La Inquisición: el "sambenito"

The term sambenito is a shorthand for Saco Bendito, a coarse cloth garment worn by penitents in the Middle Ages for acts of public penance (which would later lead to the tunics of the Nazarenes of Holy Week). The Inquisition adopts this clothing, the blessed sack, and uses it to distinguish and point out the inmates, and as a condemnation in itself. It was a very peculiar and practically forgotten sentence. Someone could be sentenced to Pena de Sambenito for a few months, a few years or a lifetime, and while the sentence lasted they had the obligation to always wear it when leaving their home. In this way, the defendant and his entire family were singled out, with perpetual and constant humiliation to which had to be added the impossibility of exercising certain trades or going to the Indies.

Once the sentence was served, the sanbenito, with the name, surname and guilt, was hung in the parish of the inmate, or in the Cathedral. We know that the amount of hanging sanbenitos becomes a problem of space in the Cathedral, and that not infrequently they are relocated and they are looking for space. There was someone in charge of ensuring that these sanbenitos were in good condition and always legible, so when they fell apart they made a new one, to the perpetual memory and shame of the person who had to wear it.

Depending on the crime committed, the sanbenito, with a light or yellow background, would carry a large cross of Saint Andrew in red, or flames alluding to the bonfire where the person carrying it would burn, or demons dancing among the flames, as if announcing that he was going to burn in hell. The outfit was completed with a coroza that also recalls the hoods of the Nazarenes, decorated in the same way.

The churches of the Kingdom of Spain offered an aspect difficult for us to imagine, with all those sanbenitos hanging. And so they were until the eighteenth century when enlightened thought put an end to this shameful anachronism. In fact, there are very few sanbenitos preserved because most of them were burned trying to erase their trace.

The Inquisition was eliminated by the French government in the 19th century, but when the War of Independence was won and the French expelled, the Holy Office was restored, this time for a short period of time until its final disappearance. But it is curious how since medieval times the expression "to put or hang such a sanbenito" is used to allude to a totally undeserved bad reputation.

If you have been wanting more, in our route "The Inquisition and the Castle of San Jorge" we tell you this and many more curiosities and truths of this strange corporation. More information here!