Ideally, historians should not concern themselves with “firsts” in history. That should be left for journalists and non-fiction writers. But sometimes, it is hard to resist the temptation.
A database compiled a few years back by Bruno Feitler offers a long list of all people involved with the Goa Inquisition from its establishment until 1623. Based on this list and the original documents, I tried to compile a short text on the first autos-de-fé in Portuguese India.
In 1561, the Holy Office of the Inquisition was formally established in Goa. Its first inquisitors, Aleixo Dias Falcão and Francisco Marques Botelho, immediately started to investigate and process religious cases in Portuguese India. The next year, September 20th, the first official auto-de-fé took place in the city. It was a Sunday – these events were normally reserved for days when the whole Christian community could attend. However, no one was burnt at the stake that day – the ceremony was reserved mostly to announce condemnations and execute other kinds of public punishments.
As it seems to be, the first public burning of people condemned by the Goa Inquisition happened on June 27th 1563. Known in the ecumenical calendar as the Sunday of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, it was attended by the inquisitors, Vice-Roy D. Francisco Coutinho, Archbishop Gaspar Jorge de Leão Pereira, and a number of representatives of the city. A second auto-de-fé took place a few months later, on December 5th, and although we do not know the names of the victims for each event, we know who were the executed prisoners during the whole year of 1563.
The first was Jorge Fernandes, a Castilian from Toledo who had been condemned months earlier for the crime of Judaism. Next, André Pires, who was condemned that day for the crime of Islamism. The third was António Gomes, a cristão-novo condemned for Heresy, as he had denied the body of Christ was actually in the Holy Host. Finally , two Frenchman, Martim Gigim and Gaspar de Santamans, both condemned for Lutheranism. However, Gigim escaped the fires, as he had killed himself in prison. His bones were submitted to secular justices, and a statue or doll was burnt in his place.
It is interesting to notice that the men executed represented a different “threat” to Christianity – Judaism, Islamism, Protestantism and Heresy. That certainly set the tone for the horrific activities of the Inquisition in the region during the following centuries.