In 1691 CE, The Spanish and Portuguese conquistadores, adventurers, and– especially– the various Catholic religious orders continued to pursue their various genocidal settler-colonial projects in the Americas and the East Indies. English, Dutch, French, and Spanish plantation owners in the Caribbean continued to import and exploit enslaved laborers to generate their hyper-profits for investors back “home” in Europe… It was slavery-accelerated settler-colonial business as usual in the world created by the West European empires. And back in their home-continent, as also to a lesser degree worldwide, the empires continued to fight harshly against each other for some marginal comparative advantage…
That was the backdrop to what was happening that year. Against that backdrop there was really only one significant discrete development in 1691. (Be ready for a plethora of these in 1692, though!)
The significant development of 1691 was a massacre that the Spanish Inquisition and its civil-authorities sidekicks in the Balearic island of Mallorca undertook against hundreds of originally-Jewish conversos whose conversions the Inquisition suspected.
Members of this originally-Jewish community were called Xuetes. According to this page on English-Wikipedia, the case against them that came to a head in 1691 had been brewing since 1673. In 1673,
some servants of the conversos informed their confessor that they had spied upon their masters and observed them participating in Jewish ceremonies.
In 1674, the prosecutor of the Majorca tribunal sent a report to the Supreme Inquisition in which he accused the Majorcan Crypto-Jews of 33 charges, among them their refusal to marry “cristianos de natura” (“natural Christians”) and their social rejection of those who did so; the practice of secrecy; the giving of Old Testament names to their children; the identification with their tribe of origin, and the arrangement of marriages as a function of that fact; the exclusion in their homes of the iconography of the New Testament and the presence of those of the Old; contempt for and insults toward Christians; exercising professions related to weights and measures in order to trick Christians; holding positions in the Church in order to mock them later with impunity; applying their own legal system; taking up collections for their own poor; financing a synagogue in Rome, where they had a representative; holding clandestine meetings; complying with Jewish dietary practices, including those of animal sacrifice and of fast days; the observance of the Jewish Sabbath; and avoidance of Last Rites at the time of death.
One early case that the Inquisition brought against these conversos led to the confiscation of all the properties of the accused, but not immediately to any physical punishment of them. But then, in the spring of 1679, this happened:
five autos-da-fé took place, the first of which was preceded by the demolition of the building in the garden and the salting the earth where the conversos met. Before an expectant multitude, condemnation was pronounced against 221 conversos. Afterward, those who were condemned to prison were transported to serve out their sentences in new prisons erected by the Inquisition, and had their goods confiscated [again.]
I wasn’t quite clear what an auto-da-fé was, exactly. So I looked it up here and learned this:
An auto-da-fé (from Portuguese auto da fé, meaning ‘act of faith’) was the ritual of public penance carried out between the 15th and 19th centuries of condemned heretics and apostates imposed by the Spanish, Portuguese, or Mexican Inquisition as punishment and enforced by civil authorities. Its most extreme form was death by burning…
On 1 November 1478, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile received permission from Pope Sixtus IV to name inquisitors throughout their domains in order to protect Catholicism as the one true Christian faith. The decree originally applied to the Crown of Castile—the domain of Isabella—but in 1483 Ferdinand extended it to his domain of the Crown of Aragon. Autos-da-fé became quite popular throughout the Spanish realm, competing with bullfights for the public’s attention and attended by royalty…
The auto-da-fé was a large-scale public spectacle that was also the punishment phase of a trial by the Inquisition. Here’s how it worked:
Officials proclaimed the prisoner’s sentence after the trial and administered it in an auto-da-fé. The auto-da-fé was not an impromptu event, but thoroughly orchestrated. Preparations began a month in advance and only occurred when the inquisition authorities believed there were enough prisoners in a given community or city. The ritual took place in public squares or esplanades and lasted several hours with ecclesiastical and civil authorities in attendance.
An all-night vigil would be held in or near the city’s plaza, with prayers, ending in Mass at daybreak and a breakfast feast prepared for all who joined in.
The ceremony of public penitence then began with a procession of prisoners, who bore elaborate visual symbols on their garments and bodies. These symbols were called sanbenito, and were made of yellow sackcloth. They served to identify the specific acts of treason of the accused, whose identities were kept secret until the very last moment. In addition, the prisoners usually had no idea what the outcome of their trial had been or their sentencing.
The prisoners were taken outside the city walls to a place called the quemadero or burning place. There the sentences were read. Prisoners who were acquitted or whose sentence was suspended would fall on their knees in thanksgiving, but the condemned would be punished. Artistic representations of the auto-da-fé usually depict physical punishment such as whipping, torture, and burning at the stake.
In the case of the Xueta in Mallorca, this happened:
The trials lasted three years and the cohesion of the group was weakened by a strict regime of isolation, which prevented any joint action, together with a perception of religious defeat due to the impossibility of escape. In 1691, the Inquisition, in three autos de fe, condemned 73 people, of whom 45 were turned over to the civil authorities to be burnt, 5 burnt in effigy; 3 already deceased had their bones burned, 37 were effectively punished [that is, presumably, burned at the stake]; of these, three — Rafel Valls and the siblings Rafel Benet and Caterina Tarongí — were burned alive. 30,000 people attended.
What a terrifying public ritual.
(The banner image at the top is a detail from an 1870 illustration of an auto-da-fé held in Seville.)