

The last grain of sand fell from the upper into the lower division of the glass; and at the same moment the bell of the cathedral rang three times. This announced the close of high mass.

“The hour is come!” cried Joseph; and he rushed precipitately from the room.

It was the moment agreed upon for his appointment with Peter Arbuez.

Joseph walked with great rapidity, his right hand holding the dagger beneath his tunic.

The day was beautiful; a glorious sun shone in a sky of cloudless blue; and the heat began to grow excessive. The crowds poured forth from the cathedral: Joseph passed in the middle of them without observing a single soul, so deeply absorbed was he in the one grand idea!

“Whither goes the favourite of my lord Arbuez?” said one person to another. “He is pale as death, and seems to be on the verge of the grave.”

“Silence!” cried an old woman; “know you not that he belongs to the Holy Office?”

The young girls who overheard this warning hurried away like affrighted fawns.

When Joseph reached the gate of the Cathedral, there was scarcely any one on the esplanade. The young Dominican entered the vast edifice, where there was still a powerful odour of incense.

Here and there, upon the naked stones, were a few women, on their knees, praying and beating their breasts.

On the steps of the altar knelt a monk, with his head buried in his hands, and who seemed to pray with the most sincere fervour.

That monk was Peter Arbuez.

The Grand Inquisidor of Seville was accustomed, after mass, thus to perform his devotions at great length.

Joseph stopped for a moment behind one of the pillars of the church to contemplate him whom he sought. In spite of himself the young monk shuddered,—shuddered in the midst of that silence which was interrupted only by the low murmurings of the women who prayed.

“Yes—it is indeed he!” said the monk, in a satanical tone of derision. “He is a hypocrite and a deceiver even with his God! Yes—insensate monk, pray—pray—thou dost so for the last time!”

Joseph then opened the gate of the burnished steel fence that surrounded the altar.

At the sight of Joseph, a beam of satisfaction animated the countenance of Peter Arbuez; but the eyes of his favourite had so sinister and fatal an expression, that the Grand Inquisidor shuddered in spite of himself; and also, in spite of himself, he exclaimed, “What is the matter?”

Joseph made no answer; but his lips were wreathed in a terrible smile of malignant triumph; and he gazed upon Peter Arbuez as if he could devour him.

The Grand Inquisidor drew back, thinking that his favourite had lost his senses; but, before he had time to utter another word, Joseph threw himself upon him like a tiger, and plunged the poniard into his neck, just where the cuirass did not protect him.

The Inquisidor extended his arms, and fell back on the steps of the altar. The blood flowed in torrents from the wound.

“What—thou, Joseph! ” he murmured, vainly struggling against that agony of agonies.

But Joseph bent down towards him, and in a low but hoarse tone, “Dost thou remember Paula?”

At that name, Peter Arbuez opened his eyes which were already closing in death, and contemplated the countenance that hung over him. A terrible reminiscence seemed to strike him; and he murmured in a faint voice, “God is just.

With these words he expired.135

The women who were praying in the cathedral, and who beheld this strange crime so sacrilegiously perpetrated in the sanctuary which they regarded as the house of God uttered loud cries. Then the sbirri rushed in, and the foremost, addressing himself to Joseph, said, “Holy father, do you know who perpetrated this deed?”

“’Twas I,” answered Joseph.

The police immediately arrested him. Joseph made no resistance; it seemed that this terrible moment was to him the source of an ineffable joy.

“This is the way the wolves devour each other,” said Don Rodriguez de Valero, who, together with a number of others, had hurried to the Cathedral at the rumour of the assassination.

“Yes,” answered Don Ximenes de Herrera; “that young priest whom they are now leading off to prison was the favourite of the Grand Inquisidor.”

The Execution of Joseph

That same evening Joseph was judged, and condemned to death. The sentence was ordered to be executed on the following morning. The trial took place with closed doors; but, even before it was terminated, rumours were rife in the city of Seville that the most extraordinary avowals had occurred on the part of the condemned. Of the true nature of these, however, no precise opinion could be formed.

During the night which intervened between the condemnation and the execution, Joseph passed the entire time in writing: and, when the fatal morning dawned, he rejoiced that leisure had been afforded him to complete his task.

He intended to confide his manuscript to the care of the priest who had been appointed to attend upon him: but while he was anxiously awaiting the arrival of that ecclesiastic, the door of his dungeon opened, and Juanna was introduced.

The faithful nurse, dreading that Joseph meditated something desperate by his manner when he bade her depart from Seville, had left Stephen, Dolorez, and John of Avila when they were a short distance from the city, and had returned,—returned in time to learn the fatal news—to hear of the sad condemnation!

And that condemnation was to have the right hand cut off and to be broken upon the wheel!

We will not dwell upon the particulars of the interview which took place between Juanna and Joseph: suffice it to say, that Joseph delivered to her his manuscript with the earnest prayer that she would cause many copies to be made of it, with a view to their circulation throughout Spain.

Joseph hoped that the contents of that manuscript would strike a death-blow to the Inquisition!

It was now six o’clock in the morning.

A man entered the dungeon where Joseph was yet conversing with Juanna.

That man was the executioner!

When his eyes encountered that sinister face, the first impression which Joseph experienced was of terror—then another of joy! He was about to die!

“I am ready,” he said.

The executioner approached, and placed a small green cap, of Greek fashion, upon his head.136 He then compelled the prisoner to put on a garment half black—half red. The black was symbolic of parricide: the red of sacrilege!

“Is that all?” demanded Joseph.

“All—for the present!”

“When am I to die?”

“Not yet.”

Joseph threw upon him a glance of impatience.

The executioner surveyed him with astonishment: he did not understand this anxiety to die!

He then left the cell, saying, “Fulfil your last act of duty towards heaven.”

Joseph threw himself upon his knees, exclaiming, “O God! grant that I may now be united to Fernand! Juanna, I have fulfilled a terrible vow: bless me, my more than mother, and tell me that heaven will forgive me.”

“Yes—yes, my beloved child,” was the reply of the afflicted woman: “God will forgive you.”

A priest then entered the cell; but Joseph rose and repulsed his advances.

The ecclesiastic thought that reason was abandoning him.

In a few moments the executioners returned to the cell. Joseph rose from his knees with a cry of joy, and tendered his hands to be bound together with cords.

Joseph then walked with a firm step from the cell. The moment that he stepped into the street, the sun shone full upon his pale—his deadly pale countenance: he closed his eyes for an instant; and when he opened them again, he found himself surrounded by sbirri and soldiers.

The streets were crowded with the curious multitudes—that concourse so greedy to feast its eyes upon a scene of torture and death. Nevertheless, as he passed along, Joseph was an object of ardent curiosity, and incredible pity.

The sad procession at length reached the great square, the sight of which, reminding him of the immolation of victims, during the two days of the auto-da-fe, filled his soul with indignation.

“There—there also Fernand was sacrificed!” murmured Joseph to himself.

He beheld without dismay the instruments of torture and death, and ascended to the scaffold with a firm step. A priest accompanied him.

When Joseph had reached the platform he fell upon his knees, and once more implored the Divine grace:—once more also did he pray heaven to unite him with Fernand!

He then rose and waited patiently.

At the foot of the scaffold he beheld Juanna on her knees—and praying fervently, Joseph smiled almost imperceptibly, and glanced up to heaven. Juanna comprehended him!

The priest now presented to him a silver crucifix to kiss. Joseph touched it with his almost livid lips.

The executioner then approached the criminal; and an immense sensation prevailed amongst the crowd.

Upon the scaffold was an enormous cross, formed of two rude beams joined together like an X. There were also a block, an axe, and an iron mace. The executioner loosened the cords from Joseph’s wrist, and bade him lay his right hand upon the block.

Joseph obeyed without a murmur.

“I must bind it to the block,” said the executioner.

“It is not necessary,” answered Joseph.

The executioner then raised his axe. Joseph followed all his movements with attention.

Then, more rapid than thought, the axe fell with a whistling sound, and that delicate white hand bounded from the block, which was inundated by the torrents of blood that poured from the severed arteries.

The executioner had cut off the hand with a single blow.

A long cry of horror rose amongst the crowd. Joseph alone uttered not a murmur; his countenance, however, became, if possible, more pale; and a nervous trembling agitated his frame.

The executioner was about to stanch the blood with pieces of linen: but Joseph said, “Leave it; I shall die the more speedily.”

With these words he turned his eyes towards the cross.

The executioner accordingly raised him in his robust arms, and extended him upon the cross, in such a manner that each one of the victim’s members corresponded with a branch thereof, so that the form thus placed also resembled an X. He then bound the legs and arms of the criminal to the spars.

The executioner then took his iron mace, and, raising it high above his head, let it fall upon one frail arm, which broke, and splintered like glass.

A low—long—involuntary groan emanated from the lips of the unhappy victim. Again the mace fell: the other arm was now crushed and broken. In spite of the bonds which confined him, a shudder ran through the entire frame of Joseph; and, though the day was hot, his teeth chattered as if with the cold.

His blood ran in torrents; and every moment he grew weaker and weaker.

Then the mace fell upon each leg; and that fine form was broken as it were to pieces. His lips contracted—a slight convulsion agitated his breast—and all was over!

He suffered no longer!

“He is dead,” said the executioner.

“May God receive his soul!” exclaimed the priest.

Juanna echoed the invocation, and retired with slow and measured steps from the scene, where she had appeared only for the purpose of supporting the victim’s courage by her presence until the last moment.

In a short time the crowds dispersed, and the corpse was removed to the prison.

Night came: the executioner, his assistant, and the priest then prepared to consign the mangled body to its grave.

By order of the judges who had condemned the victim to death, the funeral was conducted with the utmost secresy, the three individuals just mentioned alone being present.

Nevertheless, a rumour prevailed next day throughout Seville, to the effect that the person who had inflicted death upon Peter Arbuez, and who had suffered on the wheel in consequence was a woman!

All doubts on this subject were shortly after removed by the circulation of a number of copies of the victim’s confession, the contents of which will be found in the next chapter.

‘Pierre Arbues is an historical personage, and the character ascribed to him by the author is by no means exaggerated; only authorized by a license which the nature of the work permits: an anachronism has been committed by the author in making Pierre Arbues live under the reign of Charles V. [...]. Pierre Arbues did not reign at Seville, neither was he assassinated by a favourite; José is a fictitious character, the personification of the Spanish people, enduring the inquisition for several centuries, but always hating it, and waiting with patience for the moment to strike a mortal blow. This arrived at last, in 1820. Pierre Arbues, at the same time that he is an historical character, is the personification of the inquisition, and especially of the majority of the inquisitors. His debaucheries, cruelties, foibles, iniquities, and hypocrisy are the faithful picture of the debaucheries, cruelties, foibles, iniquities, and hypocrisy of the majority of the inquisitors, and of a large number of the priests.’ (p. 313*)

Pierre Arbues, canon of the cathedral of Saragossa, inquisitor general of the kingdom of Aragon, lived in 1485, under Ferdinand of Aragon, and Isabella the Catholic, and under the first grand inquisitor general of Spain, Thomas de Torrequemada. In 1485, the Aragonese, whose rights were every moment trodden under foot by the inquisition of Aragon, under the direction of Pierre Arbues, feared that the scenes would be enacted among them which were of daily occurrence in Castile, and in the other provinces of Spain, where the inquisition, which had been established only three years, and was under the control of monks and fanatical and debauched priests, had already sacrificed thousands of victims. In this state of things, and seeing that the applications they had made to the pope and the king had produced no result, a large number of the principal lords of Saragossa conspired against the inquisition, and resolved to sacrifice Pierre Arbues, who had made himself odious by his cruelties, in order, by this means, to compel the other members of the inquisition of Aragon to renounce their office. Pierre Arbues was warned of his danger, though his enemies were not named. Being unable to wreak his vengeance upon them, he endeavoured to secure himself against attempts upon his life by wearing a coat of mail, and defending his head by an iron helmet, which he wore under his cap. These precautions saved his life several times; but one day, whilst he was at his devotions at the foot of the grand altar, he was mortally wounded in the neck, and died two days after, September 17, 1485. Violent riots occurred at Saragossa in consequence of his death, and the populace, excited by the monks, would have perpetrated terrible outrages, but they were appeased by the promise of punishing, to the last extremity, the perpetrators of this deed. The memory of Arbues was revered, as though he had been a saint. He was the object of particular worship in the churches; and but little was wanting to make this Dominican canon the patron of the inquisition, and the protector of the inquisitors. Meanwhile, they made him perform miracles, and thus prepared the way for his beatification, which took place in 1664, under the pontificate of Alexander VI.’ (p. 313*-314)

cap, of Greek fashion The French text reads ‘bonnet grec’, which rather translates as ‘smoking cap’. It resembles a fez, but is shorter and softer, usually made of velvet.
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Victorine Subervic and Manuel de Cuendías. Date: 1 July 2013