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Juana, at fifteen, has just won herself an evening at the theatre as a reward for winning a poetry competition, held in a bullring. She shares with her aunt and cousin certain of her ideas for a poem casting Christ in the role of Narcissus...

It had turned out to be a fine day of jousting, after all, but what I missed in the bullring that day was spectacle, high drama. There was low comedy, and the high comedy of our English-pirate free-for-all. And low drama, for the two full minutes it took the Viceroy to look over every part of me before awarding his prize. No, I wanted colours and costumes and light - fireworks, fine voices and much finer poetry. Ceremony. I was not so very different from everyone else here. Juvenal was not mistaken in prescribing bread and circuses as the philtre for enthralling us.
      Uncle Juan had largely financed the tournament, so as we rode back home from the parade marshal's house I gave him back the snuff box. I couldn't help asking if my victory had been paid for, since he'd paid for everything else. The carriage drew up before the house.
     "You have done more for my standing with the new viceroy in one day, Juana Inés, than my underwriting a dozen of these affairs."
      He helped me down from the carriage, then walked quickly to the door. But once there, he seemed to remember and paused to hold it open for me. There he stood: big and stocky, earnest and calm. And for no particular reason he struck me as brave, not in bluster and brandish of steel, but quietly, steadily brave. I liked him. As I brushed past, he held up a hand to detain me. "Oh - and Juana Inés, whatever else I may do," he said with a wry quirk of a smile, "I never tell a viceroy what poets he should like."
He did not posture or pretend. This was a business proposition, and while business was obviously good, I sensed it was also precarious. His network of alliances went to the top of both the Cabildo and the Audiencia, and into the lower echelons of the court. But one does not approach a viceroy with money. I was an asset now. I found I didn't mind. I had met a few of his associates at the house. Serious, earnest ... if anything, a little preoccupied. Since they were much like him, I guessed that these were not just associates but friends. No posturers or hypocrites. I'm sure Uncle Juan knew these, too, and saw to their handling and care. What I liked is that he didn't have them at his house.
      Even this, in my opinion, did not make him much of a family man. He seemed no more interested in poor Magda than he had been in me up till now. And there was something strained between him and Aunt María, who seemed more anxious with secrets all the time. His parents we hardly saw. I did have an intuition that the canvas dam across the courtyard and fountain had been more their idea than his, and that they might have preferred to get their water elsewhere. It arrived in the city all the way from Chapultepec springs via the aqueduct to the Alameda. The mains had been clay, then lead for a while; then someone somewhere in the city administration read a book of Roman history, and they were clay again (whose almost weekly repairs, in our neighbourhood at least, Uncle Juan paid for, for the ground was always shifting).
      He also paid his debts, and he knew just what to get me. The Poetess and her escorts had been reserved a private box at the theatre. I loved the theatre - I just knew it, even though I'd never been. But I had read a hundred plays, made them burn like fire in my mind - these were our painted books.
He wouldn't come with us, being too serious for such things, but he did insist Aunt María and Magda go. It would do them good to get out. It would do Magda good.
      They squeezed - parts of me - into another of Magda's old gowns. But it was of a lovely, sky blue satin, which set off to advantage, I supposed, my black hair and black eyes. And then we were in the carriage, as the three of us had been on so many trips to the cathedral. I could not ride even a short way facing backwards without feeling ill, so as always María and Magda sat together on the bench facing back at me. The ride was mercifully brief.
      It was the single greatest thrill of my life to arrive for the first time at the theatre, ablaze with light, in a gleaming coach drawn by matched horses, steel tack flashing silver. As I stepped down I could hear the orchestra warming up above the shouts and cries of the coachmen jostling for position....
      Inside, we met a group of Magda's friends, a girl and three young gentlemen. "Magda, why haven't we met your cousin before? You didn't tell us she was so beautiful ... and that dress, what a splendid hue! You should try that colour yourself." Magda's evening was proving visibly less transcendent than mine.
Although the vicinity of the private boxes was perfectly dignified, looking down into the pit I could see why the public theatres were called corrales, and this one, El Coliseo, no less. I had not expected so much hooting. The idea of calling out to the players, warning them of an intrigue or ambush, well, that was perhaps the best part of the show. The entractos were also popular affairs and in parts delightful. There was a Mexica mitote1 with ancient instruments, but I was glad it ended quickly as I had no intention of being homesick. Between acts one and two was a farcical skit that went over well and a final interlude of ballads. The play itself was a local production stealing shamelessly from Ovid's version of the tale of Narcissus, and yet I was strangely fascinated.
      Afterwards, in the milling and stir in the forecourt, I spotted a poster for last week's show: The Nun-Ensign. The awful play I had read a hundred times. This was my fellow prisoner and hero - fugitive nun, duellist and lady muleskinner. How I would have loved to see her just once outside my head.
On the way home all I could find to talk about was the play, though I knew it to be no masterpiece. I was thrilled to hear for the first time poetic texts from the lips of trained actors, to see passions so nakedly expressed. On and on I chattered like a songbird between two ravens - countenances growing ever darker - about how certain lines seemed to weaken this effect or that, how the themes had been muddied, the symbols clumsily worked. I was talking now to work this out for myself, for during the slower moments in the theatre I'd had an idea for my own version of Echo and Narcissus. There'd be a prologue featuring two couples, one European, the other native Mexican. The Mexicans would be America and Occident....
I would make Echo the brilliant angel who had fallen from Paradise - then rebelled. That was important. And at first sight of Narcissus it's as if she's always known him, who is after all as beautiful as any angel. In love, she takes him to a mountaintop and offers him a new paradise, a new world, if only she can tempt him to stay with her....
      I didn't have it all worked out. What little I did manage to say probably didn't make much sense to Magda and María anyway. But instead of looking bored or annoyed, they were watching me very carefully. Thus encouraged, I even managed to find fault with Ovid's own vision of Narcissus, which had always seemed too harsh, simplistic. I saw Narcissus more as the victim of his yearnings for perfection, as Christ-like -
     "What?" croaked Aunt Maria, across from me, "What did you just say?" She leaned forward till her nose nearly touched my face.
     "I said - "
     "Is that what they teach young girls out in that godless countryside - to blaspheme?"
     "I'm sorry, Tia," I stammered, "but I didn't blas - "
     "The Son of God, narcissistic! You heard her, Magda."
     "She said it."
     "I did not."
     "Did Isabel teach you to call your elders liars, too?"
     "I was only trying to correct - I did not call Christ narcissistic. Narcissus, in his pain, was Christ-like - there's nothing wrong with saying this. The teachings of the Greeks anticipate His Gospel. The Church has accepted - "
     "What the Church teaches - at least here in this city, Juana Inés, is humility. Here, what we expect of ourselves is only the most careful soul-searching. Here in our city, we would never allow a child, still less a female child, to run riot through the pagan texts of antiquity spouting blasphemies on the Passion! Evidently you are one of those who have no respect for the Holy Office - "
     "Have you ever seen an auto, Juana?" asked Magda suddenly.
     "No," I said, grateful for what I thought was a change of subject. We had pulled up in front of the house but Aunt María, resting her hand on the handle, made no move to get down.
    "We have. Several," she said coolly. "The effect has been lasting." She glanced at Magda. "Perhaps we may still broaden your marvellous education in some small way. You seem to enjoy riding in our carriage. Tomorrow I think we shall take you on a little tour. Magda has been a very enthusiastic student of our local history. There is much in this city you have yet to see...."
      In the morning, Aunt María wore her usual black silk, and a black veil. We all had on our heavy crosses. Magda's dress was of a purple velvet and suited her slight frame. Over her crucifix she wore a string of warped pearls of a fashion called barruecas, much prized in the city.
      She was almost pretty. Her hair was a dark, flat brown. Her profile was not so prepossessing as her mother's. Her one unfortunate feature was her eyes: very small and deep-set, the irises so large as to leave scant room between her lids for the whites. The colour was an attractive one, a nut brown, but one could not help thinking of the polished pips of small, soft fruit, the chirimoya[PA1], perhaps, or the lychee from Cathay. Her nose was of a normal size but - between those tiny, beady eyes - betrayed a certain thickness at the bridge.
      Sundays we usually ate little before mid-afternoon, but this day's breakfast was whipped chocolate, pork hocks and eggs fried in lard. As we left the house my escorts each carried a small assortment of fresh roses, out of season now and brought in at great expense from the south each year for Guadalupe's festival. Whites and yellows and reds ... the effect was quite gay. In the coach they insisted on sitting on my bench, on either side of me. It was my first inkling that this was not to be a ride like the others.
What they'd said was true: I liked the coach rides. I loved the horses, the rasp and chiselling of silver-shod hoofs over the flags. María had once confided her belief that their collection of coaches, gigs and carriages was the finest in the New World. "We choose our things," she announced then, "on the basis of elegance, not vain show." The carriage cab was small and of a hardwood finished in black lacquer. The spokes were a lacquered grey. Inside, there was opulence: the walls were surfaced in the finest Chinese silk, deep brown and embroidered with gold dragons. The seats were thickly upholstered in velvet of a matching brown. The door handles, painted black outside, revealed themselves to be of bronze, as were the door bolts, gleaming and heavy. Fore and aft were sliding panels. The rear one was bolted shut, the one forward was open to allow communication with the driver. The heavy wooden side panels were drawn back for our tour.
We were not going to church.
      When this dawned on me I was stunned, unable to imagine what might deflect Aunt María from the cathedral on a Sunday morning.
      Aunt María and Cousin Magda were taking me over the route and to the stations of the last great auto de fe of 1649. Thirteen people burned at the stake, a hundred more in effigy.
Magda could only have been five or six at the time of the auto, yet fifteen years later the sheer volume of ghastly detail she'd retained or had since learned was appalling. While I was to learn that to hear a story told can be more terrible than seeing the horror itself.
Our carriage had barely reached the corner when Aunt María said, "It started here. A neighbour came to tell us the Proclamation was being read through the streets. We rushed out of the house, Magda beside me, running on her chubby legs to keep up. Everyone was moving towards the casas de la Inquisición, where the processions began."
     "I remember them," said Magda, in a tone of tender reminiscence. "Minstrels coming down the street in bright colours, trumpets blaring, fifes piping ..."
     "Every block or two," said Aunt María, "the procession would pause for the chief constable to dictate the proclamation to the crier." He called out to all the nobles and their families an invitation to attend, wearing their finest, a general auto de fe on the eleventh of April.
      Since I was now a noted Poetess, it might interest me to know that María had always preferred the Portuguese 'auto-da-fé.'
     "Our Castilian phrase means simply 'act of faith.' But for the Portuguese, Juana Inés, it means 'the act that gives faith.' We will give you some help with this today."
The coach clattered towards the Monastery of Santo Domingo. A light rain fell. The streets were quiet, with everyone at Mass at one of the fifty churches throughout the city. My aunt and cousin began to describe the days leading up to the auto, when at least thirty thousand celebrants made their way to the capital, swelling its population to four hundred thousand. The city's fifteen thousand carriages, most now in use at once, found room to pass only with difficulty even at three in the morning. All the plazas stood brightly lit, packed with people come to refresh themselves with glasses of atole or chocolate or pulque. On almost every corner Indian ladies were selling tortillas and tamales. Every inn in the capital was full. Each morning found thousands of revellers rolled up in blankets, asleep in the plazas and under the arcades, or in doorways and alleys.
Our carriage lurched to a halt beside the canal - we had nearly run down a beggar, a man of about fifty, with the aspect of a Gypsy or a Moor. Barefoot, in grimy rags, he carried a little bundle slung over his shoulder as if he were travelling, yet with nowhere to go, as he wandered back and forth across the road. The stench from the canal was overpowering. A carcass must be floating there, and the canal silted in. Magda and María had not brought the roses for colour or cheer but as nosegays. They fed at them now like ghastly hummingbirds.
Magda asked if I ever heard from my father, if I thought he might ever come back. It was the first word anyone in that house had ever spoken of him. I could not meet her gleaming, hateful eyes as she then turned to me and recounted the stories that were in circulation all that year of 1649 - tales of new and hideously effective tortures and of the vast sums wasted on bribes to Inquisition officials ... who were of course utterly incorruptible.
     "Some of the accused had been turned in by their own children," said Magda, glancing past me at her mother. "Others by neighbours or in-laws or friends. They said the familiars of the Inquisition were everywhere gathering testimony."
      Aunt María spoke, not turning from the window. "One neighbour whispered that the Admiral of the Leeward Fleet had been arrested for Judaizing. Another said no it was the proveedor general of the Windward Fleet. His wife had grown so arrogant as to demand that all requests for appointments with her be made in writing."
     "Mother even knew her a little, didn't you, Mother?" Before María could answer Magda exclaimed, "One woman was arrested - you know what for? Just smiling at the mention of the blessed Virgin!"
I remembered then that my cousin had been the one to serve me that breakfast, and the pleasure she had taken. I felt my stomach lift as we lurched through a pothole. The closeness in the cab was becoming unbearable.
      I caught a glimpse of the cathedral. I was trying very hard now not to be lost. We jarred over the rough paving for another two blocks, then turned east and came to a little square. María called for the driver to stop - we were getting out. Gracias a Dios. Aunt María held the door as I stepped down. Opposite us on the north side of the square was a small pink church built of the rough tezontle blocks I knew from the mountains. Early Mass had just let out, and over the heads of those streaming through the tall doors I could see a rose-coloured altar and pillars of pink marble spirals. The windows must have been stained in the same colour, for pale rose diagonals fell through the smoke in the nave.
      The square looked festive at first. Indian musicians with their pipes and drums. A company of mummers calling to the passersby to gather round. Running the full length of the plaza's west side was a string of workshops, which I was surprised to see open. But then with Guadalupe's feast day coming on Wednesday, perhaps they were rushing to finish a special commission from the temple. Out in the open air, I looked about for the courage to tell María I'd had enough.
Occupying the entire block across the street to the east was an austere building with none of the flourishes for which the city's masons are noted. And it was towards that building we now walked. The iron gates were on the southwest corner. Two girls my age were giggling and flirting with the guards stiffly standing one to each side of the entrance. Overhead hung a banner on a silver staff, but angled in such a way that I could not read it until we were at the gates.
      I had thought the building had three storeys; it was two - each no less than four times our height. I could see the banner's emblem now. It was a wooden cross, rough and unplaned, knots like the swellings of lesions all down its sides. Just inside the gates were several counters and offices arranged around a small patio, achingly bright in the sun. Running one east and one north were two long corridors. There was an impression of coolness. A cool draft of air flowed past my ankles. I thought of a deserted hospital.
      A scribe scuttled by with an armload of heavy cases. Aunt María pointed out the warder with his keys heading down the eastern corridor. He had a blanket rolled under his arm.
      Here were the Palaces of the Inquisition. In these palaces there were many rooms. He went to prepare a place in one.
      I backed away.
      They made no move to stop me. I walked blindly into the plaza. I could feel Magda and María close behind, one to each side. An Indian lady was selling herbs and cures, her white hair coiled at her nape just as Xochitl wore hers. This curandera clearly had faith in her exemption from the Holy Office's jurisdiction, and I was afraid for her. The mummers looked to be university students and though I did not stop, by the direction they were facing and by the twisting and clowning and groans, I knew their skit to parody what happened across the street. And I was afraid for them, too, but did not stop until I had passed the musicians and reached the workshops and stalls.
      There was a little apothecary, with his stoppers and funnels, alembics and spouts. A printing press and bindery, its stamps and dies. Then a shop with inks, quills and papers for scribes. A candlemaker, and the smell of fats reducing in the back, and on tables his candles in ranks of white, black and green. Next door was the engraver, his vitreols and acids and etching tools in neat ranks on a shelf. Standing at a high bench with his heavy needles was the maker of awnings and sacks. Then a carpentry, with all the planks and rigging, screws and vises. Here was a supplier of surgical equipment: scalpels, forceps and specula, beaked masks.
Next door a Sunday crowd had gathered to watch a smith at his forge. Behind me the music drummed and piped jarringly to the hammering at the anvil. I could feel María and Magda standing close.
      A row of humble craftsmen at their shops. Scents of pine and glue, solvents and printers' inks. I thought of Grandfather, tried to summon the feelings that being with him brought. I so wanted to lose myself in them now, to make an escape in my mind. Watching the farrier at his forge, it seemed he was indeed a prince among these journeymen. Young and narrow-hipped, bent to his anvil, he was cased in sweat like a warhorse, his naked torso armoured against flame and shards by a scorched apron of ox hide.
      I took in all the terrible power of shoulder and veined forearm and yet the delicacy in his wrists as he angled the tongs and banked and rolled the hammer. The art is in the wrists, Angelina. Yes Grandfather, you were so very right, for smiths and armourers and the jinete-matador2 - a kind of empathy in the wrist, to capture the very image of life. It is a craftsmanship of temper and temperance and temperature. Of edges, brittleness and breaking points, of heating, folding and collapse. A building up, a grasping, a hammering at stresses - relief, release, relaxation.
      Such a flurry of enterprise on a Sunday, special commissions for the Church. And now I understood, and knew what this place was. These were the busy, fussy craftsmen who forged the pears and branks and gags, who built the gambrils and gibbets and gallows, who raised the bleachers and rigged the scaffolding. Supplied the inks and quills, laid out the instruments and the restraints, saw meekly to the fit.
      I knew all about this - for Grandfather I had distilled all the essential qualities. I wanted very much to find again comfort in these: measurement, contour, surface, articulation ... I tried hard to picture Abuelo's face, any face at all - even the mask of Amanda's features when she was hurt. I tried to make my thoughts fly straight, my eyes bend neither right nor left, to hold to all the faces I had lost, to solve the riddle hidden there. Fear was the riddle now, the thing I had not known.
      Subdued, I took my place next to Magda in the cab, with María coming in after me. I made no protest. Only to be away from that music, that ringing, that craft. The horses hooves rasped and chiselled over the flags.


Five companies of the Soldiers of the Bramble were picketed all night around the square, to guard the Green Cross and the Palaces of the Inquisition. The streets around them for once were bright with torchlight. The eleventh day of April, 1649.
      The drama starts in the darkness two hours before dawn, as the Archbishop's carriage approaches the Holy Offices. The night's revellers, both afoot and in the many well-stocked carriages, pause in their debauches to cross themselves as the black carriage passes. Whispers of the Archbishop's arrival fly like startled swallows through the cells of the Inquisition's secret prison.
      His Illustriousness, the Archbishop don Juan de Mañozca, is the Inquisition - forty years' service in the tribunals of the Holy and General Office, member in perpetuity of its Supreme Council and second only in rank to the Inquisitor General in Spain. It was Juan de Mañozca who in his younger days had brought the Holy Office to the wild slave-port of Cartagena. It was the then famous don Juan de Mañozca who detected and grimly prosecuted the Great Complicity in Peru. And it is his nephew, Juan Sáenz de Mañozca, who under his famed tutor has risen to become the chief Inquisitor of this auto.
      At the southwest corner the gates swing open. A young monk rushes to open the carriage door. The Archbishop, a lean and vigorous man of seventy, steps lightly out. He walks into the courtyard and down the eastern corridor. All is in readiness. The antiphon and hymns have been sung in the pink chapel, where a special Mass has been held for the Inquisitors before this final battle. The rosary was said at Prime. For the fourteen prisoners condemned to the stake, fourteen pairs of Jesuits have been sworn in. 'For confession, a Dominican, for contrition, a Jesuit.'
      In shifts they have begun to attend to the prisoners, exhorting the condemned to repent so as to receive absolution before death.
      All the prisoners have been given breakfast. At the mouth of a passageway joining the prison to its outermost patio, the young Inquisitor, Sáenz de Mañozca, takes up position under his uncle's watchful eye. In the dim courtyard, lit by one or two torches and the first glow of a false dawn, the Inquisitor orders that the prisoners be brought out in single file. He reads out each sentence, and hands to the prisoners the costumes they are to wear in the coming day's production: for the condemned, the short corozas* and black sambenitos of sackcloth; for the reconciled, the tall corozas and yellow sambenitos with the double cross of Saint Andrew. To the penanced, he hands the same yellow sacks, but bearing a single cross.
     Those prisoners who will not stop protesting their innocence, the Archbishop orders gagged.
     The vigilants out in the little plaza know it has begun when the bells of the cathedral begin to toll. And after them, all the bells of all the churches in the capital. A carillon - of discordant timbre and pitch and period - a tolling to make the hottest blood run cold. Sixteen familiars of the Inquisition come out first, ahead of three parish crosses draped in black. Next come the Indians with the exhumed remains of heretics who've fraudulently received a Christian burial and are now found out at last.
      Behind them, others carry painted effigies. Father de Moedano's effigies are revered as the most lifelike. Some of his faces are of people dead for years, yet all who knew them see. His memory for heretics is remarkable.
      Out into the bright morning stumble the condemned, sad jesters in their black sacking emblazoned with flames and devils, in their dunce caps painted with serpents. The women hold little green crosses.
      But the onlookers have been expecting to see fourteen condemned prisoners, not thirteen.
      During the night, Isabel Núñez has confessed and repented of her Judaizing. But this will not be known until ten days later, when she and another whore of Babylon - stripped to the waist - are each tied to the back of an ass and whipped through the streets. Two hundred lashes each.
      Thirteen prisoners ... The number raises a perplexed murmur all along the procession route to the amphitheatre. Scores of bleachers and platforms have been built and rented out along the way. By eight o'clock, the Procession of the Green Cross is within a few blocks of the plaza of the Indian fliers, the Plaza del Volador. The bullfights have been cancelled, the barbershops shuttered, the market stalls boarded.
The amphitheatre has been built to hold eighteen thousand. It covers the south, east and west; to the north it is open to the palace balconies and to a ructious mass of spectators unable to get seats. The total number in the square would exceed thirty thousand but for a hastily delivered order forbidding, on pain of excommunication, further entry into the desperately crowded square.
      To the left, on the west side, is a grandstand constructed to accommodate the noble families of the realm and the officers of the Church, the most eminent being seated at the base. The various dignitaries, families and Inquisition officials can be seen retiring, throughout a long, hot day of sentencing, to comfortable lounges under the grandstand for the taking of rest and refreshments. The prisoners' dock is pyramidal, and the prisoners are distributed equitably. No side of the square is favoured. Between the dock and the grandstand is a large mahogany table to record the proceedings upon. The secretaries of the Holy Office sit in a row of heavy, carved chairs, each with its own canopy. Before the table rise two pulpits for sermons and the reading of the edicts. Between these is a massive scaffold for the prisoners' sentences to be read from.
      For the past hour, the armies of Christ Triumphant have driven the squadrons of Satan through the Plazuela del Marquez, then down the Calle de Mercaderes de San Agustín and up to the corner of the Calle del Arco. The Green Cross has at last reached the approaches of the square. Close behind the file of the condemned, and surrounded by the University's rectors, the warden of the Inquisition's prisons leads a white mule. On its back sways a lacquered chest inlaid with mother-of-pearl. It contains the sentences.
Here the situation gets out of hand.
      Throughout the course of the procession, Tomas Trebino de Sobremonte has never ceased to trumpet his guiltlessness. Even knowing he is to burn alive, as the one unrepentant Judaizer, defiantly he swears through his metal gag to practice the law of Moses to the death. Wildly gesticulating, violently shaking his head, Trebino roars back his insolence to a crowd hurling fierce insults and exhortations to repent. As he makes his way through the streets, a hard-pressed company of infantry struggles to protect him from the incensed mob armed with paving stones and staves.
      But when, still mouthing abominations, he nears the entrance to the square where thousands have been kneeling in hushed adoration of the Green Cross, the crowd closes in to silence him.
The soldiers panic, unwilling to die protecting a heretic. Yet the mob is so dense that they cannot get out of the way, and fight back to save themselves. Before wading into the fray, the Archbishop sends someone through the empty back streets to the cathedral, with an order to silence the massive bells. The Archbishop waits. Each contingency and response has been anticipated - for the rigour of his forethought, the providence of his planning, he is rightly famed. Before long all the bells of the city fall silent, and a languid stillness blankets the square, damping the fires of Christian fury.
      The Archbishop, mounted on the back of his little mule, enters the sea of men and the waters part. At nine o'clock that morning, calmly, slowly, the venerable Archibishop's mule rounds the corner of the University with both troops and prisoners in tow.... Combatants in the everlasting war between God and Nature, Spirit and Flesh, they shuffle awkwardly down the little flight of steps and into the throng in the now silent plaza.
      In reverence the crowd kneels until the Archbishop has taken up his station atop the scaffold. He sits under a black velvet baldachin, its coping adorned with gold brocade and golden fringes. The Inquisitors file in behind him.
      By now the prisoners have occupied the dock. On the lowermost benches, the Indians holding the effigies. Next, those prisoners to be penanced; above them, those to be reconciled. At the tip of the pyramid, and all around the uppermost rung, huddle the condemned, each between two Jesuits ceaselessly whispering.
Cloaked in shame in their sackcloth and dunce caps they sit, the bedraggled crew of a foundered ship, faces drained by insomnia, white with terror or fury.
      The accused are prodded to stand. The crowd rises from its knees as the Archbishop sits - erect, without reclining - in a great white throne of marble. Behind him, the exchequer plants the Standard of the Faith. Before him stands an ebony table. Upon it a great book and a little brass bell. Visible beneath the table are glimpses of the Archbishop's sandalled feet.
      Feet like fine brass.
      All through the day of judgement he will toy absent-mindedly with a great key. It hangs on a thick golden chain in his left hand. From time to time his right hand reaches out and rings the little bell to accelerate the proceedings: time is short.
      The Inquisitors settle onto cushions around his table, and throughout the proceedings are seen lounging like Persians, leonine eyes alert.
      After the adoration of the Green Cross, still draped in black, after the reading of the Proclamation of the Faith, after the Bull conferring papal authority on the Holy Office of the Inquisition, the most profound silence reigns over the expectant multitude.
      Each slow step rings out as the Dean of the Cathedral labours up to the pulpit. He salutes the Tribunal on his right, and glancing up at the Archbishop begins his sermon.
      ... Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgement of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters...
      The lacquered chest bearing the suits against the accused is brought forward. Four secretaries scuttle to and fro, conveying the heavy briefs to the pulpits, from which the charges are read in slow, rhythmic alternation. Three secretaries at a table sit scrabbling intently, quill-hands lightly convulsed, to capture every nuance of the proceedings, just as they have done at interrogations.
      ... And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened...
      Over the hushed plaza a little bell rings out with the sound of glass cracking in a flame. Then from a rostrum on the high scaffold at the centre of the amphitheatre, the sentences for each case are called out. Clasping the ceremonial black staff in front of his chest, the warden of the secret prisons brings each prisoner in turn to stand alone at the foot of the scaffold.
      All eyes are on the Archbishop as he cants slightly forward to consult his notebook.
      ... And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire...
      First to be judged are the dead. Among them an eighty-year-old woman who lasted a full six months in prison. Her remains and effigy are consigned to the flames.
      Now it is the turn of the living.
      An exultant roar goes up as Tomas Trebino is sentenced first - to burn alive. Merciful, the Tribunal orders that the other twelve, before burning, be garrotted. From the prisoners' dock to the scaffold, the warden weaves back and forth like a shuttle.
      ... And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth...
      Among those condemned to die, it may be that one face at least, that of an old woman, is suffused with the peace of a loving god. The warden brings her, the last of the condemned, forward to hear her judgement. Ana de Carvajal staggers to the base of the scaffold. She is sixty-seven. Her breast cancer is so advanced, and she so wraith-like, that the heart-shaped tumour is visible beneath her sambenito.
      She, too, is the Inquisition. In the auto of 1590, her father was burned in effigy. In 1596, her mother burned garrotted, her brother Luis burned alive. In the auto of 1601, when Ana was nineteen, the Holy Office reconciled her: but to lapse into the cult of the Pharisees was to be condemned to the flames.
      Now, forty-eight years later, the Inquisition finds she has relapsed. At last her long wait is over.
      ... How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow...
      Again the little bell rings. The warden brings forward the scores of the reconciled one by one. Since reconciliation comes at the price of confiscation of property, many in this group are wealthy. Among them are several women, and chief among these is Juana Enriquez, widely resented for the refinement of her manners and dress, for the luxury and glamour of her parties and balls, for her coaches and the bevies of servants that once followed her wherever she went.
      Gone now the servants.
      In yellow sackcloth before the scaffold she stands alone. She hears her fate read. Two hundred lashes. Confiscation of all estates. Banishment from the realm. Shrill cries of satisfaction rise from the crowd. Babylon, the Great, is fallen.
      ... And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning...
      Next, Simón Váez Sevilla: the richest man in the New World. At the foot of the scaffold, he stands in sackcloth, a green candle in his soft hands, a noose around his white neck: all behold the arrogant kingpin of a mercantile network of false converts spanning both oceans - the whole globe - from Malta to Manilla.
Two hundred lashes. Confiscation. Banishment. Perpetual and irremissible prison. The crowd bellows another note in its paean to Apollo.
      ... For true and righteous are his judgements: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand...
      The condemned are led away through the jeering crowd to the quemadero, the burning ground. From the chapel, the last terrible strains of De Miserere die out.
      The reconciled and the penanced are made to abjure their errors once more, to swear not to relapse, and to kiss a little iron cross thrust against their lips. The tension mounts; teasingly the black baize draped over the Green Cross falls away inch by inch in little tugs, as each sinner submits and returns to the bosom of the Church.
      When at last the Green Cross stands clear of its black cloak of mourning, a great clamour of joy and triumph goes up, like the sound of many waters. Kettledrums, trumpet blasts, shouts - Long live the Faith! - the choir singing Te Deum now like larks, soldiers firing volleys into the air....
      The Archbishop's eyes are as a sheet of flame.
      ... And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God ... that ye may eat the flesh of kings...
      An uncanny scene surrounds Tomas Trebino as they attempt to strap him to the back of an ass for the procession to the quemadero. The creature goes mad the instant it feels Trebino's weight. Braying wildly, it charges into the other animals brought to carry the condemned. One beast after another balks. The animals, normally docile, are so restive now that the prisoners, many of them aged, will have to walk to meet their death. It is an outrage to all aficionados, who for months to come, in taverns all over New Spain, will denounce this breach.
      Only by firing repeatedly over the heads of the maddened crowd can Captain Mendoza's escort prevent the wildly ranting Trebino from being torn apart along the route.
      He will not walk at all unless permitted to walk backwards. For a few steps he does, until his Jesuits call out for him to be carried.
      The rest of the condemned, some silent, others crying or ceaselessly muttering - the satanic, half-mad citizens of Gog and Magog - crawl along the Alameda. For hours, hundreds of watchers have been clustering like pine cones in the branches of the giant poplars that line the boulevard. Thousands more have scrambled up onto the piping of the aqueduct and squat like sagging rows of buzzards above the newly renovated Plaza de San Diego.
      The stakes on scaffolds above the pyres are arranged over a rectangular area covered with lime. The shoddy construction also scandalizes many: the steps are narrow and unsteady; the arrangement of ropes and pegs on each stake does not allow the condemned to sit comfortably. It is a disgrace.
Eleven chests are stopped, eleven breaths. Eleven pairs of Jesuits may rest.
The last to mount and be strangled is Simon Montero. Hands bound behind his back, he does a little dance of contempt and clowns for the crowd, then feigns a stumble on the narrow steps to force his confessors to keep him from falling to his death.
     "The carpentry," he cries out in the instant before his garrotting, "is better in Seville - "
      The order is given to light the pyres. Silent Indians work the bellows.
      ... And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years ... And cast him into the bottomless pit...
      Tomas Trebino has also reached the terminus.
      He falls silent, watches everything set alight around him. Effigies, chests of bones, strangled companions. Ana de Carvajal. Perhaps he has read Dante, and the scene is not without the slim comfort of some small precedent. His confessors mistake his silence for mortal terror. They remove his gag that he might repent. Instead the blasphemer launches into an attack on the poet of Revelations. Trebino exhorts John the Witness to join him in the fire, that the great saint might repent and confess his own crimes.
      The executioner holds Tomas Trebino's head steady as they light his beard on fire.
      Trebino struggles to look down through the flame. With his foot he drags a block of wood to the stake as if to say, begin.
      On that day Nature in all her elements is forced to submit. Fire consumes him. Air receives the smoke. His charred bones are wrestled from the jaws of street curs and buried in shallow earth. His suet is scattered over the waters of a reeking canal.
      His quintessence is consigned to oblivion.
      In the suffocating closeness of the coach, our mingled perfumes ill mask the fetor of our bodies: María, Magda and I ride slowly home through the alleys of the New Jerusalem covered in silence and ash.

Since I am not yet in a position of open defiance, soon enough I will oblige and give them an accounting of sorts. Gaps will not be tolerated. It is why the repeated questions, it is why the careful notes. It is a kind of fussiness, after all.
      But the Inquisition is no conclave of rattled nuns. And it is not the want of charity, chastity and grace that the holy officers so fear and loathe but the slattern of incontinence. Against her they are bulwark and bung, caisson and closter, dike and dam. This is the craft of clots and clods, of pears and branks and the surgeon's beaked mask.
      These officers and learned doctors, these are the humble stop-gaps. Craft is enough, all is craft. The meekness that inherits the earth.
      And who is their Jacobi Topf? Is he born, have we met somewhere, will we yet?
      But gaps are everywhere ... and lie in silent shapes just where there seems no gap at all. Their shrine and studio is memory. And how they shift and gape at this latest charge: that Uncle Juan's parents were secret Jews.
      So differently now those days echo in my memory. For then, what Aunt María feared more even than my recklessness was her own daughter. Magda, the one who served the breakfast. And how unfathomably wise it was to dam the fountain, not comical at all. And the whimsy of finding Uncle Juan brave was not at all whimsical: for however sincere his efforts to be a good New Christian, he could never quite turn his back on the parents who would not abandon an older faith.
      And is it true, as the holy officers now suggest, that my own father was one too? For it is among the Basques and Portuguese that the Inquisition finds so very many of its secret Judaizers. And indeed was there not a fainter echo, in the auto-da-fé of 1656, of that great spectacle of 1649? The arrests began the following year and took place throughout the early 1650s. When Father rode away from us for the last time, I was five years old. It was the spring of 1654.
      Did he stay away from us, so often, so long - and then abandon us - to keep us from harm? The Inquisition brought my childhood to an end during a carriage ride. It remains for me to know if they had already taken my father.
      So many questions they have. I too have questions now. If it's an accounting they want, I too seek a settling of our accounts.
      Magda asked about him. Did I think he was ever coming back? To be cruel, I thought, but perhaps to be doubly cruel. If she knew. And if she knew, it was because Aunt María did also. Grandfather had introduced my father to Isabel. But who introduced María to Uncle Juan? Were Juan and my father friends? My eldest sister and Magda were about the same age....
How painful it can be to see where one has not looked, into places one has not dreamed of. How very differently I might have looked upon my aunt María, if I had I grasped the worst of her fears. And what if I had known from the beginning that Uncle Juan had been my grandfather's friend? I liked him already - he might have become a second father to me. How I needed one then. How different might have been those years with them. And I would have feared, not pitied, Magda, had I known what she was. It is from her stock that the Inquisition's familiars are drawn.
      Gaps will not be tolerated by the holy officers - gaps are all around us. I too was once frightened of them. But no longer. Yes, I will give them a reckoning of sorts. But for this, let there be another art, with eyes to see the gaps through lenses of clemency. With ears to hear their music, and hands to turn the instrument that plays it. Let there be others, too, for this work.
       We will play on drums and spinets, on barrels and pins, on time's very axle. We march under the Ensign of the Trout with trident tongue. When they hear our chiming jingling tune of links and the gaps between, the holy armourers may find, as others have, that mail is lighter, suppler, stronger than plate. That each of us carries part of the score, and that we are all linked in surprising ways and strong. Strong despite ourselves, surprising in spite.
      And even as night is the lace around each star, yet there is nothing frail in that dark. Of this night lace now may we fashion a shimmering net and cast it. And let us see if not a few fishers of souls are caught.


1 a traditional dance
2 knight-matador
* a stiff, peaked cap; a dunce cap
i. This chapter derives its documentation from the accounts of the auto grande [the great auto-da-fé] of 1649 published by Solange Alberro in Inquisición y Sociedad en México 1571-1700 (Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1988) 581-82; and a wondrously detailed chapter on that subject in José Toribio Medina's Historia de la Inquisición en Mexico (Ediciones Fuente Cultural, 1905) 196-208.
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