The Inquisition was a powerful office set up within the Catholic Church to root out and punish heresy throughout Europe and the Americas. Beginning in the 12th century and continuing for hundreds of years, the Inquisition is infamous for the severity of its tortures and its persecution of Jews and Muslims. Its worst manifestation was in Spain, where the Spanish Inquisition was a dominant force for more than 200 years, resulting in some 32,000 executions.
The Inquisition has its origins in the early organized persecution of non-Catholic Christian religions in Europe. In 1184 Pope Lucius III sent bishops to southern France to track down heretics called Catharists. These efforts continued into the 14th Century. Continue reading from History
Inquisitors would arrive in a town and announce their presence, giving citizens a chance to admit to heresy. Those who confessed received a punishment ranging from a pilgrimage to a whipping.
Those accused of heresy were forced to testify. If the heretic did not confess, torture and execution were inescapable. Heretics weren’t allowed to face accusers, received no counsel, and were often victims of false accusations.