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Inquisition Trials

and Primary Sources


On December 4, 1600 Mariana Núñez de Carvajal was arrested for the heretical crime of crypto-Judaism a second time by the Mexican Inquisition, along with Antonio Diaz de Caceres.  Due to her fragile state of mind and her gender, she was placed in the home of Doña Maria Peralta, the older sister of the Senior Inquisitor Don Alonso de Peralta, and mother of Bernardino Vazquez de Tapia, a familiar of the Holy Office.


The Mexican inquisitors, who had spared her life in 1596, waited this time with patience for her to recover from her precariously unstable state of mind. Arrested as a relapsed heretic and a recidivist for the crime of judaizing, as a repeat offender only one possible outcome awaited her sentencing: a penalty of death.


In the tragedy that became her second trial before the Mexican Inquisition, the young woman, out of desperation or perhaps feigned or legitimate contrition, made a full confession and then went on to denounce many other people. 


Whether still plagued by the mental breakdown that she had suffered in 1596, or out of a hope for a reprieve, she claimed to have made a full conversion to Catholicism.   As proof, she offered testimony against many of her own friends and relatives.  She testified against her younger sister, Ana de León, and against her niece, Eleanor, both of whom had been arrested earlier with her and had also witnessed the burning at the stake of their mother and father in the Auto de fe of 1596.


All three women where later brought to the secret prisons of the Inquisition in the spring of 1600.


Historians now use Inquisition documents as a means of gaining a closer humanistic look into the daily lives and experiences of individuals who might otherwise be absent from the historical documentation.


In the case of Mariana Núñez de Carvajal in New Spain, the primary sources documents that reside in the Archivo General de la Nación and in other libraries and respositories [1], offer us today one of the most complete bodies of documentation to examine and understand the way in which the colonial world might have been experienced, perceived and lived by a young woman whose short life was mired in tragedy.


The information contained within these case files provides the historian and other humanities scholars with a very rare glimpse into the life of an early seventeenth century Jewish woman whose life quickly came into conflict with the rigid religious intolerance of the colonial Spanish American world.



[1] A large corpus of English language translations of Inquisition Primary Sources are availabe in two recent publications.


Lu Ann Homza, The Spanish Inquisition, 1478-1614: An Anthology of Sources,  (Hackett Publishing Company, 2006, 320pp.


John F. Chuchiak IV, The Inquisition in New Spain, 1536-1820: A Documentary History, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012, 464pp.

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