Tears and Contrition in Early Modern Iberian Inquisitorial Trials (1560–1610): A Preliminary Study

In: Emotions: History, Culture, Society
François Soyer University of New England Armidale Australia

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The History of Emotions has been establishing itself as a field of historical research since the 1980s, but, to date, almost no attempt has been made to approach the study of the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions through the history of emotions. Focusing on the period 1560–1610, which followed the conclusion of the Council of Trent, this essay endeavours to offer a preliminary analysis of Iberian inquisitorial trials for the history of emotions. The first section examines the case study offered by the trial of the Spanish soldier Bartolomé Domínguez, who was prosecuted in Portugal for committing sacrilege in 1589. Having lost all his money gambling, Bartolomé drew his sword and slashed at a wayside cross. This public act of sacrilege led to Bartolomé’s arrest and an investigation by the Inquisition. The surviving inquisitorial trial dossier provides an interesting insight into the role played by emotions in inquisitorial justice and social disciplining in the early modern Iberian Peninsula. The second section examines a limited sample of trials that have been edited and seeks to find references to tears and weeping in such sources. It discusses what such references reveal about the attitudes of inquisitors towards tears within the legal context of inquisitorial trials, and whether tears were always seen as evidence of genuine contrition. The third and final section focuses on investigating how the context of post-Tridentine spirituality might have played a role in the increased attention that the inquisitors paid to other physical signs of contrition beyond tears.


The History of Emotions has been establishing itself as a field of historical research since the 1980s, but, to date, almost no attempt has been made to approach the study of the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions through the history of emotions. Focusing on the period 1560–1610, which followed the conclusion of the Council of Trent, this essay endeavours to offer a preliminary analysis of Iberian inquisitorial trials for the history of emotions. The first section examines the case study offered by the trial of the Spanish soldier Bartolomé Domínguez, who was prosecuted in Portugal for committing sacrilege in 1589. Having lost all his money gambling, Bartolomé drew his sword and slashed at a wayside cross. This public act of sacrilege led to Bartolomé’s arrest and an investigation by the Inquisition. The surviving inquisitorial trial dossier provides an interesting insight into the role played by emotions in inquisitorial justice and social disciplining in the early modern Iberian Peninsula. The second section examines a limited sample of trials that have been edited and seeks to find references to tears and weeping in such sources. It discusses what such references reveal about the attitudes of inquisitors towards tears within the legal context of inquisitorial trials, and whether tears were always seen as evidence of genuine contrition. The third and final section focuses on investigating how the context of post-Tridentine spirituality might have played a role in the increased attention that the inquisitors paid to other physical signs of contrition beyond tears.

The History of Emotions has been establishing itself as a field of historical research since the 1980s, but, to date, almost no attempt has been made to use it to study the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions.1 This omission is perhaps surprising as there is now a burgeoning literature on tears and weeping in the context of legal trials.2 Moreover, emotions lay at the heart of the inquisitions’ mission: to detect and punish those guilty of heretical beliefs whilst reconciling those heretics who showed genuine contrition, so that they could be readmitted into Christian society. The heretical enemies of the faith were presented as motivated by an irrational anger and demonically inspired hatred of the Christian faith, and it was crucial for the inquisitors to be able to discern genuine or feigned repentance. Throughout early modern Europe, Catholic and Protestant rulers espoused legal strategies provided by the early modern state to regulate private lives as well as to promote and enforce a homogeneity of religious belief. This was particularly the case in the Iberian Peninsula. Iberian theologians and political theorists presented religious uniformity as an essential precondition for social and political stability. In 1578, the canon lawyer Francisco Peña (c.1540–1616) asserted that heresy was an attack upon both the church and secular society (‘the republic’). Heretical beliefs would inevitably cause ‘tumults and seditions against the tranquillity of social order’ and failure to extirpate it would result in anarchy.3 In a similar vein, the Spanish Jesuit Juan de Mariana argued in his 1599 treatise on government that a homogeneous faith among the population was the only ‘social bond’ (‘societatis vinculum’) that could maintain social order in a kingdom.4 The inquisitions in Spain and Portugal were thus instruments of social and religious disciplining. Their jurisdiction, as ecclesiastical tribunals under secular, royal control – the Crown selected the Inquisitor General in both kingdoms – extended from cases of heresy to sexual crimes (‘sodomy’ and bigamy) to the repression of ‘blasphemous’ and ‘scandalous’ propositions to the censorship of printed books. In Portugal, the Inquisition focused largely on hunting down alleged secret Jews (the descendants of Jews who continued to secretly practise Judaism), but other crimes did occasionally come to its attention.

This oversight in the scholarship of the History of Emotions is perhaps surprising given that emotions, and particularly the shedding of tears, played a central role in the Catholic Reformation during the sixteenth century. Ignacio de Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order, carefully noted the shedding of tears in his spiritual diary, particularly uncontrollable weeping and sobs caused by the love for God. The shedding of tears became a central part of Jesuit spirituality and missionary activity in the early modern period.5 Likewise, the fourteenth session of the Council of Trent (1545–1563) emphasised the significance of the shedding of tears in the sacrament of penance:

Moreover, the fruit of baptism is one thing, that of penance another. For by baptism [we are] putting on Christ, and are therein made entirely a new creature, obtaining a full and entire remission of all sins; unto which newness and entireness, however, we are in no wise able to arrive by the sacrament of penance, without many tears and labours on our part, the divine justice demanding this; so that penance has been with reason styled by holy Fathers a laborious kind of baptism. And this sacrament of penance is necessary unto salvation for those who have fallen after baptism; even as baptism itself is for those who have not as yet been regenerated.6

In the wake of the Council of Trent, the religious art produced by Catholic artists embraced a new ‘expressive’ style that emphasised the humanity of Christ, the Virgin Mary and saints through the depiction of emotions as a stimulus to piety, especially the shedding of tears. In the early modern Iberian Peninsula devotional weeping was widely understood as a sign of genuine religious belief and love of God. The Catholic spiritual authorities encouraged the externalisation of emotions. In 1556, for instance, the writer, scholar and mystic Juan de Ávila asserted that the sacred images paraded during the Holy Week processions in Spain were dressed in mourning to ‘make people weep’ and ‘provoke sadness’.7 Sadness and contrition in particular were perceived as offering a window onto an individual’s soul and genuine evidence of changes of heart.8

Given the significance of tears as a window onto the human soul, what role did the shedding of tears play in inquisitorial trials? Unfortunately, the huge archives of the Spanish Inquisition remain mostly undigitised and, although a significant number of trials of the Portuguese Inquisition are digitised, it is not possible to search them for keywords. As a consequence, it is not yet possible to conduct a systematic, large-scale study of emotives, words linked to emotions or the expression of emotions, in inquisitorial trials.

Given its limited length, this essay seeks to offer a preliminary analysis of the usefulness of Iberian inquisitorial trials for the history of emotions. It concentrates on the second half of the sixteenth century: the period that followed the conclusion of the Council of Trent. The first section examines a case study: the trial of the Spanish soldier Bartolomé Domínguez, who was prosecuted by the Portuguese Inquisition for committing sacrilege in 1589. Having lost all his money gambling, Bartolomé angrily drew his sword and slashed at a wayside cross. This public act of sacrilege led to Bartolomé’s arrest and an investigation by the Inquisition because of the obvious suspicion of heresy. The surviving inquisitorial trial dossier provides a fascinating insight into the role played by emotions in inquisitorial justice and social disciplining in the early modern Iberian Peninsula.9 The second section examines a limited sample of trials that have been edited and seeks to find references to tears and weeping in such works. It discusses what such references reveal about the attitudes of inquisitors towards tears within the legal context of inquisitorial trials, and whether tears were always seen as evidence of genuine contrition. The third and final section focuses on investigating how the context of post-Tridentine spirituality might have played a role in the increased attention that the inquisitors increasingly paid to other physical signs of contrition beyond tears.

1 ‘Very Angry, Driven by Wrath Out of His Mind and His Understanding Blinded’: The Trial of Bartolomé Domínguez

In the summer 1580, King Philip II of Spain’s armies conquered the neighbouring kingdom of Portugal in a lightning campaign that crushed the forces of his rival for the Portuguese throne, Don Antonio, the prior of Crato. Philip II had himself acclaimed as the legitimate king of Portugal at the Parliament of Tomar in April 1581, but his new kingdom remained a restive part of the Habsburg monarchy. The prior of Crato escaped and sought the assistance of hostile northern European powers. The start of the Anglo-Spanish war in 1585 was followed by English attempts to encourage a Portuguese uprising and reinstall Don Antonio as king of Portugal after the defeat of the ‘Invincible Armada’ in 1588. Unsurprisingly, the new Habsburg monarch of Portugal stationed a significant number of Spanish troops in Portuguese towns to repel any English invasion or put down any Portuguese uprising. One of these soldiers was Bartolomé Domínguez, a native of Jerez de los Caballeros in the Spanish province of Extremadura (just across the border with Portugal). The young Bartolomé – he was 19 or 20 years of age – might have remained an anonymous figure, like so many sixteenth-century commoners, had his life not taken a dramatic turn on 8 October 1589.

Unlike many individuals prosecuted by the Inquisition, Bartolomé Domínguez’s rash act came to the Inquisition’s attention not because of denunciations made by neighbours or acquaintances. Instead, news arrived on the desk of the inquisitors in Lisbon in the form of a pleading letter written in Spanish:

There appeared before the reverend lord vicar of the town of Setúbal and commissary of the Holy Office [of the Inquisition, the following men]: Bartolomé Domínguez and José de Benito López, familiar of the Holy Inquisition. Bartolomé Domínguez is a native of Jerez de los Caballeros and a soldier in the company of Captain Don Fernando de Ágreda, which is garrisoned in the aforesaid town [of Setúbal]. He states that on the Sunday which has just passed, on the eighth day of this month of October, he left the backgammon table after having lost all that he possessed. He was very angry, driven by wrath out of his mind and his understanding blinded. Walking through the countryside outside of the aforesaid town [of Setúbal], he seized his sword with his hand and he stabbed and slashed here and there just as if he were mad and out of his mind. He came across a wooden [wayside] cross and he struck the foot of the cross, from which a splinter detached itself.

Having seen the great error that he had done, this penitent man recovered his wits and said: ‘Oh my God, what have I done! I want to go to the lord vicar and confess it all so that he may grant me some penance to accomplish.’ Being present at the time, some soldiers of the same company told their Captain, Don Fernando, about this. The aforesaid [Don Fernando] ordered the arrest of Bartolomé Domínguez and a punishment of three strappados, so that he is maimed as a result, and he is still imprisoned because of this matter. This is the reason that he has not been able to present himself before the aforesaid lord vicar to confess his sin and beg for forgiveness until now. By means of this letter, Bartolomé Domínguez begs you, in the name of the Most Holy Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to take into consideration the punishment he has already received from his captain and to treat him with mercy and clemency. May [the inquisitors] grant him a punishment and penance that makes allowances for his ignorance, since his deed was not committed out of malice. In everything he entrusts himself to God Our Lord, to whom he begs for forgiveness and to your mercies’ clemency, and to your reverence he asks for absolution and penance and this he asks and begs for the love of God Our Lord.10

The author of the letter was not named: it was clearly not Bartolomé himself but an unnamed notary or scribe. An additional line was written in a very different and shaky hand at the bottom of the letter, adding ‘and this I ask, from whom it concerns’. It is followed by Bartolomé Domínguez’s name, written in the same unsteady hand, which makes it clear that Bartolomé’s written literacy skills were limited (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1
Figure 1

Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (Lisbon, Portugal), Inquisição de Lisboa, Processo nº 12,447, fol. 3r

Citation: Emotions: History, Culture, Society 2023; 10.1163/2208522x-02010182

Source:,PT-TT-TSO-IL-28-12447_m0005.TIF, CC BY-SA 4.0
Figure 2
Figure 2

Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (Lisbon, Portugal), Inquisição de Lisboa, Processo nº 12,447, fol. 3v

Citation: Emotions: History, Culture, Society 2023; 10.1163/2208522x-02010182

Source:,PT-TT-TSO-IL-28-12447_m0006.TIF, CC BY-SA 4.0

The language used in the letter to the inquisitors merits close inspection. Bartolomé Domínguez’s actions are presented as entirely irrational, those of a man possessed by strong emotions. Indeed, the outburst against the wayside cross is that of a man who had become ‘very angry, driven by wrath out of his mind and his understanding blinded’ (‘con mucha colera y ayrado fuera de juyzio y ciego de entendimiento’) and whose actions were akin to those of a lunatic out of his mind (‘como loco y atronado fuera de si’). Once his anger abates and he realises the magnitude of his crime, Bartolomé’s madness ends and he finds himself recovering his ability to process his actions (‘bolbiendo en si’). Whether these were words chosen by Bartolomé Domínguez himself or suggested and written by the author of the letter is not clear. What appears beyond doubt, however, is that the letter deliberately sets out to present a version of events that mitigated or even refuted Bartolomé’s responsibility by blaming his emotional state as the real culprit for his seemingly irrational act of sacrilege.

Bartolomé was right to be worried. In front of witnesses, he had committed an act of religious desecration. He may well have been a Catholic horrified by a moment of unrestrained anger, but Bartolomé must also have been fully aware that his rash act was no laughing manner in a sixteenth-century Catholic society that was ultra-sensitive to perceived attacks on the Catholic faith. Stories of sacrilegious attacks by Jews had existed in the Iberian Peninsula since the medieval period and continued into the modern era, when they were supplemented by fears of acts of Protestant iconoclasm and sacrilege.11 Having already suffered the painful strappado torture, Bartolomé potentially risked a gruesome death sentence at the hands of the secular authorities or even a public lynching. He appears to have realised that his only hope was to go straight to the Inquisition and place himself at the mercy of the Holy Office. Whether Bartolomé himself came to this conclusion or whether this was suggested to him by his captain or another person is not known. Accordingly, he petitioned the inquisitorial commissioner of his garrison town (the port of Setúbal) to make a confession (in Spanish) that was officially notarised and forwarded to the nearest inquisitorial tribunal in Lisbon. By seeking out the Inquisition, seemingly voluntarily, Bartolomé pre-empted any denunciations that might be made against him and thus strengthened his case as a penitent sinner. The letter had the desired effect, as the inquisitors ordered Captain Fernando de Ágreda to send his prisoner to Lisbon and took over the case.12

Inquisitorial regulations meant that the inquisitors in Lisbon had to follow a set of procedures, namely to conduct a set of interrogations that focused on the defendant’s background before focusing on the details of the alleged crime. On 30 October 1589, Bartolomé Domínguez was duly led into the presence of the inquisitor Bartolomé da Fonseca to make his confession under oath. The interrogation of Bartolomé Domínguez took place over multiple sessions starting on the 30 October and extending into November. Following inquisitorial protocol, the first interrogation saw Bartolomé confirm his age and place of birth. He then confessed his act of sacrilege, recalling how he had been accosted by two of his fellow soldiers, although his inability to remember the name of one of them seems to indicate that they were not close friends. The two men had persuaded him to compare the sharpness of their respective swords on an unfortunate goose (whether the animal was alive or already dead is not specified). When his sword was unable to cut through one of the goose’s legs, Bartolomé slashed at the foot of a nearby wayside cross. He told the inquisitor that when his fellow soldiers challenged him, he told them that he would hit the cross a second time but was then immediately gripped by regret and uttered ‘God help me, what have I done! I want to confess myself to a churchman immediately’.13

The first question put to Bartolomé tackled his emotional state at the time of the sacrilege. Had ‘some person annoyed him or had he been seized by some passion?’ (‘perguntado se ho tinha algua pesoa agrabado ou se auia apaixoado de algua causa’). Seemingly contradicting the claims he had made in the letter received by the inquisitors, Bartolomé’s response was negative. The inquisitors did not linger on this inconsistency but moved on to more generic, leading questions: Did Bartolomé believe that the Cross should not be honoured or venerated? Had he ever harboured doubts about sacred images and the Cross? Had he been to ‘foreign lands outside of Portugal and Castile’? Had he ever read books that discussed doubts about the honour due to sacred images and the Cross? Had he ever conversed with heretics, knowing that they were heretics? His answers were negative and it is clear that the inquisitor was seeking to find a possible link to Protestant beliefs and iconoclasm. The questions then moved on to Bartolomé’s parentage. Bartolomé identified himself as a native of Castile with no foreign ancestry and, moreover, an Old Christian ‘without any Muslim or Jewish mixture’ in his ancestry. Furthermore, he bolstered his credential as a faithful Christian by claiming that ‘he has heard it said that his great-grandfather was a familiar of the Holy Office [of the Inquisition] of the town of Llerena’, thereby intimating that his family could not be suspected of any racial or heretical taint.14

Unsurprisingly, the soldiers who witnessed Bartolomé’s rash act were called to Lisbon and interrogated. Francisco Fernández Barco, a 23-year-old soldier in Captain Fernando de Ágreda’s company, was the first to be interrogated. Francisco obviously knew why he was being questioned and he immediately began to provide his account of Bartolomé’s sacrilege. He recalled being part of a group of soldiers walking through the countryside. Obviously bored, the soldiers ‘were slashing their swords about, because they wanted to see which one was the sharpest’ and that it was then that Bartolomé Domínguez hit the cross ‘five or six times’. When he was reprehended by his fellow soldiers, Bartolomé responded that ‘if he wanted, he would do it again’, and proceeded to stab at it another time. Asked about Bartolomé Domínguez’ state of mind – specifically whether he was possessed by ‘some passion’ or rather ‘in full possession of his reason’, Francisco answered that Bartolomé had not seemed to be acting ‘out of anger or some passion’. The second soldier, Alonso de Casia, confirmed the group had been discussing the sharpness of their swords while walking in the countryside and that Bartolomé Domínguez had stated ‘I want to see if my sword will cut that piece of wood’, referring to the wayside cross. It did not appear to Alonso that Bartolomé was drunk or in an agitated state because his sword was not cutting well.15

The discrepancy between the testimony of the witnesses, who did not believe Bartolomé was motivated by anger, and Bartolomé’s claims in the first confession is striking. Unfortunately, the inquisitors did not record their deliberations about the case or offer any explanation of their decision to believe Bartolomé’s version of events. Their verdict, however, does provide some explanation (Figure 3):

The lord inquisitors and deputies of the holy Inquisition have agreed the following sentence, having read these documents and the confession of the accused Bartolomé Domínguez, an unmarried Old Christian, soldier, born in Jerez de los Caballeros in the bishopric of Badajoz, here present. Going about in the company of some persons on a country road, he stabbed a cross that was there and, having been reprimanded by his companions, he responded by asking them whether they wanted him to stab the cross again. By these actions, he scandalised his companions, who saw him stab the cross. Taking into account the information we have received that he stabbed the cross with the absentmindedness of a foolish youth; since he responded to the charges against him by stating that he wished to confess and proved his repentance with tears; also because he affirms that he has always believed that the Holy Cross should always be reverenced and venerated as well as other considerations pertaining to the case, they order that the accused, Bartolomé Domínguez, is to be sentenced for his crime to perform public penances during the celebration of mass on a Sunday in the church of Santa Maria in the town of Setúbal, where he committed the crime. While he is standing barefoot and bareheaded in the transept and holding a candle in his hand, this sentence will be read out by the prior or curate of that church. He will perform the following public penances: for a period of one year, he will pray the Rosary of Our Lady every day and fast every Friday in Lent that year. He should confess his sins on all three of the principal festivals of the year: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. On those days, he will receive the Holy Sacrament with the permission of his confessor and perform all the other actions of a faithful and catholic Christian that he can and he will pay the costs of his trial.16

Figure 3
Figure 3

Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (Lisbon, Portugal), Inquisição de Lisboa, Processo nº 12,447, fol. 17v

Citation: Emotions: History, Culture, Society 2023; 10.1163/2208522x-02010182

Source:,PT-TT-TSO-IL-28-12447_m0033.TIF, CC BY-SA 4.0

The inquisitors seemed content to assign the blame for Bartolomé’s actions to the ‘absentmindedness of a foolish youth’ rather than an angry outburst, yet emotions still had a role to play in the verdict. The explicit reference to tears in the verdict is particularly significant. Bartolomé had ‘demonstrated’ the genuine nature of his repentance not just through words but also, crucially, through the shedding of tears in the presence of the Inquisitors (‘e como arrependido disso loguo diser que se confessor e mostrar na mesa com lagrimas o arrependimento do que fizera’). None of the transcripts of the interrogation sessions mention Bartolomé’s emotional response, but it was deemed sufficiently significant to merit being recorded as a reason for the relatively lenient sentence imposed on Bartolomé. A short note by a parish priest in Setúbal indicates that Bartolomé’s sentence was read out in the main church of the town (Santa Maria da Graça) with a penitent Bartolomé standing in the specified manner in full view of the congregation.17 Whether Bartolomé also wept tears of contrition on that occasion is not mentioned.

2 Tears, Repentance and the Inquisition

The value of tears as legal evidence of innocence or sincere repentance was discussed in both Roman and medieval canon law, leading to the emergence of a jurisprudence of tears. Indeed, over eighty references to tears or weeping appear in Gratian’s influential twelfth-century compilation of canon law known as the Decretum. Tears should encourage clemency in judges, but the Decretum also warned that, if granted too easily, such clemency might embolden others to sin.18 In the fifteenth century, the witch-hunting manual Malleus Maleficarum informed inquisitors that the guilt of a suspected witch could be proved by her inability to weep in the presence of the inquisitor or during torture, since tears were a gift from God for penitent sinners. Witches, it warned, could only pretend to weep or try to deceive their jailers by moistening their eyes.19

The inquisitors of early modern Spain and Portugal were well aware that displays of tears could be simulated by insincere defendants seeking to persuade the inquisitors of their sincerity. In his 1578 commentary on the medieval Manual for Inquisitors of Nicholas Eymerich, the basic set of procedures for inquisitors, the canon lawyer Francisco Peña (c.1540–1616) warned his readers about the danger of false tears:

Heretics are very astute at hiding their errors, affecting holiness and shedding false tears that could soften the harshest judges. The inquisitor must arm himself against all these tricks and always assume that they want to fool him.20

Such suspicion of fraudulent tears was adopted by some inquisitors. When a wool carder accused of heresy in the 1550s appeared before the inquisitors of Cuenca to make a tearful confession, the Inquisitor was not impressed. The man was peremptorily told to ‘separate yourself from that [crying] and throw it away. Serving God with work, He will give you the reward and consolation that you desire’.21 Across the Atlantic Ocean, in colonial Mexico, the converso Luis de Carvajal put on quite a display for the inquisitors:

Falling to his knees, striking his chest, and kissing the ground with many tears, he said that he had sinned, and as a sinner he asked for mercy, and weeping copiously he said: I have sinned, mercy, mercy! And when they ordered him to get up and sit down, he said that God had inspired him – though he deserved to be condemned for his guilt – to struggle these recent days with the demon that had not let him confess.22

After a second trial, however, Luis was condemned to death in 1596 as a relapsed heretic, and the inquisitorial verdict noted his ‘feigned tears and signs [of emotion]’.23 Nevertheless, that same year in Mexico, an inquisitor was still moved to accept tears as evidence of contrition. He wrote to his superiors that various women accused of witchcraft had been fined and spared torture or harsher punishments because they were all ‘ignorant people possessing little understanding and through tears they demonstrated their sorrow and repentance’.24 Could it be that preconceptions about gender and those considered to be intellectual inferiors made their tears more trustworthy?

Given this suspicion of false tears, it is probably not surprising that the official instructions outlining the modus operandi to be followed by Iberian inquisitors approached the subject of tears with caution. The printed regulations of the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did not explicitly identify tears or weeping as evidence of a genuine repentance. The first set of ‘instructions’ (‘instrucciones’) of the Spanish Inquisition, dating from 1484, ordered inquisitors to treat those who confessed their heretical sins ‘with good contrition and repentance’ (‘con buena contrición, y arrepentimiento’) with leniency.25 The 1552 regimento of the Portuguese Inquisition, which would have been the version followed by the inquisitors of Lisbon considering the case against Bartolomé Domínguez, does not refer explicitly to weeping or tears. It does, however, indicate that displays of emotions were significant and uses the word ‘contrition’ (contrição) repeatedly. The inquisitors were ordered to consider acting benignly towards those who ‘with contrition and repentance’ spontaneously came to ask for pardon when a period of amnesty had been declared. Likewise, in the case of individuals arrested for heresy who confessed their crime and desired to be ‘reconciled’ (the legal term for readmission into Christian society), the inquisitors must consider not just the confession but also any ‘signs of their conversion [back to Catholicism] and repentance’. Finally, great care was to be taken with those prisoners found guilty of heresy after having heard the charges against them. Such prisoners were only to be absolved of their sins (but not spared death) ‘if it appears that their conversion is not simulated … the signs of their true contrition will be examined very closely’.26 Only in the following century did the 1640 Regimento of the Portuguese Inquisition specify that inquisitors must be attentive to ‘displays and signs of true repentance’ (‘mostras e sinais de verdadeiro arrependimento’) as evidence of sincerity in the confessions of the men and women brought before them.27

The significance of tears as legal evidence of genuine contrition appears in other inquisitorial documents during the second half of the sixteenth century. References to tears or weeping appear in various relaciones de causas: the summaries of trials sent by the inquisitorial tribunal of Toledo in central Spain to the Supreme Council of the Spanish Council. In 1579, for instance, a morisca slavewoman named Leonor was accused by her mistress and another servant of stating that Jews and Muslims in Spain should be allowed to worship in peace if they wanted to do so. It was noted that when she confessed,

Leonor shed many tears when she made this confession, showing much emotion. Regarding the [principal] accusation, she responded that she referred [the inquisitors] to her above confession and that she had spoken out of annoyance and that it was the Devil who had inspired her [words]. When she was indicted, she responded that she had said that if they had wanted to live in their [i.e., Muslims’] faith then they were living with the Devil, and that she had not uttered these words to approve their faith or to offend Our Lord, nor with any evil intention. She would rather smash her mouth than say such a thing. She said all this shedding many tears and with much emotion. She presented witnesses in her defence. She [was condemned to] attend a mass in the tribunal as a penitence and was admonished. She abjured de levi.28

Like Bartolomé, Leonor claimed to have erred because she had been motivated by ‘annoyance’ (‘enojo’) but her contrition was evidenced by the fact she confessed ‘shedding many tears and with much emotion’ (‘llorando con muchas lagrimas y sentimiento’). The use of the word sentimiento (which can be translated as ‘emotion’) is interesting, as it implies that Leonor also manifested other physical signs of distress. Indeed, an early modern Spanish dictionary defined sentimiento as ‘the act of feeling and sometimes the demonstration of discontent’.29 The same year, a jurist named Andrés Rodríguez de Montesinos was prosecuted by the Inquisition for having made the heretical proposition that unmarried sexual relations were not a mortal sin. The inquisitors recorded that they had determined to limit his punishment to a fine and a ban of six months on exercising his profession. It was noted that this sentence took into consideration his pleading of ignorance of theology, which Andrés made ‘weeping and his hands raised [in despair]’.30

Another example from the relaciones de causas of the Spanish Inquisition is that María de la O Barrionuevo, a woman of Jewish ancestry accused of being a secret Jew in 1591. She was accused by no less than fifteen witnesses of ‘keeping the Law of Moses’ and the summary of her trial notes that ‘she showed herself to be in full possession of her wits and she demonstrated that she was very penitent and had sincerely converted [back to Catholicism] through her tears and good confession with earnest words and arguments’.31 Once again, the language used is very interesting. It seemingly contrasts Maria’s sincere repentance and conversion, which is proved by an emotional display (that is, her tears), whilst at the same time underlining that her return to Catholicism was a rational, considered decision.

It would be tempting to write that the three examples of references to tears discussed above are just three among many from the trial summaries produced by Inquisition of Toledo, or perhaps part of a formulaic legal language. Such a claim would not, however, be accurate. References to tears or weeping are surprising rare among the 1,177 extant trial summaries recorded by the Inquisition of Toledo between 1575 and 1610 transcribed, edited and published by Julio Serra in 2006. Indeed, the very fact that these references to tears and weeping were recorded in so few of the surviving trial summaries may suggest that they were seen as significant factors in determining the inquisitors’ verdict in these cases, resulting in a more lenient sentence than would otherwise have been the case.

In other inquisitorial sources, principally trial dossiers but also letters between inquisitors, references to tears can be found, but what is striking is that such references are more often than not accompanied by additional terms denoting physical reactions that were obviously meant to emphasise the sincerity of the contrition of the tearful penitent. Indeed, these terms are usually señales and muestras, both terms that can be translated into English as ‘signs’ but in the latter case also adopts the meaning of ‘proof’. The phrase ‘tears and emotion’ (‘lagrimas y sentimiento’) also began to appear with some frequency from the second half of the sixteenth century onwards. A French immigrant suspected of Lutheran sympathies by the Spanish Inquisition was recorded in 1578 as having declared ‘with tears and emotions’ that he was thankful to have escaped to staunchly Catholic Spain.32 Decades later, across the Atlantic Ocean in Mexico, a woman condemned to be burned at the stake as a ‘judaiser’ confessed her sins before being put to death. It was noted that she exhibited ‘the most sincere signs of penitence’ (‘muestras sincerísimas de penitencia’), the most significant of which was that she showed ‘such emotion and so many tears, that she moved to pity all those who heard her’ (‘con tanto sentimiento y lágrimas, que enternecía a los que la oían’).33 Back in Spain, a Morisco prosecuted by the Inquisition in 1601–03 begged for mercy during his trial ‘with many tears and signs of repentance’ (‘con muchas lágrimas y señales de arrepentimiento’).34

3 From Simple Tears to Tears of Contrition

To what extent could this apparent trend to seek further emotional reactions in addition to tears as evidence of genuine contrition be linked to post-Tridentine spirituality? The dilemma that inquisitors faced when seeking to link tears with genuine contrition was itself connected to an increasing emphasis on, and clearer formulation of, contrition in the Church. The term ‘contrition’/ ‘compunction’ was clearly used to refer to an emotion: a feeling of remorse and penitence for sins committed. Session 14 of the Council of Trent in 1551 defined contrition as ‘a sorrow of mind, and a detestation for sin committed, with the purpose of not sinning for the future’, and this is the definition later adopted by the Spanish lexicographer Sebastián de Covarrubias.35 By the sixteenth century, theologians had long debated what constituted genuine contrition. In early medieval Spain, Isidore of Seville stated that ‘contrition is a sorrow with tears (cum lachrymis) and a humility of mind, arising from remembrance of sin and fear of the Judgment’.36 Saint Augustine defined it is as ‘a piercing of the heart’ when a person is ‘goaded by his sins and suffering the pain of repentance’ and Saint Gregory the Great as the humility of the soul in which human sin is crushed between fear of damnation and hope of Salvation.37

In the thirteenth century, Saint Thomas Aquinas defined contrition as a pain of the soul that leads the repentant sinner to develop a horror for sin and a resolve to no longer sin.38 There were many biblical exempla linking tears and contrition, and medieval authors frequently discussed tears as evidence of genuine contrition (or ‘compunction’).39 Thomas à Kempis emphasised the role of tears in contrition and cited the Penitential Psalm 79:6 in his highly popular devotional work Imitation of Christ (c.1418–1427):

Pray humbly to the Lord, therefore, that He may give you the spirit of contrition and say with the Prophet: ‘Feed me, Lord, with the bread of mourning and give me to drink of tears in full measure.’40

The Penitential Psalms of the Old Testament were frequently commented on, but in the sixteenth century particular emphasis was placed on the deeply felt repentance of Saint Peter after he had denied Christ three times, and the tears he wept (Luke 22:62: ‘And Peter went out, and wept bitterly’; Matthew 26:75: ‘And he went out, and wept bitterly’). Indeed, it became the subject of an artwork produced in the 1580s or 1590s that has become emblematic of a post-Tridentine Catholic religiosity that emphasised the humanity of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints through the emotions. The painting known as The Tears of Saint Peter by Domenikos Theotokopoulos, better known as El Greco (‘the Greek’), conveys Peter’s deep contrition as Peter lifts tearful eyes to the Heavens, appealing to God to forgive his human weakness. The subject of Saint Peter’s tears also inspired other Spanish Baroque painters working in the following century, such as José de Ribera and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.41

Yet, as numerous early modern Catholic theologians in the sixteenth century noted, tears were not enough as evidence of genuine contrition. They had to be genuine ‘tears of contrition’ (‘lagrimas de contrición’), from the seat of the human soul: the heart. Among its many prayers, the Roman Missal of 1571 includes a particularly moving one ‘to request tears’ (‘pro petitione lacrimas’). It is not just any tears that the repentant sinner must pray for but explicit tears of contrition (‘compunctionis lacrimas’):

Oratio: Omnipotens et mitissime deus, qui sitienti populo fontem viventis aquae de petra produxisti: educ de cordis nostri duritia compunctionis lacrimas: ut peccata nostra plangere valeamus, remissionemque peccatoruam, te miserante, mereamur accipere. Per Dominum.

(Almighty and most merciful God, who brought forth from a rock a fountain of living water to quench the thirst of Thy people, draw from our stony hearts tears of contrition, that we may be able to weep for our sins, and earn the forgiveness of our sins by your mercy. Through the Lord).42

According to various authors, these tears of contrition could be differentiated from tears of pain because they were warm whilst the latter were cold.43 Still, tears in and of themselves were not definite proof of contrition. The Dominican writer Agustín de Esbarroya wrote in his 1550 work Purificador de la conciencia that

We see many people who do not weep or shed tears even in the presence of deceased parents or siblings whilst others shed tears of pain and compassion from their eyes for the least bad thing that occurs in the world or for someone they do not know. Thus the most important aspect of contrition is not sensual pain.44

The Dominican and theologian Friar Luis de Granada (1504–1588) described contrition as ‘a pain of the soul that is free of all pride, one that admits no consolation’ because of the fear of damnation. He copiously discussed the significance and nature of real tears of contrition, whilst warning that ‘The Fathers [of the Church] agree that it is very difficult to verify the causes and worth of tears’. Nevertheless, tears were an essential part of genuine contrition for Luis de Granada, and one of his suggested prayers, intended to precede the sacrament of confession, began: ‘God, I beg you grant me a contrite heart and tears in my eyes, so that I may weep day and night for my mistakes with humility and a pure heart.’45 This interest in the religious significance of tears in the second half of the sixteenth century endured into the seventeenth century. In 1617 Cardinal Robert Bellarmine published his very influential De gemitu columbae siue de bono lacrimarum (‘The sighing of the dove, or the value of tears’), which examined the causes of tears and elaborated a typology that distinguished ‘good’ from ‘bad’ tears and noted the power of genuine tears of contrition. For Bellarmine, ‘the first fruit of tears’ was ‘the sure hope of the remission of sins’.46 Given this context, it therefore seems unlikely to be an accident that the Iberian inquisitors appear to have no longer been satisfied by mere displays of tears as evidence of contrition but sought physical señales and muestras of sentimiento and repentance when determining their verdicts.

4 Conclusion

What can inquisitorial trials in Spain and Portugal teach us about attitudes towards emotions in general and tears in particular? Bartolomé Domínguez’s short trial in Lisbon – which was allegedly initiated by a fit of anger and ended with tears that ‘proved his repentance’ – demonstrates how emotions could play a part in inquisitorial trials in early modern Iberia at the most fundamental level. Beyond that case study, however, a rapid examination of evidence in a range of documents between 1550 and 1610 indicates that the use of tears as evidence of genuine contrition in a religious and legal context raised some significant issues for the inquisitors.

The post-Tridentine Church emphasised the importance of tears and the inquisitors were caught between a desire to perceive them as evidence of contrition and understandable doubts about their significance or sincerity. While the Lisboan inquisitors were seemingly satisfied that Bartolomé’s tears were genuine, and the ‘grace of tears’ might have been seen as a way to achieve spiritual perfection, Iberian inquisitors were aware of how problematic tears could be as evidence of sincere contrition among the men and women whom they prosecuted. The printed instructions for inquisitors did not uphold tears as conclusive evidence per se. Tears could be feigned or could be the result of other stimuli than contrition, such as fear or self-pity. The evidence found in inquisitorial trials conducted in Spain and Portugal between 1550 and the early years of the seventeenth century suggests that the tears of defendants were not accepted as prima facie evidence of contrition. Instead, tears had to be accompanied by other ‘signs’ (physical manifestations) and ‘emotions’ to be considered truly convincing evidence of contrition.

For the time being, this conclusion can only be considered tentative. Only a systematic study of emotives in inquisitorial trials will help to confirm or invalidate the hypothesis put forward in this essay. In the short term, the transcription and edition of an increasing number of trials and summaries of trials will provide a useful starting point for researchers, but the creation of online and word-searchable databases would be the ideal way to assist further research. Given the scale of the funding and staffing that would be required to fully digitise the archives of the Iberian inquisitions, it can only be hoped that the Spanish and Portuguese states will embrace such a Digital Humanities project in future years. Inquisitorial documentation, by its very nature, has considerable potential for historians of emotions, but this potential remains largely untapped for the time being.


For a notable exception, see the book chapter by Alicia Caballero Salamanca, ‘En el nombre de Dios. Miedo, aversión e ira en los procesos inquisitoriales,’ in Las emociones en la historia: Una propuesta de divulgación, ed. José Antonio and Jara Fuente (Cuenca: Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, 2021), 83–95. For a passing reference to tears/weeping in inquisitorial trials in the seventeenth century, see María Tausiet, ‘Agua en los ojos: el “Don de lágrimas” en la España Moderna,’ in Accidentes del alma: las emociones en la Edad Moderna, ed. María Tausiet Carlés and James S. Amelang (Madrid: Abada Editores, 2009), 167–202.


See, for example, Katie Barclay, ‘Performing Emotion and Reading the Male Body in the Irish Court, c.1800–1845,’ Journal of Social History 50, no. 4 (2017): 1–20; and Elwin Hofman, ‘The Tears of a Killer: Practising Sentimentalism and Romanticism in Criminal Court,’ chap. 4 in Trials of the Self: Murder, Mayhem and the Remaking of the Mind, 1750–1830 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2021), 141–69.


Nicholas Eymerich and Francisco Peña, Directorium inquisitorum (Rome: Aedes Populi Romani, 1585), 247.


Juan de Mariana, De rege et regis institutione (Toledo: Pedro Rodriguez, 1599), 421–26.


Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Personal Writings, trans. and ed. Joseph A. Munitiz and Philip Endean (London: Penguin, 1996), 73–75 (2–10 February 1544), 89–91 (2–4 March 1544); Karin Vélez, ‘“Do not suppose that those tears proceed from weakness”: Jesuit Weeping on Mission Frontiers, 1560–1760,’ in The Frontiers of Mission: Perspectives on Early Modern Missionary Catholicism, ed. Alison Forrestal and Seán Alexander Smith (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 22–41; and Yasmin Haskell and Raphaele Garrod, eds, Changing Hearts: Performing Jesuit Emotions between Europe, Asia and the Americas (Leiden: Brill, 2019).


Theodore Alois Buckley, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (London: Routledge, 1851), 88.


William Christian, ‘Provoked Religious Weeping in Early Modern Spain,’ in Religion and Emotion: Approaches and Interpretation, ed. John Corrigan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 33–50.


See John McCormack, ‘Discerning Tears in Early Modern Catholicism,’ in A Mirror for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, ed. Laura Aydelotte (Chicago: Newberry Library, 2012), 49–59; and Christian, ‘Provoked Religious Weeping.’


The trial dossier (no. 12,447 of the Inquisition of Lisbon) has been digitised by the Portuguese Torre do Tombo Archives in Lisbon (Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, henceforth ANTT) and is available online: ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, Processo no. 12,447, accessed 28 February 2022,


ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, Processo no. 12,447, fols 3r–3v. In the strappado torture, the victim’s hands are tied behind their back and they are suspended by a rope attached to the wrists (often resulting in dislocated shoulders).


Werner Thomas, Los protestantes y la Inquisición en España en tiempos de Reforma y Contrarreforma (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2001), 371–84. For an example of Protestant sacrilege in Lisbon in 1552, see Isaías da Rosa Pereira, ‘O desacato na capela real em 1552 e o processo do calvinista inglês perante o ordinário de Lisboa,’ Anais da Academia Portuguesa de História 2nd ser., 29 (1984): 597–623.


ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, Processo no. 12,447, fol. 5r.


ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, Processo no. 12,447, fols 11r–16r.


ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, Processo no. 12,447, fols 11r–16r. A ‘familiar of the Holy Office’ was a lay agent of the Inquisition.


ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, Processo no. 12,447, fols 7r–10r.


ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, Processo no. 12,447, fol. 17r.


ANTT, Inquisição de Lisboa, Processo no. 12,447, fols 18v–19v.


See the excellent discussion of tears in canon law in William J. Courtenay and Karl B. Shoemaker, ‘The Tears of Nicholas: Simony and Perjury by a Parisian Master of Theology in the Fourteenth Century,’ Speculum 83 (2008): 603–28.


Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum, ed. and trans. Montague Summers (New York: Dover, 1971), 227.


Nicolas Eymerich and Francisco Peña, Directorium inquisitorum F. Nicolai Eymerici Ordinis Praed. cum commentariis Franciscii Pegñae (Rome: Aedes Populi Romani, 1585), 457.


Sara Tilghman Nalle, Mad for God: Bartolomé Sánchez, the Secret Messiah of Cardenete (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001), 106–07.


Miriam Bodian, Dying in the Law of Moses: Crypto-Jewish Martyrdom in the Iberian World (Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007), 61.


John F. Chuchiak IV, The Inquisition in New Spain, 1536–1820: A Documentary History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), 240.


Antonio M. García-Molina Riquelme, El régimen de penas y penitencias en el Tribunal de la Inquisición de México (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1999), 424.


Gaspar Isidro de Arguello, Instrucciones del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición, sumariamente, antiguas y nuevas (Madrid: Imprenta Real, 1630), fol. 3v.


José Eduardo Franco and Paulo de Assunção, As Metamorfoses de um polvo: Religião e política nos Regimentos da Inquisição Portuguesa (séculos XVIXIX) (Lisboa, Prefácio, 2004), 110–111, 121.


Franco and de Assunção, As Metamorfoses de um polvo, 293.


“(…) lo qual dixo llorando muchas lagrimas, mostrando mucho sentimiento. A la accusaçion respondio remitiéndose a sus confessiones, y que lo avia dicho con enojo y que fue el demonio que se la avia puestro dentro. A la publicaçion respondio que ella avia dicho que si ellos querían vivir en su ley bivan con el diablo, y que no lo avia dicho por aprobar su ley ny ofender a Nuestro Señor ny con mala intençion, que antes se quebrara la boca que dezirlo, lo qual dixo llorando con muchas lagrimas y sentimiento. Presento un testigo y testigos de abono y probolos. Oyo missa en la sala de la audiencia en forma de penitente y fue reprehendida. Abjuro de levi.” Julio Serra, Procesos en la Inquisición de Toledo (1575–1610): manuscrito de Halle (Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 2005), 260. An abjuration de levi was when a prisoner guilty of heresy was sentenced to make a public abjuration of slight suspicions of heresy.


Sebastián de Covarrubias, Tesoro de la lengua castellana, o española (Madrid: Luis Sánchez, 1611), fol. 26r.


Serra, Procesos en la Inquisición de Toledo, 251.


“(…) y en el discurso de su causa mostro en el modo de confessar grande entendimiento y en sus lagrimas y buena confession mucho arrepentimiento y conversión con palabras y razones muy bibas.” Serra, Procesos en la Inquisición de Toledo, 401–02.


Thomas, Los protestantes y la Inquisición, 317.


Mariano Cuevas, Historia de la Iglesia en México, vol. 3: 1600–1699 (Tlalpam: Impr. del asilo ‘Patricio Sanz’, 1924), 158.


Mercedes García-Arenal and Rafael Benitez Sanchez-Blanco, eds, The Inquisition Trial of Jerónimo de Rojas, A Morisco of Toledo (1601–1603) (Leiden: Brill, 2022), 369, 414.


Covarrubias, Tesoro de la lengua castellana, fol. 235v.


Isidore of Seville, Isidorus de summo bono et soliloquiorum eius (Basel: Lamparter, 1505), fol. 34r.


Saint Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms 99–120, ed. Boniface Ramsey, trans. Maria Boulding (New York: New City Press, 2003), 253; and Pope Gregory I, The Books of the Morals, accessed 7 April 2022,


Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, Supp., qu. 1, art. 1, accessed 5 April 2022,


See Piroska Nagy, Le Don des larmes au Moyen Âge. Un instrument en quête d’institution (VeXIIIe siècle) (Paris: Albin Michel, 2000); Elina Gertsman, ed., Crying in the Middle Ages: Tears of History (New York: Routledge, 2012); and Kimberley-Joy Knight, ‘Blessed Are Those who Weep: Gratia lacrymarum in Thirteenth-century Hagiographies’ (PhD diss., University of Saint Andrews, 2014), accessed 29 April 2022,


Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, trans. Aloysius Croft and Harold Bolton (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1940), Book I, chap. 21, accessed 29 April 2022,


Katie Barclay and François Soyer (eds.), Emotions in Europe, 1517–1914, vol. 1: Reformations 1517–1602 (London: Routledge, 2021), 335–36; for the artworks by Murillo and Ribera, see (accessed 9 August 2022) and (accessed 9 August 2022).


Pius V, Missale Romanum ex decreto sacrosancti concilii Tridentini restitutum Pii V pont. max. iussu editum (Venice: Joannes Variscus, heirs of Bartholomaeus Faletus, et partners, 1571), 531.


On hot and cold tears, see Domingo Baltanás, Paradoxas y sentencias escogidas para erudicion del entendimiento y reformacio[n] de las costumbres aplicables, para predicar d[e] qualquier sancto (Seville: Martin de Montesdoca, 1558), fol. 31r.


Agustín de Esbarroya, Libro intitulado purificador de la consciencia: en el qual se co[n]tienen dos tractados, En el primero se tracta de la contricion y atricion: por lo qual el anima se dispone para ser purificada del peccado, y rescebir la gracia. En el otro se contienen reglas para conoscer de qualquier pensamiento palabra o obra, quando es peccado mortal o no (n.p.: for Jua[n] Canalla, 1559), original unfoliated (fols 14v–15r).


Luis de Granada, Obras del V. P. M. Fr. Luis de Granada: Libro quarto de trece sermones con otros varios tratados espirituales, vol. 6 (Madrid: for Don Pedro Marin, 1788), 290, 351–67.


Robert Bellarmine, De gemitu columbae siue de bono lacrimarum libri tres (Antwerp: Plantin, 1617), 260.

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