In June of 2002 I traveled to Spain and Portugal. In Lisbon, I visited the archives at the Torre de Tombe of the University of Lisbon. My object was to look for the name Benveniste in records of the Portuguese Inquisition.

          After explaining my quest at the reception desk, I was directed to a large room on the second floor. One section of the room contained an enormous collection of small booklets; there must have been more than 1000 of them. Each booklet was about eight inches long and only about three inches tall and one inch thick. Each contained summaries of Inquisition trials. They were arranged in alphabetical order. I took the book that contained the listing for “Ben” off the shelf.

Inside were pages made of paper that resembled the penmanship paper on which I used to have my students write essays. The script was in a very plain hand, obviously written by a well-trained scribe. It was easy to read.

I thumbed through, looking for the name “Benveniste.” It wasn’t there. The closest name I could find was that of Antonio Benuesto. I read the summary of this trial from almost 400 years ago and I was sickened.

Here is a translation of the summary of the trial:


BENUESTO, Antonio, natural son of Guerme Bunuesto and Ceumba Benuesta.  Forty years of age on January 21, 1609.

CRIME: Heresy and apostasy

Trial on December 15, 1609. Subjected to the Auto Da Fe of March 28, 1610.

Conditions: Two years in solitary prison, confiscation of his goods, publication of his crime in the streets of Evora, payment of the costs of the trial. 

 The last line of the summary was chilling:

        Orfoi submetido a tormento

 He was submitted to torture.


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