The Destruction of the
Founded in 1478, the Spanish Inquisition was not finally abolished
- In 1809 Colonel Lehmanowsky was attached to that part of Napoleons army which was
stationed at Madrid. While in the city, the Colonel used to speak freely among the people
what he thought of the Priests and Jesuits, and of the Inquisition. It had been decreed by
Napoleon that the Inquisition and Monasteries should be suppressed, but the decree was not
executed. Months had passed away, and the prisons of the Inquisition had not been opened.
One night, about ten or eleven oclock, as Col. Lehmanowsky was walking one of the
streets of Madrid, two armed men sprang upon him from an alley. He instantly drew his
sword, put himself in a posture of defense, and while struggling with them, he saw at a
distance the light of the French patrols - mounted soldiers, who carried lanterns. He
called to them in French, and, as they hastened to his assistance, the assailants took to
their heels, and escaped, not, however, before he saw, by their dress, that they belonged
to the guard of the Inquisition.
- He went immediately to Marshall Soult, the Governor of Madrid, told him what had taken
place, and reminded him of the decree to suppress the Inquisition. Marshall Soult replied
that he might go and destroy it. The Colonel told him that his regiment (the 9th Polish
Lancers) was not sufficient for such a service, but if he would give him two additional
regiments, the 117th and another, he would undertake the work. The 117th Regiment was
under the command of Col. De Lile, who, like Col. Lehmanowsky, became a minister of the
Gospel and pastor of an Evangelical Church in Marseilles. The troops required were
granted, and Col. Lehmanowsky proceeded to the Inquisition, which was situated about five
miles from the city. It was surrounded with a wall of great strength, and defended by a
company of soldiers. When he arrived at the walls, he addressed one of the sentinels, and
summoned the holy fathers to surrender to the Imperial army, and open the gates of the
Inquisition. The sentinel, who was standing on the wall, appeared to enter into
conversation for a moment with someone within, at the close of which he presented his
musket and shot one of Col. Lehmanowskys men. The Colonel then ordered his troops to
fire upon those who appeared on the walls.
- "It was soon obvious," says Col. Lehmanowsky, "that it was an unequal
warfare. The walls of the Inquisition were covered with the soldiers of the Holy Office.
There was also a breastwork upon the wall, from behind which they discharged their
muskets. Our troops were in the open plain and exposed to a destructive fire. We had no
cannon, nor could we scale the walls, and the gates successfully resisted all attempts at
forcing them. I could not retire and send for cannon to break through the walls without
giving them time to lay a train for blowing us up. I saw that it was necessary to change
the mode of attack, and directed some trees to be cut down and trimmed, to be used as
battering rams. Two of these were taken up by detachments of men, as numerous as could
work to advantage, and brought to bear upon the wall with all the power which they could
exert, while the troops kept up a fire to protect them from the fire poured upon them from
the walls. Presently they began to tremble, a breach was made, and the Imperial troops
rushed into the Inquisition.
- Here we met with an incident which nothing but Jesuitical effrontery is equal to. The
Inquisitor-General and the Father Confessors, in their priestly robes, came out of their
rooms, as we were making our way into the interior of the Inquisition, and with long
faces, their arms crossed over their breasts, their fingers resting on their shoulders, as
though they had been deaf to all the noise of the attack and defense and had just learned
what was going on. The addressed themselves in the language of rebuke to their own
soldiers, saying, Why do you fight our friends, the French? Their intention,
no doubt, was to make us think that this defense was wholly unauthorized by them, hoping,
if they could make us believe that they were friendly, they should have a better
opportunity, in the confusion of the moment, to escape. Their artifice did not succeed. I
caused them to be placed under guard, and all the soldiers of the Inquisition to be
secured as prisoners. We then proceeded to examine all the rooms of the stately edifice.
- We passed through room after room: found all perfectly in order, richly furnished, with
altars and crucifixes, and wax candles in abundance, but could discover no evidence of
iniquity being practiced there-nothing of those peculiar features which we expected to
find in an Inquisition. We found splendid paintings, and a rich and extensive library.
Here was beauty and splendor, and the most perfect order on which my eyes had ever rested.
The architecture, the proportions, were perfect. The floors of wood were scoured and
highly polished. the marble floors were arranged with a strict regard to order. There was
everything to please the eye and gratify a cultivated taste. Where, then, were those
horrid instruments of torture of which we had been told, and where were those dungeons in
which human beings were said to be buried alive? We searched in vain. The holy fathers
assured us that they had been belied; that we had seen all; and I was prepared to give up
the search, convinced the Inquisition was different from all others of which I had heard.
- But Colonel De Lile was not so ready as myself to give up the search, and said to me:
Colonel, you are commander today, and as you say, so must it be; but, if you will be
advised by me, let this marble floor be examined. Let water be brought and poured upon it,
and we will watch and see if there is any place through which it passes more freely than
others. I replied to him, Do as you please, Colonel, and ordered water
to be brought. The slabs were large and beautifully polished. When the water had been
poured on the floor, much to the dissatisfaction of the Inquisitors, a careful examination
was made of every seam in the floor, to see if the water passed through. Presently, Col.
De Lile exclaimed that he had found it. By the side of one of these marble slabs the water
passed through fast, as though there was an opening beneath. All hands were now at work
for further discovery. Officers with their swords, and soldiers with their bayonets,
sought to clear out the seam and pry up the slab; others, with the butt of their muskets,
struck the slab with all their might to break it, while the Priests remonstrated against
our desecrating the holy and beautiful house!
- While thus engaged, a soldier struck a spring, and a marble slab flew up. Then the faces
of the Inquisitors grew pale as did Belshazzar when the handwriting appeared on the wall.
They trembled all over. Beneath the marble slab, now partly up, there was a staircase. I
stepped to the altar and took one of the candles, four feet in length, which was burning,
that I might explore the room below. As I was doing this, I was arrested by one of the
Inquisitors, who laid his hand gently on my arm and with a very demure look said, My
son, you must not take those lights with your bloody hand; they are holy.
Well I said, I will take a holy thing to shed light on iniquity; I will
take the responsibility. I proceeded down the staircase. As we reached the foot of the
stairs, we entered a large square room-The Hall of Judgment. In the center of it was a
large block and a chain fastened to it. On this they had been accustomed to place the
accused, chained to his seat. On one side of the room was an elevated seat-The Throne of
Judgment. This the Inquisitor General occupied, and on either side were seats, less
elevated, for the holy fathers when engaged in the solemn business of the Holy
Inquisition. From this room we proceeded to the right, and obtained access to small cells,
extending the entire length of the edifice. here saddening sights presented themselves.
- These cells were places of solitary confinement, where the wretched objects of
Inquisitorial hate were confined year after year, till death released them from their
sufferings, and there their bodies remained until they were completely decayed, and their
rooms had become fit for others to occupy. Flues or tubes, extending to the open air,
carried off the effluvia. In these cells we found the remains of those who paid the debt
of nature: some of them had been dead apparently but a short time, while of others nothing
remained but their bones, still chained to the floor of the dungeon.
- The Inquisition put their victims to the question - they tortured them.
If found guilty they were handed over to the secular authorities to be relaxed
- that is, burned to death.
- In other cells we found living sufferers, of both sexes and of every age, from
threescore years down to fourteen or fifteen years, all naked as when born into the world,
and all in chains! Here were old men and aged women who had been shut up for many years.
Here, too, were the middle aged and the young man and the maiden of fourteen years
old!" The soldiers immediately went to work to release these captives from their
chains, and took from their knapsacks their overcoats and other clothing, which they gave
to cover their nakedness. They were exceedingly anxious to bring them out to the light of
day; but Col. Lehmanowsky, aware of the danger, had food given to them, and then brought
them gradually to the light, as they were able to bear it.
- "We then proceeded to explore another room on the left. Here we found instruments
of torture of every kind which the ingenuity of men or devils could invent.
- The first was a machine by which the victim was confined, and then, beginning with the
fingers, every joint in the hands, arms, and the body, was broken or drawn one after
another, until the victim died.
- The second was a box in which the head and neck of the victim were so closely confined
by a screw, that he could not move in any way. Over the box was a vessel from which one
drop of water a second fell upon the head of the victim. Every successive drop, falling on
precisely the same place, soon suspended circulation, and put the sufferer in the most
- The third was an infernal machine, laid horizontally, to which the victim was bound. The
machine was then placed between two beams, in which were scores of knives, so fixed that,
by turning the machine with a crank, the flesh of the sufferer was torn from his limbs all
in small pieces.
- The fourth surpassed the others in fiendish ingenuity. Its exterior was a beautiful
woman, or large doll, richly dressed, with arms extended, ready to embrace its victim.
Around her feet a semicircle was drawn. The victim who passed over this fatal mark,
touched a spring, which caused the diabolical engine to open; its arms clasped him, and a
thousand knives cut him into as many pieces in the deadly embrace."
- Col. Lehmanowsky said that the sight of these infernal engines of cruelty kindled the
rage of the soldiers to fury. They declared that every inquisitor and soldier of the
Inquisition should be put to torture. Their rage was ungovernable. The Colonel did not
oppose them. They might have turned their arms against him if he had attempted to arrest
their work. They began with the holy fathers. The first they put to death in the machine
for breaking joints. The torture of the inquisitor, put to death by the dropping of water
on his head, was most excruciating. The poor man cried out in agony to be taken from the
fatal machine. The Inquisitor-General was brought before the infernal engine called
"The Virgin." He begged to be excused. "No!" said they, "you have
caused others to kiss her, and now you must do it." They interlocked their bayonets
so as to form large forks, and with these they pushed him over the deadly circle. The
beautiful image instantly prepared for the embrace, clasped him in its arms, and he was
cut into innumerable pieces. Col. Lehmanowsky said he witnessed the torture of four of
them; his heart sickened at the awful scene, and he left the soldiers to wreak their awful
revenge on the last guilty inmates of that prison-house of hell.
- In the meantime it was reported through Madrid that the prisons of the Inquisition were
broken open, and multitudes hastened to the fatal spot. And, oh, what a meeting was
there-it was like a resurrection! About a hundred, who had been buried for many years,
were now restored to life. There were fathers who had found their long-lost daughters,
wives were restored to their husbands, sisters to their brothers, and parents to their
children; and there was some who could recognize no friend among the multitude. The scene
was such as no tongue can describe.
- When the multitude had retired, the Colonel caused the library, paintings, furniture,
etc., to be removed; and having sent to the city for a wagon load of powder, he deposited
a large quantity in the vaults beneath the building, and placed a slow match in connection
with it. All had withdrawn at a distance, and in a few moments there was a joyful sight to
thousands. The walls and turrets of the massive structure rose majestically toward the
heavens, impelled by the tremendous explosion, and fell back to the earth an immense heap
- THE INQUISITION WAS NO MORE!
- September/October 2001 Issue of The Reformer