On December 23, 1736, Ana de Castro was burned at the stake in Lima, Peru, after she was convicted of charges of being a “judaizer,” a backsliding convert to Christianity, among other things.
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The case of Castro, who was apparently the last person to be executed by the Peruvian Inquisition for secretly practicing Judaism, was the subject of great public interest because of her universally acknowledged physical beauty, her reputed haughtiness and her rumored promiscuity.
The case also became notorious because an internal examination by the Church led to accusations that the inquisitors responsible for Castro’s case violated proper procedure and denied the defendant the opportunity to repent and save her life.
Maria Francisca Ana de Castro was born in about 1686 in Toledo, Spain. In 1707, she immigrated to Peru, a Spanish colony, with her second husband, a merchant.
According to some accounts, her husband was constantly running into financial difficulties and urged his highly attractive wife to raise money for him by prostituting herself. Eventually, that marriage was annulled, and Ana de Castro married a third time, to shipping merchant Luis de Montaran, in 1715.
Denounced to the Inquisition
Castro was first arrested in 1726, supposedly after being framed by a jealous former lover, who bribed her maid to plant a crucifix in Ana’s bed. He then denounced her to the Inquisition, telling its officials that she had whipped an image of Jesus Christ. Agents of the Inquisition ordered a search of Castro’s bed and turned up the crucifix.
Ana de Castro remained a prisoner for 10 years and was subjected to torture on three separate occasions, even though women were generally exempt from the physical abuse employed to induce men to confess to crimes against the faith. The Church also confiscated her substantial fortune.
The suspect did not give her inquisitors the confession they sought, although she did admit to following some Jewish rituals – such as Sabbath observance and mourning practices – that she didn’t believe were violations of Catholic law.
Castro also revealed to the inquisitors that while she was living in Spain, her sister and some other relatives were burned at the stake for religious crimes.
Although an order was forthcoming from Spain to spare Castro’s life, she was sentenced to death and paraded through the streets of Lima on the back of a mule. She was subjected to the jeers and abuse of thousands of locals who were familiar with her.
Once arriving at the Plaza de Armas, where Lima’s autos da fe were carried out, she was transferred from the church’s authority to that of the secular authorities. After her neck was broken, Castro’s body was publicly burned and her ashes were scattered in the Rimac River.
Many of the documents pertaining to the case of Ana de Castro were subsequently destroyed in a fire, but historian Jerry Williams recently found and analyzed a lengthy account written by a contemporary, Nicolas Flores.
Flores, a priest, revealed that Castro had expressed her desire to repent shortly before her sentence was carried out, a fact that – in light of explicit orders from Madrid – should have required the authorities to spare her life.
He also notes that during the final spectacle before her death, Castro asked for some water and it was brought to her in a soiled urinal.
Other documents show that the public prosecutor of Lima, Mateo de Amusquíbar, accused the two inquisitors responsible for Castro’s case, Cristoval Sanchez Calderon and Diego de Unda, of abusing their power, disregarding proper procedure, and using proceeds from Ana de Castro’s estate, which was confiscated by the Church, for their own purposes.
Addressing himself to the Supreme Council of the Inquisition, in Madrid, Amusquibar wrote: “Your Reverence will recognize how recklessly this prisoner’s life was taken, against your express orders.”