The Inquisition Trial of
Maldonido da Silva

Concepcion de Chile 1626-1639

From Henry C. Lea:
The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies, 1908

In 1626 there commenced a trial which illustrates forcibly the inexorable discipline of the Church, rendering it the supreme duty of the Christian to persecute and destroy all heresy. Francisco Maldonado de Silva was a surgeon of high repute in Concepcion de Chile. He was of Portuguese descent. His father had suffered in the Inquisition, had been reconciled and brought up his children, two girls and a boy, as Christians. Francisco was a good Catholic until at the age of 18, he chanced to read the Scrutinium Scripturarum of Pablo de Santa Maria, Bishop of Búrgos - a controversial work written for the conversion of Jews. So far from confirming him in the faith it raised doubts leading him to consult his father, who told him to study the Bible and instructed him in the Law of Moses. He became an ardent convert to Judaism, but kept his secret from his mother and two sisters and from his wife, for he was married and had a child, and his wife was pregnant when he was arrested. During her absence, a year or two before, he bad circumcised himself. At the age of 35, considering that his sister Isabel who was about 33, was mature enough for religious independence, he revealed his secret to her and endeavored to convert her, but in vain, and he was impervious to her entreaties to abandon his faith. They seem to have been tenderly attached to each other; he was her sole support as well as that of her mother and sister, but she could not escape the necessity of communicating the facts in confession to her confessor. The prescriptions of the Church were absolute; no family ties relieved one from the obligation of denouncing heresy, and she could not hope for sacramental absolution without discharging the duty. We can picture to ourselves the torment of that agonized soul as she nerved herself to the awful duty which could cost her a lifetime of remorse and misery when she obeyed her confessor's commands and denounced her brother to the Inquisition.

The warrant for his arrest was issued December 12, 1626, and executed at Concepcion April 29, 1627. His friend, the Dominican Fray Diego de Ureña, visited him in his place of confinement, May 2, and sought to convert him, but he was resolved to die in the faith in which his father had died. So when transferred to Santiago, the Augustinian Fray Alonso de Almeida made similar efforts with like ill-success; he knew that he should die for the faith, he had never spoken to any one but his sister and she had betrayed him. He was received in Lima July 23d and was admitted to an audience the same day. When required to swear on the cross he refused, saying that he was a Jew and would live and die as such; if he had to swear it would be by the living God, the God of Israel. His trial went on through all the customary formalities, protracted by the repeated conferences held with theologians who endeavored to convince him of his errors. Eleven of these were held without weakening his pertinacity until, on January 26, 1633, the consulta de fe unanimously condemned him to relaxation.

A long sickness followed, caused by a fast of eighty days which had reduced him almost to a skeleton covered with sores. On convalescing, he asked for another conference, to solve the doubts which he had drawn up in writing. It was held June 26, 1634, and left him as pertinacious as ever. Meanwhile the prison was filling with Judaizers, of whom a number had been discovered in Lima. He asked for maize husks in place of his ration of bread, and with them made a rope by which he escaped through a window and visited two neighboring cells, urging the prisoners to be steadfast in their law; they denounced him and he made no secret of it, confessing freely what he had done. It was a mercy of God, we are told, that his prolonged fast had rendered him deaf, or he would have learned much from them of what had been going on.

The tribunal was so preoccupied, with the numerous trials on foot at the time, that Maldonado was left undisturbed, awaiting the general auto that was to follow. We hear nothing more until, after an interval of four years, a thirteenth conference was held at his request, November 12, 1638. It was as fruitless as its predecessors and, at its conclusion, he produced two books (each of them of more than a hundred leaves), made with marvellous ingenuity out of scraps of paper and written with ink made of charcoal and pens cut out of egg-shells with a knife fashioned from a nail, which he said he delivered up for the discharge of his conscience. Then on December 9th and 10th were held two more conferences in which his pertinacity remained unshaken. The long tragedy was now drawing to an end after an imprisonment which had lasted for nearly thirteen years. He was brought out in the great auto of January 23, 1639, where, when the sentences of relaxation were read, a sudden whirlwind tore away the awning and, looking up, he exclaimed "The God of Israel does this to look upon me face to face!" He was unshrinking to the last and was burnt alive a true martyr to his faith. His two paper books were hung around his neck to burn with him and assist in burning him.