In the rigid caste system of the Middle Ages, the clergy wielded immense power. They had the worst atrocities of the time committed in the name of religion. The Inquisition of Spain is a prime example. They wielded immense power in Spain and the torture devices they used to stay in control were heinous even by medieval standards.

In 1492- the same year Columbus discovered America- the priests of Queen Isabella of Spain convinced her, and her husband, King Ferdinand to rid Spain of all non-Catholics. The king had just completed the conquest of Moorish Granada and he agreed to unite all the territory now under his command under the banner of Christianity.

All Jews and Muslims were summarily offered the choice of conversion or expulsion. The Inquisition was charged with the task of ensuring that all those who chose conversion (a pitiful minority) remained truly loyal Christians. The Inquisition had been in existence for awhile beforehand. Forced conversions were quite common in the Middle Ages, and it was the job of the Inquisition to ensure that the converts remained faithful to their new religion. To that end, they had developed many techniques to aid them in weeding out heretics.

There was a very efficient system in place. Local priests often served as agents of the Inquisition and reported what they heard from their parishioners. Regular citizens were also required to report any heretical activity to the Church. The slightest lapse in religious observance was enough to have a suspected heretic arrested.

Once arrested, the suspects were taken down to the dungeons of the Inquisition building. They were placed in solitary confinement deep underground, in dark, windowless cells. There was no way to differentiate between day and night nor was there any way to keep track of time. Aside from the guards who occasionally brought them food, they had no human contact at all for days on end.

Once the Inquisition deemed them sufficiently desperate, they would be taken out of their cells in middle of the night and brought before a tribunal of priests who were tasked with extracting a confession from the prisoners. If they confessed, the priests would decide on a suitable penalty to extirpate their crime and then usually free them after ensuring that the punishment was carried out. For those who persisted in declaring themselves innocent, however, the Inquisition had plenty of other ways of extracting a confession.

For that purpose they had the torture chambers. The torture chambers were generally deep inside the bowels of the Inquisition building and contained the most sophisticated torture devices available at the time. One of the most gruesome medieval torture devices the Inquisition used was called the rack. It looked like a metal bed on rollers across which the victim was laid and his arms and legs placed in tight iron manacles. When an Inquisitor pulled a rope the two halves of the rack rolled away from each other, causing the victims' body to stretch. Many victims were permanently disfigured after this torture.

The Inquisitors also made use of more primitive torture devices. They would hang ropes from a high ceiling and tie the prisoners to the ropes by their arms. Then they would leave the prisoners hanging there until their arms broke from the strain. Another version of this method was to chain the prisoners to iron manacles set in the wall in a standing position and leave them there until they were completely exhausted.

The Inquisitors also kept a fire going in the chamber. They would heat up iron bars in the fire and burn off their victims nails. Sometimes they would even use the white-hot bars just to beat their prisoners. The cat o nine tails was also used to beat them. It was a particularly vicious whip which often had metal in the ropes to cause the maximum amount of pain to their victims. There was a doctor present at all times to revive the prisoners who fainted so the priests could continue to torment them.

If the victims somehow managed to withstand all these tortures and survive the starvation and solitary confinement they were subjected to, the Inquisition still did not give up. Confirmed heretics who refused to repent were burned alive in public. A huge auto-da-fe was scheduled and thousands of people would come to watch the spectacle. The priests tied the heretics to wooden stakes and piled up more wood around them. Then they poured oil over the wood and set it on fire, burning the victims alive. Those who repented right beforehand were granted death by strangulation and had their bodies burned.

Over the hundreds of years of its existence thousands of people were tortured, maimed, and killed by the Inquisition. Although it has not been in existence for years now it will forever remain a reminder of the dangers of unchecked power.