A Remarkable Festival - The Last Sicilian Auto-da-Fé

FESTIVALS. INQUISITION. AUTO-DA-FÉ. Mongitore, Antonio (1663-1743)

L'atto pubblico di fede solennemente celebrato nella città di Palermo à 6 Aprile 1724.

Palermo, nella Regia stamperia d 1724


Folio: 7 lvs., IX, 111 pp., 4 large folding engraved plates.


Bound in contemporary vellum. A fine copy with a few repaired tears and a few wormholes.

A remarkable book, documenting the last Sicilian auto-da-fé, "celebrated" on April 6th, 1724, which ended with the burning of two heretics. The auto was celebrated with great splendor, the expenses being defrayed by the Emperor. Twenty-six people were penanced for blasphemy, polygamy, sorcery, witchcraft, and other crimes. Yet the spectacle would have been incomplete without the immolation of heretics.

"Two unfortunates, who had languished in prison since 1699, served this purpose. They were Geltruda, a beguine, and Fra Romualdo, a friar, accused of Quietism and Molinism, with the accompanying heresies of illuminism and impeccability. Their long imprisonment with torture and ill-usage, seems to have turned their brains, and they had been condemned to 'relaxation' as impenitent in 1705 and 1709, but the sentences had never been carried out. They were now brought from the dungeons and burned alive."(Leah, The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies, p. 40)

The text, very important for its historical and documentary value, is illustrated by 4 large folding plates engraved by Francesco Cichè. These depict: 1. The trial in the piazza facing Palermo's cathedral and the Palazzo Arcivescovile, showing the elaborate inquisitors’ platform (the cadalso) and the stage (tablado) upon which the accused were tried; 2. The grand Procession of the Green Cross (on April 5th), in which the members of the various religious orders made their way, to musical accompaniment, from the Steri (the Palazzo Chiaramonte) to the cathedral square, where the heretics would be tried; 3. The second grand procession, with the nobility, the inquisitors, and the condemned heretics making their way to the "teatro" where the two unfortunates were to be burned; and 4. An extraordinary scene showing the heretics (with characteristic conical hats) being burned alive within a pen, outside of which can be seen people milling about, raised viewing platforms for the curious, and food vendors.

The objective of "Autos-da-fé" (Public acts of Faith) was lucid and precise: the annihilation of the human dignity of the "guilty" and their social death before physical death. It had to be a day of contempt, dishonor, and terror.

Among the men and women judged by the inquisitors on that day was a nun, Sister Pietra Maria di Gesù, who refused to abjure her accusation that a confessor had solicited her for sex. Sister Pietra, the only person who refused to recant that day, was condemned for having given false testimony with malicious intent and sentenced to two years in prison and three years of exile.

The name, age and profession of each of the accused were given. Two blasphemers muzzled and exiled. A shoemaker who destroyed a sacred image was committed to the galleys for three years. A cook was charged with polygamy and exiled. A page was condemned to the galleys for the same crime. A Franciscan priest was condemned for communicating with demons and conjuring. A bigamist butcher, a deacon who married in secret, and a number of sorcerers and witches, were sentenced to whippings, imprisonment, and to walking the streets of the city begging forgiveness. Making his second appearance at an auto was Paolo Vavaro. Previously condemned for sorcery in 1721, he was now given a life sentence for his recidivism… and for the new crime of saying mass without being a priest.

Mira II p. 93. Moncada 1485. Palau 176195. Platneriana 250. Lozzi 3313. Bocca 3944