memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Galileo Galilei (1)

PORTO – THE RIBEIRA

I used to take an hour off every day after lunch to go for long walks, prowling round the Baixa section of Porto. At the limit of my range, allowing me only ten minutes over the target, was the old second-hand-book shop at the bottom of the Rua Mouzinho da Silva, which descends from São Bento station to the Ribeira. At the back of the narrow dark shop there was an English section that I used to check out in case there was anything new. I once came across a French book of poems by Baudelaire, lavishly bound in pale blue leather with fin-de-siècle designs in gold tooled onto the spine – divine decadence I thought as I opened it. I immediately noticed the price, really cheap, 200 escudos, then the book fell open at Les Fleurs du Mal – someone had gouged out a hole with fierce slashes of a sharp knife in the next thirty-odd pages as though in a frenzy of self-loathing. Someone doesn’t appreciate Baudelaire, I remarked to the owner of the shop drily. I know, it’s a crime to do that to such a fine book, he replied, I’m hoping that someone will buy it just to decorate his book-case.

Anyway on one particular afternoon I came across, in two half-leather bound volumes dated London 1811,

A NARRATIVE

Of the PERSECUTION of

JOSEPH DA COSTA PEREIRA FURTADO HIPPOLYTO DE MENDOÇA,

A native of Colonia-do-Sacramento, on the river La Plata:

IMPRISONED AND TRIED IN LISBON, BY THE INQUISITION, FOR THE PRETENDED CRIME OF FREE-MASONRY.

To which are added,

THE BYE-LAWS OF THE INQUISITION OF LISBON,

BOTH ANCIENT AND MODERN.

HIPOLITO JOSÉ PERREIRA DA MENDOÇA

For 500 escudos the pair, I snapped them up and hurried back to work. At the weekend I examined the volumes and read the first paragraph:

Three or four days had elapsed, after my arrival in Lisbon, from London, in the latter end of July, 1803, when a magistrate entered my apartments, and telling me who he was ,informed me, likewise, he had orders to seize all my papers , and to conduct me to prison, where I was to be rigorously kept aloof from all communication…

Hang on a minute I thought I didn’t realize that the Inquisition had lasted to the beginning of the 19th century. I turned back to the preface where I read:

From my earliest infancy I had accustomed myself to consider the existence of an inquisition in Europe as a system formed by ignorance and superstition, and therefore I had always viewed it with horror: but little did I ever dream of becoming a victim of its persecution. It is scarcely credible that, in the nineteenth century, a tribunal should exist, that, without any apparent cause, or without any violation of the laws of the country, should feel empowered to seize individuals and try them for offences which must considered imaginary, if they are not to be found, which is the case in the criminal code of the country.  

I skimmed through the two volumes: The narrative of the persecution was not without human interest and I earmarked it as a project for another occasion, maybe a non-judgmental treatment of Freemasonry versus the Catholic Church.

The bye-laws of the (Portuguese) Inquisition I found more fascinating – a list of laws and codes calculated to induce fear and bigotry and fervent anti-Semitism.

To be continued

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