Jerry M. Williams. Peru's Inquisition on Trial: The Vindication of Ana de Castro. La Inquisicion peruana en tela de juicio. La vindicacion de Ana de Castro.
On December 23, 1736 in the Viceroyalty of Peru, Ana de Castro, a fifty-year-old woman of Jewish origin, was garroted and burned for the crime of secretly practicing her ancestral faith. Although many in the throngs that attend the spectacular auto de fe applauded her execution, others protested the cruelty of her sentence. Some, moved by the serenity with which she met her fate, were persuaded that she was not a heretic but a Christian martyr; accordingly, they offered up their prayers to her as if she were a canonized saint. In the centuries since her execution, her case has attracted both apologists and critics. Was she a scheming courtesan and secret Judaizer or the victim of envious rivals, caught in the middle of a power struggle that pitted the inquisitors against the viceroy? In Peru's Inquisition on Trial, Jerry M. Williams edits a little-known document that sheds new light on the enigma of Ana Castro's cause.
The document in question is Relacion del auto grande de la Inquisicion que se celebro en la plaza grande de Lima el dia 23 de diciembre del ano de 1736. It provides supplementary--and sometimes contradictory--evidence to the histories by Pedro Bermudez de la Torre (1737), Ricardo Palma (1897), and others. (The original trial documents were destroyed when the National Library of Peru was sacked during the Chilean occupation of 1881.) The author of the Relacion, Nicolas Flores, was a secular priest who was present at the auto de fe. Celebratory descriptions of autos de fe were often published in the aftermath of these spectacles. Flores's account differs from usual examples of the genre in its sharply critical tone. He describes the petty bickering among the religious orders for precedence in seating and the animosity between the inquisitors and the viceroy. Furthermore, his portrait of Ana Castro is largely sympathetic. He describes, for example, her mistake in waiting too long to confess, her plea for mercy from the cowardly viceroy, the courage with which she placed the executioner's rope around her neck, and her pious death. It was widely believed, he reports, that she was a "righteous soul," and "immediately after the auto-da-fe it was said that she worked miracles" (60). Unsurprisingly, Flores was subsequently arrested by the Inquisition, tortured, fined 500 pesos, and obliged to swear an oath of loyalty to the Holy Office.
Williams's introduction relates Flores's Relacion to what is known from early histories and provides the background on inquisitorial jurisprudence. This much seems clear about Castro's life: she was born in Toledo in 1687, and, at the age of thirteen, she was married to a much older relative. She left this husband and became involved with a man who attempted to force her into prostitution. On a voyage to the New Word in 1706 with this companion, now her husband, she became acquainted with the twenty-eighth viceroy for Peru, Casteldosrius. She married a third time. In 1722 the Inquisition sentenced her for bigamy; during the trial she confessed to unknowing participation as a child in Jewish funeral rites. Reconciled to the church, she was arrested again in 1726. During the following ten years of imprisonment, she was tortured three times and interrogated twenty-four times. In her last interview, or audiencia, she confessed to fasting and giving alms on Saturday. It is also known that two of the inquisitors involved in her trial were later accused of corruption. But, as Williams suggests, many aspects of her case must remain the object of speculation. Had she in fact whipped a crucifix, or was this accusation ah attempt at revenge on the part of a jealous lover? Was someone trying to cover up her previous relationship with the viceroy? Was her harsh punishment the inquisitors' defense against accusations that their tribunal had become too lax? And, most significantly, was her confession of judaizing true or a desperate attempt to save her life?
Flores's Relacion and the controversy over Castro's sentence reveals that the Inquisition of Lima, by the fourth decade of the eighteenth century, was still capable of staging a massive auto de fe (Flores claims that "everyone who could ride a mule came to Lima" ), bur its procedures also evoked widespread dissatisfaction (if we are to believe Flores). As an institution, it had become weakened by corruption and by squabbling with other institutions of power. Williams rightly makes these points. Some of his claims for the significance of this case strike me as overstated, however. He insists, for example, that Castro's gender was a decisive factor in her trial. In terms of jurisprudence, the Inquisition was gender-neutral. In terms of practice, some inquisitors were known to mete out lighter sentences to women, whom they considered weaker in intellect and will than men, and therefore less culpable. Castro's checkered marital past and rumored affair with a former viceroy undoubtedly counted against her, but if not fair to claim, as Williams does, that for the inquisition the female gender was "a category of crime" (19). A much more significant factor was the fact that she had previously been convicted of judaizing and was therefore a relapsed heretic, subject to the ultimate punishment under inquisitorial law. The translation itself has more than a few rough, and even incomprehensible, passages, and copy editing is notable for its absence. Nevertheless, historians of the Inquisition and Colonial Latin America will find much of value in this fascinating document.
University of Virginia
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|Publication:||Dieciocho: Hispanic Enlightenment|
|Article Type:||Resena de libro|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2010|
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