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auto de fe

a public ceremony during which the sentences upon those brought before the Spanish Inquisition were read and after which the sentences were executed by the secular authorities. The first auto-da-fe took place at Sevilla (Seville) in 1481; the last, in Mexico in 1850. The ceremonies, which became increasingly elaborate and spectacular, were normally staged in the city plaza, often in the presence of royalty. They usually comprised a lengthy procession, a solemn mass, an oath of obedience to the Inquisition, a sermon, and the reading of the sentences. The victims were most frequently apostate former Jews and former Muslims, then Alumbrados (followers of a condemned mystical movement) and Protestants, and occasionally those who had been accused of such crimes as bigamy and sorcery. Life imprisonment was the extreme penalty that the inquisitor could impose; the death penalty was imposed and carried out by the civil authorities. Generally, neither punishment nor the handing over of condemned persons to the secular power took place on the occasion of an auto-da-fe.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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