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Short summary

EPISODE 1 - THE LAND OF ERROR - In the 12th century, an upstart Christian sect called Catharism challenges Church doctrine and the absolute power of the Pope. Pope Innocent III declares a Holy War to kill these people. The remote French village of Montaillou is the last stronghold of the Cathars. One man, Bishop Jacques Fournier, becomes one of the most skilled interrogators of the Holy Inquisition. EPISODE 2 - THE TEARS OF SPAIN - Fernando and Isabel proclaim themselves the Catholic Monarchs. In the war to drive the remaining Muslims from the south of the Kingdom their scapegoats become the Conversos, Jews who have converted to Christianity and who are now accused of being traitors and heretics secretly trying to undermine the Church. The Spanish Inquisition is born and a campaign of terror begins. EPISODE 3 - THE SWORD AND THE SHIELD - In 16th century the rise of Protestantism weakens the Church's spiritual control and its political influence. To protect the Roman Church from these ...

User reviews


  • comment
    • Author: Goltizuru
    I had the pleasure of hearing the director (David Rabinovitch) speak this past summer about not only this film but in regard to documentary film making in general. He spoke of the importance of getting the "facts" right when making films and this project (probably because of the possible emotional reactions) it was especially important to go to the source. The producers of "Secret Files of the Inquisition" were given access to actual records of inquisitions as recorded during the times. He said he was quite moved in reading records of the trials. He also felt privileged in having the Vatacan open these records to him. We all will see things from different perspectives and film makers are certainly not above putting their own spin on things. The "facts" in this film came from the archives of the Vatican. Each will have their own interpretation. I suggest this film is certainly worth a watch.
  • comment
    • Author: Vispel
    This is a series about secrets of the inquisition. As someone who is not a historian, and only having a basic understanding of the history of Christianity in Europe (still probably more than most), I found it informative.

    For example, I didn't know that the inquisition spanned 600 years. And I didn't know that it existed outside Spain. And I didn't know that Napoleon tried to put an end to it. And I didn't know that it was still going on in the 19th century. And I didn't know that the current Pope held the office of inquisitor, now renamed something more publicly acceptable.

    The fact that the series dwells on records from the Vatican doesn't bother me. The title of the series suggests that, and the introduction to each episode makes clear that the series is based on access to Vatican records, and that even that access was limited, so we're not getting the whole story as even the Vatican knows it.

    However, there is slight bias in the series, tending to justify Catholic actions by blaming them on the times, while neglecting the obvious which is that religions claim to produce better people, so the defence of blaming bad behaviour on the times is invalid. One inexplicable scene minimizes the obvious torture of being immersed in boiling oil, by accepting at face value the claim that the victim was stoic and silent, and showing him that way in the re-enactment. People can endure a lot with proper training, but I simply don't believe a person can be cooked to death in boiling oil (taking 15 minutes) and not make any expression of anything.

    One thing people might take note of... If the Roman Catholic church, with all its power, could not censor the printing press, I think it's folly for anyone to try to censor the internet. That won't stop many from trying, but we can smile knowing they will be defeated.
  • comment
    • Author: CrazyDemon
    The four-part series, "The Secret Files of the Inquisition", was disappointing for its repetition of both narrative and visuals and its superficial treatment of this perverted travesty of Catholicism.

    The narrative was shallow: too little time was devoted to too few historians; the "company man" speaking for the Vatican was inept; credible Catholic commentators were absent.

    In this series. sensationalism overwhelmed serious inquiry. The iniquitous Inquisition warrants penetrating discussion. The series was a largely waste of four hours of viewing and what must have been great amounts of time, money and talent in the making.

    (This comment was also sent to the PBS Ombudsman.)
  • comment
    • Author: Hrguig
    Saw this "documentary" on PBS. The production values are first-rate and the direction takes a page (or a whole script's worth) from mini-series melodramas in its non-stop use of flaming motifs such as burning Church candles fading in dramatically to Jews dying in bonfires under the approving eye of Catholic villains.

    The program then goes on to juxtapose images of noble individual heretics with spurious claims such as the following from the episode 'The Tears of Spain'- "In its first five years the fires of the Inquisition had purified the souls of thousands, and one Spanish historian wrote that in its first hundred years, the Inquisition had touched the lives of 15% of Spain's population".

    By now, even lapsed Catholics like myself can discern the dishonest slight-of-hand used by the writer, director and producers of this show.

    One has to scour the PBS website to discover the name of this Spanish "historian" is none other than the discredited Juan Antonio Llorente, the ex Catholic official who sided with the Napoleanic invaders against his native Spain in the 1808 War between the French and Spanish. Later, when Napoleon and the French anti-Catholics were expelled from Spain, Llorente fled with them back to France to avoid a traitor's punishment. During the French invasion, Llorente helped oversee the repression of the Spanish Church and shuttering of Catholic Monasteries. But despite this shady background, the director and producers try to hustle the thinking audience by quoting Llorente anonymously. Clearly, Llorente's horror fables were exploited with a firm eye on ratings and over-the-top t.v. melodrama.

    To be sure, thousands were killed in the Inquisition fires but modern up-to-date scholarship like that of Henry Kamen of Yale University show that 350 years of the Inquisitions resulted in. . . 3500 deaths(average less than 10 a year). Many more were subjected to trial and torture, nonetheless, PBS continues in its well-earned reputation for factual manipulation and Church-bashing.

    One can imagine this show's producers throwing each other a cynical wink as the narrator breathlessly claims that "everything in the series is true". What is even more troubling is the media elite's contempt for the online audience's ability to instantly verify their show's claims.

    Maybe the producers felt they could pass off the Black Legend libel as unquestioned fact because liberal Jews, nominal Protestants and secular elites form much of PBS' core audience. The show's producer's are then simply serving the prejudices of their target demographic under the guise of "documentary". Interestingly, the Canadians bestowed a Gemini award on the the director of this fairy tale. Apparently, Canadians don't consider historical accuracy a criteria for documentary awards. Michael Moore must be jealous.
  • comment
    • Author: Uttegirazu
    Not having access to all of the documents in this sort of documentary means that the information is received as given. Being a lapsed anything is not a useful comment. The inquisition happened. This documentary was shown as part of the Catholic churches desire to be in complete control and those who have had the PRIVELDGE of having this as the cornerstone of their eventual personality will normally try to defend most criticism.

    Had this story been told in conjunction with our now well documented tale about our great Christian Crusades, the destruction of any section holding differing views of the Christian 'fairy' tale like the Cathars, the alleged riches of the Templars, the Catholic attempts to bring down for example the young protestant state of England with assassination of Elizabeth, James 1, the attempts to cause regime change in the 1700s with the Jacobite risings a pattern of Catholic influence could be easily seen in its desire to bring back its need for world control. I would assume it is through the Catolic church that Napoleon was considered as an early anti-Christ.

    Going further back in time we are being advised about the beginnings of control by the Pauline version of the word being defended by the destruction of those sects which did not agree all the way back to the beginnings of Christianity.

    I am a now lapsed eyes opened Christian who can plainly see how the CHURCH in its desire for control invented and was allowed to use its inventions if the state also benefited. Here it was the tortuous behaviour of its inquisitors shown in this series. Would we class these men today as GOOD men. Don't forget how we feel about those who though well intentioned drilled holes or used electricity as cures for various illnesses.

    The veracity of all of the information in this documentary of course can be doubted but the Catholic church does not have a great history in its tolerance of anything deviating from its dogmatic teachings. Its clergy who commit the greatest of sins are still kept within its folds and protected yet open criticism causes excommunication.

    To see the similarities shown in the documentary about the treatment of the Jewish population by Spain shows that it has always been so very easy to create a false bogeyman. I wonder how the Jews were treated in Spain when the Fascist party took over in the 1930s.

    Remember that the young Protestant nations in Britain were still coming to terms with its old feelings regarding Witchcraft. Another left over from Catholic teachings.

    Allen
  • comment
    • Author: Mash
    I too, am disturbed when the popular media is made to serve the easy-bigotry of its creators. In this case, the historical record of the Catholic Church's repression of rivals makes a tempting target for those having pre-existing animus against the Papal See.

    However, history repeats itself and now it is the Catholics suffering a sort of media witch hunt, ironically. But exaggeration of the actual numbers of Inquisition victims does no service to the cause of Truth. Unfortunately, I feel the exaggerated claims of this program have trivialized the historical facts it has sought to dramatize.

    Likewise, I prefer verifiable sources and referenced facts to the urban legends repeated by lazy or intellectually dishonest people who defend this manipulation with further rumor mongering that states "PROBABLY greatly santised", and then (predictably) offer no citations to back up their "probable" claim.

    However for the thinking audience, "probable" is not enough. Transparency of the producer's methods and use of legitimate source material for any claims are the minimum consideration that this show's creator's owe its viewers.
  • comment
    • Author: Sat
    For anyone interested in the history of Europe or Western civilization, this documentary should be required viewing.

    Yes, it is about the Inquisition by the Catholic Church, but the documentary also shows the larger historical context, how the Inquisition affected politics in Europe, and, finally, how politics, particularly Napoleon, affected the Catholic Church's Inquisition, which was still in force.

    The information is presented factually and dispassionately, with excellent narration by Colm Feore and commentary by a variety of historians who maintain an equally rational tone.

    The representative of the Vatican does not defend the Church's actions beyond pointing out that the society and values were very different hundreds of years ago. He makes some oblique remarks condemning the actions of the Inquisition, saying they would be totally unacceptable today. But the filmmaker wisely does not turn this into a debate of the Church, right or wrong; that is for the viewer to decide.

    A more argumentative documentary maker might have had someone condemning the Church's actions, and pointing out that the values of society at that time were not necessarily the values of the Church, and that plenty of people undoubtedly were horrified and terrified by the actions of the Church's Inquisition.

    Instead, it is up to the viewer to assimilate the great quantity of facts presented, digest them and make one's own judgment.

    From a devout Catholic's perspective, one might say that the Inquisition was necessary to preserve the existence of the Catholic Church, which might have fractured into countless churches guided only by individual conscience.

    However, it seems to me, viewed objectively, there is no civilized way a person could justify the actions of the Inquisition, the killing, the sadistic torture, the barbaric imprisonment of people of conscience.

    Therefore, if you are a devout Catholic who believes the Church in Rome is the divine heir of the rule of Christ and the incarnation of holy will, and always has been, don't bother watching this documentary. You won't like it, as should be obvious from the other biased reviews. If you want to understand history, watch it.

    The cinematography is gorgeous, the re-enactments meticulously detailed and well acted, the narration does not try to manipulate emotions, the music does not become overbearing, there are no distracting MTV-type special effects as with the Murdoch-National Geographic documentaries, and there is an enormous amount of information.

    The documentary focuses on the lives of key or representative individuals to tell the story, and frames this within the larger historical context. My only complaint is that I left not feeling I had a clear grasp of the total impact of the Inquisition, particularly in terms of statistics, but perhaps I missed it.

    Inevitably, four 45-minute programs cannot encompass 800 years of history, so there are some gaps, as with almost any historical documentary. Most of all, this documentary is based on some files the Catholic Church chose to release, and focuses on a handful of individuals. We can only wonder what is in the files the Church still keeps secret. I suspect what was presented here was an understatement of the horrors committed over the course of the Inquisition.

    While there is a ton of factual information contained in this series, I came away with a clear sense of the broad outline of events and a changed view of this period. For a documentary to work successfully on both levels, detail and big picture, is a major accomplishment. This is what an historical documentary should be like.
  • Series cast summary:
    Colm Feore Colm Feore - Narrator 4 episodes, 2006
    Ron Lea Ron Lea - Giovani Pietro Carafa / - 3 episodes, 2006
    Nicholas Rice Nicholas Rice - Donzelino / - 3 episodes, 2006
    Raoul Bhaneja Raoul Bhaneja - Baldo Lupetino / - 2 episodes, 2006
    David Calderisi David Calderisi - Cardinal / - 2 episodes, 2006
    Nicola Carpi-Neli Nicola Carpi-Neli - Ferdinand de Aragon / - 2 episodes, 2006
    Tracy Dethlefs Tracy Dethlefs - Momolo Mortara / - 2 episodes, 2006
    Patrick Garrow Patrick Garrow - Llorente / - 2 episodes, 2006
    Natacha La Ferriere Natacha La Ferriere - Beatrice de Planisoles / - 2 episodes, 2006
    Amanda Martínez Amanda Martínez - Anna Morisi / - 2 episodes, 2006
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