No one expects the Spanish inquisition or the insane science they used to torture heretics.

When the Catholics took back control of Spain in 15th century they forced the large Jewish and Muslim populations to convert or leave. In order to make sure this was going on they established a court in Spain to address any accounts of heresy. This quickly turned into an insane affair that left 3,000 people dead and the torture of countless others. Oddly enough the Catholic Church had a rule against spilling blood in integrations so torturers had to get let’s say inventive. The ones below are just the most common methods but there were a ridiculous amount of ways a confession true or false was pulled out of a person.

Garrucha/Strappado  –  The person being interrogated was tied to a rope by their arms with their hands tied behind their back and then dropped from about 20 feet only to be stopped right before hitting the ground.  Using the weight of the average male 62 kg or 138 pounds the victim would fall at 11 meters per second or almost 25 miles per hour making them suffer over 500 newtons of force on each shoulder. This could result in a broken clavicle which is the bone that connects the shoulder to the body, a tearing of the rotator cuff, or a fully dislocated the shoulder.

Tobias Smollett gives an account of the injuries the guaracha caused. “The last is performed by hoisting up the criminal by his hands tied behind his back on a pulley about two stories high. From whence the rope is suddenly slackened, he falls to within a yard or two of the ground, where he is stopped with a violent shock from the weight of his body and the velocity of his decent, which generally dislocates his shoulders with great pain. This dreadful execution is sometimes repeated in a few minutes on the same delinquent so that the very ligaments are torn form his joints and his arms rendered useless for life.”

Potro – The rack as it is commonly known has been around since the time of alexander the great but it found great use during the Spanish church’s interrogations since they seemed to like tying people to things.  A person would be tied to a table made of rollers with their arms and ankles tied to the top and bottom roller. A wench would then be cranked causing the top roller to spin warping up the rope and stretching the victim lengthwise.

The resulting tension was enough to dislocate the joints and according to some accounts completely rip off the limbs. If those accounts are true then the rack must have come close to the ridiculous 138 newtons of sheering force exerted by a 10 foot alligator when in a death roll.  That said because the rack was slow and could be controlled it was very poplar method of torture.

Toca – While the Spanish certainly liked torture by tension they had more than one trick up there macabre sleeves.   Water boarding known in their time as the toca which translates to the play was also commonly used. Just like in modern water boarding the arms were tied and a rag was forced into the victims mouth, water would then be poured over their face to simulate drowning.

This torture could force water deep into to the lungs causing pneumonia. If the lack of oxygen lasts over 4 minutes hypoxia can kill brain cells and after 10 minutes result in loss of consciousness and even death. The fear of drowning could even produce enough stress to cause a heart attack in the victim. Water boarding is still sometimes used today as method of interrogation.

Burning at the stake – After a person usually confessed or sometimes even when they didn’t they were then sentenced to a punishment. Most of the time this was just time in prison or even a brand placed on them. But in the worse cases it meant execution and one of the preferred methods was to tie a person to a stake and set them on fire. In scientific tests these fires would reach around 140 degrees Celsius 284 degrees Fahrenheit.

Many would assume that burns to the body are what would kill the victim but counterintuitively it was drowning. The person tied to the post would be breathing in progressively hotter air causing the throat to swell shut and the lungs in an attempt to stop the burning would fill with mucus making it impossible for them to breathe. This would take place after as little as 2 minutes of burning though the fire would usually continue till the victim was fully burnt.

The Spanish inquisition took torture and turned it into the science of suffering. If you look more into it you’ll find that many of the machines used were actually built by famous engineers of the time. This is certainly a topic that can’t be covered in just one article so be on the lookout for another when we will cover even more of the devious methods used the renaissance church in their quest of absolute power.



The Works of Tobias Smollett Volume 11 page 216