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:
(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. Samarra
- 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.