Witch trials in Portugal

The Witch trials in Portugal were the perhaps fewest in all of Europe. Similar to the Spanish Inquisition in neighboring Spain, the Portuguese Inquisition preferred to focus on the persecution of heresy and did not consider witchcraft to be a priority. In contrast to the Spanish Inquisition, however, the Portuguese Inquisition was much more efficient in preventing secular courts from conducting witch trials, and therefore almost managed to keep Portugal free from witch trials. Only seven people are known to have been executed for sorcery in Portugal.


Witchcraft as such was defined as a sin in 16th-century Portugal. However, the Portuguese Inquisition considered the persecution of Jews (Conversos) to be their main priority and showed scant interest in sorcery. Almost all those executed by the Portuguese Inquisition were Conversos, and those arrested for smaller 'heretical crimes' (among them sorcery) were normally given a mild sentences such as penance, fines and exile from their congregations.[1]

The biggest witch trial in Portugal was the Lisbon witch trial of 1559, ending in five executions. This resulted in an investigation which ended in another execution in Coimbra 1560.[1] These witch trials were conducted by secular courts. After this event, all witchcraft trials were explicitly placed under the jurisdiction of the Portuguese Inquisition. This almost caused the end of witchcraft persecutions in Portugal because of the low priority of the Inquisition, who preferred to persecute the Conversos instead.

Between 1626 and 1744, the Portuguese Inquisition prosecuted 818 people for sorcery, four of whom were given death sentences but only one famously carried out: in Évora in 1626,[2] when Luís de la Penha was executed. These seven executions are the only witchcraft executions known in Portugal. Most of the cases placed before the Inquisition were against cunning men (saludadores) and female fortune tellers. [1] After 1760, the Portuguese Inquisition, discontented about the time spent on these cases and wishing to give their efforts to the persecution of heresy instead, stated that they regarded witchcraft as imagination and would not be accepting further cases of that sort.[1]

Portuguese coloniesEdit

While the Portuguese Inquisition kept the witch trials in Portugal proper down to a minimum, the situation was not the same in the Portuguese colonies, where witchcraft executions occurred long after they had stopped in Portugal. Several high profile witch trials which resulted in death sentences occurred in Portuguese Brazil. These trials took place in Brazil the entire 18th-century, including the case of Ursulina de Jesus in 1754, and Maria da Conceição (d. 1798).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Ankarloo, Bengt & Henningsen, Gustav (red.), Skrifter. Bd 13, Häxornas Europa 1400-1700: historiska och antropologiska studier, Nerenius & Santérus, Stockholm, 1987
  2. ^ Brian P. Levack, The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America