Defining “El Pecado Nefando Contra Natura”: The Construction of the Deviant Sodomite In Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Spain

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Haverford College. Department of Religion
Haverford College. Department of History
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This thesis examines the language used by the accusers and inquisitors in the “Proceso contra Cristoval [...] 1560-1561,” a sodomy trial, to demonstrate that through the construction of certain discourses, the ecclesiastical and civil tribunals functioned as instruments of religious and political control for the Spanish Catholic monarchs of the late fifteenth- and sixteenth-centuries. To contextualize the discourses of sexuality explored in this thesis, I also examine major religious and political documents that speak directly about sodomites and the state’s relationship to them. These include the Siete Partidas of Alfonso X (r. 1252-1284) and Fernando and Isabel’s Pragmática of 1497, among others. I explore how Isabel, Fernando, their royal heirs, and ecclesiastical and civil jurists defined natural and unnatural behaviors and activities through discourses of the body, sin, crime, and masculinity. I draw upon the case of Gaspar and Cristóbal, in particular, for while it is not a “typical” trial of the Inquisition, it reveals how the language of the Catholic Inquisition of Spain was taken up by political and social leaders in their dealings with subjects and inferiors. Using the case of Cristóbal Gutiérrez and Gaspar Hernández, I explain how the state targeted particular “dangers” to societal norms to purify society and solidify the power of the Church and the monarchy. The leaders of these institutions challenged certain “unorthodox” sexual practices to empower the images and behaviors they envisioned as necessary for a strong Catholic and Spanish Empire. These trial records also provide evidence of the ways in which the monarchy and jurists sought to preserve order in the social body by cracking down on individual bodies with religious language as a tool. Through various discourses (i.e., the discourses of the body, nature, sin, crime, and masculinity), the Catholic kings, their inquisitors, and their moralist allies in the Catholic Church established what it meant to be a good Catholic and a good Spaniard. Their control over these discourses further asserted their authority as heads of the Spanish Catholic state. Through the ecclesiastical and civil tribunals, the Spanish monarchs sought to create a unified Spanish nation through shared behaviors and ideals. The men and women who diverged from these practices and Christian beliefs threatened the power of these leaders of the Church and of the state. Sodomites menaced society by challenging “orthodoxy;” the Catholic Kings and the inquisitors of the Inquisition of Aragon and the secular courts of Castile, therefore, targeted these men as deviants of their created “ideal” Spanish character.