BIGAMY CASE HEARD BY INQUISITION TRIBUNAL AGUSTÍN DE LA PALMA; SEVERE PUNISHMENT IMPOSED
September 7–December 28, 1717, Source: AGN Inq Leg. 553 Exp. 53, Df #52 and #53
Synopsis and editor’s notes: In Case 5, Agustín de la Palma, a soldier from the Janos presidio and later Santa Fe, was accused of raping the daughter of Petrona de Carvajal. There is no evidence that he was found guilty of that crime. However, in 1717, after a lengthy investigation by the Holy Office of the Inquisition, he did confess to bigamy—considered a heinous crime by the Inquisition.
The charge, as shown below in the first document, states that Agustín de la Palma had at least two aliases: Agustín del Rio and Toribio and was first married to María de Espejo. Later, he married an Indian named Lucia, but she left him and he had a relationship with another woman, whose name is not given.
After an eight-month-long investigation, the inquisitors prepared a second document that indicates that Agustín de la Palma confessed to everything, including an earlier charge of bigamy that had been dropped for lack of proof. The witnesses to his confession were two captains from the Santa Fe presidio. In the document shown below, de la Palma renounced all forms, major and minor, of heresy, (bigamy being only a minor heresy); stated that he would guard the Holy Faith and give obedience to the Pope; and agreed that all persons who acted against the Faith deserved condemnation. He went on to say that he submitted to his correction and would abjure his crime before a cross and with his hands on the Holy gospels and the missal open.
The second document also stated that Agustín de la Palma’s confession was made before the Santa Fe church congregation and another document, not included here, described the confession as being made with most of the congregation in attendance. This was in accordance with the Holy Office of the Inquisition’s instructions for an “abjuration” that demanded the confessant appear before the congregation with the penitent “standing uncovered and guarded.”
These two documents comprise the end of what would have been a long process. A denunciation by either a church official or a member of the parish, would have been followed by a preliminary investigation, with tribunal inquisitors gathering evidence from witnesses or persons who acquinted with the denounced person. The inquisitors would have kept the investigstion secret from the denounced person and any witnesses. Upon it being determined that an act of heresy had occurred, the Holy Office officials imprisoned the accused and sequestered his goods, which were used to pay for the costs of the trial and his stay in prison.
Although the inquisitors were usually convinced of the prisoner’s guilt at the time of the arrest, they did not make a final condemnation without a trial and a full confession. Their belief was that only a confession—sometimes called the “queen of all proofs”—was true evidence of guilt. Torture, or “torment” could be used to solicit a confession, though by the 1700s Spanish Inquisition rules prohibited torture that caused death, permanent injury, or shed blood. According to a 1970s study of 50,000 Spanish Inquisition trial records from Spain, dating from 1540 to 1700, most of the accused had confessed before torture occurred. At any rate torture was rarely used in cases of minor heresy such as bigamy. [Helen Rawlings,Spanish Inquisition,2006]
Because the record of Agustín de la Palma’s trial has not been located, the circumstances that brought about his confession are unknown. However, as the existing documents relating to his case indicate, when prisoners confessed and showed penitence they were then required to make a formal abjuration of their heresy and the inquisitors handed down a penance. The procedure and language for the sentence and the confession came from Holy Office cartillas (manuals), parts of which have been found in a copy of the Orden Processor (Order of Proceedings). The latter provides the technical information and direction by which the Holy Office was to carry out its business.