University of Notre Dame


Hesburgh Libraries

Rare Books & Special Collections

About the Collection and this Digital Project


This website is intended as a resource for students and researchers interested in histories of inquisitions worldwide. Though primarily focused on the Spanish inquisitions of the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries, attention will also be paid to medieval inquisitions as well as to Portuguese, Roman and various New World inquisitions which existed from the sixteenth century on. Thematic introductory essays present the various types of documents generated by and around these religious tribunals, with many references given for further reading. Examples of selected documents discussed in the essays are also provided to give viewers a virtual “hands-on” experience of examining such materials in their original format. Overall the goal is to stimulate and facilitate further exploration of inquisition history by familiarizing new generations with its extremely rich yet challenging documentary legacy.

The website draws its inspiration and materials from the University of Notre Dame’s Harley L. McDevitt Inquisition Collection. Beginning as a private bibliophilic project, the collection was purchased by renowned bookseller and publisher José Porrúa from a private Spanish collector named Anastasio Páramo in the aftermath of the Civil War and enhanced over the years.1 It consists of several hundred items, from printed volumes to unique manuscripts and images, all bearing some relationship to the general theme of “inquisition”. For the most part these were produced by the Spanish inquisition or its critics, though several pieces also relate to other regions. Altogether they comprise of one of the world’s most important and distinctive private collections for inquisition studies.

Thanks to the generosity of Harley L. McDevitt (ND ’29), Notre Dame was able to purchase the entire Porrúa collection in 1997. Under the able direction of Scott Van Jacob, Louis Jordan, Christian Dupont and Bernadette Pampuch, the collection was soon made available to researchers and a preliminary website launched complete with searchable database and links to scholarly resources. However there were several limitations at this stage: items were listed in no particular order, and the database was based on Porrúa’s original Spanish-language sale itemsue which emphasized details relating to value and rarity rather than scholarly significance. Identifying scholarly significance, indeed, was a potential problem. Unlike archival centers such as Madrid’s Archivo Histórico Nacional or the Lisbon Torre do Tombo, the Porrúa collection could boast no complete run of documents to illustrate the history of any particular tribunal. Nevertheless it was soon recognized that “the strength of the collection lies in its diversity”.2 Developed appropriately, it might come to serve as an ideal teaching tool as well as a resource for specialists in any number of fields.

In 2002 Stephen Haliczer, one of the world’s most respected inquisition historians, was asked to give a preliminary assessment of the collection and his verdict was clear: though Notre Dame’s new acquisition was extensive and valuable the classification in the dealer’s itemsue was something of a grab-bag. Haliczer concluded that the

    classification is faulty and we would have to arrive at a better way of classifying the documents in order to make the collection more comprehensible to potential researchers. Materials will have to be reclassified in a more coherent manner consistent with a more sophisticated understanding of what they actually contain.

Twelve years after the initial purchase, concrete plans were finally laid for action based on Haliczer’s recommendation. Again led by Scott Van Jacob and Louis Jordan, a team of library staff was assembled to assist visiting professor Robin Vose (from St. Thomas University, Canada) in the development of the present web-based resource. Dr. Vose had worked with the McDevitt Collection since 1997 when he began his doctoral studies at Notre Dame, and he eagerly took up full-time residence once more at the department of Rare Books and Special Collections in the summer of 2009. He has been working on the project ever since and looks forward to testing its effectiveness in advanced seminar classes.

The project

A first necessary step was to ensure that the collection was properly documented and hence more accessible to interested researchers. The Porrúa Collection’s original itemsue was completely reorganized and a new searchable database created in EAD format to give a fuller description for each item in the McDevitt Collection. As part of this reorganization, documents were divided into seven general categories: manuals, trials and sentencing, autos de fe, censorship, familiars and officials, policies and proceedings, and polemics and histories. While admittedly imperfect, in some cases somewhat arbitrary and with much overlap, it was felt that a typological division of this nature would assist researchers in quickly identifying materials relevant to their interests; rather than searching for known titles or browsing the entire items, they could easily scan the appropriate sections.

At this point it was determined that a website would provide the ideal platform for a broader public presentation. Extensive explanatory essays were drafted to help make sense of each category, and exemplary documents selected for illustration purposes. Pedagogical usefulness was the guiding principle, and it is hoped that instructors will find the results valuable in their teaching of inquisition history or cognate fields. Researchers, students and the general public alike are invited to browse the McDevitt Collection items, to consult the accompanying essays, and to look for themselves at images of original inquisition documents—whether out of simple interest, to conduct primary-source research, or as a training exercise for more extensive fieldwork in larger collections such as those still held in Spain, Portugal, Mexico and Italy. And of course, scholars needing further access to these or other materials are welcome to visit the Notre Dame department of Rare Books and Special Collections in person; for contact information click here.

Site graphics

Imagery used on the website comes from items within the McDevitt Collection. The illustration that anchors the site’s upper left hand menu depicts Saint Peter of Verona, also known as Saint Peter Martyr, a renowned preacher who was made an inquisitor of Northern Italy by Gregory IX. In 1252, he was murdered while traveling from Como to Milan—allegedly by being struck in the head with axe. He was canonized the following year on March 25 by Innocent IV. The image has been cropped from an extremely ornate certificate with tempera and gold-leaf border illustrations produced in Granada in 1615 [INQ 101].

The watermark present within many of the site’s pages comes from a partly printed document naming Francisco de Aranda Quintanilla a familiar of the inquisition in 1678. It is decorated with ornate printed border and hand-colored additional illustrations [INQ 106]. The coat of arms at the center of the document richly portrays the composite nature of the Spanish Inquisition’s institutional identity in this period. It displays a cross, a branch and a sword, with the latter two symbols representing mercy and justice; a second more stylized cross in the bottom section refers to the Dominican Order, while the emblem as a whole is surmounted by a crown in deference to the Spanish monarchy. Such coats of arms are often displayed with a motto taken from Psalm 73.22: "Arise, O Lord, and judge thine own cause."

Future plans

A web-based project such as this is exciting because it has the inherent possibility of continual improvement. As resources and interests may dictate, it is hoped that more documents will be added to the site; these could eventually also be accompanied by transcriptions and/or translations. Discussions have been broached with other regional libraries such as the Newberry (Chicago), Lilly (Indiana University, Bloomington) and Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati) to perhaps integrate some of their inquisition holdings with this site. Ultimately links could even allow direct access to related resources across the country and abroad.

The explanatory essays accompanying each documentary division are intended as starting points for preliminary research guidance rather than as authoritative conclusions. Given the vast scope of the resources under review, with materials from over four centuries and several continents and written in more than a half-dozen languages, it is inevitable that corrections and updating will be necessary. Comments, criticisms and suggestions will be gladly received and should be directed to Robin Vose at


Sincere thanks are due to Louis Jordan, Tracy Bergstrom, Sara Weber, Rick Johnson, Dan Brubaker Horst, Rajesh Balekai, Banurekha "Banu" Lakshminarayanan, Pascal Calarco and Rob Fox for their unparalleled helpfulness, professionalism and patience as the project unfolded. Rita Erskine, Bozena Karol, Joe Ross, George Rugg, and Margaret Turza all helped by making the department of Rare Books and Special Collections such an inviting place in which to work. Olivia Remie Constable and Roberta Baranowski of the Notre Dame Medieval Institute helped support the project by facilitating my stay in South Bend, as did the Van Jacob family and my colleague Daniel Hobbins. Additional support was also provided by my research assistant Christopher Kretzschmar, and by the St. Thomas University Research Office. My own family—Kim, Ryley and Owen—provided every support and encouragement despite my frequent long absences. The loss of cherished friend Scott Van Jacob to cancer in October 2009 came as a devastating blow to all of us, and I cannot thank him enough for his vision and support. This website is dedicated to his memory.

Robin Vose

Fredericton, New Brunswick

August 11, 2010


1 See Aranzazu Lafuente Urien et al., “Anastasio Páramo (Conde de Bencazón). El Legado de un Anticuario Erudito” in Archivo Secreto 3 (2006), pp. 146-164.

2 Scott Van Jacob, “Porrua Inquisition Collection” in Access 68 (1997), p. 2;