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The Archives of the Roman Inquisition in Malta
Archivum Inquisitionis Melitensis (A.I.M.)
The Cathedral Museum of Mdina
contains the archives of the Roman Inquisition on Malta, one of two complete
sets of Inquisitorial archives in Europe. Sicilian Inquisitors had jurisdiction
over Malta before 1561, and occasionally visited the island. The Bishop of
Malta handled most problems of ecclesiastical discipline. But when the Emperor
Charles V gave the island of Malta to the Order of the Hospital in 1530, he also
introduced possible conflicts between two ecclesiastical overlords. Pope Pius
IV ordered a resident inquisitor on Malta in 1561, where the office lasted until
1798. The Roman Inquisition on Malta ostensibly guarded against the
introduction of Lutheranism and rooted out heresy, ignorance, and superstition.
But the Inquisitor also checked the power of the Grand Master on Malta and
reported to the pope about the ecclesiastical misconduct of the Knights and
their servants. The Maltese Inquisitor's tribunal in Birgu formed one of the
three centers of ecclesiastical power on Malta, balancing the Bishop in Mdina,
and the Grand Master in Valletta. The office of the Inquisitor provided a
stepping-stone to ecclesiastical promotion. Many inquisitors went on to become
bishops and cardinals, and two -- Fabio Chigi and Antonio Pignatelli - became
Popes (Alexander VII and Innocent XII). The French abolished the tribunal when
they took the island in 1798, and its records were transferred to the Cathedral,
where they remain to this day.
Housed in the Archives of the Cathedral Museum, Mdina, Malta.
The inquisition on Malta had no
connection with the Spanish Inquisition, which Ferdinand and Isabella set up to
enforce religious conformity in Spain. Instead, the word "inquisition"
describes the nature of tribunal, which summoned those accused of religious
improprieties and interrogated them to determine the facts of the case.
Like the Spanish Inquisition, the interrogation could include torture.
Unlike the Spanish Inquisition, the Roman Inquisition on Malta released few
people to the secular arm for execution (church courts could not execute the
condemned, and heresy was considered a capital crime). Instead, the
Inquisitor sought to convince the accused to admit his or her errors and to
impose the appropriate penance. Very few Protestants appeared before the
tribunal; the most notable case, involving two religious teachers accused of
Lutheranism, occurred before the appointment of the Inquisitor in 1561, and the
Grand Master shielded French members of the Order who were suspected of being
Huguenots. The best-known example of non-conformists was that of two
English women, members of the Society of Friends, who tried to proselytize on
Malta. The Tribunal of the Inquisition held the women for five years
(1658-1663) before finally expelling them from the island.
The Inquisitors realized that most
of the cases coming before them sprang from ignorance of religious orthodoxy:
husbands feigning illness to eat meat on fast days, foreign sailors blaspheming
in taverns, and slaves who claimed to work magic. Questions of religious
identity arose concerning Maltese sailors who had been captured by Muslims and
who may have converted to Islam. The local parishes encouraged the Maltese
people to denounce blasphemers, sorcerers, and heretics to the tribunal. These
denunciations reflect village conflicts and tensions.
circumstances also suggest that the greatest challenge facing the foreign-born
Inquisitors was not eradicating heresy but understanding the language of the
The records of the Maltese
Inquisition reveal much about daily life in Malta, particularly, the lives of
the peasants and other classes usually hidden from the historical record.
Brief Index of the Archives of the
Maltese Inquistion. (Short descriptions of each volume are incorporated into
the HMML online catalogue):
Index of the Archives of the Malta Inquistion
- Acta civilia (580 mss) 1557-1798
- Computa depositarii tribunalis sancti officii (5 mss) 1658-1798
- Corrispondenza (104 mss) 1588-1698
- Memorie lasciate agli inquisitori di Malti (35 mss) 1711-1798
Miscellanea (77 mss) 1487-1797
- Processi e denunzie (296 mss) 1546-1798
- Registrum actorum civilium sancti officii sanctissimae inquisitionis meltensis (19 mss) 1676-1795
- Registrum brevium apostolicorum ac decretorum congregationum (3 mss) 1614-1754
- Registrum litterarum patentium (1 ms) 1739-1792
- Registrum sententiarum causarum civilium sanctissimae inquisitionis (1 ms) 1753-1786
- Repertoires (41 mss) 1628-1793
- Registrum depositorum causarum civilium (22 mss) 1676-1790
Alexander Bonnici, A bad
reputation for the Maltese Inquisition under Mgr. John Baptist Gori Pannellini
(1639-1646) [Valletta, Malta] : Malta Historical Society, 1973; idem,
L'Inquisizione di Malta, 1561-1798 : riflessioni critiche circa il materiale
edito e inedito [Valletta, Malta] : Malta Historical Society, 1968; idem,
Medieval and Roman Inquisition in Malta (Rabat, Malta : Religjon u Hajja,
1998) (San Gwann, Malta : P.E.G.); idem, A trial in front of an Inquisitor of
Malta : 1562-1798 (Rabat, Malta : Religjon u Hajja, 1998) (San Gwann :
Carmel Cassar, Witchcraft,
sorcery, and the Inquisition : a study of cultural values in early modern
(Msida, Malta : Mireva Publications, 1996); idem, Sex, Magic and the
Periwinkle, (Malta, 2000).
Charles Cassar, An Index of the Inquisition 1540-1575 (Hyphen
1990, n. 4), pp. 157-78.
Charles Cassar, "The Inquisition Tribunal and
the Hospitaller Order of St. John" Melita Historica 71 (1993):
Frans Ciappara, The Roman
Inquisition in enlightened
(Pieta, Malta : Pubblikazzjonijiet Indipendenza, 2000).
Ecclesiastical immunity and the powers of the inquisitor in Malta (1777-1785)
(Hamrun [Malta] St. Joseph's Home, 1968).
Andrew P. Vella, The Tribunal of the Inquisition in Malta (Royal University of Malta Historical Studies, 1, 1964; 2nd edition, with updated list of archival material by J. Azzopardi, 1973), Appendix IV, contains a handlist of the sections Memorie lasciate dagli Inquisitori and Corrispondenza.
C. V. Wedgwood, "The Conversion of
Malta," Velvet Studies (London, 1949), pp. 129-137.
This page updated
Tuesday, 28. February 2012 by Dr. Theresa