HONOLULU (KHON2) — “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” This is an exclamation from the extremely popular and famous Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

As the world celebrates Hispanic Heritage month, KHON2.com did a deep dive and explored some of the things that have been integral to creating our modern Hispanic culture.

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In the year 1478, the lives of Spain’s inhabitants, including the future conquered lands of the “Americas”, were changed forever with the advent of the Spanish Inquisition.

The infamous inquisition has been the subject of many dramas and comedies. As the famous historical parody movie Monty Python from the 1980s said:

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise… surprise and fear… fear and surprise… Our two weapons are fear and surprise… and ruthless efficiency…. Our three weapons are fear, and surprise, and ruthless efficiency… and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope… Our four… no… Amongst our weapons… Amongst our weaponry… are such elements as fear, surprise… I’ll come in again.”

— Monty Python

As funny as this is, the reality of the Inquisitions on the lives of citizens of the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal were actually horrific. KHON2.com decided to embark on a journey to explore the tendrils of the Inquisitions in Hispanic heritage.

How the Inquisition began

Spain as we somewhat know it in modern times was not united until after the marriage of two Catholic powerhouses, Isabella and Ferdinand in 1469. Their reign signaled a push to unite the Hispania peninsula under their monarchy.

So, in 1478, the Spanish Inquisition was created. But what were they looking for?

The Inquisitors were looking for Jews, Muslims and followers of Akhenaten (the Egyptian Pharoh responsible for inventing monotheism) since they were believed to be dangerous to the absolute rule of the Catholic Church. These groups were considered to be the most dangerous threat to Spain.

Fourteen years later, Columbus set out on his mission to find new lands for Spain to colonize which leads us to the Inquisition’s impact on colonization and how it helped construct the Hispanic culture that modern Hispanics have inherited.

Fifty-eight years later, the Portuguese Inquisition was founded. It had a short life as it ended in 1821, a little more than 50 years before Portuguese settlers made their way to Hawaiʻi. But after 285 years of oppressive rule by the Inquisition, that period of time continued to impact the social, religious and political fabric of Portugal’s citizens.

Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions in the “New World”

To understand how these Inquisitions impacted life in the colonized world. KHON2.com turned to historical researcher, Adrian C. Zappala, Ph.D.

“The Inquisition in Latin America represented a period of time during which the Catholic Church, under influence from colonial powers in Europe – including but not limited to Spain and Portugal, attempted to influence and control religious beliefs in the colonies. These efforts took place over a period of decades during which entanglements between church and state grew and evolved along with the changing nature of colonization in the New World itself.”

— Adrian C. Zappala, Ph.D.

The need to obtain and maintain total and complete control over the colonized peoples in what is now known as the Americas was of paramount importance to the monarchies and capitalists of Europe.

“The efforts to ensure that those in the colonies subscribed to official Church doctrine and swayed away from [indigenous] acts and beliefs considered to be heretical in nature coincided with the colonists’ desire for increased economic, political and social control over the colonies themselves,” explained Zappala.

Hence, the impacts of the Inquisitions on the colonized peoples attempted to shore up control; but this backfired as many of Spain’s and Portugal’s colonies revolted and obtained their independence during the 1800s.

“These actions followed a natural series of progression from colonial control over the colonies in the America through towards independence of the colonies – oftentimes occurring simultaneously or synchronously with the reform or conclusion of events of the Inquisition,” added Zappala. “Nevertheless, we see that there are lasting effects of colonization of the Americas.”

Zappala maintains that the most obvious example of how the Inquisitions subverted millennia of languages, beliefs and practices of indigenous peoples is the persistence of Spanish and Portuguese as dominant languages, religions, cultures and politics in most post-colonial societies throughout the world.

As prolific as the language is, the continued adherence to and domination of Catholicism as a spiritual and religious construct has major impacts in these cultures.

“One clear example is language. In former colonies of Spain and Portugal, for instance, we see Spanish and Portuguese as common languages” revealed Zappala. “We also see a predominance of Catholicism as a religious belief system and structure. Yet, we also see a persistence of social and political actions that can be clearly related back to the actions of the Inquisition — namely censorship, related actions of the press and mass media as well as governmental control of same, and ongoing relations and conflicts between the powers of church and state.”

— Adrian C. Zappala, Ph.D.

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Modern Hispanic cultures have the foundation of the Inquisitions whether they are from Spain or from the places colonized by Spain. The legacy of Isabella’s and Ferdinand’s union continues to impact global politics.