Class Year


Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Spring 2023

Department 1



The Spanish Inquisition prosecuted heresy throughout its lifespan. Occasionally, the question of mental illness confronted inquisitors during proceedings. For example, Bartolomé Sánchez, an impoverished laborer, was arrested and tried by the Spanish Inquisition on three separate occasions and was institutionalized in a mental hospital. In his case, mental illness was likely a reality, yet his inquisitors struggled to determine his mental state despite his outlandish ideology. On the other hand, Miguel de Piedrola, the Soldier-Prophet, was convicted by the Inquisition as a false prophet notwithstanding his employment of the insanity defense. At the center of both cases lay the question of insanity, yet the conclusions of both stories differed. To reconcile these differences, one must consider sixteenth-century Spanish medicine. The importation of humanism ushered in a new epoch for medicine in sixteenth-century Spain in which Galenic medicine dominated diagnosis and treatment. Although prolific in other areas, Galen failed to effectively characterize and proffer therapeutic strategies to combat mental illness—a pitfall of the Galenic medical model that proved to have lasting consequences. Also, the recognition of supernatural causation and a natural distrust of the accused served to further complicate notions of insanity for inquisitors. Taken together, the cases of Sánchez and Piedrola suggest that the Inquisition operated within the context of contemporary sixteenth-century Spanish understanding of mental illness. Furthermore, they betray the suspicion and uncertainty associated with inquisitorial proceedings that dealt with mental illness.


Written for HIST 207: The Spanish Inquisition