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1. History a ceremony of the Spanish Inquisition including the pronouncement and execution of sentences passed on sinners or heretics
2. the burning to death of people condemned as heretics by the Inquisition
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



literally, a ceremonial reading of the sentence of the Inquisition in Spain, Portugal, and their colonies; in common usage the term also refers to the execution of the sentence, mainly by burning the condemned persons at the stake. The auto-da-fé appeared at the beginning of the Inquisition (13th century) and became widespread from the end of the 15th century on, acquiring the character of a theatrical and ritualistic mass action. Autos-da-fé were held in the main square of a city in the presence of large masses of people, the church and secular aristocracy, and sometimes the king himself with his family. The condemned persons were led out barefoot and in “clothing of shame.” The last auto-da-fé took place in 1826 in Valencia. About 35,000 people were burned in Spain from 1481 to 1808.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.