Goa Inquisition

Inquisition of Goa
Inquisição de Goa

Coat of arms or logo

Francis Xavier requesting John III of Portugal for a Catholic expedition in Portuguese India
Established 1560
Disbanded 1812
Meeting place
Portuguese India

The Goa Inquisition was the office of the Portuguese Inquisition acting in Portuguese India, and in the rest of the Portuguese Empire in Asia. It was established in 1560, briefly suppressed from 1774–1778, and finally abolished in 1812.[1] Based on the records that survive, H. P. Salomon and Rabbi Isaac S.D. Sassoon state that between the Inquisition's beginning in 1561 and its temporary abolition in 1774, some 16,202 persons were brought to trial by the Inquisition. Of this number, it is known that 57 were sentenced to death and executed, and another 64 were burned in effigy (this sentence was applied to those who had fled or died in prison; in the latter case, the remains were burned in a coffin at the same time as the effigy).[2] Others were subjected to lesser punishments or penance, but the fate of many of those tried by the Inquisition is unknown.[3]

The Inquisition was established to punish apostate New Christians and Muslims who converted to Catholicism, as well as their descendants—who were now suspected of practising the religion of their ancestors in secret.[3]

In Goa, the Inquisition also turned its attention to Indian converts from Hinduism or Islam who were thought to have returned to their original ways. In addition, the Inquisition prosecuted non-converts who broke prohibitions against the observance of Hindu or Muslim rites or interfered with Portuguese attempts to convert non-Christians to Catholicism.[3]

While its ostensible aim was to preserve the Catholic faith, the Inquisition was used as an instrument of social control against Indian Catholics and Hindus, and also against Portuguese settlers from Europe (mostly New Christians and Jews but also Old Christians). It also was a method of confiscating property and enriching the Inquisitors.[4]

Most of the Goa Inquisition's records were destroyed after its abolition in 1812. It is impossible to know the exact number of those put on trial and the punishments they were prescribed.[3]


The Inquisition in Portugal

The Portuguese initially resisted the introduction of the Inquisition, despite pressure from the "Catholic Monarchs," Ferdinand and Isabella, whose marriage in 1469 united the Iberian kingdoms of Aragon and Castile into a unified Spain. By 1492 they had expelled, forced the conversion of, or killed all the Moors and Jews in Spain.[5][6]

In 1497, King Manuel I of Portugal married their eldest daughter, Isabella of Aragon (following her death he married her younger sister Maria). The Spanish monarchs insisted that the marriage contract include a clause requiring him to introduce the Inquisition to Portugal, and to force the expulsion or conversion of all Jews (many of whom had migrated to Portugal as refugees from Spain.)[5][6]

The King largely paid lip service to the clause for some years, as there was a relatively large and wealthy Jewish community well-integrated into Portuguese society as doctors, printers, financiers and artisans.[5] (The first book printed in Portugal was a Hebrew Pentateuch, in 1497.)[6]

Under Spanish pressure through his marriage to Isabel of Aragon, the King ordered the conversion of the Jews. He stipulated that the validity of their conversions would not be investigated for two decades.[7] In 1506 in Lisbon, there was a massacre of several hundred 'Conversos' or 'Marranos', as newly converted Jews were called, instigated by the preaching of two Spanish Dominicans. Many Jews fled Portugal for England, France, and Amsterdam.[7] Others went to Asia as traders, settling in India. A century later, historians estimate there were some 20,000 Marrano still in Portugal, mostly in the eastern and north-eastern parts of the country (Tras-as-Montes through Beira Baixa).[7]

The Inquisition was not installed in Portugal until 1536, ten years after Manuel I's death, during the reign of King João III.[8] One of the most notable New Christians was professor Garcia de Orta, who emigrated to Goa in 1534. He was posthumously convicted of Judaism.[7]

Introduction of the Inquisition to India

In the 15th century, the Portuguese explored the sea route to India and Pope Nicholas V enacted the Papal bull Romanus Pontifex. This granted the patronage of the propagation of the Christian faith in Asia to the Portuguese and rewarded them with a trade monopoly for newly discovered areas.[9]

After Vasco da Gama arrived in India in 1498, the trade became prosperous, but the Portuguese were not interested in proselytisation. After four decades, the Catholic Church threatened to open Asia for all Catholics.[10] Missionaries of the newly founded Society of Jesus were sent to Goa, and the Portuguese colonial government supported the mission with incentives for baptised Christians. They offered rice donations for the poor, good positions in the Portuguese colonies for the middle class, and military support for local rulers.[10] Many newly converted Indians continued to practice their old religion in secret. Priests considered this a threat to the purity of Christian belief. St. Francis Xavier, in a 1545 letter to John III of Portugal, requested an Inquisition to be installed in Goa.[10]


The first inquisitors, Aleixo Dias Falcão[11] and Francisco Marques, established themselves in the palace once occupied by Goa's Sultan, forcing the Portuguese viceroy to relocate to a smaller residence.[12]

The inquisitor's first act was to forbid any open practice of the Hindu faith on pain of death. Sephardic Jews living in Goa, many of whom had fled the Iberian Peninsula to escape the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition, were also persecuted in case they -or their ancestors- had fraudulently converted to Christianity.[12] The narrative of Da Fonseca describes the violence and brutality of the inquisition. The records speak of the demand for hundreds of prison cells to accommodate the accused.[12]

From 1560 to 1774, a total of 16,172 persons were tried by the tribunals of the Inquisition.[13] While it also included individuals of different nationalities, the overwhelming majority—nearly three fourths-were natives, almost equally represented by Christians and non-Christians. Many of these were hauled up for crossing the border and cultivating lands there.[14]

Seventy-one autos de fé were recorded, the grand spectacle of public penance often followed by burning a convicted individual at the stake. In the first few years alone, over 4000 people were arrested.[12] According to a 20th-century account, in the first hundred years, the Inquisition burnt 57 people to death at the stake and 64 in effigy, of whom 105 were men and 16 were women.[15] (The sentence of "burning in effigy" was applied to those convicted in absentia or who had died in prison; in the latter case, their remains were burned in a coffin at the same time as the effigy, which was hung up for public display.)[2] Others sentenced to various punishments totalled 4,046, of whom 3,034 were men and 1,012 were women.[15] According to the Chronista de Tissuary (Chronicles of Tiswadi), the last auto de fé was held in Goa on 7 February 1773.[15]

Historical background

The Portuguese colonial administration enacted anti-Hindu laws to encourage conversions to Christianity. Laws were passed banning Christians from keeping Hindus in their employ, and the public worship of Hindus was deemed unlawful.[16] Hindus were forced to assemble periodically in churches to listen to preaching or to refutation of their religion.[17][18]

The viceroy ordered that Hindu pandits and physicians be disallowed from entering the capital city on horseback or palanquins, the violation of which entailed a fine. Successive violations resulted in imprisonment.[19]

Christian palanquin-bearers were forbidden from carrying Hindus as passengers. Christian agricultural laborers were forbidden to work in the lands owned by Hindus, and Hindus forbidden to employ Christian laborers.[19]

The Inquisition guaranteed "protection" to Hindus who converted to Christianity. Thus, they initiated a new wave of baptisms to Hindus who were motivated by social coercion into converting.[20]

The adverse effects of the inquisition were tempered somewhat by the fact that Hindus were able to escape Portuguese hegemony by migrating to other parts of the subcontinent[21] including to Muslim territory.[22]

The Inquisition also had an adverse unintended consequence, in that it was a compelling factor for the emigration of a large number of Portuguese from the Portuguese colonies who, although Roman Catholic by faith, had now acculturated into Hindu culture. These people went on to seek their fortunes in the courts of different Indian kings, where their services were employed, usually as gunners or cavalrymen.[23]

People who were sentenced in trial, were forced to work in galleys and gunpowder factories for many years. Those accused of religious heresies were the prime targets of the death penalty.[24]

Persecution of Hindus

According to Indo-Portuguese historian Teotonio R. de Souza, grave abuses were practised in Goa.[25] The inquisition was set as a tribunal, headed by a judge, sent to Goa from Portugal. The judge was answerable only to the General Counsel of the Lisbon Inquisition and handed down punishments as per the Standing Rules that governed that institution. The palace where the Inquisition was conducted was known to people as the fearful Big House. The Inquisition proceedings were secretive.

Fr. Diogo da Borba and his advisor Vicar General, Miguel Vaz had made plans for converting the Hindus. Under this plan Viceroy António de Noronha issued in 1566, an order applicable to the entire area under Portuguese rule:

I hereby order that in any area owned by my master, the king, nobody should construct a Hindu temple and such temples already constructed should not be repaired without my permission. If this order is transgressed, such temples shall be destroyed, and the goods in them shall be used to meet expenses of holy deeds, as punishment of such transgression.

In 1567, the campaign of destroying temples in Bardez met with "success". At the end of it, 300 Hindu temples were destroyed. Enacting laws, prohibition was laid from 4 December 1567 on rituals of Hindu marriages, sacred thread wearing and cremation. All the persons above 15 years of age were compelled to listen to Christian preaching, failing which they were punished. In 1583, Hindu temples at Assolna and Cuncolim were destroyed through army action.

"The fathers of the Church forbade the Hindus under terrible penalties the use of their own sacred books, and prevented them from all exercise of their religion. They destroyed their temples, and so harassed and interfered with the people that they abandoned the city in large numbers, refusing to remain any longer in a place where they had no liberty, and were liable to imprisonment, torture and death if they worshipped after their own fashion the gods of their fathers." wrote Filippo Sassetti, who was in India from 1578 to 1588.

In 1620, an order was passed to prohibit the Hindus from performing their marriage rituals.[26] An order was issued in June 1684 for suppressing the Konkani language and making it compulsory to speak the Portuguese language. The law provided for dealing toughly with anyone using the local language. Following that law all the non-Christian cultural symbols and the books written in local languages were sought to be destroyed.[27] Charles Dellon experienced first hand the cruelty of the Inquisition's agents.[28] He published a book in 1687 describing his experiences in Goa. Relation de l'Inquisition de Goa (The Inquisition of Goa).[28]

Persecution of Christians

Persecution of Goan Catholics

The main object of the Inquisition was the eradication of heresy. Consequently, the authorities of the Inquisition also dealt severely with the converted Catholics who observed their former Hindu customs, than with the Hindus and Muslims. They declared that observance of former customs after conversion was un-Christian and heretical.[29]

Inquisitions were used by the Portuguese to prevent defection back to other faiths and had far-reaching implications. In the laws and prohibitions of the inquisition in 1736, over 42 Hindu practices were prohibited, including the wearing of the Brahminical shendi (ponytail), wearing of caste thread, greeting people with Namaste, wearing sandals, removing of the slippers while entering the church, and growing of the sacred basil or Tulsi plant in front of the house, in order to ward off the evil eye.[30]

They were implemented through the eradication of indigenous cultural practices such as ceremonies, fasts, growing of the Tulsi plant in front of the house, flowers and leaves for ceremony or ornament and the exchange of betel and areca nuts for occasions such as marriage (Robinson, 2000). Methods such as repressive laws, demolition of temples[31] and mosques, destruction of holy books, fines and the forcible conversion of orphans were used.[32]

The Hindu custom of growing the sacred Tulsi plant in front of the house was outlawed by the Inquisition.

There were other far reaching changes that took place during the occupation by the Portuguese, these included the prohibition of traditional musical instruments and singing of celebratory verses, which were replaced by Western music.[33]

People were renamed when they converted and not permitted to use their original Hindu names. Alcohol was introduced and dietary habits changed dramatically so that foods that were once taboo, such as pork and beef, became part of the Goan diet.[32]

Architecture changed with the Baroque style that was in vogue in Portugal becoming popular. Thus, many customs were suppressed. Goans became "Westernised" to some degree as a Catholic elite who came to see themselves as a "cultivated branch of a global Portuguese civilisation".[34]

However, many Goan Catholics were tenaciously attached to some of their old Hindu customs.[29] Those who refused to give up their ancient Hindu practices were declared apostates and heretics and condemned to death. Such circumstances forced many to leave Goa and settle in the neighboring kingdoms, of which a minority went to the Deccan and the vast majority went to Canara.[29]

Historian Severine Silva reasons that the fact that these Catholics who fled the Inquisition did not abandon their Christian faith was because they simply wanted to observe their traditional Hindu customs along with their newly adopted Catholic practices.[29]

These migrations laid the foundations for two distinct Konkani Catholic communities in Canara—the Karwari Catholics of North Canara and the Mangalorean Catholics of South Canara, respectively.

Suppression of Konkani

In stark contrast to the Portuguese priests' earlier intense study of the Konkani language and its cultivation as a communication medium in their quest for converts during the previous century, under the Inquisition, xenophobic measures were adopted to isolate new converts from the non-Christian populations.[35] The use of Konkani was suppressed, while the colony suffered repeated Maratha onslaughts of the late 17th and earlier 18th centuries. These posed a serious threat to Portuguese control of Goa, and its maintenance of trade in India.[35] Due to the Maratha threat, Portuguese authorities decided to initiate a positive programme to suppress Konkani in Goa.[35] The use of Portuguese was enforced, and Konkani became a language of marginal peoples.[30]

Urged by the Franciscans, the Portuguese viceroy forbade the use of Konkani on 27 June 1684 and decreed that within three years, the local people in general would speak the Portuguese tongue. They were to be required to use it in all their contacts and contracts made in Portuguese territories. The penalties for violation would be imprisonment. The decree was confirmed by the king on 17 March 1687.[35] According to the Inquisitor António Amaral Coutinho's letter to the Portuguese monarch João V in 1731, these draconian measures did not meet with success.[a][36] With the fall of the Province of the North (which included Bassein, Chaul and Salsette) to the Marathas in 1739, the Portuguese renewed their assault on Konkani.[35] On 21 November 1745, Archbishop Lourenço de Santa Maria decreed that applicants to the priesthood had to have knowledge of and the ability to speak in Portuguese; this applied not only to the pretendentes, but also for their close relations, as confirmed by rigorous examinations by reverend persons.[35] Furthermore, the Bamonns and Chardos were required to learn Portuguese within six months, failing which they would be denied the right to marriage.[35] Because of the language issue, the colonial government expelled the Jesuits in 1761, as they had been proponents of using Konkani to communicate with the native peoples. In 1812, the Archbishop decreed that children were to be prohibited from speaking Konkani in schools and in 1847, this was extended to seminaries. In 1869, Konkani was completely banned in schools.[35]

As a result, Goans did not develop a literature in Konkani, nor could the language unite the population, as several scripts (including Roman, Devanagari and Kannada) were used to write it.[30] Konkani became the lingua de criados (language of the servants),[34] while the Hindu and Catholic elites turned to Marathi and Portuguese, respectively. Since India annexed Goa in 1961, Konkani has become the cement that binds all Goans across caste, religion and class; it is affectionately termed Konkani Mai (Mother Konkani).[30] The language received full recognition in 1987, when the Indian government recognised Konkani as the official language of Goa.[37]

Persecution of Syrian Christians

Saint Thomas Cross or Mar Thoma Sliva, the symbol of Saint Thomas Christians

In 1599 under Aleixo de Menezes, the Synod of Diamper forcefully converted the East Syriac Saint Thomas Christians (also known as Syrian Christians or Nasranis) of Kerala to the Roman Catholic Church. He had said that they allegedly practiced Nestorian heresy.[4] The synod enforced severe restrictions on their faith and the practice of using Syriac/Aramaic. They were disfranchised politically and their Metropolitanate status was discontinued by blocking bishops from the East.[4]

There were assassination attempts against Archdeacon George, so as to subjugate the entire Church under Rome. The common prayer book was not spared. Every known item of literature was burnt, and any priest professing independence was imprisoned. Some altars were pulled down to make way for altars conforming to Catholic criteria.[4]

The Nasranis resented these acts and later swore the Coonan Cross Oath, severing relations with the Catholic Church. Most of them came back to form the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church years later owing to the mediation efforts of Carmelite missionaries sent from Rome. Those who did not come back to the Catholic Church came to be known as Jacobites, who sought the assistance of the Syriac Orthodox Church.[4] The Jacobites have elected Mar Thoma I as their bishop. There were also attempts to assassinate Mar Thoma I.

There was also persecution of Jews in Cochin.Their Synagogue (the Pardesi Synagogue) was destroyed.

A few quotes on the Inquisition

Goa est malheureusement célèbre par son inquisition, également contraire à l'humanité et au commerce. Les moines portugais firent accroire que le peuple adorait le diable, et ce sont eux qui l'ont servi. (Goa is sadly famous for its inquisition, equally contrary to humanity and commerce. The Portuguese monks made us believe that the people worshiped the devil, and it is they who have served him.)
nefarious, fiendish, lustful, corrupt religious orders which pounced on Goa for the purpose of destroying paganism (ie Hinduism) and introducing the true religion of Christ.


a ^ In his 1731 letter to King João V, the Inquisitor António Amaral Coutinho laments:[36]
The first and the principal cause of such a lamentable ruin (perdition of souls) is the disregard of the law of His Majesty, Dom Sebastião of glorious memory, and the Goan Councils, prohibiting the natives to converse in their own vernacular and making obligatory the use of the Portuguese language: this disregard in observing the law, gave rise to so many and so great evils, to the extent of effecting irreparable harm to souls, as well as to the royal revenues. Since i have been though unworthy, the Inquisitor of this State, ruin has set in the villages of Nadorá (sic), Revorá, Pirná, Assonorá and Aldoná in the Province of Bardez; in the villages of Cuncolim, Assolná, Dicarpalli, Consuá and Aquem in Salcette; and in the island of Goa, in Bambolim, Curcá, and Siridão, and presently in the village of Bastorá in Bardez. In these places, some members of village communities, as also women and children have been arrested and others accused of malpractices; for since they cannot speak any other language but their own vernacular, they are secretly visited by botos, servants and high priests of pagodas who teach them the tenets of their sects and further persuade them to offer alms to the pagodas and to supply other necessary requisites for the ornament of the same temples, reminding them of the good fortune their ancestors had enjoyed from such observances and the ruin they were subjected to, for having failed to observe these customs; under such persuasion they are moved to offer gifts and sacrifices and perform other diabolical ceremonies, forgetting the law of Jesus Christ which they had professed in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. This would not have happened had they known only the Portuguese language; since they being ignorant of the native tongue the botos, grous (gurus) and their attendants would not have been able to have any communication with them, for the simple reason that the latter could only converse in the vernacular of the place. Thus an end would have been put to the great loss among native Christians whose faith has not been well grounded, and who easily yield to the teaching of the Hindu priests.

See also


  1. "Goa Inquisition was most merciless and cruel". Rediff. 14 September 2005. Retrieved 14 April 2009.
  2. 1 2 Saraiva (2001/1975), The Marrano Factory, p. 107
  3. 1 2 3 4 Salomon, H. P. and Sassoon, I. S. D., in Saraiva, Antonio Jose. The Marrano Factory. The Portuguese Inquisition and Its New Christians, 1536–1765 (Brill, 2001 reprint/1975 revision), pp. 345–7.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Benton, Lauren. Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400–1900 (Cambridge, 2002), p. 122.
  5. 1 2 3 A Traveller's History of Portugal, by Ian Robertson (p. 69), Gloucestshire: Windrush Press, in association with London: Cassell & Co., 2002
  6. 1 2 3 "Jewish Heritage: Portugal", Jewish Heritage in Europe
  7. 1 2 3 4 Daus, Ronald (1983). Die Erfindung des Kolonialismus (in German). Wuppertal/Germany: Peter Hammer Verlag. pp. 81–82. ISBN 3-87294-202-6.
  8. Robertson (2002), "Traveller's History", (p. 70)
  9. Daus (1983), "Die Erfindung", p. 33(German)
  10. 1 2 3 Daus (1983), "Die Erfindung", pp. 61-66(German)
  11. Henry Charles Lea. "A History of the Inquisition of Spain". The Library of Iberian Resources Online. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Hunter, William W, The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Trubner & Co, 1886
  13. "Goa was birthplace of Indo-Western garments: Wendell Rodricks". Deccan Herald. New Delhi, India. 27 January 2012. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  14. History of Christians in Coastal Karnataka, 1500–1763 A.D., Pius Fidelis Pinto, Samanvaya, 1999, p. 134
  15. 1 2 3 Sarasvati's Children: A History of the Mangalorean Christians, Alan Machado Prabhu, I.J.A. Publications, 1999, p. 121
  16. Sakshena, R.N, Goa: Into the Mainstream (Abhinav Publications, 2003), p. 24
  17. M. D. David (ed.), Western Colonialism in Asia and Christianity, Bombay, 1988, p.17
  18. Alfredo DeMello. "The Portuguese Inquisition in Goa". DightonRock. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  19. 1 2 Priolkar, A. K. The Goa Inquisition. (Bombay, 1961)
  20. Shirodhkar, P. P., Socio-Cultural life in Goa during the 16th century, p. 35
  21. Shirodhkar, P. P., Socio-Cultural life in Goa during the 16th century, p. 123
  22. The Cambridge history of seventeenth-century music, By Tim Carter, John Butt, pg. 105
  23. Dalrymple, William, White Mughals (2006), p. 14
  24. "Xavier was aware of the brutality of the Inquisition". Deccan Herald. India. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  25. Discoveries, Missionary Expansion, and Asian Cultures. de Souza, Teotonio. Concept Publishing Company, 1994. p. 91
  26. "Recall the Goa Inquisition to stop the Church from crying foul". Rediff. India. 16 March 1999.
  27. http://pt.scribd.com/doc/28411503/Goa-Inquisition-for-Colonial-Disciplining
  28. 1 2 L'Inquisition de Goa: la relation de Charles Dellon (1687)
  29. 1 2 3 4 The Marriage Customs of the Christians in South Canara, India – pp. 4–5, Severine Silva and Stephen Fuchs, 1965, Asian Folklore Studies, Nanzan University (Japan)
  30. 1 2 3 4 Newman, Robert S. (1999), The Struggle for a Goan Identity, in Dantas, N., The Transformation of Goa, Mapusa: Other India Press, p. 17
  31. "Churches". Department of Tourism, Government of Goa. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  32. 1 2 Mascarenhas-Keyes, Stella (1979), Goans in London: portrait of a Catholic Asian community, Goan Association (U.K.)
  33. Robinson, Rowina (2003), Christians of India, SAGE,
  34. 1 2 Routledge, Paul (22 July 2000), "Consuming Goa, Tourist Site as Dispencible space", Economic and Political Weekly, 35, p. 264
  35. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Sarasvati's Children: A History of the Mangalorean Christians, Alan Machado Prabhu, I.J.A. Publications, 1999, pp. 133–134
  36. 1 2 Priolkar, Anant Kakba; Dellon, Gabriel; Buchanan, Claudius; (1961), The Goa Inquisition: being a quatercentenary commemoration study of the inquisition in India, Bombay University Press, p. 177
  37. "Goa battles to preserve its identity", Times of India, 16 May 2010
  38. Oeuvres completes de Voltaire – Volume 4, Page 786
  39. Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, Volume 5, Part 2, Page 1066
  40. Memoirs of Goa by Alfredo DeMello


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