A Museum of Torture: Nobody expects the Mexican Inquisition

When Spain completed its Reconquista (reconquest) of the peninsula from the Moors in 1492, it quickly instituted the Spanish Inquisition with the purpose of rooting out suspected Jews and Muslims. Eventually this process came to be part of its New World colonies as immigration to these new lands was strictly controlled in order to spread the Catholic faith. In Mexico the Inquisition officially began in 1571 with its focus on rooting out potential crypto-Jews rather than persecuting pagans which were seen as having  the potential to be successfully Christianized.

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The head-crusher
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Nothing quite as classic as being boiled in oil

If you are interested in creepy, dark and weird places then Guanajuato with its array of tunnels and famous mummies is an ideal place to go. With the inclusion of the Museum of the Inquisition, Guanajuato as a destination of dark and strange tourism is even more pronounced. As you enter the museum you’re greeted with crude iron and steel implements of torture, large wooden tables with spikes where victims would be tied and large wheels turned to stretch out their limbs, iron maidens that envelop prisoners in their sharp embrace and cages hanging from the ceilings in dimly lit rooms. The museum is a testament to creepiness and to the ultimate fate of many who faced the wrath of the Inquisition.

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Torture masks and helmets

The museum is staffed with people dawning bright crimson garments with a white cross supplanted on the chest mimicking the hooded robes of the Spanish Inquisition. As we explored the museum they gave interesting depictions about the usage of different torture devices. Some seemed so grotesque as illicit the question of what possible reason they were created and how they possibly came to be justified as tools to further Christianity. I suppose the reality is that in large part these tools aren’t representative so much of religion as the fact that religion came to be used by kings and queens to solidify their grip on power and any person that deviated from that path came to be an enemy of the state and in extension of the Church. It is said that in Guanajuato the persecution was quite active though whether this is actually true or just an inflated notion to attract attention and notoriety for the museum is unknown. Regardless there is no question that the torture devices on display are at the very least based on real devices implemented and used in particular in Europe where the Inquisition targeted Protestants, alleged witches, Jews, Muslims and anyone not formally aligned with the Church.

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The iron maiden

In Mexico and other parts of the New World, the Inquisition while still violent was less active opting to welcome converts and look over some less than Christian practices such as the synthesizing of indigenous gods with saints. Ultimately this created a Catholicism that was different in many ways from that of Europe but that allowed for the spread of Christianity in a quick and effective manner.

This is not to say that the Inquisition and its role in the country and region were inherently a good thing. After all people were still tortured and it is said that hundreds were prosecuted and tortured and about 50 ultimately executed. Among them was the Irishman William Lamport, the first person to declare Mexican independence and fight the Spanish openly. Eventually Mexico would achieve independence and the Inquisition would finally be ended, coming to an end in 1820.

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