Tomas de Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition
The Water Cure
The accused woman lay naked on an escalera, a ladder tipped so that her head was lower than her feet. The torturer had stretched her out to her full length and bound her tightly. Iron prongs held her jaws open. Her nostrils were stopped, allowing breathing only through her mouth. She struggled, but her bounds permitted little movement, and days of relentless questioning had left her exhausted. The torturer draped a piece of linen loosely over her open mouth. Jugs of water lined a nearby wall. Three other men stood over the woman in the torture chamber. A doctor observed her reactions and assessed her general condition. The mandates of the 15th Century Spanish Inquisition required the presence of a physician to monitor the health of the accused. The purpose of torture would be nullified if the accused was physically unable to hear and understand the proceedings. A confession, if it came, had to be a pure act, not the half-conscious ramblings of a mortally wounded sinner. A clerk sat at a crude wooden table, poised to write down the particulars of the session. The man in charge of the proceedings, the inquisitor, ignored the woman's panicked squeals and read through the charges levied against her. Witnesses had previously testified that on several successive Saturdays, smoke did not emerge from the woman's chimney, a strong indication that she was secretly a practicing Jew. Judaism forbids manual labor on the Sabbath, and starting a fire was considered manual labor. During questioning the woman had insisted that although she was born a Jew, she was now a converse, a convert to Catholicism. But the telltale signs, which were outlined by the Grand Inquisitor himself, Tomas de Torquemada, indicated that she was in fact a heretic, a practicing Jew pretending to be a Catholic and secretly subverting the Catholic faith. When the inquisitor finished reviewing the charges, he looked to the doctor who gave him a nod of assent. The inquisitor then pointed to the jugs of water and told the torturer to be ready. The torturer lifted one of the sloshing jugs; each contained one liter of water. The woman's eyes widened in panic. She knew what was coming, and she tried to scream. The first level of torture employed by the Spanish Inquisition was the "water cure." Water was poured into the accused's open mouth. The linen cloth was washed into the opening of the throat, preventing the accused from spitting the water back out. The overwhelming sensation of drowning forced the accused to swallow the water. The rules of torture as written by Torquemada, a man whom historians have compared to Hitler, stipulated that no more than eight liters of water could be used in a single session.The torturer held the earthen jug in his arms, ready to follow the inquisitor's orders. The woman cried and struggled for breath, anticipating the worst. The inquisitor stepped forward and spoke. "We shall begin."