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  • La Inquisición de Lima. Signos de su decadencia, 1726-1750
  • Asunción Lavrin
La Inquisición de Lima. Signos de su decadencia, 1726-1750. By René Millar Carvacho (Santiago de Chile: Dibam/Lom/Centro de Investigaciones Diego Barros Arana. 2004. Pp. 183.)

A lifetime student of the Peruvian Inquisition, René Millar has written two previous detailed studies of this institution's bureaucracy, finances, relations with local authorities, and judgments on the issues of faith. He has chosen the eighteenth century as his period, arguing that throughout this century the Inquisition underwent a protracted process of decadence that rendered it nearly obsolete by the 1800's. In this, his latest book, he takes a different route. Instead of the sweeping studies of the past he focuses on the micro-histories of two different cases that, in his opinion, corroborate the existence of serious difficulties in the administration of the Holy Office and the inappropriate use of its power. These were two key reasons calling for intensive scrutiny from the Supreme Council in Spain which weakened its effectiveness as a tribunal of the faith. With the adoption of a micro-history technique, abundant in details, Millar proposes to enrich our understanding of the reasons for the institutional "decadence" as well as to paint a "thick" portrait of Lima society in the first half of the century.

The first story focuses on the process and eventual execution of the last case of Crypto-Judaism in the Viceroyalty of Peru. The surveillance and punishment of Crypto-Jews in Spain extended through the 1750's. Vestiges of Jewish observance were still found in the peninsula in a rather watered-down fashion confined to the celebration of some key rites and observance of a few holy days, all disguised under the public acceptance of Catholicism. María Anna de Castro, born in Toledo in 1678, belonged to a family of reconciled judaizers. Toledo was a city with a considerable number of New Christians and processes of "reconciliation" were still carried out in the 1680's. As a married woman of [End Page 301] dubious morality, María Anna traveled to Peru, where she became a notorious and popular socialite. Her encounter with the Inquisition resulted from a bigamy suit in 1726, but it was the suspected ties of her family to the "faith of Moses" that brought her down, despite her continuous denials of practicing it. The Holy Office found her guilty in 1736, and dismissing important technicalities owed to those willing to reconcile, conveyed her to the royal justice for execution in the 1736 auto-da-fe.

Millar claims that the 1736 auto was an effort to demonstrate to Lima society that the Holy Office was still powerful and effective in times when these attributes were under question. The execution of María Anna provoked a strong reaction of ill-will, adding to the discontent created by other decisions equally questionable to the eyes of other members of the Church. These concerns prompted an official investigation carried out between 1744 and 1750. The second case study discusses the results of that investigation, which exposed the roots of the Holy Office's problems: the institution was plagued by personal power struggles. At that time, the main actors in a bitter confrontation were the wealthy and corrupt native-born Cristóbal Sánchez Calderón and the Spanish-born accountant, Manuel Ilarday. Ethnic rivalry was not the only source of ill-will, although it counted. More important was the issue of the administration of the Inquisition's moneys. Sánchez Calderón, who was notorious for caring more for his personal properties than the Inquisition's business, still accused Ilarday of negligence and failure to raise enough money to cover expenses or pay for the arrears on the liens on the Inquisition's properties. The visitors were appalled at the state of affairs and the failure to follow procedural rules in the death sentences. Despite suggestions for financial reform, the visit was a failure insofar as the situation worsened after their departure due to lack of implementation and execution.

Millar sees these two cases as connected insofar as they represent the two most important...


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