Friday, May 13, 2011

Sanbenitos and the Holy Inquisition

The word Sanbenito comes from “saco bendito”, blessed sack, and it was the penitential dress worn by the convicted heretics condemned by the Holy Inquisition. This garment was similar to a yellow colour wool sack without sleeves and it was a way of public slander and shame. The convicted had to wear the Sanbenito during the auto-da-fe and later, until they finished their penance. Those who were condemned to death wore the Sanbenito until the moment they were executed. When the convicted finished their penance or after their execution, all the Sanbenitos were collected by the Church officials and publicly displayed in parish churches, with the names of the convicted.

There were different types of Sanbenitos: the colours and drawings indicated the crimes the convicted had commited and the punishments they deserved:

-   The Samarra (T-shirt): It was worn by those condemned to be burnt at the stake. It included dragons, devils and flames and the image of the convicted.

- The Fuego Revolto (stirred fire): It was worn by those who had repented. The flames were represented downwards. This meant that the convicted had escaped death. 

  The Sanbenito (blessed sack): The penitents worn this dress. It included the cross of  Saint Andrew. 

The convicted also wore a pointed cap, called "coroza", rosaries and candles of different colours. 

There is an expression in Spanish related to this garment: “to hang someone with the Sanbenito” (“colgarle a uno el sambenito”). This means “unfairly blaming someone for something he/she is not responsible for”, “reminding only a person´s bad actions and forgetting the good ones”, “negatively labelling someone”. There is another expression related to the Sanbenito: " to get rid of the Sambenito" ("quitarse el sambenito"). This one refers to the difficulties of getting rid of an unfairly bad reputation.

Francisco de Goya, the famous Aragonese painter, lived and worked between the 18th and 19th centuries. The Holy Inquisition still existed. Some Goya´s works of art allow us to know how the Sanbenito ´fashion´evolved throughout the centuries. 

Auto-da-fe of the Inquisition, oil on board, 1812-1819

For being born somewhere else, brown wash drawing, 1814-1823

Goya had a lot of problems with the Inquisition, especially with a series of engravings called Caprichos. The Inquisition wanted to prosecute Goya. Finally, Goya gave the engraving plates to king Carlos IV as a present to avoid being arrested. 


Alejandro Torrillas said...

Hi Paqui, I don't understand if there were different types of San Benitos because yes or because they had different meanings, or imposhed by an especific sin...

Paqui Pérez Fons said...

Yes, Alejandro. The convicted were obliged to wear different Sanbebitos depending on the crime they had committed. If there were "lighter" crimes, they wore the simplest one, with the cross of Saint Andrew. If they had committed more "serious" crimes, they wore the Fuego revolto and if they had to die at the stake, because they hadn´t changed their mind or they were reoffenders, they wore the Samarra. On this link you will find more details about the crimes and penalties:

Are you preparing the glog?

Kelly said...

Thank you very much for writing this blog. I think it's really interesting because I didn't know that there were different types of Sanbenitos.

I also love to know the history behind these expressions in Spanish. Now I can enrich my vocabulary!

Paqui Pérez Fons said...

What I prefer from this post are Goya paintings and drawings. He was such a free thinker that he had serious problems with the Inquisition. When the French armies invaded Spain during the Independence War, Joseph I abolished the Inquisition, but when Fernando VII came back, he restored the "Holy" court again. Goya had to exile in France a few years later.

The last executed by the Inquisition in Spain was a teacher, Cayetano Ripoll. He was executed in Valencia. Here you have his story:

Anonymous said...

Exceptional article!

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with you!!!

Anonymous said...

I could not think you are more right!!